Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Weber, Henry William

WEBER, HENRY WILLIAM (1783–1818), editor of plays and romances and literary assistant of Sir Walter Scott, is said to have been the son of a Westphalian who married an Englishwoman, and to have been born at St. Petersburg in 1783. He 'escaped to this country in 1804 from misfortunes in his own,' and was sent down with his mother to Edinburgh 'by some of the London booksellers in a half-starved state.' Scott pitied their condition, employed him from August 1804 as his amanuensis, and secured for him profitable work in literature. Weber was 'an excellent and affectionate creature,' but was imbued with Jacobin principles, about which Scott used to taunt him. He was 'afflicted with partial insanity,' especially under the influence of strong drinks, to which he was occasionally addicted (Scott, Journal, 1890, i. 149). Scott's family, with whom he often dined, liked his appearance and manners, and were pleased by his stores of knowledge and the reminiscences of a chequered career. After Christmas 1813 a fit of madness seized Weber at dusk, at the close of a day's work in the same room with his employer. He produced a pair of pistols, and challenged Scott to mortal combat. A parley ensued, and Weber dined with the Scotts; next day he was put under restraint. His friends, with some assistance from Scott, supported him, 'a hopeless lunatic,' in an asylum at York. There he died in June 1818.

Scott describes Weber as 'a man of very superior attainments, an excellent linguist and geographer, and a remarkable antiquary.' He edited 'The Battle of Flodden Field: a Poem of the Sixteenth Century, with various Readings, Notes,' &c., 1808; Newcastle, 1819. Sixteen copies of the 'Notes and Illustrations' were struck off separately. Scott advised him in the publication and supplied materials. 2. 'Metrical Romances of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Sixteenth Centuries, with Introduction, Notes, and Glossary,' 1810, 3 vols. Described by Southey as 'admirably edited' (Letters, ed. Warter, ii. 308). 3. 'Dramatic Works of John Ford, with Introduction and Explanatory Notes,' 1811, 2 vols. He was not skilled in old English literature, and did not collate the early editions of the plays. This work aroused a storm of angry comment (cf. Ford, Works, ed. Gifford, 1827, vol. i. pp. li–clxxx; Letter to William Gifford, by Octavius Gilchrist, 1811; Letter to J. P. Kemble [anon., by G. D. Whittington], 1811; Letter to Richard Heber [anon., by Rev. John Mitford], 1812). 4. 'Works of Beaumont and Fletcher, with Introduction and Explanatory Notes,' 1812, 14 vols.; acknowledged by Scott, whose own annotated edition supplied the most valuable notes, to have been 'carelessly done;' Dyce speaks of it as 'on the whole the best edition of the dramatists which had yet appeared' (Works of Beaumont and Fletcher, 1843, vol. i. p. iii). 5. 'Tales of the East; comprising the most Popular Romances of Oriental Origin and the best Imitations by European Authors,' 1812, 3 vols.; the preface was borrowed from the 'Tartarian Tales' of Thomas Flloyd of Dublin (Athenæum, 14 April 1894, p. 474). 6. 'Popular Romances, consisting of Imaginary Voyages and Travels,' 1812 (Lowndes, Bibl. Man. ed. Bohn, iv. 2862). 7. 'Genealogical History of Earldom of Sutherland, by Sir Robert Gordon [edited by Weber],' 1813. 8. 'Illustrations of Northern Antiquities from the earlier Teutonic and Scandinavian Romances,' 1814; in this Weber was assisted by Dr. Jamieson and Scott; it is a work 'of admirable learning, taste, and execution' (Roscoe, German Novelists, iv. p. 6).

[Gent. Mag. 1818, i. 646; Nichols's Illustr. of Lit. Hist. vii. 213–18; Lockhart's Scott (1845 ed.), pp. 117–18, 158–9, 202, 237, 251–2, 613; Byron's Poems, ed. 1898, i. 396; Scott's Journal, i. 149; Scott's Letters, i. 320, 387; Smiles's John Murray, i. 145, 172, 259; Pinkerton Corresp. ii. 406–7.]

W. P. C.