Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Robinson, Frederick William

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1555564Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement, Volume 3 — Robinson, Frederick William1912Gerald le Grys Norgate

ROBINSON, FREDERICK WILLIAM (1830–1901), novelist, born in Spitalfields on 23 Dec. 1830, was second son of William Robinson of Acre Lane, Brixton, who owned much house property in London. His mother's surname was St. John. After education at Dr. Pinches' school at Clarendon House, Kennington, where (Sir) Henry Irving, (Sir) Edward Clarke, and J. L. Toole were also pupils, he acted for some time as his father's secretary. But he soon embarked upon a literary career, his first novel 'The House of Elmore,' begun before he was eighteen, being published in 1855. It met with success and was followed by upwards of fifty other efforts in fiction. 'Grandmother's Money' (1860; 2nd edit. 1862) secured a wide vogue, which was maintained in an anonymous series of semi-religious novels: 'High Church' (1860); 'No Church' (1861); 'Church and Chapel' (1863); 'Carry's Confession' (1865); 'Beyond the Church' (1866), and 'Christie's Faith' (1867). Meanwhile he was equally successful with two works of a different character: 'Female Life in Prison, by a Prison Matron' (1862) and 'Memoirs of Jane Cameron, Female Convict' (1863). These sketches and stories, based upon actual records, were so realistic in treatment as to be mistaken for literal history. Donations for prisoners reached Robinson, and his revelations led to improvement in the conditions of prison life. (These works are wrongly assigned by Halkett and Laing and by Cushing to Mary Carpenter [q. v.], the philanthropist.) Robinson was also a pioneer in novels of low life, which included 'Owen, a Waif' (1862; new edit. 1870); 'Mattie, a Stray' (1864; new edit. 1870); and 'Milly's Hero' (1865; 5th edit. 1869). Among his later works of fiction the best were 'Anne Judge, Spinster' (1867; last reissued in 1899), in which the dialogue is excellent; 'No Man's Friend' (1867; last edit. 1884); and 'The Courting of Mary Smith' (1886). 'Poor Humanity' (1868; last edit. 1884) was dramatised by the author and played with some success at the Surrey Theatre with Creswick in the chief role, a returned convict. Robinson's last complete novel, 'The Wrong that was done,' appeared in 1892, and a volume of short stories, 'All they went through,' in 1898. Robinson contributed to the 'Family Herald,' 'Cassell's Magazine' and other periodicals, and for some years wrote dramatic criticisms for the 'Daily News,' the 'Observer,' and other papers. His novels appeared in the three-volume form, and with the extinction of that mode of publication his popularity waned. A disciple of Defoe and Dickens, he wrote too rapidly to put such power as he possessed to the best purpose. Yet his work found constant readers in Dante Gabriel Rossetti and other men of note.

In 1884 Robinson brought out a weekly penny magazine, called 'Home Chimes,' which was heralded by a sonnet from Mr. Theodore Watts-Dunton, and contained contributions by Swinburne, Moy Thomas, and Phil Robinson. In February 1886 the paper was converted into a fourpenny monthly, and was carried on in that form till the end of 1893. Much early work by Mr. J. M. Barrie, Mr. J. K. Jerome, and Mr. I. Zangwill, in whom the editor inspired great attachment, appeared in it. Robinson's friends of an older generation included, besidos Swinburne and Mr. Watts-Dunton, Ford Madox Brown, Philip Bourke Marston and his father, and Sir Henry Irving. Chess-playing was among his accomplishments. He died at Elmore House, St. James's Road, Brixton, on 6 Dec. 1901, and was buried in Norwood cemetery. His wife, whose maiden name was Stephens, survived him, with six sons and five daughters. A portrait painted by C. W. Pittard, in possession of the family, is not a satisfactory likeness.

[Private information; Mr. T. Watts-Dunton in Athenæum, 14 Dec. 1901; The Times, 9 Dec. 1901; Daily News, 9 Dec. 1901; Harper's Mag., June 1888 (with portrait); Black and White, 14 Dec. 1901 (portrait); Brixtonian, 13 Dec. 1901; Literature, 14 Dec. 1901; J. C. Francis's Notes by the Way, 1909, p. 306; E. A. Baker's Descriptive Guide to Modern Fiction; Allibone's Dict. Eng. Lit. vol. ii. and Suppl.; Halkett and Laing's Dict.; Gushing's Anonyms; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

G. Le G. N.