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William Howitt

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Published : 26 Articles
Pen Names : None
Date of Birth : 18/12/1792
Death : 3/3/1879
Views : 3595

Miscellaneous writer. Attended Friends' schools; extended his education by reading and by study of foreign languages. Early began writing verse and contributing sketches to obscure periodicals; later wrote for Chambers's, Tait's, Monthly Repository, People's Journal, and other periodicals, including spiritualist magazines. Brought out Howitt's Journal of Literature and Popular Progress, 1847-1848. In the Journal, as in his writing in other periodicals and in his books, supported humanitarian causes and social reform. In 1823 published The Forest Minstrel, and Other Poems, written jointly with his wife ; also collaborated with her on other works. Author of books on rural English life, books based on his stay in Germany and in Australia, historical works, works on religion, books for boys, adult fiction. Published some translations from the German; also aided his wife  Mary Howitt in translations from the Swedish. In 1865 granted Civil List pension of £140 a year "In consideration of the long and useful career of literary labour in which both he and his wife have been engaged" (Colles, Literature and the Pension List).


Howitt admired Dickens's writings particularly for their social awareness (People's Journal, January 3 1846). He was acquainted with Dickens, who asked both him and his wife to contribute to H.W. The amicable relationship between the two men was broken late in 1859 by a quarrel resulting from Dickens's skepticism concerning supernatural phenomena and Howitt's conviction in spiritualism. It was carried on in person, by letter, and, by Howitt, in the pages of the Spiritual Magazine (Woodring, Victorian Samplers, pp. 202-204). The article "Rather a Strong Dose", A.Y.R., March 21 1863, ridiculed the ideas advanced by Howitt in his History of the Supernatural.

Dickens obviously valued Howitt as a H.W. contributor. When he was obliged to refuse one of Howitt's papers because its subject had already been dealt with, he took pains to explain the situation to Howitt and to assure him that he liked his paper "very much" (November 11, November 12 1850). When Howitt on one occasion was displeased with Wills's handling of his contributions, Dickens suggested Howitt's sending them in the future directly to him. It would give him pain, he assured Howitt, if anything disagreeable arose out of their association (May 18 1852: typescript Huntington Library). According to Anna Mary Howitt, the Australian sketches and tales that Howitt contributed to H.W. "received warm encomium from Dickens" (Pioneers of the Spiritual Reformation, p. 237).

In his preface to Tallangetta, Howitt took occasion to refute the statement of an Australian critic that those sketches were "evidently the work of two hands" and that it was "probably Dickens himself" who had "breathed into them the breath of genius". No hand but his own, wrote Howitt, had "touched a syllable of those papers".

At the time of its appearance in
H.W., "The Miner's Daughters", was thought by some readers to be the writing of Mrs. Gaskell or of "Currer Bell". The Office Book ascription to Howitt of that story, as also of the article "Epping Forest", is confirmed by mention of the two items in Mrs. Howitt's Autobiography (II, 59, 166-167). So too is the Office Book ascription of "Mrs. Ranford's New Year's Dinner": the item is obviously the "beautiful story" that Mrs. Howitt mentioned her husband as writing in November 1850 for the Christmas number of that year (Autobiography, II, 63). Dickens had written to Howitt, November 12, that he would let him know about the space in the Christmas number. There had evidently been no room for the story; it appeared in the number of January 4. Howitt's "religious credulity paper", the subject of Dickens's letter of May 18 1852, is "Volunteer Apostles". Dickens's reference to one of Howitt's papers as "all right" is a reference to "The Land-Shark"; Dickens wanted the German poetry deleted or given also in English (to Wills, January 1 1856); the poetry was deleted. Howitt had no connection with the writing of "A Colonial Patriot", to which his name is attached in the Office Book.

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


Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

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