Allen, George (DNB12)

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

ALLEN, GEORGE (1832–1907), engraver and publisher, son of John and Rebecca Allen, was born on 26 March 1832 at Newark-on-Trent, and was educated at a private grammar school there. His father died in 1849, and in that year he was apprenticed for four years to an uncle (his mother's brother), a builder in Clerkenwell. He became a skilled joiner, and was employed for three and a half years in that capacity upon the woodwork of the interior of Dorchester House, Park Lane. A reference to this work occurs in Ruskin's 'Munera Pulveris' (§ 151). Upon one door in the house Allen and another workman were employed for seventy-nine days, and Ruskin used to show a model of this door to his friends as a specimen of English craftsmanship. Upon the foundation of the Working Men's College in 1854 he joined the drawing class, and became one of Ruskin's most promising pupils there. 'The transference to the pen and pencil of the fine qualities of finger that had been acquired by handling the carpenter's tools,' coupled with an 'innate disposition to art,' enabled Allen, says Ruskin, to attain rapidly great precision in drawing. Allen was brought further into connection with Ruskin by marrying (25 Dec. 1856) his mother's maid, Anne Eliza Hobbes. He was offered a post in Queen Victoria's household in connection with the furniture of the royal palaces; but this he declined in order to devote himself entirely to Ruskin's service, in which he remained successively as general assistant, engraver, and publisher for fifty years. For a few years he acted as an assistant drawing-master under Ruskin at the college. Ruskin then encouraged him to specialise in the art of engraving, which he studied under J. H. Le Keux, the engraver of many of the finest line plates in 'Modern Painters.' He also studied mezzotint under Lupton, who engraved some of the 'Liber' plates for Turner. Allen's knowledge of the two methods enabled him to produce the plates of mixed styles, which were included in Ruskin's later books. Of the original illustrations in 'Modern Painters,' three were from drawings by Allen; he engraved three plates for the edition of 1888; and in all executed ninety other plates for Ruskin. Some of Allen's drawings are included among the examples in the Ruskin school at Oxford; and he is one of three or four assistants whose work has often been mistaken for Ruskin's. In addition to engraving and copying, Allen was employed by Ruskin as general factotum. Many of his reminiscences were of distinguished visitors to Ruskin's house at Denmark Hill to whom he was instructed to show the collection of Turner drawings. It was he, too, with others, who assisted Ruskin in sorting and arranging the Turner drawings and sketches at the National Gallery. In 1862, when Ruskin thought of settling in Savoy, Allen with his family went out to Mornex. He was an excellent geologist, and Ruskin often trusted to his observations. Like Ruskin, he was an enthusiastic mineralogist; his collection of minerals was acquired after his death by the University of Oxford. He was a keen volunteer, and Ruskin took no offence when his assistant engaged in rifle-practice among the mountains. In 1871 Ruskin decided to set up a publisher of his own. At a week's notice, and without any previous experience of the trade, Allen started upon this enterprise. His publishing establishment was first his cottage at Keston, and afterwards an out-house in the garden of his villa at Orpington. Sarcastic reference was made in the public prints to Ruskin's idea of publishing 'in a field in Kent,' and the net-system, then a novelty in the trade, upon which Ruskin insisted, encountered much opposition. Ruskin, however, was able to create the demand for his publications, and the experiment prospered. The original idea of allowing no commission to the booksellers, but leaving them to charge it to the public, was, however, presently abandoned; and the expansion of the business necessitated the addition of premises in London. In 1890 Allen opened a London publishing house at 8 Bell Yard, Chancery Lane; and in 1894 he moved to larger premises at 156 Charing Cross Road. There he engaged in general publishing, though Ruskin's works remained the principal part of his business. Allen was one of the original 'Companions' of Ruskin's 'Guild of St. George,' and was a familiar figure at all Ruskinian gatherings. His unaffected simplicity and sterling character made him many friends. At his house at Orpington he took pleasure in flowers and bees, and he was a judicious buyer of water-colours and 'Martin' ware, as well as of minerals. Most of his collections including many Ruskiniana were privately disposed of after his death. His last enterprise was the library edition of Ruskin's works (1903-11), of which, however, he did not live to see the completion. He died, in his seventy-sixth year, on 5 Sept. 1907, at Orpington, and is buried in the parish churchyard there. His wife had died, in her eightieth year, eight months before him. They had four sons and four daughters. The eldest daughter, Miss Grace Allen, and the two eldest sons, William and Hugh, continued the business, which is now carried on at 44 Rathbone Place. A portrait of Allen (1890) was painted in oils by F. Yates; the chair in which he is shown as seated came from Ruskin's study at Denmark Hill, and is said to have been the one used by Ruskin when writing 'Modern Painters.'

[Library edition of Ruskin, vol. xxxvii. pp. lx-lxiii; the present writer's Life of Ruskin, 1911; private information.]

E. T. C.