Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Calverley, Charles Stuart

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CALVERLEY, CHARLES STUART (1831–1884), poet, was born on 22 Dec. 1831 at Martley in Worcestershire. His father, the Rev. Henry Blayds, was a descendant of the ancient Yorkshire family of Calverley. His mother was the daughter of Thomas Meade of Chatley, Somersetshire. The old name, which had been changed to Blayds in the beginning of the century, was resumed in 1852. Calverley, after being educated by private tutors and for three months at Marlborough, was admitted at Harrow on 9 Sept. 1846. He was in the sixth form from January 1848 to July 1850. He read little, affected no interest in other than school studies, and was famous for athletic feats, especially in jumping. His sweet temper and keen wit made him a charming companion; while he already showed extraordinary powers of verbal memory and of Latin versification. A copy of Latin verses turned off almost as an improvisation won for him the Balliol scholarship, to which he was admitted on 25 Nov. 1850. At Oxford he won the chancellor's prize in 1851 for a Latin poem which confirmed his high reputation. Offences against discipline proceeding from mere boyish recklessness caused his removal from Oxford in the beginning of 1852, and in the following October he entered Christ's College, Cambridge. Taking warning by his previous experience, he kept upon good terms with the authorities, and became widely popular. He won the Craven scholarship in 1854, the Camden medal in 1853 and 1855, the Browne medal (Greek ode) in 1855, and the members' prize for a Latin essay in 1856. He was second in the classical tripos for 1856, and two years later was elected fellow of Christ's. His academical success was the more remarkable because his constitutional indolence and love of society prevented regular work. His friends had to drag him out of bed by force, or lock him into his rooms to secure intellectual concentration. He had become the friend of many well-known members of his college, including Professors Seeley, Skeat, and Hales, Mr. Walter Besant, and Dr. Robert Liveing. His social talents were rapidly developing; he could draw clever caricatures, he had a good ear for music and a sweet voice, and a singular facility for all kinds of light composition. Among his best known facetiæ at this time was the examination paper on Pickwick at Christmas 1857 (printed in ‘Fly Leaves’). The prizes were won by Mr. Walter Besant and Professor Skeat. His parodies and other humorous verses had already made him famous amongst fellow-students when his talents were first made known to the world by the publication of ‘Verses and Translations’ in 1862.

Calverley resided for a time in Cambridge, taking pupils and giving lectures in college. He then studied law, and was called to the bar as a member of the Inner Temple in 1865, having vacated his fellowship by a marriage with his first cousin, Miss Ellen Calverley of Oulton, Yorkshire. He joined the northern circuit, liked his professional studies, and made a good impression. In the winter of 1866–7 he fell upon his head while skating at Oulton Hall, and received a concussion of the brain. The injury was neglected at the time, and symptoms were soon developed which forced him to abandon his profession. The result was a gradual incapacitation for all serious work, though he continued to write occasional trifles. He also suffered from Bright's disease and great consequent depression, although his mental powers were scarcely impaired till the end. He died on 17 Feb. 1884, and was buried at Folkestone cemetery.

Calverley's almost unique powers of imitation are shown by his translations from and into English. The same power, combined with his quick eye for the ridiculous, made him perhaps the best parodist in the language. His intellectual dexterity, his playful humour and keen wit place him in the front rank of modern writers of the lighter kinds of verse. He shows more intellectual affinity to the author of the ‘Rape of the Lock’ than to the author of the ‘Excursion.’ Thackeray, as Professor Seeley says, was his favourite among moderns. Calverley's wit was refined common sense; he was no mystic, and directed his good-humoured mockery against the stilted, the obscure, and the morbidly sentimental. The affectionate recollections of his friends show that what Professor Seeley calls his ‘elfish’ mockery was the exuberant playfulness of a powerful mind and a tender and manly nature. His verses have the peculiar charm of a schoolboy's buoyancy combined with the exquisite culture of a thorough scholar.

His works are:

  1. ‘Verses and Translations,’ 1862.
  2. ‘Translations into English and Latin,’ 1866.
  3. ‘Theocritus translated into English verse,’ 1869.
  4. ‘Fly Leaves,’ 1872.

[Literary Remains, with Memoir by Walter J. Sendall. The memoir contains recollections by Dr. Butler, Professor Seeley, and Mr. Walter Besant. See also Payn's Literary Recollections, pp. 180–4.]

L. S.