Linton, Eliza Lynn (DNB01)

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LINTON, ELIZA LYNN (1822–1898), novelist and miscellaneous writer, was the youngest daughter of the Rev. James Lynn, vicar of Crosthwaite, Cumberland, and Charlotte, daughter of Samuel Goodenough [q. v.], bishop of Carlisle, and was born at Keswick on 10 Feb. 1822. Her mother died when she was an infant, and Mrs. Lynn Linton's youth was spent uneasily from her inability to accommodate herself to the ideas of her family. In 1845 she departed for London, provided with a year's allowance from her father, and resolved to establish herself as a woman of letters. With little knowledge of the world, she had a large stock of antique learning derived from her father's library; and her first attempts in fiction not unnaturally dealt with the past. Neither her scholarship nor her imagination was equal to recreating Egypt or Greece, but 'Azeth the Egyptian' (1846) and 'Amymone, a Romance of the Days of Pericles' (3 vols. 1848), manifested vehement eloquence and brilliant colouring. These gifts were no adequate equipment for the delineation of modern life; and Miss Lynn's next novel, though entitled 'Realities' (1851), was universally censured for its glaring unreality. Discouraged, as would appear, she accepted an engagement as newspaper correspondent at Paris, where she remained till about 1854, and almost abandoned fiction for several years ; her chief work of this period, 'Witch Stories,' being founded, if not precisely upon fact, yet upon superstitions accepted as facts in their day, and of the most dismal and repulsive nature. They originally appeared in 'All the Year Round,' and were reprinted in 1861 (new edit. 1883). In the interim she had gained the friendship of Landor, who treated her with paternal affection. She was bitterly dissatisfied with Forster's biography of him, and criticised it with extreme severity in the 'North British Review.' She was also brought into relation with Dickens by his purchase of the house at Gad's Hill which she had inherited. In 1858 she married William James Linton [q. v. Suppl.], the engraver. Linton was a widower, and it has been said that her motive was a wish to test her theories of education upon his orphan children ; but it was more probably compliance with the wish of the deceased wife, whom she had nursed in her last illness. However this may be, the mutual incompatibility was soon apparent, and the parties amicably separated, although Mrs. Linton visited her husband from time to time until his departure for America in 1867, and one of the orphans continued to reside with her stepmother for some time, and she never ceased to correspond with her husband. She also wrote a description of the Lake country (1864, 4to), where she resided during her domestication with her husband, by whom it was illustrated. Mrs. Linton, on her separation from her husband, returned to fiction, adopting a manner widely dissimilar to that of her early works. Having previously been romantic and imaginative, she now demonstrated that experience of the world had made her a very clear-headed and practical writer, excellent in construction, vigorous in style, entirely competent to meet the demands of the average novel-reader, but bereft of the glow of enthusiasm which had suffused her earlier works. There were nevertheless two notable exceptions to the generally mechanical manifestations of her talent. 'Joshua Davidson,' which was published in 1872, and went through six editions in two years, is a daring but in no respect irreverent adaptation of the gospel story to the circumstances of modern life, placing the antithesis between humane sentiment and 'the survival of the fittest' in a light which commanded attention, and with a force which irresistibly stimulated thought. Her other remarkable book, 'The Autobiography of Christopher Kirkland' (1885), is remarkable indeed as achieving what it is said that even an act of parliament cannot do turning a woman into a man. It is in a large measure her own autobiography, curiously inverted by her assumption of a masculine character, and, apart from the interest of the narrative itself, this strange metamorphosis, once perceived, is a source of continual entertainment. It gives her own version of her conjugal incompatibilities, and has striking portraits of Panizzi, Douglas Cook, and other remarkable persons with whom she had been brought into contact. Of her more ordinary novels, all popular in their day, the most remarkable were 'Grasp your Nettle' (1865), 'Patricia Kemball' (1874), 'The Atonement of Learn Dundas' (1877), and 'Under which Lord?' (1879).

Mrs. Linton had a special talent for journalism ; she had contributed to the 'Morning Chronicle ' as early as 1848, and continued a member of its staff until 1851. Writing for the press became more and more her vocation during her latter years. She became connected with the 'Saturday Review' in 1866, and for many years was a much-valued contributor of essays to the middle part of the paper. One of these, 'The Girl of the Period '(14 March 1868), an onslaught on some modern developments of feminine manners and character, created a great sensation, and the number in which it had appeared continued to be inquired for for many years. It was certainly incisive, and was probably thought opportune ; but, like her kindred disquisitions unfriendly to the cause of 'women's rights,' it estranged and offended many of her own sex. These papers were reprinted as 'The Girl of the Period, and other Essays' (1883, 2 vols.) A similar series of essays was entitled 'Ourselves' (1870 ; new edit. 1884). She contributed to many other journals and reviews, and always with effect. In 1891 she published 'An Octave of Friends,' and in 1897 wrote a volume on George Eliot for a series entitled 'Women Novelists of Queen Victoria's Reign.' This displayed a regrettable acerbity, which might easily be attributed to motives that probably did not influence her. She was kind-hearted and generous, and especially amiable to young people of intellectual promise ; but her speech and pen were sharp, and she was prone to act upon impulse. She hated injustice, and was not always sufficiently careful to commit none herself. Her independent spirit and her appetite for work were highly to her honour. Her last book, ' My Literary Life,' was published posthumously, with a prefatory note by Miss Beatrice Harraden, in 1899. She usually lived in London, but about three years before her death retired to Brougham House, Malvern. She died at Queen Anne's Mansions, London, on 14 July 1898. A posthumous portrait was painted by the Hon. John Collier for presentation to the public library at Keswick, and a drawing by Samuel Laurence, taken when she was twenty, is in the possession of the Rev. Augustus Gedge, her brother-in-law.

[The principal authority for Mrs. Linton's life is Eliza Lynn Linton, her Life, Letters, and Opinions, by George Somes Layard, 1901. See also My Literary Life, 1899; Men and Women of the Time; Athenæum, 23 July 1898.]

R. G.