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...
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