Richard Hengist Horne

Richard Hengist Horne (1802?–84)

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 4, 317–320.

In view of all the eccentricities later exhibited by R.H. Horne, it almost seems that he planned the moment of his own birth for the eventual befuddlement of biographers. This Browning friend and correspondent was born near the midnight which divided 1802 from 1803, and therefore the year of his birth is uncertain; the official register gives 31 December 1802, DNB 1 January 1803. The son of James and Maria (née Partridge) Horne, he was born at Edmonton, near London. When Horne wrote in A New Spirit of the Age (1844) about EBB’s secluded way of life, perhaps he mentally contrasted it with his own life of adventure. He grew up in the same locality as did John Keats and attended the same school, that of Dr. John Clarke at Enfield. Keats was older, however, so the two would not have been schoolmates for long, if at all. Later Horne went to the Royal Military College at Sandhurst in the hope of eventually entering service with the East India Company, but did not succeed there. In the mid-1820’s, as a midshipman with the Mexican Navy, he took part in a closing phase of the Mexican war of independence against Spain. Biographer Cyril Pearl, in Always Morning: The Life of Richard Henry “Orion” Horne (1960, p. 11), gives this sidelight: “Horne learned to play the guitar, and to sing Spanish and Mexican songs. His devotion to the guitar lasted all his life and sometimes made his friends regret that he had been to Mexico.” Moving northward, he visited Indians near the U.S.-Canadian border, was shipwrecked in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and reputedly broke two ribs swimming in the turbulent waters at Niagara Falls. He returned to England on a timber vessel, surviving a mutiny and a fire en route. In England after his North American wanderings, Horne turned to journalism and literature. He wrote in The Monthly Repository of his adventures (with the signature “M.I.D.”) and edited that magazine for about a year starting in mid-1836. His tragedies Cosmo de’ Medici and The Death of Marlowe appeared in 1837, The History of Napoleon in 1841. Horne’s epic Orion (1843) is the work for which he is best known as a writer, and his rules for its distribution strengthened his reputation as an eccentric. He initially priced it at a farthing per copy, strictly limited sales to one copy per customer, and decreed that none should be sold to any person who mispronounced the title (correctly: Orīon). EBB commented to Horne in a letter dated 14 June 1843: “Papa says––‘Perhaps he is going to shoot the Queen, & is preparing children’s books, The Good-Natured Bear (1846) and Memoirs of a London Doll (1846). In 1847 Horne married Miss Catherine Foggo, whose age was considerably below his own. EBB, in a letter written to Mary Russell Mitford on 15? September 1847, referred to her as being nineteen. By 1852, despite employment as a writer for Charles Dickens’ periodical Household Words, Horne had grown deeply discouraged with his life in England. Lured by gold discoveries on the other side of the world, he departed for Australia. His wife was left behind, and their separation became permanent. In Australia, Horne sold the elaborate equipment he had brought along for gold-digging and got into a succession of other pursuits, including government service, lecture tours, and the publication of several literary works. His financial condition was generally precarious. It was while in Australia, in 1867, that Horne substituted “Hengist” for his original middle name, “Henry.” He claimed to have done so in honour of a Mr. Hengist who saved his life there, but Ann Blainey, in The Farthing Poet (1968, p. 235), says: “Of the alleged Mr. Hengist nothing is known; it is not even certain that he existed.” Horne returned to England in 1869, continued his writing career, and was granted a Civil List pension in 1874 for his services in Australia. He died at Margate on 13 March 1884 and was buried there.

Horne was among the literary people with whom RB began mingling in the mid-1830’s. According to G & M (p. 76), they first met at the home of William Johnson Fox. Publication of Horne’s The Death of Marlowe (1837) put an end to RB’s plan of writing on the same subject (letter 575 and G & M, p. 112). Though RB and Horne were friends, seemingly not much correspondence passed between them until both were back in England after RB’s long stay in Italy and Horne’s in Australia. EBB, on the other hand, corresponded with Horne frequently and intimately before her 1846 marriage to RB. They became acquainted in about 1839 through a mutual friend, Mrs. Orme, a former Hope End governess. Horne, in EBB-RHH, I, 7–8, wrote: “My first introduction to Miss Barrett was by a note from Mrs. Orme, enclosing one from the young lady, containing a short poem, with the modest request to be frankly told whether it might be ranked as poetry or merely verse.” EBB gave her account of the introduction in a letter to Miss Mitford dated 18 July 1841, saying that Horne had learned from the mutual friend “the straightness of my prison” and had written his “first kind little note … to ask me to allow him to help in amusing me.” Letter 717 dated 20 November 1839 is the first extant letter between the two, though not the first ever written. Horne had already expressed a low opinion of most annuals, as reported by EBB to Miss Mitford in letter 705, but he did contribute to the 1840 edition of Findens’ as requested—a piece entitled “The Fetches.” Not long afterward, EBB was able to return the favour by helping Horne with The Poems of Geoffrey Chaucer, Modernized (1841), which he was editing. She contributed “Queen Annelida and False Arcite” and “The Complaint of Annelida to False Arcite” (Reconstruction, D757–758). (See also Reconstruction , A628, for EBB’s copy of the Chaucer work.) The year 1841 saw EBB and Horne grappling with a project which never reached completion: a poetic drama, discussed in EBB-RHH, II, 61–110, as “Psyche Apocalypté.” EBB, in a letter written to Miss Mitford on 30 May 1841, described it as “balancing itself between the high fantastical & the high philosophical.” She explained that the project had been suggested by Horne “more than a year ago,” and that after a pause (during which interval the drowning of EBB’s beloved “Bro” occurred) it had been resumed in the spring of 1841. By about the end of that year it was quietly dropped. For details of preliminary drafts, etc., and their publication long after EBB’s death, see Reconstruction, A1994 and D754–756. A noteworthy social contribution by Horne in the early 1840’s was his work with a Royal Commission which investigated the employment of children in mines and factories. Putting his considerable descriptive talents to work, he joined other commissioners in scathing reports which exposed horrible working conditions, led to some protective measures, and prompted EBB’s “The Cry of the Children,” first published in the August 1843 issue of Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine. In 1843 EBB became deeply involved in the preparation of Horne’s A New Spirit of the Age (1844), which was to include essays on a number of great and not-so-great contemporary writers. Her association with the project was not widely known until long afterward (nor did she herself know that her future husband also was involved, selecting mottoes). Writing to RB on 25 July 1845 about her own role, EBB said: “It was simply a writing of notes .. of slips of paper .. now on one subject, & now on another .. which were thrown into the great cauldron & boiled up with other matter.” Nevertheless Elvan Kintner, editor of RB-EBB, says that “particularly in the papers on Carlyle, Landor, and Tennyson, Horne drew heavily on her contributions” (p. 134). (See Reconstruction, D1282, 1310–13, 1374.) Included were essays on RB and on EBB. Kintner wrote of the latter: “A modern press agent could hardly have aroused more interest than Horne’s picture of her as a fabulous invalid of great learning who corresponded with many important people but lived in an ‘almost hermetically sealed’ apartment and saw no one” (RB-EBB, p. xxxiii). Among the people whom she did not see was Horne himself. During the entire period of their close relationship prior to her departure for Italy, and despite her admiration for Horne, she only once consented to let him visit her, and on that occasion he failed to appear. Writing to RB of this episode in a letter postmarked 4 December 1845, she said: “I clapped my hands for joy when I felt my danger to be passed.” Not until she returned to London with RB did EBB actually meet Horne, at which time she also met his wife. To Miss Mitford on 12 November 1851 she wrote: “One evening he had the kindness to bring his wife miles upon miles just to drink tea with us… She is less pretty, & more interesting than I expected—looking very young … with deep earnest eyes, & a silent listening manner. He … seems to write articles together with Dickens.” Undoubtedly Miss Mitford was interested in this report, though Horne had long been a source of disagreement between her and EBB. More than once, Horne had visited Miss Mitford’s home at Three Mile Cross, the first occasion having been in August 1843, and Miss Mitford was much annoyed by his conduct. Among other things, she accused him of taking three baths per day (a serious problem for a hostess in the era before modern plumbing) and of courting neighbourhood heiresses on a grand scale. Deeply upset, EBB tried desperately to defend Horne. On 5 September 1843 she wrote to Miss Mitford: “After all, vexed as I am, I am conscious of a regard for him—a strong sense of all the interest he has shown towards me, .. & a high respect for his powers of mind.” She later told RB of Miss Mitford’s complaints, and he likewise vigorously defended Horne, asserting that the latter’s characteristics had been “grossly misrepresented” (RB to EBB, 11 February 1846). Earlier, after reading some of EBB’s comments, he had written: “Now, let me never pass occasion of speaking well of Horne, who deserves your opinion of him,—it is my own, too” (13 May 1845). There was a friendly exchange of letters between Horne and the Brownings just after the couple’s marriage in 1846, but not a great deal of further correspondence during EBB’s lifetime. RB did write to Horne on 3 December 1848 to seek help in retrieving some of his own juvenilia that had been in the possession of Eliza Flower (see vol. 3, p. 312). During the 1870’s, after both men had returned to England from overseas, Horne peppered RB with letters about his countless worries and distresses. His strenuous efforts to obtain a government pension, which eventually he received in 1874, were supported by RB and numerous other friends—including Tennyson and Carlyle. Horne sought and obtained RB’s permission to publish the letters he had received from EBB many years earlier. Despite reluctance to see his wife’s privacy invaded, RB yielded in this case, partly out of sympathy for Horne and partly for reasons given to John H. Ingram in a letter dated 5 May 1882: “The correspondence was literary only, between persons who had never seen each other, and before I could pretend to any sort of guardianship.” The eventual result was Horne’s 1877 publication of EBB-RHH, which gave the public its first good look at EBB as a letter writer. Horne inscribed to RB a copy of this work, which is listed in Reconstruction as item A343. The last known letter to pass between Horne and RB was written by Horne on 3 August 1883 and was typical. In it he wrote of his near-blindness, and cited the inadequacy of his government pension, which at the time amounted to £100 per year. He asked RB to approach the Prime Minister, William Gladstone, “touch his elbow,” and point out that “the burthen upon the country would not be great if he doubled my present Pension.” Horne died, with no increase, about seven months later.


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