Academic journal article Nineteenth-Century Prose

Richard Holt Hutton: A Retrospective

Academic journal article Nineteenth-Century Prose

Richard Holt Hutton: A Retrospective

Article excerpt

In the second half of the nineteenth century Richard Holt Hutton was widely regarded as one of the best minds and one of the most accomplished essayists of his generation. He wrote thousands of short articles while co-editing the Spectator for almost forty years, examining such diverse topics as non-conformist theology, parliamentary practices, Irish home rule, zoology, theater, literary criticism, and cultural concerns of the day. Although he has been ignored for the last several decades, and was in fact rarely referred to for much of the twentieth century (except, perhaps, as a sterling example of the shortcomings of much of Victorian prose), his arguments about the responsibilities of the literary critic and the nature of literary criticism make him an important source for understanding Victorian critical arguments. His opinions of the great voices of the Victorian period--Tennyson, Browning, Eliot, Hardy, Mrs. Oliphant and others--communicate to us over a century since the nature of their contemporary reception. Additionally, his essays on the ephemera of his time deepen and enrich our understanding of the Victorians and their world, making him a resource that should be embraced by any serious Victorian scholar.

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Richard Holt Hutton (1826-1897) was born into an old non-comformist family: his father Joseph was the Unitarian minister of Mill Hill Chapel in Leeds, and later of Carter Hill Chapel in London. His grandfather had also been a Unitarian minister, in Dublin, and the family's expectation was that Richard would follow the family trade. He clearly intended to do so; he entered University College, London, in 1841, a non-conformist-founded institution, and received his BA in 1845, earning a distinction in mathematics and a medal in philosophy. For the next two years he studied theology at the University of Bonn and later at Heidelberg. He returned to England in 1847 and enrolled at Manchester New College with the goal of fulfilling the family's expectations in a Unitarian pulpit. He did not finish his studies at Manchester New College, however; he was drawn back to study in Germany with the noted liberal Unitarian thinker James Martineau, and very likely the combination of his German education and his connection with Martineau conspired to earn him the label of "progressive elitist" and make him virtually unemployable in most Unitarian churches. Disappointed, he took an academic post as Assistant Principal to Arthur Hugh Clough at University Hall, a Unitarian Center associated with University College.

Hutton stayed at University Hall until 1852 when a serious illness forced him to resign. But by that time he had already decided that his life's work would be writing and editing. He began in his new profession by writing mainly theological articles for Unitarian magazines, first for the quarterly Prospective Review (his first publication was in 1847), and later for the weekly Inquirer, where he eventually joined an editorial staff that included eminent Unitarians Walter Bagehot, Timothy Ostler, John Sandford, and William Roscoe. In 1851 he married Roscoe's sister Anne. The following year he and Anne moved to the West Indies to find a healthier climate; unfortunately, they arrived in the middle of a yellow fever epidemic, and both of them immediately fell ill. When Hutton came out of his coma, he was told his wife had died. As soon as he was strong enough to travel he returned to London and resumed his duties with the Inquirer; that job lasted less than two years, when a group of orthodox Unitarian ministers, horrified by Hutton's unorthodox views, demanded his removal. By this time, however, Hutton was establishing a reputation as a sound editor and a skillful writer. He helped edit the Prospective Review, and, as the Prospective declined (through no fault of Hutton's) moved on to the newly founded National Review, which he co-edited with Bagehot and quickly turned into a paying concern. …

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