Ireland, Alexander (DNB01)

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IRELAND, ALEXANDER (1810–1894), journalist and man of letters, was born at Edinburgh on 9 May 1810. His father was engaged in business, and Ireland for long followed pursuits unconnected with literature; but his literary interests and studies procured him as a young man many intellectual friends, among them the brothers Chambers and Dr. John Gairdner [q. v.] His friendship with Gairdner led to his acquaintance with Emerson, who in 1833 came to Edinburgh with an introduction to the physician, whose extensive medical practice compelled him to request Ireland to act as cicerone in his stead. Ireland's zealous discharge of this office was the foundation of a lifelong friendship with the great American. In 1843 he removed to Manchester as representative of a Huddersfield firm, and in the same year received a signal proof of the confidence of Robert Chambers, who not only entrusted him with the secret of the authorship of 'The Vestiges of Creation,' divulged to only three other persons, but employed him to avert suspicion while the book was going through the press. The sheets were sent by the London publisher, who was himself in complete ignorance, to Ireland at Manchester, and thence transmitted to Chambers. The secret was strictly kept until 1884, when, every other depository of it being dead, Ireland very properly revealed it in a preface to the twelfth edition, thus disposing of a host of groundless conjectures. In 1846 Ireland succeeded Mr. (afterwards Sir) Edward Watkin as publisher and business manager of the 'Manchester Examiner,' a paper founded the year before by Watkin, John Bright, and William McKerrow [q. v.] in opposition to the 'Guardian,' too haughtily independent of the anti-cornlaw league to please the 'Manchester school.' The first editor was Thomas Ballantyne [q. v.] Ere long the 'Examiner' absorbed the other local exponent of advanced liberalism, the 'Manchester Times' [see Prentice, Archibald], and as the 'Manchester Examiner and Times' held the second place in the Manchester press for forty years. In 1847 and 1848 occurred the interesting episode of Emerson's second visit to England at the instigation of Ireland, who was, in Carlylean phrase, 'infinitely well affected towards the man Emerson.' All the arrangements for Emerson's lectures were made by him; in his guest's words he 'approved himself the king of all friends and helpful agents; the most active, unweariable, imperturbable.'

Ireland, after a while, found himself able to spare time from journalism for the literary pursuits in which he delighted. In 1851 he was a member of the committee that organised the Manchester Free Library, where many books from his own library afterwards came to be deposited. He cultivated the friendship of Carlyle and Leigh Hunt, for the latter of whom he entertained a warm affection, and upon whom he wrote for this Dictionary. He also prepared a most useful bibliography of Hunt's writings, united in the same volume with a similar list of William Hazlitt's, and printed in a limited impression in 1868. In 1889 he edited a selection from Hazlitt's works, prefaced by an excellent memoir. Upon Emerson's death in 1882 he published a biography of him, necessarily incomplete, but possessing especial value from his own recollections; it was enlarged and reissued within the year as 'Ralph Waldo Emerson : his Life, Genius, and Writings.' In the same year he published at Manchester 'Recollections of George Dawson and his Lectures in Manchester in 1846-7.' Perhaps, however, his best-known publication is 'The Book-Lover's Enchiridion,' a collection of passages in praise of books selected from a wide range of authors. It was published in 1882 under the pseudonym of 'Philobiblos,' and went through five editions. He himself possessed a fine library, especially rich in the works of early English authors, in which he was well versed. He especially admired Daniel and Burton, and possessed all the seventeenth-century editions of the latter's 'Anatomy of Melancholy.' Unfortunately, this treasured collection had to be sold owing to the reverse of fortune which overtook him in his latter days from the general transfer of liberal support from the 'Examiner' to the 'Guardian,' upon the latter journal's reconciliation with the more advanced section of the party on occasion of Gladstone's home-rule proposals in 1886. The 'Examiner,' now an unprofitable property, passed into other hands, and soon ceased to exist. Ireland bore his misfortunes with great dignity and fortitude, and, although an octogenarian, remained active to the last as a writer in the press. He died on 7 Dec. 1894 at Mauldeth Road, Withington.

Ireland was an excellent man, generous, hospitable, full of intellectual interests, and persevering in his aid of public causes and private friends. A medallion portrait is engraved in 'Threads from the Life of John Mills,' 1899. A collection of Ireland's books, rich in editions of Lamb, Hazlitt, Leigh Hunt, and Carlyle, was presented in 1895 to the Manchester Free Reference Library by Thomas Read Wilkinson, and a special catalogue was issued in 1898.

Ireland was twice married first, in 1839, to Eliza Mary, daughter of Frederick Blyth of Birmingham, who died in 1842.

Mrs. Annie Ireland (d. 1893), Ireland's second wife, whom he married in 1866, was the sister of Henry Alleyne Nicholson [q.v. Suppl.], regius professor of natural history at Aberdeen, and was herself known as the biographer of Jane Welsh Carlyle (1891), and the editor of her correspondence with Miss Jewsbury (1892); her recollections of James Anthony Froude [q. v. Suppl.] were published posthumously in the 'Contemporary Review.' She died on 4 Oct. 1893.

[Manchester Guardian, 8 Dec. 1894; Threads from the Life of John Mills; personal knowledge.]

R. G.