The New Student's Reference Work/Wilson, John

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Wilson, John, famous as the “Christopher North” of Blackwood's Magazine, was born May 18, 1785, at Paisley, Scotland, where his father was a rich manufacturer. Sir Daniel Wilson (q. v.) of Canada was his brother. After being privately tutored, he spent four years at Glasgow University and then four more at Oxford, where he led both in scholarship and in athletics. On leaving Oxford he settled in the beautiful lake-country of Cumberland, where he soon became a close friend of Wordsworth, Southey, Coleridge and De Quincey, and amused himself by measuring his strength against that of the far-famed Cumberland wrestlers, the very sturdiest of whom said that he was “a vera bad un to lick.” After writing his first two poems, Isle of Palms and The City of the Plague, most of his fortune was lost through the rascality of a relation, and Wilson went to Edinburgh and became a lawyer. In 1817 Blackwood's Magazine was founded, for which, during its earlier years, Wilson and Lockhart, his friend, were the writers who gave it its success. In 1820 Wilson was made professor of moral philosophy in Edinburgh University. Here he had almost unexampled power of rousing the enthusiasm of his students. He, however, cared little for dignity, and on more than one occasion the professor of moral philosophy took off his coat in the public market-place to punish some ruffian. The amount of his writings in Blackwood's was enormous; from this mass he selected and published The Recreations of Christopher North (1842). The power of his genius is best seen, perhaps, in the series of table-talks called Noctes Ambrosianæ. As a writer and a man the Scotch idolized him almost as much as they did Burns and Scott. He died at Edinburgh, April 3, 1854. Consult the Memoir by Mrs. Gordon, his daughter.