Scott, William Bell (DNB00)

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SCOTT, WILLIAM BELL (1811–1890), poet, painter, and miscellaneous writer, born on 12 Sept. 1811 at St. Leonard's, Edinburgh, was the seventh child of Robert Scott (1777–1841) [q. v.], the engraver, by his wife Ross Bell, a niece of the sculptor Gowan. David Scott [q. v.], the painter, was an elder brother. The death in infancy of the four elder children of the family saddened the household for many years, and the parents joined the baptist body. William was educated at Edinburgh high school, and received his first art teaching from his father. He afterwards attended classes at the Trustees' Academy, and in 1831 was for some months in London drawing from the antique in the British Museum. Subsequently he assisted his father, now an invalid, in his business as an engraver, which he carried on in a tenement overlooking Parliament House Square, Edinburgh. He began to write poetry, and sought out Christopher North and other celebrities for advice and encouragement. Some of his poems appeared in ‘Tait's Magazine’ and in the ‘Edinburgh University Souvenir’ for 1834. In 1837 he removed to London, where he supported himself precariously by etching, engraving, and painting. His first picture, ‘The Old English Ballad Singer,’ was exhibited in 1838 at the British Institution. In 1840 ‘The Jester’ appeared in the Norfolk Street Gallery, and in 1842 he exhibited at the academy. Down to his last appearance at the academy in 1869 he exhibited in all twenty pictures in London. In 1843 he sent a cartoon to the competition of designs for the decoration of the Houses of Parliament. The cartoon was unsuccessful, but procured him from the board of trade the offer of a mastership in the government schools of design at Newcastle-on-Tyne. He had already married Miss Letitia Margery Norquoy, and, desirous of a fixed income, he accepted this offer, which gave him for twenty years a chief part in the organising of art schools in the north under the department of science and art. When in 1864 he returned once more to London, he continued his connection with the department at South Kensington as artist employed in decoration, and as examiner in art schools, till 1885.

During Scott's stay in the north his literary and artistic activity was very great. About 1855 he executed for Sir Walter Trevelyan at Wallington Hall a series of eight large pictures, with numerous life-size figures, in illustration of the history of Northumberland and the border. The scheme of decoration was completed in 1863–4 by the addition of eighteen oil pictures in the spandrils of the arches of the hall, on the subject of the ballad of Chevy Chase. In 1859 Scott began his lifelong friendship with Miss Boyd of Penkill Castle, Ayrshire, where in 1868 he painted a series of designs illustrating the ‘King's Quhair’ in encaustic on the walls of a circular staircase. In 1870 he bought Bellevue House in Chelsea, and divided his time for the rest of his days between London and Ayrshire. In London he had a large circle of friends, and was for fifty years in close contact with the chief literary and artistic coteries of the metropolis. His relations with Rossetti were especially intimate, and he was acquainted with Mr. Swinburne. The later years of his life were devoted to writing his reminiscences. These appeared after his death in 1892 in two volumes—‘Autobiographical Notes of the Life of William Bell Scott; and Notices of his Artistic and Poetic Circle of Friends, 1830 to 1882; edited by W. Minto’ (with two portraits, from etchings by himself). The frankness, and even surliness, of his tone and occasional inaccuracy caused general irritation; but the work is a valuable contribution to the history of literary and artistic society. Scott died, after several years of suffering, from angina pectoris, on 22 Nov. 1890 at Penkill Castle. Mr. Swinburne wrote memorial verses on his death (Athenæum, 28 Feb. 1891).

It is probably upon his poetry that Scott's reputation will ultimately rest. Blake and Shelley were his chief models, and Rossetti's friendship was a continual stimulus to him. But he lacked Rossetti's intensity and artistic genius. Fundamentally he was Scotch, and, in spite of the breadth of his sympathies, his best poetry is mystical and metaphysical rather than romantic. He is an artist of the German schools, never of the Italian.

His chief published designs are: 1. ‘Chorea Sancti Viti; or Steps in the Journey of Prince Legion: twelve Designs by W. B. Scott,’ London, 1851, 4to. 2. ‘William Blake: Etchings from his Works by W. B. Scott, with descriptive text,’ London, 1878, fol.

His very numerous writings may be classified under: I. Poetry.—1. ‘Hades; or the Transit: and the Progress of the Mind. Two Poems by W. B. Scott,’ London,’ 12mo, 1838, with two illustrations. 2. ‘The Year of the World: a Philosophical Poem on Redemption from the Fall, by William B. Scott,’ Edinburgh, London, 18mo, 1846: this is Scott's only long poem; the preface explains that the five parts were written at different periods. 3. ‘Poems by William Bell Scott, with three Illustrations,’ London and Newcastle, 8vo, 1854. 4. ‘Poems by William Bell Scott; Ballads, Studies from Nature, Sonnets, &c., illustrated by seventeen Etchings by the Author and L. Alma Tadema,’ London, 8vo, 1875: this volume marks Scott's highest point of achievement in poetry; many of the sonnets have gained a place in anthologies. 5. ‘A Poet's Harvest Home: being one hundred short Poems, by William Bell Scott,’ London, 16mo, 1882; another edition, ‘with an aftermath of twenty short poems,’ London, 8vo, 1893.

II. Art.—1. ‘Memoir of [his brother] David Scott, containing his Journal in Italy, Notes on Art, and other Papers,’ Edinburgh, 1850, 8vo. 2. ‘Antiquarian Gleanings in the North of England: being Examples of Antique Furniture, Plate, Church Decorations, &c. … drawn and etched’ (with descriptions), London, 1851, 4to. 3. ‘Half-hour Lectures on the History and Practice of the Fine and Ornamental Arts … with fifty Illustrations by the Author, engraved by W. J. Linton,’ London, 1861, 8vo; these lectures were given to Scott's students at Newcastle; they were revised in 1867 and in 1874. 4. ‘Albert Dürer: his Life and Works; including Autobiographical Papers and Complete Catalogues … with six Etchings by the Author and other Illustrations,’ London, 1869, 8vo; a copy of this, with copious manuscript notes by the author, is in the British Museum Library. 5. ‘Gems of French Art: a Series of Carbon-photographs from the Pictures of Eminent Modern Artists, with Remarks on the Works selected and an Essay on the French School,’ London, 1871, 4to. 6–7. Similar works on modern Belgian and modern German art followed in 1872 and 1873. 8. ‘The British School of Sculpture, illustrated by twenty Engravings from the Finest Works of Deceased Masters of the Art, and fifty Woodcuts: with a preliminary Essay and Notices of the Artists,’ London, 1872, 8vo. 9. ‘Our British Landscape Painters, from Samuel Scott to David Cox … with a Preliminary Essay and Biographical Notices,’ London, 1872, 4to. 10. ‘Murillo and the Spanish School of Painting: fifteen Engravings in Steel and nineteen on Wood; with an Account of the School and its Great Masters,’ London, 1873. 11. ‘The Little Masters (Albrecht Altdorfer, Hans Sebald Beham, &c.),’ London, 1879, 8vo; this appeared in the ‘Series of Illustrated Biographies of the Great Artists;’ it was republished in 1880. 12. ‘A Descriptive Catalogue of Engravings, brought together with a view to illustrate the Art of Engraving on Copper and Wood from the Florentine Niello Workers in the Fifteenth Century to that of William Blake,’ privately printed, London, 1880, 4to. Scott also edited a series of editions of the works of English poets, with more or less elaborate memoirs. The more important are: Keats's ‘Poetical Works,’ 1873, 8vo, four editions; L. E. Landon's ‘Poetical Works,’ 1873, 8vo, 2 edits.; Byron's ‘Poetical Works,’ 1874, 8vo, 4 edits.; Coleridge's ‘Poetical Works’ (illustrated), 1874, 8vo, 4 edits.; Shelley's ‘Poetical Works,’ 1874, 8vo, 2 edits.; Shakespeare's ‘Works,’ 1875, 8vo; Scott's ‘Poetical Works,’ 1877, 8vo, 4 edits.

[Memoir of David Scott and Autobiographical Notes, mentioned above; Obituary notices in the Academy, xxxviii. 529; Athenæum, 1890, p. 745; Times, 27 Nov. 1890; article by H. Buxton Forman in Celebrities of the Century, 1890; Miles's Poets and the Poetry of the Century (Frederick Tennyson to Clough), 1891.]

R. B.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.244
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
113 ii 12-11f.e. Scott, William: for Parliament House read a tenement overlooking Parliament House Square
114 i 34-35  for Perthshire read Ayrshire