Chorley, John Rutter (DNB00)

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CHORLEY, JOHN RUTTER (1807?–1867), poet and scholar, brother of Henry Fothergill Chorley [q.v.], was born about 1807 at Blackley Hurst, Lancashire, and entered the same mercantile house as his brother, finding the employment no less distasteful. He displayed, however, much greater perseverance and capacity for business; and at the termination of his engagement obtained, through a solicitor, who had been struck by his ability, the highly responsible office of secretary to the Grand Junction railway between Liverpool and Birmingham. After years of work, interspersed with hard literary study, he became independent in his circumstances through the bequest of his uncle, and removed to London. Here he was successively called upon to assume the charge of an invalid mother and an invalid sister, and the harassing confinement, combined, as his brother admits, with the haughtiness and unsociability of his own temperament, made him almost a recluse. He devoted himself especially to the Spanish drama, and formed a superb collection of plays, which he partly gave, partly bequeathed, to the British Museum. The enumeration of his manuscript notes in separate dramas occupies between six and seven columns of the museum printed catalogue. Many of these plays were restored by himself out of a number of mutilated copies, and missing title-pages were imitated with most deceptive skill. Between 1846 and 1854 he wrote on foreign literature for the ‘Athenæum,’ and in 1865 published ‘The Wife's Litany,’ a drama in rhyming verse, an early work inspired by a singularly vivid dream. It is original in form, elegant in diction, and by no means devoid of true poetical spirit. It would probably have been successful if published thirty years earlier, but was unsuited to the taste of the day, and attracted little attention, notwithstanding the warm commendation of Ticknor. Many other poems were destroyed or suppressed by the writer. He died of atrophy 29 June 1867. Among his few intimate friends was Carlyle, who says in a letter to Henry Chorley: ‘He could have written like few men on many subjects, but he had proudly pitched his idea very high. I know no man in these flimsy days, nor shall ever again know one, so well read, so widely and accurately informed, and so completely at home, not only in all fields of worthy literature and scholarship, but in matters practical, technical, naval, mechanical.’

[Chorley's Autobiography, ii. 254–92.]

R. G.