Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Evans, Sebastian

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EVANS, SEBASTIAN (1830–1909), journalist, born on 2 March 1830 at Market Bosworth, Leicestershire, was youngest son of Arthur Benoni Evans [q. v.] by his wife Anne, daughter of Captain Thomas Dickinson, R.N. Sir John Evans [q. v. Suppl. II] was his elder brother. Sebastian, after early education under his father at the free grammar school of Market Bosworth, won in 1849 a scholarship at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, graduating B.A. in 1853 and proceeding M.A. in 1857. In youth he showed promise as an artist and an aptitude for Latin and English verse. While an undergraduate he published a volume of sonnets on the death of the duke of Wellington (1852). On leaving the university he became a student at Lincoln's Inn on 29 Jan. 1855, but was shortly appointed secretary of the Indian Reform Association, and in that capacity was the first man in England to receive news of the outbreak of the mutiny. In 1857 he resigned the secretaryship and turned his talent for drawing to practical use by becoming manager of the art department of the glass-works of Messrs. Chance Bros. & Co., at Oldbury, near Birmingham. This position he occupied for ten years, and designed many windows, including one illustrating the Robin Hood legend for the International Exhibition in 1862.

Meanwhile he took a growing interest in politics as an ardent conservative. His work for the Indian Reform Association had brought him into touch with John Bright, and at Birmingham he made the acquaintance of Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, with whom, in spite of their political differences, he contracted a lasting friendship. In 1867 Evans left the glassworks to become editor of the 'Birmingham Daily Gazette,' a conservative organ. In 1868 he unsuccessfully contested Birmingham in the conservative interest and also helped to form the National Union of Conservative Associations. In the same year he took the degree of LL.D. at Cambridge. In 1870 he left the 'Gazette' to pursue an early design of a legal career. On 17 Nov. 1873 he was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn, and joined the Oxford circuit. He quickly acquired a fair practice, but found time for both political and journalistic activity, writing leading articles for the 'Observer' and contributing articles and stories, chiefly of a mystical tenour, to 'Macmillan's' and 'Longman's' magazines. In 1878 he shared in the foundation of the 'People,' a weekly conservative newspaper, and edited it for the first three years of its career. When on the eve of the general election of 1886 the editor of the 'Birmingham Daily Gazette' died suddenly, Evans hurriedly resumed the editorship over the critical period.

Evans continued to cultivate art and poetry amid all competing interests. He exhibited at the Royal Academy and else-where pictures in oil, water-colour, and black and white, and practised wood-carving, engraving, and book-binding. As a poet, he combined a feeling for mediaeval beauty with a humour which distinguishes him from the Pre-Raphaelites. He was an excellent translator in verse and prose from mediaeval French, Latin, Greek, and Italian. In 1898 he published 'The High History of the Holy Graal' (new edit. 1910 in 'Everyman's Library'), a masterly version of the old French romance of 'Perceval le Gallois,' as well as an original study of the legend entitled 'In Quest of the Holy Graal.' Evans's versatility and social charm brought him a varied acquaintance. He knew Thackeray, Darwin, Huxley, Newman, Matthew Arnold, and Ruskin, and at a later period was the intimate friend of Burne-Jones, who shared his interests in mediæval legend and illustrated his history of the Graal. Towards the end of his life he retired to Abbot's Barton, Canterbury, where he died on 19 Dec. 1909.

In 1857 he married Elizabeth, youngest daughter of Francis Bennett Goldney, one of the founders of the London Joint Stock Bank. Of two sons, Sebastian and Francis, the latter assumed the name of Francis Bennett Goldney, and was returned to parliament as independent unionist member for Canterbury in December 1909, after serving several times as mayor of the town. He owns two portraits of Evans, one, a three-quarter length, in oils, painted by Roden about 1870; the other a silver point drawing by Delamotte about 1856.

Evans's published collections of poems, apart from those already mentioned, were:

  1. 'Brother Fabian's Manuscripts and other Poems,' 1865.
  2. 'Songs and Etchings,' 1871.
  3. 'In the Studio, a Decade of Poems,' 1875.

He also translated St. Francis of Assisi's 'Mirror of Perfection' (1898) and 'Geoffrey of Monmouth's History' (1904), and with his son, Mr. Goldney, 'Lady Chillingham's House Party,' adapted from Pailleron's 'Le Monde où l'on s'ennuie' (1901). In 1881 he re-edited his father's 'Leicestershire Words' for the English Dialect Society.

[The Times, 20 Dec. 1909; Miles's Poets and Poetry of the Century; Men and Women of the Time; Graduati Cantabrigienses; Foster's Men at the Bar; Lady Burne-Jones's Memorials of Edward Burne-Jones, 1904; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

F. L. B.