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John Forster

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Published : 7 Articles
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Forster, John I Mr. J. F., J. F. I 1812–1876, editor, historian, biographer. Studied at University College, London. Admitted at Inner Temple, 1828; called to the bar, 1843, but did not practise law. Secretary to commissioners of lunacy, 1855–61; appointed one of commissioners, 1861. Contributed at various times to Athenaeum, Edin. Rev., Quart. Rev., and other periodicals. In 1830s, dramatic critic of True Sun; literary and dramatic critic of Examiner. Editor of Foreign Quart. Rev. 1842–43; of Daily News (on Dickens's relinquishing the editorship), Feb.–Oct. 1846; of Examiner, 1847–55. Author of The Statesmen of the Commonwealth of England, 1840 (first published in Lardner's Cabinet Cyclopaedia); Arrest of the Five Members by Charles the First, 1860; and other historical works; biography of Goldsmith, 1848; of Landor, 1869; of Dickens, 1872–74. 

Forster met Dickens in 1836; he became and remained Dickens's staunch and loyal friend. Dickens appointed Forster co-executor of his will and bequeathed to him – "to my dear and trusty friend" – the MSS of works in Dickens's possession at the time of his death. Forster was frequently in Dickens's company during the earlier years of their friendship, less frequently during the later years. He took part in many of the activities in which Dickens engaged, as in the theatrical presentations. He was Dickens's adviser and counsellor in personal matters, representing him in the working out of the separation arrangement between him and his wife. He came to Dickens's aid in Dickens's bargaining with publishers. He was Dickens's adviser and counsellor in literary matters. After the fourteenth number of Pickwick, stated Forster, there was nothing that Dickens wrote "which I did not see before the world did, either in manuscript or proofs" (Life, Book II, sect. i). In his life of Dickens, Forster recorded his high opinion of Dickens's writings. He dedicated to him his biography of Goldsmith. Dickens expressed great admiration for the biography as he did for Arrest of the Five Members and for the biography of Landor. He dedicated to Forster in 1858 the Library Edition of his works, in "grateful remembrance of the many patient hours" that Forster had devoted to the correction of proof-sheets of the original editions and "in affectionate acknowledgment" of Forster's "counsel, sympathy, and faithful friendship, during my whole literary life." The long and intimate association of the two writers was not unmarked by clashes of temperament. In his letters Dickens made disparaging remarks about Forster; he caricatured his mannerisms in Podsnap of Our Mutual Friend.
      In the partnership agreement under which H.W. was set up, Forster was, with Dickens, with the publishers Bradbury & Evans, and with Wills, one of the joint proprietors; he held an interest of one-eighth share, in consideration of which he was "from time to time" to contribute literary articles, without payment. According to an unsigned copy of a memorandum among Wills's papers, Forster, in 1854, informed his co-proprietors of his inability to continue his contributions; he did not exercise his option of retaining his share on condition of making a payment of £1100; in 1856, he relinquished his share (Lehmann, ed., Charles Dickens As Editor, pp. 19, 195–97). 
      In connection with H.W., Forster was important as consultant and adviser, rather than as contributor. He presided, as it were, at the conception and birth of H.W., as he did at its dissolution. It was to Forster that Dickens first mentioned his plan for the periodical: "I have not breathed the idea to anyone" (Oct. 7, 1849). It was Forster's finding the original plan impracticable that led to a change of design. It was in letters to Forster that Dickens recorded his various ideas for a title and his choice of the final one. It was Forster who suggested the selection of Wills as assistant editor. Once the periodical was established, Dickens referred to Forster various matters concerning items on which he wanted a final opinion – which title was best for an item, for instance, whether Dickens's comments in an article were too severe, whether certain submitted poems were original or plagiarized. Forster corrected the proofs of various of Dickens's articles. He attended some of the staff meetings. Finally, he acted for Dickens in 1858 in Dickens's attempt to dislodge Bradbury & Evans as printers and publishers of H.W. – the first step in the proceedings that led to the discontinuance of the periodical.
      Forster's severance of direct ties with H.W. – that is, his reporting, in 1854, that he was unable to continue his contributions and his relinquishing, in 1856, his one-eighth share – may have been due in part to the animosity that had grown up during the years between him and Wills, and to his conviction that Wills did not defer sufficiently to him in the management of the periodical. In a letter of 1853, from Florence, Dickens wrote to his wife that he had twice heard from Forster: "He complains of Wills as not consulting him enough, and is evidently very sore in that connexion" (Mr. & Mrs. Charles Dickens, ed. Dexter, p. 219).
       While still active in H.W. matters, however, Forster had various connections with the periodical aside from his serving as consultant and adviser. One of these was his connection with the Household Narrative of Current Events, a supplementary publication brought out from 1850 to 1855. According to Percy Fitzgerald (Memories of Charles Dickens, p. 124), "this department," i.e., the Narrative, "was allotted to Forster"; according to Morley, Forster wrote the lead article in the various numbers of the Narrative (Solly, Life of Henry Morley, p. 200). (The actual compiling of the news summaries for the Narrative was the work of George Hogarth.) Forster had, moreover, a connection with an occasional H.W. item not of his writing. He invited both Browning and his wife to become contributors to H.W., and he was obviously the intermediary through whom a sonnet of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's made its appearance in H.W. pages. He also furnished to the editorial office the letters of the emigrants Harrold and his sister (in the Office Book, only the second of the Harrold items is marked "per Forster," but obviously the letters that constitute the first item must have arrived at the editorial office through the same agency). An important auxiliary service that Forster rendered to H.W. was the publicity that he gave the periodical in the Examiner during the years of his editorship that coincided with the publication of H.W. (to end of 1855). In addition to various mentions of the periodical – "the delightful Household Words of Mr. Dickens" – there appeared in the Examiner during these years selections (all duly acknowledged) from some forty H.W. items, extravagant praise of the Christmas numbers, and high commendation of the H.W. Almanac
      Dickens had no commendatory comments on Forster's H.W. articles. In a letter to Wills, Nov. 3, 1852, concerning "The Reason Why," [VI, 233–34. Nov. 20, 1852] he referred sarcastically to Forster's "blunder" in having taken Robert Stephen Hawker's Trelawny ballad to be in entirety an ancient ballad: "Of course [Forster] makes out that there is a positive merit in having made the blunder, and that if it really had been the old ballad, his intention would have rather failed upon the whole. I have taken the liberty of assaulting this conclusion between the eyes, and knocking it over heads and heels." In a letter to Wills, Feb. 17, 1853, concerning the proofs of a forthcoming number, Dickens wrote: "I don't like Forster's paper to lead off with, but don't think Sala's better." The number was that of March 5, in which the first instalment of Forster's "Seventy-Eight Years Ago" [VII, 1–6. March 5, 1853 and VII, 157–63. April 16, 1853] appeared as lead item, and Sala's "The Last Crusader" as fifth item. To Forster's article on Edmund Cartwright [VII, 440–45. July 9, 1853] , Dickens gave the title "The Power-Loom" (to Wills, June 18, 1853).
      In H.W., reference to Forster's biography of Goldsmith appeared in Whitehead's "Off! Off!" and reference to "our friend, THE EXAMINER newspaper," in Dickens's "That Other Public." In A.Y.R., the article on Forster's Arrest of the Five Members (May 26, 1860) gave high praise to that book – "this splendid piece of history"; the article on his biography of Sir John Eliot (April 23, 1864) praised that work for its scholarship and its fine perceptiveness and judgment. The article on Forster's biography of Landor (July 24, 1869) Dickens wrote himself. "It rarely befals an author," he stated, "to have such a commentator: to become the subject of so much artistic skill and knowledge, combined with such infinite and loving pains."
      Harper's reprinted "Francis Jeffrey," [I, 113–18. April 27, 1850] with acknowledgment to H.W.

Author: Anne Lohrli; © University of Toronto Press, 1971

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

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