George Saintsbury: The Ultimate Man of Letters

By Whittington-Egan, Richard | Contemporary Review, September 2012 | Go to article overview

George Saintsbury: The Ultimate Man of Letters


Whittington-Egan, Richard, Contemporary Review


PASSING along Bath's Royal Crescent in the first decades of the last century, one could, just within living memory, have caught a glimpse of a quaint old figure, straggling white-bearded, wearing small, oval, wire spectacles and a black skull-cap, plainly visible behind the ground-floor front window of the small house (No. 1A) attached to the side of Number One Royal Crescent. He was the 87-year-old--born 23rd October, 1845--George Edward Bateman Saintsbury, the celebrated literary critic, historian, and man of letters, reputedly the last to have read the entire corpus of English literature.

Saintsbury, whose literary output was massive--estimated at close on fifty books and more than 800 essays, introductions and reviews--was notoriously frugal in his dissemination of detail regarding his private life, and, like his admired Thackeray, anxious that no biography of him should ever be written--an embargo frequently associated with, and perhaps indicative of, the existence of, some secret domestic tragedy. He does, however, reveal that he was born in Southampton, 'in one of those houses, not infrequently encountered in the earlier nineteenth century, which had the name "Lottery Hall", because they had been built out of winnings under the system of public lotteries which our more intelligent and less canting forefathers permitted and utilised', fronting Queen's Park.

His father, also George, born in the City of London c. 1797, married Elizabeth Wright, born in Winchester c. 1808. She bore him six children: George, an elder brother, and four sisters. He was the secretary and superintendent of Southampton docks, but five years after his second son's birth the family moved to London, settling into 42 Pembridge Villas, Notting Hill, and moving later to No. 31. According to his entry in the 1851 Census, he appears to have retired and to be living on stockholder's interest, but The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography states that in 1850, ten years before his death in 1860, he became secretary of the East India and China Association.

After attending a dame-school in Norfolk Terrace, at one end of Westbourne Grove, and a small preparatory school at the other, young George entered King's College School in the Strand, in 1858.

In the spring of 1862, he failed a scholarship examination for Christ Church, Oxford, but, in 1863, was elected to a Classical Postmastership, as the scholarships at Merton College, Oxford, were called.

He made firm friends at Oxford, one of whom was William Minto, subsequently Professor of Logic and English at Aberdeen. Another, and his closest, was Mandell Creighton, who was to become the Bishop of London as well as a distinguished ecclesiastical historian. Saintsbury and his circle of intimates, their minds full of Carlyle, Tennyson, Browning, Morris and Swinburne, were nicknamed the 'Merton Popes', because of their meticulous observance of the fast days.

What manner of young man was he? Of mathematical turn, and shy and ungregarious temper, he was, as so many inward-turning people are, the conscientious keeper of a diary. Physically, he was extremely fit. He spoke in a rather high-pitched, southern-accented voice. He stood five feet eleven inches in his stockinged feet, and was known as a great walker. He thought nothing of covering 25 to 30 miles a day, and is recorded as having clocked up 43 miles in a single day, and a mile in twelve-and-a-half minutes. However, when he was in his forties, a slip on wet asphalt, a broken ankle bone, and its medical mistreatment, left him capable thereafter of only restricted walking. While still sound of wind and limb, he was powerfully addicted to waltzing.

In more sedentary mode, he enjoyed whist, He was also fond of piquet, loo and ecarte. He played a fair game of chess, but, like his father, from whom he inherited a quick temper, he was apt to lose it if things started to go against him. He was also fond of wine and horse-racing. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

George Saintsbury: The Ultimate Man of Letters
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.