Merritt, Henry (DNB00)

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MERRITT, HENRY (1822–1877), picture-cleaner and art-critic, the son of Joseph Merritt, a tailor, was born at Oxford on 8 June 1822. He was educated at a charity school, and his early years were passed in considerable poverty, his employment being at one time to collect old-standing debts from members of the university. While filling humble and precarious situations, he found time, however, to copy pictures in the Bodleian and to learn the rudiments of art from Alfred William Delamotte. In 1846 he made his way to London on foot, and in 1847 became acquainted with Mr. G. J. Holyoake. With Mr. Holyoake he lived at Dymoke Lodge and 1 Woburn Buildings for many years, but their relations do not seem to have been invariably harmonious. He wrote in the ‘Reasoner,’ under the pseudonym ‘Christopher,’ and soon afterwards contributed to the ‘Leader’ some papers, which in 1854 were republished in the ‘Cabinet of Reason,’ with a preface by Holyoake, under the title ‘Dirt and Pictures separated in the Works of the Old Masters.’ About the same time Merritt was entrusted by Dean Stanley with the task of cleaning the portrait of Richard II belonging to the chapterhouse of Westminster Abbey. He restored it successfully, and was afterwards employed on the portrait of Henry VII in the National Portrait Gallery, on various pictures at Hampton Court, and the battle scenes on the staircases of Marlborough House. His honesty and ability as a judge of old paintings led to his being constantly consulted by the authorities of the National Gallery and Royal Academy, to an acquaintance with Mr. Gladstone and other distinguished persons, and to a friendship with Mr. Ruskin, with whom he was in frequent correspondence. In 1865 Merritt published ‘Robert Dalby and his World of Troubles,’ an account, in the form of a romance, of his own early life, and the next year he became art-critic to the ‘Standard.’ Soon afterwards he commenced a story, called ‘The Oxford Professor,’ which was never completed. He died in July 1877, after considerable suffering, and was buried in the West Brompton cemetery. He married a few weeks before his death.

The above-mentioned works, with selections from Merritt's occasional writings and a memoir by his wife, were edited by Basil Champneys, and were published in London in 1879, 2 vols.

[Works in Brit. Mus.; Memoir by his wife, Anna Lea Merritt, 1879; Holyoake's Sixty Years of an Agitator's Life, ii. 332–47; Notes and Queries, vi. i. 471; Times, 14 July 1877.]

A. F. P.