Richard Doddridge Blackmore’s father was an Anglican curate. When Blackmore’s mother died shortly after his birth in Longworth, Berkshire, England, on June 7, 1825, his father sent him to live with a grandmother. Blackmore was an unusually shy person and was reticent about his life, so relatively little is known about him. The reason for his shyness may have been a tendency toward strokes that became evident even during his childhood and that plagued Blackmore throughout his life. After attending Blundell School, Blackmore entered Exeter College of Oxford University in 1843, receiving his M.A. in 1852. Following graduation from Oxford, he studied law and was admitted to the bar. Blackmore married Lucy Maguire in 1853. Although his wife was an invalid during most of their married life, her death was a severe blow to Blackmore when she died thirty-six years later.
Dissatisfied with the practice of law soon after he had been admitted to the bar, Blackmore turned to teaching. Teaching, which he did only from 1855 to 1857, also proved unsatisfactory. Fortunately for him, an inheritance and poor health gave him the excuse to retire to a life of writing and gardening at Gomer House, Teddington, on the River Thames just outside London. As early as his student days at Oxford, Blackmore had begun writing poetry, publishing under the pseudonym of Melanter. Two volumes of poems “by Melanter” appeared in 1854 and 1855. They received little attention from either critics or readers. In 1862, Blackmore published a translation of Vergil’s Georgics, an event which seems to have settled him on a career as a writer. His first novel, Clara Vaughan, was followed by a second, Cradock Nowell. His acknowledged masterpiece, Lorna Doone, attracted little attention for more than a year after publication. A rumor began, however, that the novel was about the family of the marquis of Lorne, who had recently married into the family of Queen Victoria. Suddenly sales began to soar; as the novel became known, critics and the reading public became enthusiastic over it. The novel, in the romantic tradition, exploited the regional background of the country that Blackmore had known as a boy. Lorna Doone became, over the years, a minor classic of Victorian fiction, typical of the romantic novelists’ attention to action, setting, and the use of the imagination. Other novels by Blackmore are The Maid of Sker and Springhaven, the latter a tale of England at the time of Napoleon.
Like other minor historical novelists of the nineteenth century, Blackmore has been compared with Sir Walter Scott. The comparison, as is true in most such cases, is unfair to both authors. Blackmore had his own style, as did Scott. The outstanding characteristics of Blackmore’s fiction are the humor and detail which he lavished on many of his minor characters. A noticeable defect is his tendency toward the melodramatic.
People who knew Blackmore declared that gardening, not writing, was his first love. He had a garden full of rare plants, even growing peaches, a rarity in England outside a hothouse. Blackmore had many admirers among literary figures of Victorian England and commanded a faithful reading public. He died in Teddington, Middlesex, England, on January 20, 1900. Four years later, a group of admirers, including James M. Barrie, Thomas Hardy, and Rudyard Kipling, placed a memorial window to him in Exeter Cathedral.
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