Page:Dictionary of National Biography. Sup. Vol II (1901).djvu/291

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Gilbert
Gilbert
279

which unquestionably befell him. He was placed in an asylum at Bristol in 1787, but was released after a year's confinement, and was lost sight of until 1796, when he reappeared in Bristol, and there published a poem betokening both the power and the disorder of his faculties, 'The Hurricane: a Theosophical and Western Eclogue' (Bristol, 1796, 8vo). He became acquainted with Coleridge and Southey, and respect for their intellectual power exercised a restraining influence upon him, notwithstanding which, says Southey in an unpublished letter to William Sidney Walker [q. v.], 'he was the most insane person I have ever known at large, and his insanity smothered his genius.' But, adds Southey, 'that genius, when it appeared, was of a high order, and he was not more an object of pity than of respect to all who knew him.' In 1798 he mysteriously disappeared. He had been wont to discourse with profound gravity of the 'Gilberti,' an African nation unknown to geographers, but whom he affirmed to exist, and to be nearly related to his own family; and Southey, conjecturing that he had gone in quest of them, caused inquiries to be made of captains in the African trade. Nothing could be ascertained, and Southey, writing to Sidney Walker in 1824, spoke of Gilbert as long dead. In fact, however, he had made his way to Charleston, where he survived until about 1825, restored to reason and in good circumstances from the recovery of some litigated property.

Southey thought so highly of Gilbert's poetical power as to assure Cottle, upon the first publication of Landor's 'Gebir,' that 'the poem is such as Gilbert, if he were only half as mad as he is, could have written.' In fact, Gilbert gives few tokens of insanity as long as he keeps to description. The effort to think confuses him, and hence the notes to his poems are far more bewildering than the text. Wordsworth, however, in his notes to 'The Excursion,' quotes one of them as 'one of the finest passages of modern English prose;' and, thus conspicuously brought forward, it seems to have inspired Keats with the Darien simile in his sonnet on opening Chapman's 'Homer.' Montgomery also appears to have taken the idea of his 'Pelican Island' from Gilbert. According to Southey in the letter above cited, Gilbert also wrote a pamphlet on the courtmartial in which he was concerned, and a poem in praise of Mrs. Siddons.

[Cottle's Reminiscences of Coleridge; Southey's Life of Wesley; Southey's History of the West Indies, 1827, ii. 340, 429; and his manuscript letter to W. Sidney Walker.]

R. G.


GILBERT, WILLIAM (1804–1890), author, born at Bishopstoke on 24 May 1804, was the younger son of a colonial broker, who professed to be able to trace his descent from Sir Humphrey Gilbert [q. v.] He was educated at Clapham school, and in 1818 became a midshipman in the East India Company's service, but his views as to the rights of man involved him in difficulties with the officers, and he quitted the service in 1821. After some residence with a private tutor considerations of health, inclination, and economy led him to spend several years in Italy. While there he thoroughly mastered the language, and produced a volume of poems on Italian subjects and a tragedy in blank verse called 'Morna,' based upon Romani's libretto of 'Norma.' These experiments, together with an English version of the old libretto of 'Lucia di Lammermoor,' were printed for private circulation only. Returning to England about 1825, Gilbert studied at Guy's Hospital, and was attached for a short period to the staff'; he was also for a time an assistant surgeon in the navy, and subsequently accomplished some varied journalistic work. He abandoned his profession upon inheriting a competent fortune from his father.

In 1858, when he published his first book, Gilbert was nearly sixty. It was a searching study of life in the slums of London, entitled 'Dives and Lazarus,' dealing with his favourite subject, the deepening contrast between the lots of rich and poor, and, like many of his books, it bore no author's name. It had a measure of success which seems to have encouraged the author, who had previously been 'troubled by a sense of failing health, and was probably tired of a life during which, notwithstanding his great natural endowments and his varied experience, he had done little or nothing.' It was followed in 1859 by 'Margaret Meadows,' a 'tale for the Pharisees.' This was dramatised for the Olympic by Tom Taylor without the author's consent, and achieved a great success with Miss Bateman in the title role of 'Mary Warner.' The affair was referred to an arbitrator, who awarded 2001. damages to Gilbert, and ordered his name to be printed as joint author on the bills; but this last provision by Gilbert's request was not carried into execution. Of his later novels the best known was 'Shirley Hall Asylum' (1863), a very entertaining study of monomania, a subject upon which Gilbert displayed the thorougli knowledge of an expert. The book elicited a letter of unstinted praise from the Comte de Montalembert. He resided latterly at Salisbury, con-