William Frend De Morgan is an unusual figure in the history of English literature, for he wrote and published his first novel at the age of sixty-seven, following his retirement from a long career in art and industry. Son of Augustus De Morgan, the famous nineteenth century mathematician and logician, William was educated at University College, Oxford, where his father was a member of the faculty. In 1859, he entered the Royal Academy School to take a course in art; there, he became one of a student group that included Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, and William Morris, who became lifelong friends.
As an artist, De Morgan spent most of his early career working and experimenting in pottery and tile. Particularly interested in pottery glazes and techniques lost to contemporary workers, he rediscovered through research some of the original methods used to produce the brilliant blue and green glazes of ancient pottery. His first published writings were scientific papers in the field of ceramics. Later, he founded a company for the manufacture of artistic tile and pottery, even inventing some of the tools and machinery needed for his factory, and his products became famous for their artistic and utilitarian qualities. He married the artist Evelyn Pickering in 1887; they had no children. From 1890 on, they spent part of every year in Italy for the sake of De Morgan’s health.
After retiring from active business in 1905, De Morgan, at his wife’s suggestion, turned to fiction while convalescing from a serious illness. His first novel was Joseph Vance, a leisurely tale told in the form of an autobiography, somewhat in the manner of Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield (1849-1850). The book was well received, and its success encouraged De Morgan to continue writing. Six novels followed, though none were as successful as the first. Because his literary models were the novelists popular when he was young, notably Dickens, De Morgan has been called a late Victorian.
During World War I, he resumed his scientific studies. De Morgan was working on methods and devices for defense against submarines and aircraft when he contracted influenza and died in London on January 15, 1917.