Watts, Alaric Alexander (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 60
Watts, Alaric Alexander

by Richard Garnett
1904 Errata appended.

WATTS, ALARIC ALEXANDER (1797–1864), poet, born in London on 16 March 1797, was the youngest son of John Mosley Watts, the representative of a respectable Leicestershire family, by Sarah, daughter of Samuel Bolton of Fair Mile, near Henley-on-Thames. His grandfather, Dr. William Watts, a physician, who married Mary, daughter of George Whalley (of the regicide family), was one of the founders of the Leicester Infirmary (see Nichols, Hist. of Leicestershire). The misconduct of his father occasioned a separation between his parents, whose affairs were further complicated by an interminable chancery suit. Young Watts was brought up by his mother, who placed him in 1808 at Wye College grammar school, Kent, and two years later at Power's ‘Academy’ at Ashford. On leaving school in 1812 he became successively usher in a school at Fulham; a private tutor in the family of Mr. Ruspini, dentist to the prince regent; and temporary clerk in the office of the controller of army accounts. Leaving this employment in consequence of the reduction of the army, he filled some tutorships in the north of England, and eventually, about 1818, returned to London as sub-editor of the ‘New Monthly Magazine.’ In 1819 he superintended the production of Charles Robert Maturin's unsuccessful tragedy of ‘Fredolpho,’ and in the same year made the acquaintance of Jeremiah Holmes and Benjamin Barron Wiffen [q. v.], whose sister, Priscilla Maden, usually known as ‘Zillah,’ he married at Woburn on 16 Sept. 1821. He was at this time a contributor to the ‘Literary Gazette,’ where a series of papers on the ‘Borrowings of Byron’ had attracted considerable attention, and had become intimate with many literary and artistic celebrities, but had no certain means of income until, in 1822, Mr. J. O. Robinson, of the firm of Hunt & Robinson, for whom he had performed some literary work, offered him the editorship of the ‘Leeds Intelligencer.’ He somewhat prejudiced the paper at first by an advocacy of the fencing of machinery in factories which astonished and exasperated the employers; but in the opinion of his friend Croly ‘his extracts and literary notices placed his work above the level of any country newspaper,’ and he conducted it successfully until, in 1825, he left Leeds for Manchester to edit the ‘Courier.’ His connection with Messrs. Hunt & Robinson, however, was not dissolved, but became more intimate through the establishment under his editorship in 1824 of the ‘Literary Souvenir,’ partly an imitation of the German periodicals of the class, but substantially the parent of the numerous tribe of annuals and pocket-books which absorbed so much of English art and literature for the next fifteen years. Watts spared no pains to secure first-rate contributors in both departments, and his editorship brought him into friendly relations with Scott, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Praed, Sidney Walker, Mrs. Hemans, and many other leading writers. Such work was more congenial to him than the editorship of the ‘Courier,’ and he resigned that post in 1826; he now became proprietor of the ‘Literary Souvenir,’ the original publishers having sunk in the commercial tempest of the time. He had obtained reputation as a poet by a pleasing volume, ‘Poetical Sketches,’ privately printed in 1822 (London, 8vo) and published in 1823 (4th edit. 1828); and in 1828 he collected some of the best fugitive poetry of the day in the ‘Poetical Album.’ A second series followed in 1829, and was succeeded by two similar collections, ‘The Lyre’ and ‘The Laurel,’ together reprinted in 1867 as ‘The Laurel and the Lyre.’ In 1827 he took part in establishing the ‘Standard’ newspaper [see Giffard, Stanley Lees], and in 1833 he founded the ‘United Service Gazette,’ which he conducted for some years. The ‘Literary Souvenir,’ long exceedingly successful, was by this time declining, and expired in 1838, after having being carried on for three years as the ‘Cabinet of British Art.’ Watts attributed this to the attacks of William Maginn [q. v.] in ‘Fraser's Magazine,’ where a libellous but irresistibly comical caricature portrait by Maclise had appeared, representing Watts carrying off pictures with a decidedly furtive expression. An action for libel resulted, in which Watts obtained 150l. damages. The decline of the ‘Souvenir’ led him to become what Maginn contemptuously called ‘head nurse of a hospital of rickety newspaperlings,’ a description the truth of which is admitted by his son. These speculations, chiefly minor provincial papers established in the conservative interest, involved him in litigation with his partner in the ‘United Service Gazette;’ he retired from all connection with the press in 1847, and in 1850 became a bankrupt. In the same year, nevertheless, appeared a collective edition of poems, which long retained popularity, entitled ‘Lyrics of the Heart.’ In 1853 he accepted an inferior appointment in the inland revenue office, where his son had obtained a high position; a civil list pension of 100l. a year was conferred upon him by Lord Aberdeen in January 1854. His later days were thus rendered comfortable. In 1856 he initiated a very useful class of publication by editing the first issue of ‘Men of the Time,’ remarkable for an unparalleled misprint en bloc at the expense of the bishop of Oxford, and the portentous length of the article on the editor, who has awarded himself three times as much space as he has bestowed on Tennyson.

Besides his poems, he was the author of several prose works, of which, as he says, ‘he did not think it worth while to claim the paternity.’ His most noteworthy compilation is the memoir and letterpress accompanying the beautiful issue of Turner's ‘Liber Fluviorum’ in 1853. He died on 5 April 1864 at Blenheim Crescent, Notting Hill, whither he had moved from St. John's Wood in 1860. His widow survived until 13 Dec. 1873, and was buried beside her husband in Highgate cemetery. Their son Alaric Alfred (1825–1901), married in 1859 Anna Maria, elder daughter of William and Mary Howitt, and was well known as a spiritualist. Etchings of Watts and his wife are prefixed to the two volumes of the ‘Life’ by Alaric Alfred Watts.

[Alaric Watts: a Narrative of his Life, by his son, Alaric Alfred Watts, 1884; Maginn and Bates in the Maclise Portrait Gallery.]

R. G.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.277
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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66 i 20 Watts, Alaric A.: after 1825 insert died 22 Jan. 1901