Saunders, John (1810-1895) (DNB00)

SAUNDERS, JOHN (1810–1895), novelist and dramatist, born at Barnstaple, Devonshire, on 2 Aug. 1810, was the son of John Saunders, bookseller and publisher, of Exeter, London, and Leeds, by his wife Sarah Northcote of Exeter. The family had long been established in Devonshire (Vivian, Visitations of Devon, p. 669). After being educated at Exeter grammar school, Saunders went to live at Lincoln with his sister Mary (b. 1813), and there he published in 1834, in conjunction with her, ‘Songs for the Many, by Two of the People.’ They won the commendation of Bulwer Lytton and Leigh Hunt, and were republished in 1838 under the title of ‘Songs, Sonnets, and Miscellaneous Poems.’ Mary Saunders afterwards collaborated with her husband, John Bennett, in several works of fiction and other literary undertakings. She survived her brother.

Removing to London, Saunders in 1840 edited William Howitt's ‘Portraits and Memoirs of Eminent Living Political Reformers,’ the portraits being by Hayter. About this time he began a connection with Charles Knight (1791–1873) [q. v.], for whom he wrote the greater part of ‘Old England’ and much of ‘London.’ A series of articles on Chaucer, which appeared originally in the ‘Penny Magazine,’ formed the basis of an introduction to an edition of the ‘Canterbury Tales,’ published in 1846. This admirable piece of work was reissued in 1889, in the form of ‘a modernised version, annotated and accented,’ with illustrations reproduced from the Ellesmere MS.

In 1846 Saunders founded ‘The People's Journal,’ one of the earliest of illustrated papers. He continued to edit it for about two years, with the help at first of William Howitt [q. v.] In it appeared Harriet Martineau's ‘Eastern Travels’ and her ‘Household Education,’ the plan of the latter having been suggested by Saunders. Mr. W. J. Linton executed engravings for the paper; Sydney Thompson Dobell [q. v.], with whom Saunders became intimate, wrote some of his earliest verses in it under the signature ‘Sydney Yendys;’ and among other contributors were Landor, Douglas Jerrold, and Hepworth Dixon. In 1856–7 Saunders, together with John Westland Marston [q. v.], conducted the short-lived ‘National Magazine.’

In 1855 he wrote ‘Love's Martyrdom,’ a five-act play in blank verse, resembling in theme Sheridan Knowles's ‘Hunchback.’ Landor found in it ‘passages worthy of Shakespeare,’ and Tennyson characterised the author as ‘a man of true dramatical genius.’ Dickens admired it, but suggested alterations to better fit it for the stage. Largely owing to Dickens's influence it was accepted by Phelps; but it was ultimately produced by Buckstone at the Haymarket in June 1855. It was acted for seven nights. Barry Sullivan, W. Farren, and Miss Helen Faucit were in the cast. In a later play, ‘Arkwright's Wife,’ Saunders had Tom Taylor as collaborator. It was first given at Leeds and Manchester, under Taylor's name only, was produced at the Globe, London, in October 1873, and ran through the season.

Saunders was the author of eighteen novels and tales. ‘Abel Drake's Wife; or the Story of an Inventor,’ in which a strike and other features of manufacturing life are interwoven with a love story, was one of the best. First issued in 1862, it was republished in the ‘Cornhill Library of Fiction’ in 1873, and reappeared in 1876, and again in 1890. Dramatised, in conjunction with Tom Taylor, it was produced at Leeds on 9 Oct. 1874, and afterwards at Glasgow, and in 1875 it was printed for private circulation as ‘Abel Drake: a domestic drama.’ ‘Hirell; or Love born of Strife,’ 1869, a Welsh story, was dedicated to Mr. Gladstone; new editions appeared in 1872 and 1876. ‘The Lion in the Path,’ 1875, reprinted in 1876, in which Saunders had the help of his daughter Katherine (see below), was an historical romance of James II's period. ‘Israel Mort, Overman,’ 1876, reprinted next year, was a powerful story of life in the Welsh mines.

Saunders died at Richmond, Surrey, on 29 March 1895, and was buried in the cemetery there. A portrait was painted by a son.

In addition to the novels mentioned, Saunders published:

  1. ‘The Shadow in the House,’ 1860; cheap edition, 1863.
  2. ‘Martin Pole,’ 1863, 2 vols.
  3. ‘Guy Waterman,’ 1864; new edition, 1876.
  4. ‘One against the World; or Reuben's War,’ 3 vols. 1865; new edition, 1876.
  5. ‘Bound to the Wheel,’ 3 vols. 1866.
  6. ‘The Shipman's Daughter,’ 3 vols. 1876.
  7. ‘Jasper Deane, Wood-carver of St. Paul's,’ 1877.
  8. ‘The Sherlocks,’ 1879.
  9. ‘The Two Dreamers,’ 3 vols. 1880.
  10. ‘The Tempter behind,’ 1880; new edition, 1884.
  11. ‘A Noble Wife,’ 1883, 3 vols.
  12. ‘Victor or Victim; or the Mine of Darley Dale,’ 1883; new edition, 1844–5.
  13. ‘Miss Vandeleur; or robbing Peter to pay Paul,’ 3 vols. 1884.

By his wife Katherine (d. 1888), daughter of John Henry Nettleship, merchant of Ostend and Brussels, he had twelve children. The eldest daughter, Katherine Saunders (1841–1894), who married, in 1876, the Rev. Richard Cooper, published, among other works of fiction:

  1. ‘Margaret and Elizabeth: a Story of the Sea,’ 1873; new ed. 1884.
  2. ‘John Merryweather, and other Tales,’ 1874; new ed. 1884.
  3. ‘Gideon's Rock,’ &c., 1874; new ed. 1884.
  4. ‘The High Mills,’ 1875, 3 vols.; new ed. 1884.
  5. ‘Sebastian: a Novel,’ 1878.
  6. ‘Heart Salvage by Sea and Land,’ 1884, 3 vols.
  7. ‘Nearly in Port; or Phœbe Mostyn's Love Story,’ 1886.
  8. ‘Diamonds in Darkness: a Christian Story,’ 1888.
  9. ‘Holstone Priory,’ 1893.

She died on 7 Aug. 1894.

[Private information; Knight's Passages of a Working Life, ii. 193, 322, iii. 11, 20; Echo, 5 April 1891; obituary notices in the Times 4 April 1895, Athenæum 6 April, and Queen 20 April (by Sir Walter Besant).]

G. Le G. N.