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Richard Harris Barham

Richard Harris Barham Essay - Critical Essays

Barham, Richard Harris

Introduction

Richard Harris Barham 1788–1845

English novelist and humorist.

An English writer and cleric, Barham is known primarily for his ghost stories and tales of the supernatural collectively entitled Ingoldsby Legends. Written in skillful, lively rhyming verse, the stories have delighted generations of English school children, as well as adults, many of whom committed the comical and gruesome tales to memory. Although the stories began to fall out of favor by the 1920s, Barham is considered one of the most inventive and witty authors of light, humorous rhyme of the Victorian age.

Biography

Barham was born December 6, 1788, in Canterbury to Richard Harris Barham, a country squire, and Elizabeth Fox, his housekeeper. When Barham was a boy his father died, leaving him the heir to the family home. Under his guardians' care, Barham was well educated, first at St. Paul's in London, where he befriended Richard Bentley and, later, at Oxford, where he met Thomas Hook. At the age of fourteen, Barham was severely injured in a stagecoach accident and never regained complete use of one arm. After earning a Bachelor's Degree at Brasenose College, Barham decided to pursue Holy Orders and in March, 1813, he was established in his first church in Kent. A year later he moved to Westwell Parish where he met and wed Caroline Smart, with whom he would have several children. Three years later the family moved to Snargate in Romney Marsh where the family remained until they moved to London in April, 1821. Barham was injured again in an accident and, while recovering, wrote his first novel, Baldwin; or, a Miser's Heir (1820), and started on his second, Some Account of My Cousin Nicholas; To Which Is Added, The Rubber of Life (1841.) Neither novel was successful. After moving to London, Barham secured a minor canonry at St. Paul's and, in his spare time, entered the literary world, reacquainting himself with Bentley and Hook and meeting Charles Dickens and Sidney Smith. Almost immediately, Barham began to contribute reviews and then stories to various publications. In October, 1822, the London Chronicle serialized his story "The Ghost" the first of his Ingoldsby Legends. In February, 1837, Barham published "The Spectre of Tappington," using the pseudonym "Thomas Ingoldsby" for the first time. The tales became popular,

contributing to the success of the journal Bentley 's Miscellaneous in which most were published. Two collected volumes of the tales entitled The Ingoldsby Legends were printed in 1840 and 1842. All the while, Barham performed his duties within the Church of England successfully and was well liked by his parishioners. He advanced in the Church, rising to Vicar of St. Augustine and St. Faith Parish in London in 1842 and serving as president of Sion College, an institution for Anglican clergy. After a prolonged illness, Barham died on June 17, 1845. His son published a third volume of Ingoldsby Legends after his father's death.

Major Works

Although Barham published two novels and many reviews, he is known primarily for his Ingoldsby Legends, a series of ghost stories which are loosely bound by a common setting and family. Most, although not all, of the approximately seventy stories are written in rhyming verse and many are set at Tappington Everend, based on Barham's family home. In these stories, the characters commit crimes such as murder, adultery, abuse, and dismemberment, and they are punished for the crimes in grisly ways. They, as well as more innocent characters, encounter ghosts, are buried alive, mystified, tormented, and terrified. However, Barham infused the tales with humor and even the concluding moral tales seem to be in jest. Barham based many of the stories on folktales imparted to him by Mary Ann Hughes, who maintained an extensive correspondence with many people, including Sir Walter Scott. Barham based other tales on folklore and medieval history which he encountered in his reading. Among his best known stories are: "The Grey Dolphin," "The Spectre of Tappington," and "Legend of Hamilton Tighe."

Critical Reception

Despite the popularity of the Ingoldsby Legends, Barham has not elicited much critical attention. The greatest controversy surrounding his work occurred in 1844 when Richard Hengist Home published a series of essays entitled A New Spirit of the Age. In one of these essays, Home criticized Barham's tales, claiming they appealed to the baser side of human nature, relied upon cheap wit and slang, and were a bad influence on youth. Critics of the day rallied to Barham's aid, defending the stories for their humor and entertainment. Since Barham's death, critics have been interested in the author's skill at turning folktales into humourous, popular stories. David J. Winslow claims, "all Barham needed was the germ of an idea or story … to set in motion his genius and to bring laughter by his artistic remodeling and imaginative treatment of the original." Winslow compares Barham's skill at transforming folktales to that of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Edmund Spenser, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Finally, critics note the skill with which Barham employed rhyme and humor in his stories. William Lane states that Barham's position "as a delightful humorist appeared incontrovertible," and that the author continues to entertain readers more than a century after his death. Wendell V. Harris credits Barham with being "the first consistent English writer of the true short story."

Principal Works

Baldwin; or, a Miser's Heir (novel) 1820

The Ingoldsby Legends, or Mirth and Marvels (prose poem) 1840

Some Account of My Cousin Nicholas; To Which Is Added the Rubber of Life (novel) 1841

The Ingoldsby Legends: Second Series (prose poem) 1842

The Ingoldsby Legends: Third Series (prose poem) 1847

Criticism

Malcolm Elwin (essay date 1934)

SOURCE: "Wallflower the Third: 'Ingoldsby,' " in Victorian Wallflowers, Kennikat Press, 1934, reissued 1966, pp. 128-53.

[In the essay that follows, Elwin places Barham's work within the context of Victorian literature.]

When, following the foundation of Fraser, Thomas Campbell and Cyrus Redding shook the dust of Colburn's office from their shoes, they soon afterwards undertook the editorial of a new magazine, the Metropolitan, issued by a publisher named Cochrane. Campbell was an instance of a writer who succeeded early in building a high reputation, which he failed to consolidate because he feared that, by writing below his own standard, he might pull himself down from his own pedestall. As Scott remarked in 1826, 'he wants audacity, fears the public, and what is worse, fears the shadow of his own reputation'. Describing him as 'an idle man—an abstracted man', Redding recognized that he was 'not the man to lead in anything bold or novel, either in literary or political writing'; Talfourd, another colleague, considered him, for the editorial function, 'the most unfit person who could be found in the wide world of letters'; Maginn shrewdly put into his mouth the editorial dictum of 'never let anything go into your Magazine that has the least chance of being displeasing to anyone whatever'.'He finally retired from journalism when Cochrane, tiring much more quickly than Colburn of his timidity and pusillanimity, sold the Metropolitan, after eighteen months, to Captain Marryatt.

The Metropolitan never entered upon serious competition with the brilliant and militant Fraser, Marryatt using it merely as a vehicle of publicity for his own writings. Its importance in journalistic history rests on the fact that it was the first magazine to rely for its circulation on the work and reputation of a single individual writer. Marryatt, in fact, revolutionized magazine policy by promoting the serial story, which had been hitherto sparingly exploited both in Blackwood and Fraser, to the position of being the main feature of interest and attraction. A quarter of a century later, George Smith founded the Cornhill with the primary idea of similarly exploiting Thackeray's work and reputation, and Colburn was influenced by Marryatt's example when, in 1836, he appointed Theodore Hook as editor of the New Monthly.

Hook was now at the height of his reputation; it was at this time that Thackeray knew him and derived the impressions crystallized in 'Mr. Wagg'. Regarded as the brightest wit of the age, his broad, humorous, red face and proportionately broad white waistcoat were familiar sights in every club and fashionable assembly. He had now considerable reputation as a popular novelist, as well as for his social wit and humorous writings, and Colburn, having allowed his magazine to jog along in humdrum mediocrity under the direction of Samuel Carter Hall since Bulwer's resignation, now hoped to renew its vitality with the lustre of Hook's reputation and by featuring his novels as serials. Quite content to be boosted by his publisher in return for the advertisement of his name, Hook, like Campbell before him, left the real work of editing the magazine to a subordinate. Hall, resentful of being superseded for the second time, having resigned, the energetic John Forster undertook the business of management; as Thackeray relates, 'Mr. Bole' was 'the real editor of the magazine of which Mr. Wagg was the nominal chief.

As Colburn was the original Mr. Bacon of Pendennis, the prototype of his rival, Mr. Bungay, was Richard Bentley. In 1829, Colburn took Bentley into partnership and soon afterwards sold his flourishing business to him. Here Thackeray utilizes the novelist's licence to lend romantic colour to their relations, the breaking of the partnership between Bacon and Bungay being ascribed to the strife between their wives, each having married the other's sister. Nevertheless, there was definitely rancour in the rivalry between the erstwhile partners when they became competitors. Bentley, a hard bargainer and an adept in drawing up contracts profitable to himself,1 obtained in the deed of purchase a promise from Colburn that he would not recommence the business of publishing in London. But, like an old soldier, the elder publisher yearned in retirement for the familiar smell of powder and soon reopened business in opposition to Bentley.

The character of their competition is not exaggerated by Thackeray.

'Since they have separated, it is a furious war between the two publishers; and no sooner does one bring out a book of travels, or poems, a magazine or periodical, quarterly, or monthly, or weekly, or annual, but the rival is in the field with something similar. I have heard poor Shandon tell with great glee how he made Bungay give a grand dinner at Blackwall to all his writers, by saying that Bacon had invited his corps to an entertainment at Greenwich. When Bungay engaged your celebrated friend Mr. Wagg to edit the Londoner, Bacon straightaway rushed off and secured Mr. Grindle to give his name to the Westminster Magazine. When Bacon brought out his comic Irish novel of "Barney Brallagan", off went Bungay to Dublin, and produced his rollicking Hibernian story of "Looney Mac Twolter". When Doctor Hicks brought out his "Wanderings in Mesopotamia" under Bacon's auspices, Bungay produced Professor Sandiman's "Researches in Zahara"; and Bungay is publishing his Pall Mall Gazette as a counterpoise to Bacon's Whitehall Review. '

So when Colburn secured Hook's services for the New Monthly, Bentley immediately conceived the ambition of starting a magazine in opposition. Though Colburn commanded the biggest guns among the novelists—Bulwer, Marryatt, Disraeli, Hook, Horace Smith, and G. P. R. James—Bentley published the earliest successes of Harrison Ainsworth, Dickens, and Lover, and he shrewdly decided to recruit his magazine team from promising new writers on the threshold of their reputations. He evinced enterprise and astute judgment in engaging as editor, in August 1836, Charles Dickens, whose Pickwick Papers, still in their early numbers, were just taking hold of the public and about to lift their author from obscurity to fame. Dickens accepted his offer of twenty pounds a month to edit the magazine, and agreed to supply two serial stories at £500 each. The first of these was Oliver Twist, which, following upon the success of Pickwick, procured for the magazine such popularity that the publisher gladly increased his editor's salary to thirty pounds a month and the price of the serials to £750 each. Even so, by the time Oliver Twist had run its course and Dickens had become the best-selling novelist of his day, such payment was utterly indequate, and Bentley was compelled to offer four thousand pounds for the second serial, Barnaby Rudge. Hard pressed by work and reluctant to risk injury to his reputation by hasty writing, Dickens requested a respite of six months before commencing publication of the new story. To this Bentley refused to agree as, without the star attraction of Dickens's serial, the sales of the magazine must have shown a serious decline, and Dickens thereupon resigned the editorship, in which he was succeeded by Harrison Ainsworth.

Ainsworth, who had become a best-selling novelist with Rookwood in 1834, was among the earliest con tributors to the magazine. As publisher of their novels, Bentley naturally relied upon his allegiance and that of Samuel Lover, and he successfully poached upon the preserves of Fraser and New Monthly by securing as contributors Maginn and 'Father Prout' from the formar, and no less a person than Hook, the editor himself, from the other. It was probably Hook of whom Cruikshank relates that, on receiving from Bentley the confidence that he had changed his original idea of calling the magazine The Wits ' Miscellany, owing to the invidiousness of the title, and decided to follow the example of Fraser and Blackwood by prefacing his own name, he replied, 'Yes, there was good reason why you should not call it The Wits ' Miscellany, but why go to the opposite extreme?'

It is interesting to compare the opening number of Bentley's Miscellany, which appeared in January 1837, with the first of Fraser, issued seven years earlier. At a first glance, Bentley appears to be directing its appeal to a lower class of readers. Apart from Maginn's 'Prologue', the most serious article is Hook's reminiscences of the dramatist, George Colman, and the only verse is the light, humorous stuff of 'Father Prout'. With the first instalment of Lover's Handy Andy, which ran concurrently with Oliver Twist, the latter beginning in the second number, and short stories by Thomas Love Peacock, Fenimore Cooper, Marryatt, and 'Boz', the prevalence of fiction is the most arresting feature, while a glance at Fraser reveals as equally remarkable the absence of provocative reviewing. The difference signifies the change of taste and fashion. Henceforth, fiction and 'light reading' comprised the province of the magazine, and reviewers like Lockhart and Maginn were compelled to seek a market mainly in the more serious literary and political weekly journals.

The success of Blackwood and Fraser had been due to the sensationalism of satiric lampooning, the vigorous style of reviewing, and the originality of political, literary, and social comment. The success of Bentley 's Miscellany was mainly owed to the serial publication of several brilliantly successful novels. After Oliver Twist and Handy Andy, followed Ainsworth's Jack Sheppard and Guy Fawkes, Henry Cockton's Stanley Thorn, and Albert Smith's Adventures of Mr. Ledbury and Fortunes of the Scattergood Family. Apart from novels and stories, the illustrations of Cruikshank, Crowquill, and Leech, and a few poems by Longfellow, the only other popular contributions were the humorous and satirical verse of 'Father Prout', such as he had formerly written for Fraser, and the Ingoldsby Legends.

'Family Stories, by Thomas Ingoldsby' began in the second number with The Spectre of Tappington, which was followed by the Legend of Hamilton Tighe, Grey Dolphin, The Squire's Story, The Execution, and others, continuing over a period of years. Even Dickens was at first unaware of the identity of his contributor, for as late as the end of April 1837, the author told a friend that to 'that very funny fellow' Boz, 'I am only known as a veritable Mr. Ingoldsby'. Bentley, of course, knew the secret, though by special arrangement, as the author declared, his copy 'goes at once from me to the printer, and is returned in proof to him without any intermediate channel'. But, as Ingoldsby's biographer2 relates, the popularity of the legends 'rendered the pseudonym he had for obvious reasons assumed a very insufficient disguise, and, though he never entirely abandoned it, he was soon pretty generally known to be their author'. So the secret was out, and the inquisitive reading public, hoping for a sensational disclosure as dramatic as in the case of the author of Waverley, doubtless felt only a curious interest and considerable disappointment on learning that Ingoldsby was merely a minor canon of St. Paul's Cathedral. Quiet and unobtrusive, he made no figure in the fashionable literary world of Ainsworth and Bulwer. The manner in which he began to be noticed is instanced by an entry in the diary of Thomas Moore after he had attended a dinner at Bentley's house in New Burlington Street, where the publisher gave literary parties such as that of Mr. Bungay's attended by Pendennis.

'November 21st, 1838. Dined at Bentley's: the company all the very haut ton of the literature of the day. First (to begin low in the scale) myself, then Mr. Jerdan of The Literary Gazette, then Mr. Ainsworth, then Mr. Lover, then Luttrell, and lastly "Boz" (Dickens) and Campbell … Our host very courteous and modest, and the conversation rather agreeable. Lover sang … Forgot, by the bye, one of the cleverest fellows, Barham, the Minor Canon. … '

The Rev. Richard Harris Barham had been in London some sixteen years, and during all that time, he had been in the habit of making occasional contributions to journalism. He had done nothing of note, however, and before the appearance of the legends, his most ambitious work had been a serial tale in Blackwood's Magazine. His life, indeed, had been that of a fashionable clergyman, with a taste for literature and the conversation of literary men; he loved the anecdotes of the dinner-table, told over the consumption of excellent port, and liked to call on his friends and, finding them out, to leave little messages in doggerel verse improvised on the spur of the moment. Eagerly he took advantage of the social avenues opened to him by his professional position: he enjoyed good wine and gossip—not scandal, but the rumours and news of the world of letters. Preferring mythology to theology and a squib to a sermon, he fulfilled his official functions competently and conscientiously, preserving a more truly Christian spirit than many an enthusiastic ecclesiastic. With a strong sense of humour, tolerant, witty, and amusing, he was a congenial companion and a good friend.

Born December 6th, 1788, of good old Kentish stock, at Canterbury, he was the only son of an old-fashioned country squire, who, though of superior intellectual equipment to the standard of his class, preferred his port to activity, either mental or physical, and achieved the enormous weight of twenty-seven stone before his fiftieth year. Probably this abnormal obesity hastened his end, for he died when his son was seven, leaving him the 'moderate estate, somewhat encumbered', of Tappington Everard. We are warned by Barham's biographer to dismiss as 'pardonable myths' the 'shaded avenue, terminating in a lodge, whose gates support the Ingoldsby device', together with Mrs. Botherby and the secret passage, but the Tappington Everard of fact was indeed the 'antiquated but commodious manor-house' of fiction, with a variety of archaeological interest and legendary history. In this environment, calculated to impress the imagination of a lonely and rather studious boy, young Barham spent his childhood, and cultivated that insatiable appetite for ghost-stories and 'old wives' tales', which characterized his tastes throughout his life.

At the age of nine, he was sent to St. Paul's School, where 'he made rapid progress in the classics', though 'for mathematics he had no taste'. It was when proceeding from Tappington to town by the Dover mail that the coach overturned, and he sustained an injury to his arm, which partially crippled the limb. He was fourteen at the time. From St. Paul's he went up to Oxford, where he was a contemporary, though much the junior, of De Quincey and 'Christopher North'. At Brasenose, his career was remarkable only for a passion for the drama—if the O.U.D.S. had existed in his day, he would probably have been a president—and there was never a suggestion of his becoming a parson until he himself conceived the idea during 'the course of a short and severe illness'. Accordingly, in March, 1813, he was appointed to the curacy of Ashford, in Kent, where he remained about a year before removing to the small neighbouring parish of Westwell. On going to Westwell, he married Miss Caroline Smart, daughter of a captain in the Royal Engineers. Three years later, he received the rectory of Snargate in Romney Marsh, where he remained until, in April 1821, he was appointed to the vacant minor canonry at St. Paul's. During his sojourn at Snargate occurred only one incident of importance, which he recorded with almost comical terseness in a pocket-book:

'May 13, 1819. Drove William and Dick into Ashford—overturned the gig—broke my right leg and sprained my left ankle. Mary Anne came back in the chaise with me.'

During the convalescence succeeding this injury, he wrote his first novel, called Baldwin, for which he was paid twenty pounds by the Minerva Press, which, by all accounts, made no profit by the transaction.

Having settled himself and his growing family in a house in Great Queen Street, Barham decided to increase his income—a necessary procedure in view of the expense of living in town—by essaying literary journalism. Like many literary beginners of that time, he was taken into the warm bosom of William Jerdan, the editor of the Literary Gazette, and also contributed to John Bull and the Globe and Traveller. These contributions consisted, except for an occasional review, entirely of verse, and cannot have supplied that addition to his income which he desired. Very soon, however, he obtained the more profitable but laborious privilege of editing the London Chronicle, a position he held until, a year or two later, the journal was amalgamated with the St. James's Chronicle. Referring to this connection in his journal, Barham remarked: Of this journal Dr. Johnson was the first editor, and I the last. The causes of its decline may be inferred. Colonel Torrens, the proprietor, sold it to Mr. C. Baldwin for £300'. On its ruins Baldwin founded the Standard, which Giffard edited with Maginn's assistance.

His most enduring literary connection before the advent of Ingoldsby was with Blackwood's Magazine, to which he was probably introduced by Maginn. In the summer of 1826, The Ghost, a Canterbury Tale, which had previously appeared by instalments in the London Chronicle, was published in that famous periodical, and for several years afterwards, Barham not only contributed short stories of a similar type, but supplied old 'Ebony' with a certain amount of hack-work. He noted in his diary about this time:

'My wife goes to bed at ten, to rise at eight, and look after the children and other matrimonial duties. I sit up till three in the morning, working at rubbish for Blackwood. She is the slave of the ring and I of the lamp.'

So he worked for a decade, during which he suffered domestic afflictions—he had a large family, of which five failed to survive childhood—with a sturdy fortitude, and never lost his cheerful outlook on life. Rarely has a man left behind him letters and a journai so uniformly genial and benevolent in tone so utterly destitute of malice and petty irritation, so genuinely ingenuous and unassuming. There is no acidity in the taste of his life. When he came into contact with suffering, he did not assume a heavy professional air of sanctimonious sophistry, but spoke simply and sincerely from a philosophical and delicate understanding. Speaking of the insanity of Southey's wife in a letter to his consistent correspondent, Mrs. Hughes, grandmother of the author of Tom Brown, he says:

'A heart like his does not the less...

(The entire section is 7952 words.)

William G. Lane (essay date 1955)

SOURCE: "R. H. Barham and Dickens's Clergyman of Oliver Twist," Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Vol. 10, No. 2, September, 1955, pp. 159-62.

[In the following essay, Lane refutes the theory that Barham was the model for Dickens's cleric in Oliver Twist.]

In an article occasioned by the centenary of the first issue of Bentley 's Miscellany, Miss L. M. Littlewood makes a connection between the clergyman of Oliver Twist and Richard Harris Barham ("Thomas Ingoldsby").

"Boz," all the world knows, was a sensitive man [she writes] and, in this case, there is ground for supposing that he resented Barham's friendship with Bentley,...

(The entire section is 1051 words.)

Royal A. Gettmann (essay date 1957)

SOURCE: "Barham and Bentley," The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, Vol. LVI, No. 3, July, 1957, pp. 337-46.

[In the essay that follows, Gettmann describes the working relationship and friendship between Barham and publisher Richard Bentley.]

The story of the relations between R. H. Barham and Richard Bentley will throw some light upon mid-nineteenth-century publishing and especially on the financial aspects of a best seller, The Ingoldsby Legends. Barham became associated with the House of Bentley in 1837 when, according to his son, the publisher sought the "auxiliar services" of his father for the Miscellany. Bentley himself said that it was in...

(The entire section is 4321 words.)

William G. Lane (essay date 1958)

SOURCE: "The Primitive Muse of Thomas Ingoldsby," Harvard Library Bulletin, Vol. XII, 1958, pp. 220-41.

[In the following excerpt, Lane examines the critical reception of Barham's work.]

… Barham's pseudonym quickly became established in the mind of the reading public, but the name did not then, as it does not now, carry with it the picture of the conscientious clergyman of St Paul's. The 'secular signature' was known widely, that of the minor canon to a much smaller group. The reputation of the clergyman was impeccable, and to all who knew him in this capacity the memory of his name must have remained green as long as they lived. His many services to his...

(The entire section is 6124 words.)

William G. Lane (essay date 1967)

SOURCE: "Ingoldsby's Fame: Contemporary and Posthumous," in Richard Harris Barham, University of Missouri Press, 1967, pp. 206-22.

[In the following essay, Lane discusses the critical and popular reception of Barham's The Ingoldsby Legends.]

We own we expect to see fresh Tennysons, fresh Thackerays, and fresh Lyttons, before we again fall in with that peculiar combination of qualities required for the production of the Ingoldsby Legends.

FRASER'S MAGAZINE, LXXXII (1871), 304

From the first appearance of the Legends, Ingoldsby was said to be "a most pleasant fellow in his mirthful...

(The entire section is 5768 words.)

David J. Winslow (essay date 1971)

SOURCE: "Richard Harris Barham and His Use of Folklore," New York Folklore Quarterly, Vol. 27, March, 1971, pp. 370-84.

[In the following essay, Winslow examines the English folklore that formed the basis for much of Barham's poetry.]

Richard Harris Barham, Victorian poet and humorist, provides an interesting subject for the analysis of the use of folklore in literature. Wit, clergyman, antiquarian, and poet, Barham managed to assemble, transform, and stamp with roguish humor a wide array of authentic folklore material, although he himself was far removed from the folk in mind, manner, and milieu. Traditional oral prose narratives, in particular legends, tales, and...

(The entire section is 4866 words.)

Stephen Bann (essay date 1984)

SOURCE: "Defences against Irony: Barham, Ruskin, Fox Talbot," in The Clothing of Clio: A Study of the Representation of History in Nineteenth-Century Britain and France, Cambridge University Press, 1984, pp. 112-23.

[In the following excerpt, Bann traces the evolution of literary irony by comparing the works of Barham and Sir Walter Scott.]

In 1856 the child Henry James was 'thrilled' by the French painter Delaroche's 'reconstitution of far-off history', which his elder brother William regarded as being of little interest. The anecdote reminds us that by this stage (and for a decade or so before that date), the freshness and evocative power of the historical...

(The entire section is 6554 words.)