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John Hollingshead

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Published : 97 Articles
Pen Names : None
Date of Birth : N/A
Death : N/A
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Journalist, theatre manager. Attended "a so-called 'Pestalozzian Academy'" at Homerton. Worked as warehouse clerk, commercial traveller, and cloth merchant. Did much reading; developed ambition to write for the press. Contributed to the Train, Cornhill (at Thackeray's invitation), Good Words, Punch, Leader, Morning Post, and some twenty other periodicals; dramatic critic for Daily News. Published some ten collections of his periodical contributions; also a selected 3-volume edition. After some fifteen years as journalist, turned his attention to the theatre; manager of Gaiety Theatre, 1868-1886; instituted various improvements and innovations in theatres and theatre management; was first English producer to stage a play by Ibsen. Worked for removal of paper duty, for reform of copyright law, for abolition of licensing regulations and other restrictions on stage performances.


It was as contributor to H.W. that Hollingshead became acquainted with Dickens. He admired Dickens and his writings; copies of books that he presented to Dickens he inscribed as from "his affectionate friend" (Stonehouse, Catalogue); but he was not a Dickens idolater. He saw in Dickens various limitations, as parochiality of sympathies, and characterized him as "an inspired Cockney", using the term, as he explained, "in no depreciating spirit, but as a brand of character" (My Lifetime, I, 188). In addition to their association as contributor and editor, the two men had in common their interest in the theatre. Dickens on one occasion suggested various alterations in a farce that Hollingshead had written; later he wrote to congratulate Hollingshead on its success on the stage. HolIingshead invited Dickens to performances at the Gaiety; Dickens attended one performance. HoIlingshead arranged for the stage the trial scene from Pickwick; he edited Dickens's Readings and published some articles on Dickens.

Hollingshead's rise from a "penny-a-liner" to a professional journalist owed much to the example of his friend William Moy Thomas. Thomas was a regular contributor to H.W., and Hollingshead, following his friend's lead, sent to the periodical a sketch titled "Poor Tom". Dickens found it "a pretty little paper of a good deal of merit" and felt that the writer might become "very serviceable" to H.W. (to Wills, September 26 1857). Hollingshead proved very serviceable not only to H.W., but also to A.Y.R. Dickens (according to Hollingshead) liked his new contributor's "readiness and versatility", and Holllngshead became the periodical's "champion out-door young man". Hollingshead had the ability to write the kind of "readable" though at times superficial papers that Dickens liked; occasionally, when a subject for a paper was suggested, stated Hollingshead, Dickens would say: "Let Hollingshead do it. ... He's the most ignorant man on the staff, but he'Il cram up the facts, and won’t give us an encyclopaedical article" (My Lifetime, I, 96-97, 190). Hollingshead called himself "a Dickens young man" and wrote of Dickens as "my master"; he took pains, however, to make it clear that he was not a Dickens imitator and that his H.W. and A.Y.R. contributions were not subjected to Dickensian touches: "My subjects were not very much à la Dickens, and, bad or good, I had a blunt plain style of my own. Of the many articles I wrote for Dickens ...  I can honestly say that Dickens's edltorship did not alter six lines in as many years" (My Lifetime, I, 96).

Of Hollingshead's H.W. articles, "The City of Unlimited Paper" was the most publicized. It was quoted in the Times and other newspapers, and thought by the Daily Telegraph to display "the powerful hand of Dickens"; it was admired by Thackeray (My Lifetime, I, 95; Thackeray, Letters, IV, 157). Lord Rosebery liked "The Humiliation of Fogmoor"; and Carlyle—so Hollingshead was informed—"approved of my actuality papers in Household Words in preference to many of what he called 'Dickens's Word-Spinnings'" (My Lifetime, I, 116, 158). William Bodham Donne naturally resented "An Official Scarecrow", which satirized as obsolescent and ridiculous the office of dramatic licenser (C. B. Johnson, ed., William Bodham Donne, p. 227).

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

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

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