Richard Hengist Horne Introduction

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(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

Richard Hengist Horne 1802-1884

(Born Richard Henry Horne) British playwright, poet, novelist, journalist, literary critic, and children's author.

A minor literary figure in his time, Horne was a writer, dramatist, and poet who traveled in illustrious circles but never achieved lasting literary fame himself. His range of writing is impressive, ranging from historical tragedies and epic poetry to journalism and children's stories. A friend of literary notables including Leigh Hunt, Thomas Carlyle, Charles Dickens, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, his successes, including the epic poem Orion (1843), nevertheless failed to earn him the wealth and reputation he longed for. In a career that spanned both England and Australia, Horne is notable as much for his influence on his contemporary literary acquaintances as for his own body of work.

Biographical Information

Born the eldest of three sons to James Horne and his wife Maria Patridge Horne, Richard was sent to live with his paternal grandmother when his father was forced by financial woes to enlist in the army. Richard stayed with his grandmother until 1810, when, upon his father's death, his mother and brothers returned home. He attended the same boys' school as his literary hero, John Keats, and claims to have once thrown a snowball at the one-day romantic poet. In 1819 Horne went to the Royal Military Academy, but upon failing after the first year, he returned home and undertook a regimen of extensive self-directed study. Longing for adventure, and knowing that he could never attain the poetic mastery of his heroes unless he too engaged in a noble cause—such as Byron did in his battle for Greek independence—Horne enlisted as midshipman in the Mexican navy. He found the adventure he had longed for, taking part in the Mexican-American War, traveling through America into Canada, and returning to England on a voyage fraught with danger. But after more hardship than he had expected, Horne settled in London in 1829 to focus on his writing. He found it more difficult to secure a publisher than he had imagined, and turned his pen to journalism in order to earn a living. He came into contact with other newspaper writers, including Charles Dickens, and intellectuals, including the Unitarian minister W. J. Fox. Horne immersed himself in the literary world and turned his attention to drama. His foremost concern was reviving the high drama of the Elizabethan stage. He wrote several plays, only one of which, The Death of Marlowe (1837), he ever saw acted. Despite his great interest in Jacobean-style drama, he was also a poet; his most significant poem, the epic Orion is as noted for its publishing history as for its content and execution. In something of a marketing ploy, Horne directed his publisher that the work was to be sold for only a farthing, no change was to be given, no one was allowed more than two copies, and should anyone mispronounce the title, they were to be sent away empty-handed. The poem was a popular success, and Horne became known as “Orion” Horne to his contemporaries, a name that followed him throughout his life. With the success of his poem and the reputation it awarded him, Horne again changed focus and next undertook a work of literary criticism. His A New Spirit of the Age (1844), modeled after William Hazlitt's publication The Spirit of the Age, published less than twenty years earlier, was a collection of essays and biographical portraits on those whom he considered to be the most significant literary figures since Hazlitt's work. Horne was aided anonymously in this task by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and perhaps others, but his New Spirit met with critical apathy, and in some cases hostility, both for his neglect of some authors and for his presumption upon his own significance. He had to continue to rely upon his periodical work for a living, and in 1845 he helped Charles Dickens establish The Daily News. He contributed articles and edited for numerous other publications...

(The entire section is 1,624 words.)