Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Monkhouse, William Cosmo

MONKHOUSE, WILLIAM COSMO (1840–1901), poet and critic, born in London on 18 March 1840, was son of Cyril John Monkhouse, a solicitor, by his wife Amelia Maria Delafosse, of a Huguenot family which came to England after the revocation of the edict of Nantes. Monkhouse entered St. Paul's School on 3 Oct. 1848, and left in 1856 to take up a nomination to a supplementary clerkship in the board of trade, then under the presidency of Lord Stanley of Alderley. Rising through various grades, he was assistant secretary to the finance department at his death. In 1870-1 he was sent by the board to South America in connection with Seamen's Hospitals; in 1894-6 he acted as a member of the committee on the Mercantile Marine Fund. Monkhouse' s literary career began betimes. He wrote much verse while at school, and he was an early contributor to 'Temple Bar,' the 'Argosy,' the 'Englishwoman's' and other magazines. It was not until 1865 that Moxon put forth his first volume, 'A Dream of Idleness, and other Poems.' The volume was of promise, and some of its pieces, e.g. 'The Chief Ringer's Burial' and 'The Night Express,' found their place in anthologies. But it had no great success, pecuniary or otherwise. The moment was perhaps unfavourable to one who was a disciple of Wordsworth and Tennyson. After an essay in the three-volume novel, 'A Question of Honour' (1868), Monkhouse for some years practically abandoned poetry for literary and art criticism. He became a frequent contributor to the 'Academy,' to the 'Magazine of Art' (then under the editorship of W. E. Henley), and eventually to the 'Saturday Review.' In 1869 he published 'Masterpieces of English Art'; in 1872 he edited and prefaced a photographic edition of Hogarth's works; in 1877 came a 'Handbook of Precis Writing'; in 1879 an excellent short life of Turner for Cundall's 'Great Artists,' and in 1887 a little guide-book on the 'Italian Pre-Raphaelites' in the National Gallery. In 1890 followed a valuable volume on the 'Earlier English Water Colour Painters' (2nd edit. 1897).

In 1890 Monkhouse returned to poetry with 'Corn and Poppies,' some portions of which had appeared in the 'Magazine of Art.' This volume contained many of his best pieces, and notably his highest effort, the stately 'Dead March.' Of a fine ballad entitled 'The Christ upon the Hill,' a limited edition was issued with etchings by William Strang in 1895; and after his death appeared a slender volume entitled 'Pasiteles the Elder and other Poems,' in which this ballad was included. Other prose works were : 'A Memoir of Leigh Hunt' in the 'Great Writers' series, 1893; 'In the National Gallery,' 1895; 'British Contemporary Artists,' chiefly contributed to 'Scribner's Magazine,' 1899; 'A History of Chinese Porcelain,' 1901; and 'Life of Sir John Tenniel' (for the 'Art Journal'), 1901. To this Dictionary Monkhouse was a diligent contributor of lives of artists, including Reynolds and Turner. As a critic he had the happy faculty of conveying a well-considered and weighty opinion without suggesting superiority or patronage; as a poet, though he lacked the leisure to realise his full ambition, he left much which no true lover of finished and thoughtful work can wisely afford to neglect.

Monkhouse died at Skegness on 2 July 1901. He was twice married: (1) in 1865 to Laura, daughter of John Keymer of Dartford in Kent; (2) in 1873 to Leonora Eliza, the daughter of Commander Blount, R.N., by whom he had two sons and six daughters. There are painted portraits of him by C. E. Johnson, R.I., and J. M'Lure Hamilton, and an etching by William Strang, A.R.A.

[Monkhouse's works; personal knowledge. See also art. in Art Journal for March 1902, by Edmund Gosse, on Cosmo Monkhouse as an Art Critic.]

A. D.