Vizetelly, Henry (DNB00)

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VIZETELLY, HENRY (1820–1894), pioneer of the illustrated press, the son and grandson of printers and members of the Stationers' Company, was born in the parish of St. Botolph, London, on 30 July 1820. Prior to the French war the family (which had migrated from Italy at the close of the seventeenth century, with a reputation for supplying the plate-glass for the ‘glass coaches’ then coming into fashion) had spelt the name Vizzetelli. Henry's father, James Henry Vizetelly, who for a time had carried on business at 76 Fleet Street, whence he issued well-known annuals, such as ‘Cruikshank's Comic Almanack’ and the ‘Boy's Own Book,’ died in 1838; Vizetelly's mother was Mary Anne (Vaughan). After education at Clapham, and at Chislehurst under Wyburn, he was apprenticed as a wood-engraver to George William Bonnar [q. v.], a mediocre artist, upon whose death in 1836 he passed under John Orrin Smith [q. v.], and made rapid progress in his art. Among his early efforts with the graver he records some work upon the Etching Club's illustrations of Thomson's ‘Seasons,’ and a fancy portrait of ‘Old Parr’ (with the legend, ‘From a Picture by Sir Peter Paul Reubens’) for the proprietors of ‘Parr's Life Pills.’ From the profits realised by the sale of these pills, Herbert Ingram started the ‘Illustrated London News,’ for which Vizetelly's firm executed a number of engravings, ‘very few of which were derived from authentic sources.’ The success of the venture was so great that in 1843 Henry Vizetelly, in conjunction with his elder brother, James Thomas (1817–1897), and Andrew Spottiswoode, started in rivalry the ‘Pictorial Times;’ the staff included Douglas Jerrold, Mark Lemon, Gilbert à Beckett, and Thackeray, who reviewed ‘Coningsby’ for the new venture, besides other miscellaneous writing at thirty shillings a column. The paper ran successfully for several years. Vizetelly's experience as a practical engraver was of the greatest possible service to all these pioneer ventures. His best work as a wood-engraver was done about 1850, when he executed some beautiful landscape vignettes, after Birket Foster, for an edition of Longfellow's ‘Evangeline.’

In 1852 Vizetelly, who sought from an early date to combine publishing with printing and journalism, issued a half-crown reprint of ‘Uncle Tom's Cabin,’ which fell flat at first, but when reduced to a shilling had an enormous sale. In 1855, when the repeal of the newspaper stamp became imminent, Vizetelly, in conjunction with Bogue, projected a new twopenny paper, ‘The Illustrated Times,’ the staff of which included Sala, Yates, Augustus Mayhew, and Mr. Greenwood, and among its artists, Hablot Browne, Birket Foster, and Gustave Doré. Its success was well assured, though not brilliant, when Vizetelly sold his share in it in 1859 for upwards of 4,000l. to Ingram. Early in 1858 he had started a cheap popular serial called ‘The Welcome Guest,’ which he sold about the same time. He now took service under Ingram, and in 1865, the ‘Illustrated Times’ having been suppressed in the interests of its rival, he became Paris correspondent of the ‘Illustrated London News’ at a salary of 800l. a year.

The next seven years were spent mainly in Paris and the neighbourhood. Vizetelly remained in the city throughout the siege, of which he afterwards gave a diverting and animated account in his ‘Paris in Peril’ (London, 2 vols. 1882; this was written in conjunction with his son Ernest). In the meantime he had turned to good account the considerable amount of leisure he enjoyed in Paris, in his ‘Story of the Diamond Necklace’ (London, 1867; two editions again in 1881). He next turned to the well-worn subject, ‘The Man with the Iron Mask,’ producing in 1870 a free translation of the elaborate work of Marius Topin; he gave an unqualified support to Topin's theory, the inadmissibility of which was demonstrated three years later by Jung. A regular frequenter of the convivial gatherings in the neighbourhood of Leicester Square, which Sala celebrates in his ‘Life and Adventures,’ Vizetelly became a considerable authority on wines, and in 1873 he served as a wine juror at the Vienna exhibition. He acted in a similar capacity at Paris in 1878. In the interval he produced a brief manual on the subject, entitled ‘The Wines of the World’ (London, 1875, 8vo). This slight sketch was followed by three able monographs, ‘Facts about Sherry’ (1876), ‘Facts about Champagne’ (1879), and ‘Facts about Port and Madeira’ (1880), each containing a great deal of new and practical information. In 1872 he visited Berlin for the ‘Illustrated London News,’ and, from information gleaned upon this and subsequent visits, produced ‘Berlin under the New Empire’ (London, 1879, 2 vols. 8vo), a good example of the author's journalistic flair, containing much information, and well seasoned with pungent extracts from periodical literature. Not the least valuable of his literary enterprises was the edition of Anthony Hamilton's ‘Memoirs of Grammont’ (London, 1889, 2 vols. 8vo), the notes of which embody much curious research.

In the meantime Vizetelly had resigned his position as special correspondent and set up as a publisher at 42 Catherine Street, Strand, whence he removed in 1887 to Henrietta Street, Covent Garden. He devoted his attention in particular to translations from Flaubert, Droz, Daudet, Cherbuliez, and other French writers, and from the Russian of Gogol, Dostoieffsky, and Tolstoi, but he also published works by his friends Sala and Grenville Murray [q. v.], by Mr. George Moore and others, and in 1886 he began publishing in half-crown monthly volumes ‘An Unexpurgated Edition of the Best Plays of the Old Dramatists,’ which, as ‘The Mermaid Series,’ achieved a well-earned success. Vizetelly also specialised in the sensational stories of Gaboriau and Du Boisgobey, and in reproductions of the French illustrated books of the latter half of the eighteenth century. In 1884, stimulated apparently by the stupendous sale of a crude American translation of ‘Nana,’ he began the issue of the romances of M. Zola. Translations of ‘Nana’ and ‘L'Assommoir’ were followed in 1885 by ‘Germinal’ and ‘Piping Hot’ (‘Pot-Bouille’). The demand increasing, translations of seven works by the same author appeared in 1886, of three in 1887, and of two besides ‘The Soil’ (‘La Terre’) in 1888. A strong protest was raised against the literal transcript of revolting details. On 31 Oct. 1888 Vizetelly surrendered to his recognisances to answer for an indictment charging him with publishing an obscene libel (‘The Soil’). The solicitor-general (Sir Edward Clarke), (Sir) Henry Poland, and Mr. Asquith prosecuted on behalf of the treasury. The former having characterised the work as without a rival for ‘bestial obscenity,’ and the jury refusing to listen patiently to the recital of twenty-one passages selected by the solicitor-general to establish the case, Vizetelly, by the advice of counsel, pleaded guilty to publication, and undertook to withdraw M. Zola's works from circulation. The recorder fined him 100l. The defendant issued pendente lite an erudite selection of ‘Extracts principally from English Classics, showing that the legal suppression of M. Zola's novels would logically involve the bowdlerising of the greatest Works in English Literature’ (London, September 1888, 4to; twelve copies printed; Brit. Mus. P.C. 29 a 45). In spite of the unmistakable warning he had received, Vizetelly decided in 1889 upon a reissue of M. Zola's works in a slightly altered form, the work of expurgation being entrusted to his son, Mr. Ernest Alfred Vizetelly. On 30 May 1889 he was again charged at the Old Bailey with publishing obscene libels. By the advice of his counsel, Alfred Cock, Q.C., he pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to three months' imprisonment as a first-class misdemeanant, his recognisances of 200l. being at the same time estreated. He was already sixty-nine years old, and far from being strong, and his confinement told severely upon his health. He was fortunately not deterred from publishing in 1893 his bright, unguarded, and gaily discursive ‘Glances back through Seventy Years: Autobiographical and other Reminiscences’—anecdotal records of literary Bohemia in London and Paris between 1840 and 1870. In 1890 he had produced a readable little narrative of ‘Count Königsmark and Tom of Ten Thousand’ [see Thynne, Thomas] for a series of eccentric memoirs. Vizetelly died at Heatherlands, Farnham, on 1 Jan. 1894, aged 73. He was twice married: first, to Elizabeth Pollard; and, secondly, in 1861, to Annie Ansell, and left issue by both marriages.

A younger brother, Frank Vizetelly (1830–1883?), born in Fleet Street on 26 Sept. 1830, and educated at Boulogne, along with Gustave Doré and Blanchard Jerrold, obtained by his brother's influence employment as travelling correspondent and draughtsman for the ‘Pictorial Times.’ Later on, in 1857, he helped to found the ‘Monde Illustré’ at Paris, and acted as editor until 1859, when he took service as war correspondent to the ‘Illustrated London News.’ This paper published a vast number of engravings from his sketches despatched from the battlefield of Solferino, from Sicily during Garibaldi's expedition in 1860, from Spain and America during the civil wars, from Sadowa, and from Egypt, where Frank Vizetelly was either enslaved or perished upon the massacre of Hicks Pasha's army near Kashgil, Sudan, on 5 Nov. 1883. His name figures upon the memorial to the war correspondents in St. Paul's Cathedral, the date of his death being left blank.

[Times, 2 Jan. 1894, 25 Oct. 1897, 1 Nov. 1888, and 31 May 1889; Athenæum, 1894, i. 19; Sun, 30 Sept. 1893; Sherrard's Life of Zola, pp. 228; Tovey's Wine and Wine Countries, 1862; Sala's Life and Adventures; Yates's Recollections and Experiences, i. 278; Fox-Bourne's English Newspapers, ii. 251; Vizetelly's Glances Back (with portrait), 1893; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

T. S.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.271
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
384 ii 17 Vizetelly, Henry: for Vizetelli read Vizzetelli
385 i 4  for Boyne read Bogue
386 i 25  after ‘Glances Back.’ insert He was twice married, and left issue by both marriages.