Chorley, Henry Fothergill (DNB00)

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CHORLEY, HENRY FOTHERGILL (1808–1872), author and critic, was born at Blackley Hurst, near Billinge in Lancashire, 15 Dec. 1808. His father, of a Lancashire, and his mother, of a Cumberland family, were nominally members of the Society of Friends, but neglected most of its observances. In April 1810 the sudden death of his father, a lock manufacturer, who had never been very prosperous in business, reduced the family to dependence upon a generous uncle. Dr. Rutter of Liverpool. They shortly removed to that town, where Chorley received sufficient instruction to develope his innate tastes for literature and music, and to render the mercantile office he was obliged to enter intolerable to him. The kindness of a distant connection, Mrs. Rathbone of Green Bank, and of her son, Mr. Benson Rathbone, extended his opportunities of self-culture, and he gained the firiendship of Mrs. Hemans, then resident in Liverpool, and of Miss Jewsbury. He began to contribute to annuals and magazines about 1827, and in 1830 obtained through Miss Jewsbury an introduction to the 'Athenæum.' His few contributions, chiefly musical criticisms, were appreciated, and when in 1833 he applied for an engagement on the staff, Bir. Dilke did not hesitate to accept the untried young man on probation, frankly informing him that although 'your occupation will not be always disagreeable,' nevertheless 'it will be generally drudgery.' Within a very short time, however, of his arrival in London, Chorley was not merely 'rewriting papers' but reviewing works of the pretension of Disraeli's 'Revolutionary Epic, and this with a decision and a precision worthy of a literary veteran, and a fearless honesty which hignly recommended him to his employer. Chorley's articles largely contributed to maintain the reputation the 'Athenæum' had already acquired for impartiality at a time when puffery was more rampant than ever before or since, and when the only other London literary journal of any pretensions was notoriously venal. The entire direction of the musical department soon fell into his hands, and his bterary reviews, especially in belles-lettres, were numerous and important, until his retirement in 1866. It may be said that he had most of the qualities of a good critic, and few of the requisites of a great one. He possessed sound judgment and discriminating taste, manly independence, and the utmost sincerity of intention. But he was deficient in insight, he could not readily recognise excellence in an unfamiliar or homely form, and the individuality of his style degenerated into mannerism. As years grew upon him his criticism became more and more tinctured with acerbity ; his censure was rather sour than scathing, and his praise not always genial. These drawbacks were in a great measure redeemed by the high-minded feeling which inspired all he wrote, his obvious effort to utter his convictions with frankness, and his general superiority to personal attachments or antipathies. As a musical critic his convictions were most decided. It was unfortunate, but no fault of his, that they should have led him to heap praise on the Mendelssohns and the Chopins who needed no support, and lesser men, for whom it was not difficult to obtain a hearing ; and to assume a hostile attitude towards struggling genius in the persons of a Schumann, a Berlioz, and a Wagner. In music as in literature he proclaimed the best he knew, and if his permanent reputation suffered, his immediate influence profited from his being so little more than abreast with the average cultivated opinion of his day. As an author, however, other than critic or biographer, his career was a succession of failures. With adroit talent, serious purpose, and indomitable perseverance, he essayed a succession of novels and dramas which one and all fell dead upon the public ear, while similar works of inferior intellectual quality were achieving noisy if ephemeral success. The list includes: 'Conti' (1836), 'The Lion' (1839), 'The Prodigy' (1866), literary or artistic tales dealing with the development of genius; 'Pomfret' (1845), and 'Roccabella,' published under the pseuaonym of Paul Bell in 1859, the former a novel of character, the latter a romance. All are works of great talent, but all are artificial, bearing the impress of literary aspiration rather than of literary vocation. His lyrical verse was graceful and facile, but rarely rose to the level of poetry. Of his three acted dramas, ‘Old Love and New Fortune,’ ‘The Love-lock,’ and ‘Duchess Eleanour,’ the first alone attained any success. His work as an æsthetic writer was much more important and more highly appreciated. In 1841 he published ‘Music and Manners in France and Germany,’ three delightful volumes abounding not only in description of musical performances and observations in society, but in lively and incisive, if frequently prejudiced, sketches of foreign authors and artists. A portion was reprinted in ‘Modern German Music’ (1854), a book containing the most uncompromising utterance of his musical convictions. ‘Thirty Years' Musical Recollections’ is a most valuable repertory not only of musical criticism but of musical history, relating to vocalists even more than to composers, by one who, as he says, ‘had not missed one new work, or one first appearance, which has taken place in London from the year 1834 to the present one’ (1862). In the same year he delivered four lectures at the Royal Institution on ‘The National Music of the World,’ which, expanded by the writer into essays, were published by Mr. H. G. Hewlett in 1880. Chorley was also a most industrious librettist and writer of words for music. He did not always agree with his coadjutors. ‘Musicians,’ says Mr. Henry Leslie, ‘not unnaturally expect that in the composition of musical works their ideas should be deemed worthy of consideration, but Mr. Chorley was of a contrary opinion.’ He also produced (1836) ‘Memorials of Mrs. Hemans,’ a very creditable work, considering the deficiency of material, and contributed the letterpress to ‘The Authors of England,’ a series of medallion portraits after the Collas process.

Chorley's leading position as a critic necessarily gained him warm friendships and bitter enmities. The latter need not be recorded; the former constitute a list of which any man might be proud. It is a high testimony to his worth that they include not merely followers of literature and art, whom he might have placed under obligation, such as Dickens, Miss Mitford, Lady Blessington, Mr. and Mrs. Browning, Mendelssohn, and Moscheles, but men so aloof from ordinary literary coteries as Grote and Sir William Molesworth. His tenderest attachments seem to have been those he entertained for Mendelssohn and the son of his benefactor, Benson Rathbone; his greatest intimacy that with Dickens, who, if he had not predeceased him, would have inherited a ring ‘in memory of one greatly helped.’ Help was indeed needed to soothe Chorley's declining years. The deceptions and irritations incident to a sensitive nature, grievously misunderstood; the failure to form any truly intimate tie; the consequent sensation of loneliness; frequent painful estrangements due to the irritability thus engendered; the wearing sense of the hopeless malady of his sister, and the shock of his brother's death, combined to render his latter years querulous and disconsolate, and to foster habits of self-indulgence detrimental to his happiness and self-respect as far as they proceeded, though they did not proceed far. Yet he continued to enjoy company and practise private generosity and social hospitality, having been placed in affluent circumstances by the decease of his brother. He retired from the literary department of the ‘Athenæum’ in 1866, and from the musical in 1868. He subsequently edited Miss Mitford's correspondence, and was employed in writing his autobiography when he died very suddenly, 16 Feb. 1872. His character is well drawn by his biographer as ‘upright, sincere, generous, and affectionate; irritable and opinionated, but essentially placable; an acute and courageous critic, a genuine if incomplete artist, a warm-hearted honourable gentleman.’

[Chorley's unfinished autobiography formed the basis of the Autobiography, Memoir, and Letters prepared with admirable taste by his friend, H. G. Hewlett, and published in 1873. See also the article in Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, by Julian Marshall.]

R. G.