A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature/Wilson, John (poet)

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Wilson, John ("Christopher North") (1785-1854).—Poet, essayist, and miscellaneous writer, s. of a wealthy manufacturer in Paisley, where he was b., was ed. at Glas. and Oxf. At the latter he not only displayed great intellectual endowments, but distinguished himself as an athlete. Having succeeded to a fortune of £50,000 he purchased the small estate of Elleray in the Lake District, where he enjoyed the friendship of Wordsworth, Southey, Coleridge, and De Quincey. In 1812 he pub. The Isle of Palms, followed four years later by The City of the Plague, which gained for him a recognised place in literature, though they did not show his most characteristic gifts, and are now almost unread. About this time he lost a large portion of his fortune, had to give up continuous residence at Elleray, came to Edinburgh, and was called to the Scottish Bar, but never practised. The starting of Blackwood's Magazine brought him his opportunity, and to the end of his life his connection with it gave him his main employment and chief fame. In 1820 he became Prof. of Moral Philosophy in the Univ. of Edin. where, though not much of a philosopher in the technical sense, he exercised a highly stimulating influence upon his students by his eloquence and the general vigour of his intellect. The peculiar powers of W., his wealth of ideas, felicity of expression, humour, and animal spirits, found their full development in the famous Noctes Ambrosianæ, a medley of criticism on literature, politics, philosophy, topics of the day and what not. Lights and Shadows of Scottish Life and The Trials of Margaret Lyndsay are contributions to fiction in which there is an occasional tendency to run pathos into rather mawkish sentimentality. In 1851 W. received a Government pension of £300. The following year a paralytic seizure led to his resignation of his professorial chair, and he d. in 1854. He was a man of magnificent physique, of shining rather than profound intellectual powers, and of generous character, though as a critic his strong feelings and prejudices occasionally made him unfair and even savage.