1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Black, William

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BLACK, WILLIAM (1841–1898), British novelist, was born at Glasgow on the 9th of November 1841. His early ambition was to be a painter, but he made no way, and soon had recourse to journalism for a living. He was at first employed in newspaper offices in Glasgow, but obtained a post on the Morning Star in London, and at once proved himself a descriptive writer of exceptional vivacity. During the war between Prussia and Austria in 1866 he represented the Morning Star at the front, and was taken prisoner. This paper shortly afterwards failed, and Black joined the editorial staff of the Daily News. He also edited the Examiner, at a time when that periodical was already moribund. After his first success in fiction, he gave up journalism, and devoted himself entirely to the production of novels. For nearly thirty years he was successful in retaining the popular favour. He died at Brighton on the 10th of December 1898, without having experienced any of that reaction of the public taste which so often follows upon conspicuous successes in fiction. Black's first novel, James Merle, published in 1864, was a complete failure; his second, Love or Marraige (1868), attracted but very slight attention. In Silk Attire (1869) and Kilmeny (1870) marked a great advance on his first work, but in 1871 A Daughter of Heth suddenly raised him to the height of popularity, and he followed up this success by a string of favourites. Among the best of his books are The Strange Adventures of a Phaeton (1872); A Princess of Thule (1874); Madcap Violet (1876); Macleod of Dare (1878); White Wings (1880); Sunrise (1880); Shandon Bells (1883); Judith Shakespeare (1884); White Heather (1885); Donald Ross of Heimra (1891); Highland Cousins (1894); and Wild Eelin (1898). Black was a thoroughgoing sportsman, particularly fond of fishing and yachting, and his best stories are those which are laid amid the breezy mountains of his native land, or upon the deck of a yacht at sea off its wild coast. His descriptions of such scenery are simple and picturesque. He was a word-painter rather than a student of human nature. His women are stronger than his men, and among them are many wayward and lovable creatures; but subtlety of intuition plays no part in his characterization. Black also contributed a life of Oliver Goldsmith to the English Men of Letters series.