Watts, Henry Edward (DNB12)

WATTS, HENRY EDWARD (1826–1904), author, born at Calcutta on 15 Oct. 1826, was son of Henry Cecil Watts, head clerk in the police office at Calcutta, by his wife Emily Weldon. He was educated at a private school at Greenwich, and later at Exeter grammar school, where he became head-boy. Plans of proceeding to Exeter College, Oxford, or of training for the Honourable East India Company's Service came to nothing. At the age of twenty Watts returned to Calcutta, whence, after working as a journalist for some years, he went to Australia in search of an elder brother who had gone to the gold-diggings and was never heard of again. After an unsuccessful venture in mining, Watts joined the staff of the ‘Melbourne Argus,’ of which paper he became editor in 1859. On his return to England he was attached to a short-lived liberal newspaper at York, where he contracted small-pox, a disease of which he bore marked traces in after-life. Later he removed to London, and about 1868 joined the ‘Standard,’ acting as leader-writer and sub-editor in the colonial and literary departments. At this period he was also home correspondent for the ‘Melbourne Argus.’ He occupied rooms in Pall Mall before settling at 52 Bedford Gardens, Campden Hill, where he died of cancer on 7 Nov. 1904. He was unmarried. A contributor to the ‘Westminster Review,’ the ‘Encyclopædia Britannica,’ ‘Blackwood's,’ ‘Fraser's,’ the ‘Saturday Review,’ and the ‘St. James's Gazette,’ he is best remembered for his translation of ‘Don Quixote’ (1888; revised edit. 1895), originally begun in collaboration with A. J. Duffield. The first edition contained ‘a new life of Cervantes,’ which was corrected, enlarged, and issued separately in 1895. Watts also wrote a biographical sketch of Cervantes for the ‘Great Writers’ series in 1891, an essay on Quevedo for an English edition of ‘Pablo de Segovia’ (1892), illustrated by Daniel Vierge, and ‘Spain’ (1893) for the ‘Story of the Nations’ series.

Watts had no linguistic gifts, and only once travelled in Spain, when he went with his friend, Carlisle Macartney, for the purpose of visiting places associated with Cervantes or with ‘Don Quixote’; yet his workmanlike knowledge of Spanish, his literary taste, and fluent English style enabled him to produce a well-annotated translation and to make a marked advance on the eighteenth-century versions which he condemned. His life of Cervantes is less satisfactory: apart from recent crucial discoveries, of which he was ignorant, Watts's work is disfigured by an extravagant hero-worship. A man of violent prejudices, Watts allowed his personal likings and antipathies to disturb his literary judgments. Though harsh in speech and brusque in manner, he was not unpopular at the Savile Club, London, of which he was an original member and an habitual frequenter.

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J. F-K.