Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Allingham, William

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ALLINGHAM, WILLIAM (1824–1889), poet, was born at Ballyshannon, Donegal, on 19 March 1824. William Allingham, his father, who had formerly been a merchant, was at the time of his birth manager of the local bank; his mother, Elizabeth Crawford, was also a native of Ballyshannon. The family, originally from Hampshire, had been settled in Ireland since the time of Elizabeth. Allingham entered the bank with which his father was connected at the age of thirteen, and strove to perfect the scanty education he had received at a boarding-school by a vigorous course of self-improvement. At the age of twenty-two he received an appointment in the customs, successively exercised for several years at Donegal, Ballyshannon, and other towns in Ulster. He nevertheless paid almost annual visits to London, the first in 1843, about which time he contributed to Leigh Hunt's 'Journal,' and in 1847 he made the personal acquaintance of Leigh Hunt, who treated him with great kindness, and introduced him to Carlyle and other men of letters. Through Coventry Patmore he became known to Tennyson, as well as to Rossetti and the pre-Raphaelite circle in general. The correspondence of Tennyson and Patmore attests the high opinion which both entertained of the poetical promise of the young Irishman. His first volume, entitled simply 'Poems' (London, 1850, 12mo), published in 1850, with a dedication to Leigh Hunt, was nevertheless soon withdrawn, and his next venture, 'Day and Night Songs' (1854, London, 8vo), though reproducing many of the early poems, was on a much more restricted scale. Its decided success justified the publication of a second edition next year, with the addition of a new title-piece, 'The Music Master,' an idyllic poem which had appeared in the volume of 1850, but had undergone so much refashioning as to have become almost a new work. A second series of 'Day and Night Songs' was also added. The volume was enriched by seven very beautiful wood-cuts after designs by Arthur Hughes, as well as one by Millais and one by Rossetti, which rank among the finest examples of the work of these artists in book illustration. Allingham was at this time on very intimate terms with Rossetti, whose letters to him, the best that Rossetti ever wrote, were published by Dr. Birkbeck Hill in the 'Atlantic Monthly' for 1896. Allingham afterwards dedicated a volume of his collected works to the memory of Rossetti, 'whose friendship brightened many years of my life, and whom I never can forget.' Many of the poems in this collection obtained a wide circulation through Irish hawkers as broadside halfpenny ballads. On 18 June 1864 he obtained a pension of 60l. on the civil list, and this was augmented to 100l. on 21 Jan. 1870.

In 1863 Allingham was transferred from Ballyshannon, where he had again officiated since 1856, to the customs house at Lymington. In the preceding year he had edited 'Nightingale Valley' (reissued in 1871 as 'Choice Lyrics and short Poems; or, Nightingale Valley'), a choice selection of English lyrics; in 1864 he edited 'The Ballad Book' for the 'Golden Treasury' series, and in the same year appeared 'Laurence Bloomfield in Ireland,' a poem of considerable length in the heroic couplet, evincing careful study of Goldsmith and Crabbe, and regarded by himself as his most important work. It certainly was the most ambitious, and its want of success with the public can only be ascribed to the inherent difficulty of the subject. The efforts of Laurence Bloomfield, a young Irish landlord returned to his patrimonial estate after an English education and a long minority to raise the society to which he comes to the level of the society he has left, form a curious counterpart to the author's own efforts to exalt a theme, socially of deep interest, to the region of poetry. Neither Laurence Bloomfield nor Allingham is quite successful, but neither is entirely unsuccessful, and the attempt was worth making in both instances. The poem remains the epic of Irish philanthropic landlordism, and its want of stirring interest is largely redeemed by its wealth of admirable description, both of man and nature. Turgeneff said, after reading it, 'I never understood Ireland before.' Another reprint from 'Fraser' was the 'Rambles of Patricius Walker,' lively accounts of pedestrian tours, which appeared in book form in 1873. In 1865 he published 'Fifty Modern Poems,' six of which had appeared in earlier collections. The most important of the remainder are pieces of local or national interest. Except for 'Songs, Ballads, and Stories' (1877), chiefly reprints, and an occasional contribution to the 'Athenæum,' he printed little more verse until the definitive collection of his poetical works in six volumes (1888–93); this edition included 'Thought and Word,' 'An Evil May-Day: a religious poem' which had previously appeared in a limited edition, and 'Ashley Manor' (an unacted play), besides an entire volume of short aphoristic poems entitled 'Blackberries,' which had been previously published in 1884.

In 1870 Allingham retired from the civil service, and removed to London as sub-editor (under James Anthony Froude [q. v. Suppl.] of 'Fraser's Magazine,' to which he had long been a contributor. Four years later he succeeded Froude as editor, and on 22 Aug. 1874 he married Miss Helen Paterson {b. 1848), eldest child of Dr. Alexander Henry Paterson, known under her wedded name as a distinguished water-colour painter. He conducted the magazine with much ability until the commencement, in 1879, of a new and shortlived series under the editorship of Principal Tulloch. His editorship was made memorable by the publication in the magazine of Carlyle's 'Early Kings of Norway,' given to him as a mark of regard by Carlyle, whom he frequently visited, and of whose conversation he has preserved notes which it may be hoped will one day be published. After the termination of his connection with 'Fraser,' lie took up his residence, in 1881, at Witley, in Surrey, whence in 1888 he removed to Hampstead with a view to the education of his children. His health was already much impaired by the effiects of a fall from horseback, and he died about a year after his settlement at Lyndhurst Road, Hampstead, on 18 Nov. 1889. His remains were cremated at Woking.

Though not ranking among the foremost of his generation, Allingham, when at his best, is an excellent poet, simple, clear, and graceful, with a distinct though not obtrusive individuality. His best work is concentrated in his 'Day and Night Songs' (1854), which, whether pathetic or sportive, whether expressing feeling or depicting scenery, whether upborne by simple melody or embodying truth in symbol, always fulfil the intention of the author and achieve the character of works of art. The employment of colloquial Irish without conventional hibernicisms was at the time a noteworthy novelty. 'The Music Master' (1865), though of no absorbing interest, is extremely pretty, and although 'Laurence Bloomfield' will mainly survive as a social document, the reader for instruction's sake will often be delighted by the poet's graphic felicity. The rest of Allingham's poetical work is on a lower level; there is, nevertheless, much point in most of his aphorisms, though few may attain the absolute perfection which absolute isolation demands.

Two portraits, one representing Allingham in middle, the other in later life, are reproduced in the collected edition of his poems.

A collection of prose works entitled 'Varieties in Prose' was posthumously published in three volumes in 1893.

[Athenæum, 23 Nov. 1889; Allingham's prefaces to his poems; Rossetti's letters to him, edited by Dr. Birkbeck Hill; A. H. Miles's Poets and Poetry of the Century; private information; personal knowledge.]

R. G.