William Maginn

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Maginn, William, LL.D., a distinguished writer, was born in Cork in July 1794. He entered Trinity College at an unusually early age, and attained the degree of LL.D. when but twenty-three. In the literary society of Cork he soon excelled all his contemporaries in the depth and universality of his reading. The publication of Blackwood's Magazine, commenced in 1817, opened up a field especially favourable for the display of his talents. His earliest contribution was a translation into Latin of Chevy Chase. At first he wrote under the assumed name of "Ralph Tuckett Scott," and occasionally had considerable difficulty in getting cash for Mr. Blackwood's cheques in favour of that supposed individual. It would be impossible to specify his numerous contributions to the magazine, of which for a time he was the main stay. In 1823 he married, and giving up a school he had opened in Cork, removed to London. In 1824 he went to Paris for a time as correspondent of the Representative, and on his return continued to earn a livelihood by writing for magazines, annuals, and newspapers. His political articles in the early numbers of the Standard contributed much to the success of that newspaper. Disagreement with Mr. Blackwood led to the establishment by Maginn and his friend Hugh Fraser, of Fraser's Magazine in 1830.

All the ability that characterized his articles in Blackwood shone out in the new serial, which rapidly sprang into public estimation. An article in the number for January 1836, led to a duel with Grantley Berkeley. Habits of dissipation and extravagance now grew upon him. Besides increasing money difficulties, and the losses resulting from his irregular life, "there was another external attraction that made home less agreeable—... his supposed attachment to Miss Lanyon. Whatever were the terms on which he stood to that gifted and fascinating creature, certain it is that the strongest friendship existed between them."[116] On her death Maginn appeared inconsolable, and shortly afterwards he separated from his wife and children. In January 1838 appeared the first of his celebrated Homeric Ballads. Dissipation had now brought him to a miserable condition, and he suffered imprisonment for debt several times; yet through all he retained his serenity of mind, and was able to write political leaders when too ill to rise from bed. Near the last a friend wrote of him: "He was quite emaciated and worn away; his hands thin, and very little flesh on his face; his eyes appeared brighter and larger than usual; and his hair was wild and disordered. He stretched out his hand and saluted me. He is a ruin, a glorious ruin, nevertheless... But he lives a rollicking life, and will write you one of his ablest articles, while standing in his shirt, or sipping brandy. We talked on Seneca, Homer, Christ, Pluto, and Virgil."

Like most men brought low by their own failings, he was ceaseless in his denunciations of the ingratitude of the world. He died 21st August 1842, at Walton-upon-Thames, aged 48. He is described as of middle height, "of slender make; his hair is very grey, and he has a gentle stoop... He has a slight stutter, and is rather thick in his delivery. He is completely and perfectly an Irishman in every look, and word, and movement." Allibone quotes the following estimates of his character: "For more than a quarter of a century the most remarkable magazine writer of his time was the late William Maginn, LL.D., well known as the 'Sir Morgan Odoherty' of Blackwood's Magazine, and as the principal contributor for many years to Fraser's, and other periodicals. The combined learning, wit, eloquence, eccentricity, and humour of Maginn had obtained for him, long before his death, the title of the modern Rabelais. His magazine articles possess extraordinary merit. He had the art of putting a vast quantity of animal spirits upon paper; but his graver articles — which contain sound and serious principles of criticism — are earnest and well-reasoned... Few men were equal to him in conversation, though he was the reverse of a great talker. It was the variety of topics upon which he threw light, and not the diffuseness of his remarks, which gave a happy idea of the wealth of his conversation. Meet him when you might, turn the discourse into whatever channels you pleased, Maginn was a master of every subject — the most recondite as well as the most familiar." "Now it was a parody, and now a translation; to-day, a critique, to-morrow, a letter from Paris; one month a novel, and the next a political essay. Versatile, learned, apt, and facile, the genial Irish Doctor made wisdom and mirth wherever he went. Too convivial for his own good, too improvident for his prosperity, he was yet a benefactor to the public, a delight to scholars, and an idol to his friends."[16]

Dr. Kenealy, who afterwards took a prominent part in the Tichborne trial, was his friend and biographer. Several interesting particulars regarding Dr. Maginn will be found in Notes and Queries, 1st and 2nd Series.

Sources

7. Annual Register. London, 1756-1877.

16. Authors, Dictionary of British and American: S. Austin Allibone. 3 vols. Philadelphia, 1859-'71.

116. Dublin University Magazine (23). Dublin, 1833-'77.

254. Notes and Queries. London, 1850-'78.
O'Callaghan, John C., see No. 186.

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