1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Sharp, William (poet)

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SHARP, WILLIAM (1856-1905), Scottish poet and man of letters, was born at Paisley on the 12th of September 1856. His was a double personality, for during his lifetime he was known solely by a series of poetical and critical works of great, but not of outstanding merit, while from 1894 onwards he published, with elaborate precautions of secrecy, under the name of “Fiona Macleod,” a series of stories and sketches in poetical prose which made him perhaps the most conspicuous Scottish writer of the modern Gaelic renaissance. His early life was spent chiefly in the W. highlands of Scotland, and after leaving Glasgow University he went to Australia in 1877 in search of health. After a cruise in the Pacific he settled for some time in London as clerk to a bank, became an intimate of the Rossettis, and began to contribute to the Pall Mall Gazette and other journals. In 1885 he became art critic to the Glasgow Herald. He spent much time abroad, in France and Italy, and travelled extensively in America and Africa. In 1885 he married his cousin, Elizabeth Amelia Sharp, who helped him in much of his literary work and collaborated with him in compiling the Lyra Celtica (1896). His volumes of verse were The Human Inheritance (1882), Earth's Voices (1884), Romantic Ballads and Poems of Fantasy (1886), Sospiri di Roma (1891), Flower o' the Vine (1894), Sospiri d'Italia (1906). William Sharp was the general editor of the “Canterbury Poets” series. He was a discriminating anthologist, and his Sonnets of the Century (1886), to which he prefixed a useful treatise on the sonnet, ran through many editions. This was followed by American Sonnets (1889). He wrote biographies of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1882), of Shelley (1887), of Heinrich Heine (1888), of Robert Browning (1890), and edited the memoirs of Joseph Severn (1892). The most notable of his novels was Silence Farm (1899). During the later years of his life he was obliged for reasons of health to spend all his winters abroad. The secret of his authorship of the “Fiona Macleod” books was faithfully kept until his death, which took place at the Castello di Manlace, Sicily, on the 12th of December 1905. As late as the 13th of May 1899 Fiona Macleod had written to the Athenaeum stating that she wrote only under that name and that it was her own. She began to publish her tales and sketches of the primitive Celtic world in 1894 with Pharais: A Romance of the Isles. They found only a limited public, though an enthusiastic one. The earlier volumes include The Mountain Lovers (1895), The Sin-Eater (1895), The Washer of the Ford and other Legendary Moralities (1896), &c. In 1897 a collected edition of the shorter stories, with some new ones, was issued as Spiritual Tales, Barbaric Tales and Tragic Romances. Later volumes are The Dominion of Dreams (1899); The Divine Adventure: Iona: and other Studies in Spiritual History (1900), and Winged Destiny (1904).