Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Horne, Richard Henry

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HORNE, RICHARD HENRY or HENGIST (1803–1884), author, born in London on 1 Jan. 1803, was educated at Sandhurst, with the view of entering the East India Company's service. Receiving no appointment, he became a midshipman in the Mexican navy, and served in the war against Spain. He was present at the siege of Vera Cruz and the taking of the fortress of San Juan Ulloa. Swimming in the bay of Vera Cruz, he had a narrow escape from a shark. At the restoration of peace he went (after recovering from an attack of yellow fever) to the United States, where he visited some of the Indian encampments. On one occasion he was shipwrecked in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and on another he broke two of his ribs near the Falls of Niagara. He returned to England from Nova Scotia in a timber vessel. On the voyage the crew mutinied, and later the ship took fire. In the ‘Monthly Repository,’ under the signature ‘M. I. D.,’ he wrote an account of his early experiences. He began his literary career in 1828 by contributing a poem, ‘Hecatompylos,’ to the ‘Athenæum.’ In 1833 he published ‘Exposition of the False Medium and Barriers excluding Men of Genius from the public,’ advocating the establishment of a Society of English Literature and Art, ‘for the encouragement and permanent support of men of superior ability in all departments of human genius and knowledge.’ This was followed in 1834 by ‘Spirit of Peers and People: a National Tragicomedy.’ Between July 1836 and June 1837 he edited the ‘Monthly Repository.’ In 1837 appeared two impressive tragedies, ‘Cosmo de Medici’ and ‘The Death of Marlowe;’ the former was reprinted in 1875, with the addition of some miscellaneous poems, and the latter (in one act) passed through several editions. A curious tract, ‘The Russian Catechism, with Explanatory Notes,’ was published in or about 1837. In 1839 Horne began a correspondence with Elizabeth Barrett (afterwards Mrs. Browning), which continued until 1846. ‘Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, addressed to Richard Hengist Horne,’ was published in 1877, 2 vols. He contributed in 1840 an Introduction to Black's translation of ‘Schlegel's Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature,’ and in the same year published ‘Gregory VII, a Tragedy,’ with a prefatory ‘Essay on Tragic Influence.’ In 1841 he contributed an introduction and three of the modernised poems to ‘Poems of Geoffrey Chaucer Modernised,’ and published ‘The History of Napoleon,’ 2 vols. About this time he was engaged as commissioner to report on the employment of children and young persons in mines and manufactures. Mrs. Browning's ‘Cry of the Children’ was inspired by Horne's report. In 1843 appeared ‘Orion, an Epic Poem, in ten Books,’ the work by which he is chiefly known. It passed through six editions in 1843, and five followed later. Attention was attracted to it from the fact that the first three editions were issued at a farthing. There are eloquent passages in ‘Orion,’ but the praise accorded to it by Edgar Allan Poe and others was far in excess of its merits. ‘A New Spirit of the Age,’ 1844, republished in the same year (2 vols.), is a very interesting collection of critical essays on distinguished contemporaries. Mrs. Browning and Robert Bell assisted Horne in this work, which was illustrated with well-executed portraits. Two stories for children, ‘The Good-natured Bear’ and ‘Memoirs of a London Doll, written by herself, edited by Mrs. Fairstar’ (afterwards republished together), appeared in 1846, to which year belongs ‘Ballad Romances.’ At this time Horne was writing much on many subjects. Among his fugitive pieces may be mentioned ‘The Life of Van Amburgh, the Brute Tamer, by Ephraim Watts, Citizen of New York,’ and ‘Gottlieb Einhalter, or the Philanthropic Assassin’ (which appeared in ‘Howitt's Journal,’ and was republished under the title of ‘Murder Heroes’). In 1847 he married Miss Foggo, but he was not fitted to lead a domestic life. ‘Judas Iscariot,’ a tragedy in two acts, was published in 1848, and republished in a collection of ‘Bible Tragedies,’ 1881. ‘The Poor Artist,’ 1850 (2nd ed. 1871), is attractive; but ‘The Dreamer and the Worker,’ 2 vols., 1851, a story with a moral, is of slender interest. In 1852 Horne went with William Howitt to Australia, where he served as commander of the gold escort in Victoria, 1852, commissioner of crown lands for the gold fields, 1853–4, territorial magistrate, 1855, &c. ‘Australian Facts and Prospects, to which is prefixed the Author's Australian Autobiography,’ London, 1859, written in Melbourne, is full of shrewd observation and entertaining anecdote. ‘Prometheus, the Fire Bringer,’ Edinburgh, 1864, a dramatic poem (of little value), was written in the Australian bush; and ‘The South-Sea Sisters; a lyric masque,’ Melbourne [1866], celebrated the opening of the Intercolonial Exhibition of Australasia. Horne remained in Australia until 1869, when (conceiving that the Victorian government had not kept faith with him) he returned to England in the sailing ship The Lady Jocelyn. On the voyage he kept a journal, which he printed under the title of ‘The Lady Jocelyn's Weekly Mail.’ In 1874 he received a civil list pension of 50l. a year, which was augmented to 100l. before Lord Beaconsfield went out of office. He continued to write verse and prose (chiefly for magazines) in his later years. ‘The Tragic Story of Emilia Daràna, Marchioness of Albarozzi,’ was published in ‘Harper's Magazine,’ November 1874; ‘The Countess von Labanoff, or the Three Lovers; a Novelette,’ was reprinted from the ‘New Quarterly Magazine’ in 1877; ‘Laura Dibalzo,’ a tragedy, followed in 1880, and ‘King Nihil's Round Table, or the Regicide's Symposium; a Dramatic Scene,’ in 1881. ‘Soliloquium Fratris Rogeri Baconis’ (verse), from ‘Fraser's Magazine,’ appeared in 1882, and ‘The Last Words of Cleanthes; a Poem,’ from ‘Longman's Magazine,’ in 1883. Horne's latest work was a curious prose-tract, purporting to be translated from an Arabic original, ‘Sithron, the Star-Stricken,’ 1883. He died at Margate on 13 March 1884, and was buried there on 18 March. Among his papers were many unpublished plays, poems, and romances. One of the poems was a long piece in blank verse, ‘Ancient Idols, or the Fall of the Gods,’ which he regarded as his most considerable work. He appointed as his literary executor Mr. H. Buxton Forman, who in 1872 had reprinted from ‘Household Words’ (14 June 1851) his striking poem, ‘The Great Peace-maker; a Submarine Dialogue,’ on the laying of the submarine cable between Dover and Calais.

Horne was a talented, energetic, and versatile writer. His epic and his early tragedies have much force and fire, but they are not born for immortality. He was a good musician, he played excellently on the guitar, sang well, and was a marvellous whistler. He was an expert swimmer. Horne had his affectations. When he went out to Australia he was ‘Richard Henry,’ but he came back ‘Richard Hengist.’ In the bush he had met a Mr. Hengist, whose name he took.

[Athenæum, March 1884; Mary Howitt's Autobiog. ii. 86; information supplied by Mr. W. J. Linton.]

A. H. B.