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

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NEELE, HENRY (1798–1828), poet and miscellaneous writer, was born on 29 Jan. 1798 in the Strand, London, where his father carried on business as a map and heraldic engraver. He was educated at a private school at Kentish Town, and afterwards articled to a solicitor, and admitted to practice after the expiration of the usual period. He never relinquished his profession, but his attention must have been mainly devoted to literature. In January 1817, while yet serving his articles, he had published at his father's expense ‘Odes, and other Poems,’ betraying the influence of Collins, which attracted the attention of Dr. Nathan Drake, by whom they were highly commended. A second edition was printed in July 1820; and in March 1823 appeared ‘Poems, Dramatic and Miscellaneous,’ inscribed to Joanna Baillie. This volume obtained considerable success, and made Neele a popular contributor to magazines and annuals, for which he continued to produce tales and poems during the remainder of his short life. He prepared in 1826, and delivered in 1827, a course of lectures on English poetry, which were published after his death, and which, if in no way original, exhibit a sensitive perception of poetical beauty and a correct taste. An edition of Shakespeare, issued in parts, was soon discontinued for want of support. In 1827 he published a collected edition of his poems (2 vols. 16mo), and in the same year produced his ‘Romance of English History,’ in three volumes, a collection of tales illustrative of romantic passages in English history, one of a series of works on the histories of the chief nations of the world, composed by various authors as commissions from the publishing firm of Edward Bull. The ‘Romance’ of France was by Leitch Ritchie [q. v.], of Italy by Charles Macfarlane [q. v.], of Spain by Don T. de Trueba, and of India by John Hobart Caunter [q. v.] The five have been republished in the Chandos Classics. Notwithstanding the extent of Neele's contributions, it was written in six months, and the overstrain of composition and research was believed to have been the cause of the untimely fate of the author, who was found dead in bed on 7 Feb. 1828, having cut his throat in an access of insanity, under the delusion that his private affairs had become hopelessly embarrassed. No symptom of a disordered mind appears in his writings, which, although tinged with poetical melancholy, are always lucid and coherent; and his conversation is represented to have been cheerful and vivacious, while he was irreproachable in every relation of life. His ‘Literary Remains,’ published in one volume in 1829, included his ‘Lectures on English Poetry’ and a number of tales and poems, some never before published, others collected from the ‘Monthly Magazine,’ ‘Forget me not,’ and other periodicals.

As a poet, Neele can hardly claim higher rank than that of an elegant and natural versifier, whose compositions are the fruit of a genuine poetical impulse, but who has neither sufficient originality of thought nor force of expression to produce any considerable effect. His sincerity and spontaneity plead in his favour so long as he confines himself to lyric; his dramatic attempts are grievously defective in truth of representation. His short stories frequently exhibit considerable power of imagination and description, especially one in which the legends of the Wandering Jew and Agrippa's Magic Mirror are very happily combined. His romantic illustrations of English history were popular in their day, and might please in ours were not the curious dialect which was then considered to represent mediæval English now entirely out of date. A portrait, engraved by Neele after Archer, was prefixed to the ‘Literary Remains.’

[Memoir prefixed to Neele's Literary Remains, 1829; Georgian Era, vol. iii.; Times, 11 Feb. 1828; Gent. Mag. 1828, i. 276; Nathan Drake's Winter Nights.]

R. G.