Empson, William (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 17
Empson, William

no contributor recorded

EMPSON, WILLIAM (1791–1852), editor of the ‘Edinburgh Review,’ was educated at Winchester, where he was a schoolfellow of Thomas Arnold, afterwards head-master of Rugby, and at Trinity College, Cambridge. He graduated B.A. 1812, and M.A. 1815. He began to contribute to the ‘Edinburgh Review’ in 1823, and between that date and 1849 wrote in it more than sixty articles upon law, politics, and literary topics. There is an interesting account of two articles upon Goethe's ‘Faust’ and ‘Correspondence with Schiller’ (1830 and 1831) in Carlyle's ‘Correspondence’ with Goethe (1887, pp. 255, 282). In October 1843 he wrote an article upon Bentham, in which his reliance upon certain statements of Bowring produced a contradiction from J. S. Mill, published in the ‘Review’ for January 1844. In January 1845 he wrote upon Dr. Arnold, with whose views upon educational and ecclesiastical questions he thoroughly sympathised. Other articles offended Bulwer and the irritable Brougham, who calls him a bad imitator of Macaulay. He was, however, a valued contributor under both Jeffrey and Napier. On 2 July 1824 he became professor of general ‘polity and the laws of England’ at the East India College, Haileybury, a chair which had been formerly occupied by Sir James Mackintosh. He was an intimate friend of his colleague, Malthus. On 27 June 1838 he married Charlotte, only daughter of Francis Jeffrey. He succeeded to the editorship of the ‘Edinburgh Review’ in 1847, upon the death of Macvey Napier [q. v.], who had succeeded Jeffrey in 1829. Empson is said to have been an excellent professor, and familiar with the laws of India. He was, however, more remarkable for his influence upon the moral and philosophical training of his pupils. He was much beloved by them, and when they heard that he had broken a bloodvessel in 1852, they spontaneously gave up their usual festival. He finished the examination in spite of his suffering, but died at Haileybury 10 Dec. 1852. There are many letters to him in Cockburn's ‘Life of Jeffrey’ and in Macvey Napier's ‘Correspondence’ which are highly creditable to his good feeling and sense.

[Gent. Mag. 1853, pt. i. pp. 99, 100; Cockburn's Life of Jeffrey; Selections from the Correspondence of Macvey Napier (1879).]