William Harrison Ainsworth Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

In his lifetime, William Harrison Ainsworth (AYNZ-wurth) was well known as an editor and publisher as well as a novelist. Editing and publishing, in fact, were at least as important in his life as was his writing. He was born in 1805 into the family of a respected Manchester lawyer. After attending grammar school in Manchester, he was apprenticed to a lawyer with the intent that he should follow his father’s profession. At the death of his father in 1824, he left Manchester and continued his studies in London at the Inner Temple. But fate did not intend him for the legal profession. In 1826 he married Anne Francis Ebers, daughter of John Ebers, a prominent London publisher, an event that directed him toward activities other than law.

At the time of his marriage, Ainsworth had already done considerable writing, had published in several periodicals, and had tried to start a magazine of his own, The Boeotian. After his marriage he entered the publishing business, but he seems to have been too poor a businessman to succeed. He turned then to writing. Sir John Chiverton, a mediocre novel written by Ainsworth and J. P. Aston, had received some praise from Sir Walter Scott. Sometime in 1830, while traveling on the Continent, Ainsworth seems to have made up his mind to turn seriously to a career of novel-writing. His first success was Rookwood, which gave him some economic security, made him temporarily a literary lion, and gave him an entry into the literary and political life that centered about Holland House, the London residence of Lord Holland, who was the social leader of the Whigs. Following that successful novel, Ainsworth continued as a novelist, publishing about forty titles during his life.

Writing was only one of the activities of Ainsworth’s busy life. In 1839 he became editor of Bentley’s Miscellany, a famous British magazine of the time, to which he had been a contributor. He bought the magazine in 1854 and owned it for fourteen years. He eventually sold the magazine back to its previous...

(The entire section is 841 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

William Harrison Ainsworth was born February 4, 1805, to a prosperous family in Manchester, England. His father was a solicitor who had a substantial house on a good street, a suburban summer residence, and a fondness for collecting information about crime and criminals. Even before he could read, Ainsworth adored his father’s stories of highwaymen and ghosts. Although he was brought up in a strict atmosphere of Whiggism and Nonconformity, Ainsworth also grew to love lost causes. From early youth he adopted Jacobite and Tory ideals.

When he was twelve years old, Ainsworth was sent to the Manchester Free Grammar School. He became passionately fond of the stage, and from the age of fifteen wrote and acted in plays with schoolboy friends. One of them, Giotto: Or, The Fatal Revenge, included a dreadful storm, terrible and mysterious events, signs of the supernatural, and minute descriptions of scenery, buildings, and costumes.

In the next few years, Ainsworth published anonymous or pseudonymous pieces in a number of magazines, briefly edited a periodical of his own, and wrote to Charles Lamb for advice about two metrical tales and three short songs that he published in 1822 as Poems by Cheviot Ticheburn. Leaving school at seventeen, Ainsworth became an articled clerk; in 1824, when his father died, he went to London for further legal education. At the age of twenty-one he qualified as a solicitor. In 1826, however—almost as soon as he had finished preparing to practice law—he published the historical romance he had written with a fellow clerk in Manchester, married Anne Frances “Fanny” Ebers, and...

(The entire section is 671 words.)