Home >> Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 26 >> Thacher to The Cualnge Tam B6 >> Thackeray_P1

Thackeray

paris, law, study, qv, william, little, family, mother and father

Page: 1 2 3 4

THACKERAY, William Makepeace, Eng lish novelist: b. Calcutta, 18 July 1811; d. Lon don, 24 Dec. 1863. His father, Richmond Thackeray, who was a jttdge and collector of revenues in India, came of a good Yorkshire family. His mother was Anne Becher, a Cal cutta beauty belonging to a family well known in the India civil serNice. Richmond Thackeray died in 1816; William, his only child, remained with his mother for a year and was then sent to England to be educated. Five years later his mother, who had married Maj. Henry Carmichael Smyth, came to England with her second husband. Thackeray's relations with both were in later years exceedingly charming.

The little boy, who during his voyage had seen Napoleon at Saint Helena, was placed in charge of an aunt, and soon showed precocity. He was put to school under a Dr. Turner, where he is said to have got hints for the open ing of 'Vanity Fair,' and in 1822 he was en tered at the famous Charterhouse. Here he remained six years, imbibing loyalty to the memory of such former scholars as Addison and Steele, watching and engaging in fights such as he described later—in one of these his friend George Stovin Venables broke the nose of the future novelist, who was growing up to his great height of six feet, three inches — reading and writing poetry, devouring novels, and making sketches—in short, doing every thing but grounding himself in the classics as his schoolmasters wanted him to do. Although he was a good Horatian, he remained to the end a strictly modern spirit.

After studying a little under his stepfather and, perhaps, having some of the experiences described in the early pages of (Pendennis,) he went up to Cambridge in February 1829, ma triculating in Trinity College. Here he read widely, particularly in the literature of his favorite 18th century; but he evidently pre ferred to the regular academic routine supper parties the society of such fellow-students as the Tennysons, Arthur Hallam, Spedding and R. C. Trench (q.v.). He also tried his hand at college journalism, writing parodies and other skits in the weekly Snob. In short, he went his own gait, which was a trifle, but not injuriously, unsteady. He left Cam bridge after two years of residence without taking a degree.

He had already during his vacations sub mitted to the charms of Paris, and, with his natural turn for art, he had little inclination to follow his relatives' advice that he should study law. His income from a fortune left by his father, perhaps L.500 a year, was ample for his needs, so he resolved to travel and study on the Continent. In 1830 he spent some months in Weimar, where he saw Goethe and learned enough of the ways of natives and travelers to describe (Pumpernickel' in after years. His studies, whether of literature or of the civil law, do not seetn to have been exhaustive or ex hausting.

By the close of 1831 he had returned to Eng land and began the study of law in the Middle Temple. Trips to Cambridge, visits to the theatre, pipes with Alfred Tennyson and Ed ward FitzGerald (q.v.), and light reading seem to have distracted his attention frorn Black stone, but the Temple itself impressed him as every reader of (Pendennis) knows. He also did some electioneering for his friend, Charles Buller, and formed an acquaintance with that interesting writer, William Maginn (q.v.), which probably led later to his introduction to the group of men who were malcing Fraser's Magazine popular. When he came of age he closed his law books and spent some time in Paris. Then he took up definitely a literary career, becoming interested early in 1833 in the National Standard. He soon bought it and went to Paris to act as its correspondent, con tributing also stories and reviews, which in re cent times have been unnecessarily exhumed. The venture proved unsuccessful, and Thacke ray, who had lost money by it as well as by hank failures and by gambling (he had met his own ((Mr. Deuceace))) seems to have felt compelled to try seriously to make his living. He had always had a turn for drawing, inher ited probably from his father, and he deter mined that the life of an artist in Paris would suit• him admirably. Accordingly in 1834 he established himself in that city, and although he acquired no great skill in his new profession, he enjoyed the society of relatives and friends and laid up knowledge of the French capital which he afterward put to good use in his 'Paris Sketch Book' and in 'Philip.' He seems also to have begun his contributions to Fraser's Magazine by 1835, if indeed he did not contribute to it in August and September 1832, the burlesque of Bulwer's 'Eugene Aram' entitled (Elizabeth Brownrigge,) an early study precluding (Catherine' and Lyndon.' Early in 1836 he was working on a Paris news paper; then, again in conjunction with his stepfather, he helped to start a new newspaper in London, The Constitutional, which did not survive a year. Thackeray, who had previously issued his first separate publication, the eight satirical drawings entitled 'Fiore et Zephyr& (1836) acted as Paris correspondent once more, and seems to have taken his duties quite seri ously. It was time, for on 20 Aug. 1836 he had married at the British embassy at Paris a young lady of Irish family who had fascinated him by her singing, Miss Isabella Gethen Creagh Shawe. The imprudence of the mar riage became all the more apparent when it was found that The Constitutional had swal lowed the remains of Thackeray's fortune; but he would never admit his rashness and he worked hard enough ever after in support of his wife and children to be absolved from all reproaches.

Page: 1 2 3 4