Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Morley, Henry

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MORLEY, HENRY (1822–1894), author, son of Henry Morley of Midhurst, Sussex, was born in Hatton Garden, London, on 15 Sept. 1822. He was sent early to a Moravian school at Neuwied on the Rhine, and from 1838 to 1843 he studied at King's College, London. His father was a member of the Apothecaries' Company, and Morley was destined for the medical profession. But, while zealously pursuing his medical studies, he gave evidence of literary propensities as joint editor of a college magazine, and he contributed a digest of a German book upon Greece to the 'Foreign Quarterly Review.' In 1843 he passed Apothecaries' Hall, and he immediately commenced practice as assistant to a country doctor in Somerset, but presently bought a partnership with another doctor at Madeley in Shropshire, whom he unfortunately found to be dishonest. Stripped of all he had, he changed his plan of life in 1848, and set up a school at Manchester on the principles that he had admired at Neuwied. How severe his struggles were at this period he has himself related in his 'Early Papers and Some Memories,' published in 1891. But his spirit was high and bore him through. Much impressed by the continental revolutions of 1848, he put forth a small volume of verse called 'Sunrise in Italy.' He soon removed the school to Liverpool, where he remained for two years. In 1849 he began a set of ironical papers, entitled 'How to make Home Unhealthy,' in the 'Journal of Public Health,' which were interrupted by the discontinuance of that periodical, but afterwards reappeared and were completed in the 'Examiner,' then edited by John Forster. The papers attracted much attention, and caught the eye of Dickens. The author was asked to write for 'Household Words,' but, busy with his school, he at first sent only his 'Adventures in Skitzland,' a freak of his imagination in college days. A few weeks later he was pressed to give up his school and come to London to take part in the management of 'Household Words.' He was thus connected both with that serial and with its successor, 'All the Year Round,' from about 1850 to 1865. During this period he was also associated with the 'Examiner,' first as sub-editor and afterwards as editor, and published three important biographies. These were 'Palissy the Potter,' 1852; 'Jerome Cardan,' 1854; and 'Cornelius Agrippa,' 1856; and they were followed at a longer interval by 'Clement Marot,' 1870. Meanwhile he had followed up his first ironical work with 'A Defence of Ignorance,' 1851, and in 1857 he published his 'Memoirs of Bartholomew Fair,' soon succeeded by two volumes of fairy tales, 1859 and 1860.

In 1857 he was appointed English lecturer to evening classes at King's College, London, and the idea of a great history of English literature gradually took form in his mind. In 1864, accordingly, appeared the first volume of his 'English Writers,' coming down only to Chaucer, and the first part of a second volume in 1867 carried the story down to William Dunbar. The publication had probably much to do with his appointment as professor of the English language and literature at University College in 1865, when he withdrew from King's College. After 1867 the great work was long suspended, but it was begun again in 1887 in a new form, in which ten volumes, bringing the narrative down to Shakespeare, were completed before his death. Meanwhile 'A First Sketch of English Literature,' which was first published in 1873, and has since reached its thirteenth edition (thirty-first thousand), covered, on a smaller scale, the same field. In 1878 Morley was appointed professor of the English language and literature at Queen's College, London. His teaching power was unique, not only from his mastery of the facts, but from his personal warmth and geniality. He appreciated all that was best in every man he met and in every author he discussed, a fact strongly recommending him to popular audiences, whom he repeatedly addressed on literary topics in various parts of the country. In 1879 he received the honorary degree of LL.D. from the university of Edinburgh. From 1882 to 1890 he was principal of University Hall, Gordon Square. He then resigned his professorships and retired to Carisbrooke in the Isle of Wight, where he died on 14 May 1894.

He had married in 1852 a daughter of Joseph Sayer of Newport in the Isle of Wight, who died two years before him, and by her he had several children.

Morley's later years were largely spent in preparing editions at a low price of 'English Classics,' and of translations from foreign classics. These he induced two publishing houses to bring out in two series, respectively entitled 'Morley's Universal Library' (63 vols. at 1s. each), 1883-8, and 'Cassell's National Library' (214 vols. at 3d. each), 1886-90. Each of the volumes had an introduction from his own pen. He also published a 'Library of English Literature,' 5 vols. (1875-81), with much original comment, and the 'Carisbrooke Library' (1889-91), 14 vols. reprints of less familiar English classics. Morley's ' companion Poets' (1891–2) numbered nine volumes. Although much of his work as the historian of literature has lasting value, his critical insight was less marked than his faculty for collecting information; and it is as a populariser of literature that he did his countrymen the highest service.

[Personal information.]

J. G.