Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Lionel Pigot Johnson
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Lionel Pigot Johnson
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Born at Broadstairs on the Kentish coast, 15 Mar., 1867; died 4 Oct., 1902. He was the youngest son of Captain William Victor Johnson, of the 90th Light Infantry, and his wife Catharine Delicia, only daughter of Robert Walters, Esq., barrister-at-law. The family is that of the Johnsons of Bath, Baronets, allied to many well-known houses. Lady Johnson, Lionel's paternal grandmother, was a Philipse of Rhual in Flintshire, daughter of the landowner who gave his name to Philipsburg, New York. Her father-in-law, General Sir Henry Johnson, was Governor of Ross Castle, Ireland, in 1798, and remorselessly active in putting down the patriot insurrection of that year. He married Rebecca, daughter of David Franks, a wealthy Hebrew citizen of Philadelphia. These direct ancestral details throw light upon Lionel Johnson's equitable and liberal spirit, and point the natural origin of his love for Wales, his understanding of American ideals, and his intense enthusiasm for Ireland, which in his later years flamed far above his feeling for his own country. Only by courtesy can he be called an Irishman. As a convert Catholic Nationalist, he stood as the obverse of the Anglo-Irish Protestant Tory of his blood just mentioned. In all branches of this family and as far back as the pedigree goes, its men were and are officers in the British army; and a certain soldierliness, elements of order, strength, and authority, are evident under Lionel Johnson's literary fabric. He was educated at Winchester College, always dear to him, and at New College, Oxford, where he graduated with honors in 1890. On St. Alban's Day, 1891, he was received into the Catholic Church by Fr. Lockhart, at St. Etheldreda's, Ely Place, London. From 1891 to 1901 he wrote constantly, living alone in Gray's Inn Square, Lincoln's Inn Square, and Clifford's Inn respectively. He never married. He died from the results of a slight fall, and was buried in St. Mary's Cemetery, Kensal Green. There is a lovingly inscribed tablet to his memory in Winchester College cloisters.
Lionel Johnson published only three books: "The Art of Thomas Hardy", a singularly ripe essay and study (1894); his "Poems" (1895); and a second collection, "Ireland and Other Poems" (1897). Besides these, many of his critical papers and fugitive reviews, with a brief memoir, have been gathered by an American editor, and issued by Elkin Mathews, London, under the title of "Post Liminium" (1911). There have been three small imprints of his selected verse, one of these (1912) containing a partly biographical study of the poet from "The Atlantic Monthly". He was a small, frail, young-looking man, with a fine head and brow, quick of foot, gentle of voice, and with manners of grave courtesy. He greatly loved his friends in a markedly spiritual way, always praying for them, absent or present. His sound Catholic principles, his profound scholarship, his artistic sensitiveness, his play of wisdom and humor, his absolute literary honour, with its "passion for perfection" from the first, show nobly in his prose work. His lyrics are full of beauty and poignancy, but perhaps have in them something taxing.