Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Yates, Edmund

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YATES, EDMUND (1831–1894), novelist, and founder of ‘The World,’ the son of Frederick Henry Yates (1797–1842) [q. v.], who married, in 1823, Elizabeth Brunton [see Yates, Elizabeth], was born during a theatrical tour of his father's company at Howard Place, Calton Hill, Edinburgh, on 3 July 1831. He was brought as an infant to London, where his early home was at 411 Strand (adjoining the Adelphi Theatre), and was baptised Edmund Hodgson, after Edmund Byng of the Torrington family, and Frederick Hodgson, proprietor of Hodgson's ale, known as ‘Brown Stout.’ Theodore Hook, who was present at the christening, said he should have been named ‘Bingo Stingo.’ His parents were united in one desire—to keep their son off the stage. Edmund had childish recollections of many of the celebrities of the day, but none of the theatre. He was educated at a preparatory school at Highgate, and then at Highgate school under Dr. Dyne. In 1846 he was sent for a year to pick up German under a professor at Düsseldorf. On 11 May 1847, when only sixteen, though he looked some years older, through the influence of Lord Clanricarde, one of the patrons of his father, he obtained an appointment in the secretary's department at the general post office, and rose in 1862 to be head of the missing-letter department at a salary of 500l. His godfather, Edmund Byng, gave him some useful introductions, and in December 1848 he was elected a member of the Garrick Club. The animal spirits which elicited some paternal advice from Sir Rowland Hill gave place, after the first few years of office life, to a desire for literary distinction, which was stimulated by an early marriage at the age of twenty-two. He began by writing for the ‘Court Journal’ at a salary of a pound a week, ‘very irregularly paid,’ contributing mainly theatrical criticism; his maiden verses ‘On the Death of Thomas Moore’ were published on 6 March 1852. He was soon contributing to the ‘Leader,’ ‘Bentley's Miscellany,’ and ‘Chambers's Journal,’ and in this same year (1852) was one of the original members of the Fielding Club, so named by Thackeray. In 1853 he was one of a goodly company of well-known contributors to the ‘Keepsake,’ which was kept alive after Lady Blessington's death by her niece, Marguerite Power. Next year he moved from Marylebone to Doughty Street. His father's name was a password to a section of literary and Bohemian society, and he rapidly became friendly with such men as Peter Cunningham, Charles Dickens, John Delane, John Oxenford, the Broughs, G. A. Sala (whom he subsequently introduced to the proprietors of the ‘Daily Telegraph’), and Frank Smedley, with whom, in 1856, he collaborated in a shilling book, ‘Mirth and Metre, by Two Merry Men.’ He had a special kindness for Smedley, of whom he gives a sympathetic portrait in his ‘Recollections.’ He had already contributed to the then popular ‘shilling light literature’ a series of sketches called ‘My Haunts and their Frequenters’ (1854), and about the same time he became dramatic critic and occasional reviewer to the ‘Daily News,’ a post which he retained for six years, at a salary of 4l. a week. In August 1855 he edited the first number of the ‘Comic Times,’ the outcome of a short-lived feud between Herbert Ingram and Messrs. Bradbury & Evans, which ran for four months, and was then suddenly extinguished upon the intervention of Mark Lemon, in the interests of ‘Punch.’ Yates transferred his staff of humourists to a new venture, ‘The Train,’ in which in the space of thirty months he ran through 900l. In the meantime he had become a contributor to ‘Household Words,’ and early in 1857 was produced at the Adelphi ‘A Night at Notting Hill,’ by Nicolas Herbert Harrington and Yates; it is described by the latter as ‘a riotous and ridiculous but exceedingly funny farce.’ It was followed by ‘My Friend from Leatherhead,’ played by Mr. Toole at the Lyceum on 23 Feb. 1857; a sketch for Mr. and Mrs. German Reed, and a comedietta for the Princess's called ‘If the Cap fits.’ In conjunction with Harrington he wrote three more farces: ‘Your Likeness—One Shilling,’ performed at the Strand Theatre, April 1858; ‘Double Dummy’ (Lyceum, 3 March 1858); and ‘Hit him, he has no Friends!’ (Strand, 17 Sept. 1860).

From an early period Yates had been possessed by the idea of introducing a column of personal gossip into a respectable paper. He unfolded this novel idea to Henry Vizetelly [q. v.], who, when he started the ‘Illustrated Times’ in 1855, made the experiment with a column entitled ‘The Lounger at the Clubs.’ Yates was so successful with this that in May 1858 he was selected by John Maxwell to edit a new paper, to be called ‘Town Talk.’ As a foil to an adulatory notice of Dickens in the first number, Yates composed for No. 2 a very impertinent and unfriendly sketch of Thackeray. A sneer about his time-serving was hotly resented by Thackeray, who contended that the only place where Yates could have mixed the colours for the pretended portrait was the Garrick Club, as a member of which body he demanded reparation. A painful altercation ensued, and was only concluded by Yates's name being struck off the list of members (20 July 1858). He bore the decision with courage, but it was a very severe blow. His chief adviser throughout the affair had been Dickens, between whom and Thackeray a lasting coolness ensued. The squabble smouldered for some time. ‘Young Grub-Street’ in the ‘Virginians’ was regarded as a hit at Yates, who retorted in a bitter travesty upon ‘Bouillabaisse,’ printed in the ‘Illustrated Times,’ 29 Jan. 1859. Yates stated his version of the affair in ‘Mr. Thackeray, Mr. Yates, and the Garrick Club,’ printed for private circulation in 1859, a very scarce pamphlet. He restated the same facts in a chapter of his ‘Recollections.’

In 1860 he became acting editor of Maxwell's new serial, ‘Temple Bar,’ designed as a rival to the ‘Cornhill,’ with G. A. Sala as his nominal chief. By securing the novel ‘Aurora Floyd’ and the steady co-operation of Miss Braddon, he rendered what was perhaps his greatest service to ‘Temple Bar.’ For four years he was sole editor of this periodical, but he resigned it in the summer of 1867, and took charge of ‘Tinsley's Magazine,’ a new illustrated monthly, of which he edited four volumes, commencing August 1867. Twelve years later, in April 1879, he started yet another magazine, ‘Time: a Monthly Miscellany of Interesting and Amusing Literature,’ which he conducted for five years. In 1862, inspired by the example of his former intimate friend, Albert Smith (of whom he wrote a ‘Memoir,’ prefixed in 1860 to the volume entitled ‘Mont Blanc’), he conducted a short but successful lecturing season at the Egyptian Hall, his themes being mainly social; and in 1864, to fill a temporary gap in the novelist's department of ‘Temple Bar,’ he wrote a highly successful work of fiction, ‘Broken to Harness: a Story of English Domestic Life.’ Forster commented upon it at Gadshill, ‘It is really very good, my dear Dickens, quite as good as Anthony Trollope,’ to which Dickens replied, ‘That is not very high praise.’ Except that they were both servants of the post office, there is not much in common between the novelists. The novels of Yates are possibly superior in workmanship and construction, abounding as they do in strong situations, but they lack the abiding interest that attaches to the best of Trollope's work. They are very unequal; ‘Broken to Harness’ and ‘Black Sheep’ are perhaps the two best.

Having relinquished the ‘Lounger’ in the ‘Illustrated Times,’ Yates commenced similar columns, published every Monday, in the ‘Morning Star,’ headed ‘The Flâneur,’ and to the same paper contributed stories and essays styled ‘Readings by Starlight.’ At the close of the sixties, besides novels and ‘special’ work on the ‘Daily News,’ he was contributing regularly to ‘All the Year Round’ and the ‘Observer,’ and as ‘Mrs. Seton’ was contributing a weekly article, called ‘Five o'Clock Tea,’ to the ‘Queen.’ In 1871, in collaboration with A. W. Dubourg, he wrote a three-act drama, ‘Without Love,’ for the Olympic.

Meantime, in 1870, Yates abandoned his never very arduous duties in the missing-letter branch, and accepted a special post under Francis Ives Scudamore [q. v.], the first administrator of the telegraph department. His duty was by personal solicitation to obtain the consent of corporate bodies and private landowners to the erection of telegraph poles on their domains, in view of the great extension of the telegraph service contemplated by the government. These duties occupied two years, at the expiration of which Yates retired from the post office on a pension of 200l. a year (March 1872). In September 1872 he commenced at New York a lecturing tour in America. He was generally very well received. During five months he travelled twenty-six thousand miles, delivered 106 lectures, and cleared 1,500l. Moreover he obtained a post upon the staff of the ‘New York Herald’ worth 1,200l. a year. In the ‘Herald's tabard,’ as he styles it, he travelled for some months at a violent pace between the various capitals of Europe. Greatly needing rest, he determined upon realising a project which he had long had in his mind, the foundation of a relatively respectable ‘society paper.’ While in Paris, in the early summer of 1874 he got Grenville Murray [q. v.] to join him in embarking 500l., and on 8 July 1874 appeared the first number of ‘The World: a Journal for Men and Women.’ Yates was editor-in-chief, and his staff during the first year included Messrs. Labouchere, T. H. S. Escott, Archibald Forbes, F. I. Scudamore, H. W. Lucy, Dutton Cook, Mortimer and Wilkie Collins, Miss Braddon, and Mrs. Lynn Linton. Freed from the disgraceful personalities which had disfigured such predecessors as the ‘Age’ and the ‘Satirist,’ the ‘Queen's Messenger,’ the ‘Owl’ and ‘Echoes of the Clubs,’ the ‘World,’ after profitably encountering some not very serious legal opposition, was an established success within six months of its inception. Murray, who persisted in regarding the journal as an agency for the conduct of private vendettas, was bought out in December 1874 for 3,000l., and the ‘World’ became the sole property of its manager, Edmund Yates. A distinctive feature of the new weekly was the frequent use of the first person singular in its columns. Yates's success enabled him to indulge his hospitable instincts in Portland Place, and, in addition, to maintain a summer residence on the Upper Thames. The ex-member of the Garrick was now elected a member of the Carlton Club, His discretion, however, was not always above reproach, In January 1883 there appeared in the ‘World’ a libellous paragraph referring, though not by name, to the Earl of Lonsdale. Yates was found guilty of criminal libel (2 April 1884), and, after the failure of an appeal, was in January 1885 sentenced to four months' imprisonment. He was released after seven weeks, but the incident left a permanent mark upon him. Up to the last, however, he wielded his pen with his old facility. Entirely free from the acerbity and doubtful taste which may be detected in some of his journalistic work was his delightful ‘Edmund Yates: his Recollections and Experiences’ (1884, 2 vols. 8vo; 4th edit. 1885, 1 vol.), a book full of interesting memories, but especially entertaining as regards London in the forties, Charles Dickens, Sir Rowland Hill, Anthony Trollope, and the early writers for ‘Punch’ or its ‘comic’ rivals.

Yates had a long illness in the winter of 1893–4; he returned from the continent improved in health in April, but relapsed, and died rather suddenly at the Savoy Hotel on 20 May 1894, aged 62. A funeral service was held in the Savoy Chapel on 24 May, after which the remains were removed to Woking to be cremated (Times, 25 May 1894). Yates married in 1853 Louisa Katharine, daughter of James Wilkinson the sword maker, of 27 Pall Mall, and had four sons. His widow died at the Carlton Hotel on 27 Jan. 1900.

An energetic man of considerable versatility, it was as a journalist that Yates excelled, and he had a great gift of saying what he had to say in a readable style. ‘He was a most genial and witty man, an entertaining conversationalist, and an exceptionally good after-dinner speaker’ (Truth, 24 May 1894).

Yates's separately published works include: 1. ‘After Office Hours,’ 1861 and 1862. 2. ‘Broken to Harness,’ 1864, 1865, and 1867 (6th edit.); several American editions, and a version for the ‘Revue des Deux Mondes,’ 1866 (cf. Athenæum, 26 Nov. 1864). 3. ‘Pages in Waiting,’ 1865. 4. ‘The Business of Pleasure,’ 1865. 5. ‘Land at Last,’ 1866, 1867, and 1869; a French version as ‘Un Drame de la Rue,’ 1881. 6. ‘Running the Gauntlet,’ 1866 and 1867. 7. ‘Kissing the Rod,’ 1866 and 1867. 8. ‘The Forlorn Hope,’ 1867. 9. ‘The Black Sheep,’ 1867 and 1868; several American editions. It was dramatised by the author and J. P. Simpson, and printed in vol. lxxxi. of Lacy's ‘Acting Plays.’ 10. ‘The Rock Ahead,’ 1868. 11. ‘Wrecked in Port,’ 1869. 12. ‘A Righted Wrong,’ 1870. 13. ‘Dr. Wainwright's Patient,’ 1871. 14. ‘Nobody's Fortune,’ 1871. 15. ‘Castaway,’ 1872. 16. ‘A Waiting Race,’ 1872. 17. ‘The Yellow Flag,’ 1872. 18. ‘Two by Tricks,’ 1874. 19. ‘The Impending Sword,’ 1874. 20. ‘The Silent Witness,’ 1875. He condensed into one volume Mrs. Mathews's prolix ‘Life of Charles Mathews’ (1860), and edited Smedley's ‘Gathered Leaves,’ with a memorial preface (1865), and Mortimer Collins's ‘Thoughts in my Garden,’ 1880.

[Yates's Recollections and Experiences (with portrait); Vizetelly's Glances back through Seventy Years, 1893, chap. xxii.; Fox-Bourne's English Newspapers; Hatton's Journalistic London, 1882, pp. 85 sq. (with portrait); Spielmann's Hist. of Punch, 1895, pp. 19, 144, 173, 265, 281, 313, 390; Sala's Life and Adventures, 1895, passim; Athenæum, 26 May 1894; Times, 22 May 1894 and 29 Jan. 1900; Illustrated London News, 26 May 1894 (with portrait); Allibone's Dict. of English Literature; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

T. S.