Richard Henry Horne

(1802-1884 / England)

Biography of Richard Henry Horne

Richard Hengist Horne (born Richard Henry Horne) (31 December 1802 – 13 March 1884) was and English poet and critic most famous for his poem Orion.

Horne was born at Edmonton, London, son of James Horne (died 1810), a quarter-master in the 61st Regiment. Horne was raised at the home of his rich paternal grandmother[1] and sent to a school at Edmonton and then to Sandhurst, as he was designed for the army. Horne appears to have had as little sense of discipline as Adam Lindsay Gordon showed at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, and like him was asked to leave. It appears that he caricatured the headmaster, and took part in a rebellion. He began writing while still in his teens, but he was intended for the army, and entered at Sandhurst, but receiving no commission, he left his country and in 1825 went as a midshipman to the Mexican expedition, was taken prisoner and joined the Mexican navy. He served in the war against Spain, traveled in the United States and Canada, returned to England in 1827, and took up literature as a profession.

Horne became a journalist, and in 1836-1837 edited the Monthly Repository. In 1837 he published two tragedies, Cosmo de' Medici and The Death of Marlowe. Another drama in blank verse, Gregory VII, appeared in 1840, and in 1841 a History of Napoleon in prose.

About the end of 1840 Horne was given employment as a sub-commissioner in connexion with the royal commission on the employment of children in mines and manufactures. This commission finished its labours at the beginning of 1843, and in the same year Horne published his epic poem, Orion, which appeared in 1843. It was published originally at the price of one farthing, was widely read; three editions were published at that price, and three more at increased prices before the end of the year. In the next year he set forth a volume of critical essays called A New Spirit of life Age, in which he was assisted by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, with whom, from 1839 to her marriage in 1845, he conducted a voluminous correspondence.

In June 1852 Horne migrated to Australia, traveling as a passenger on the same ship as William Howitt and arriving in Melbourne in September. Almost at once he was given a position as commander of a gold escort. In 1854 he was a Goldfields Commissioner at the Waranga goldrush and named the township of Rushworth. During his time there he also reached a peaceful settlement with over 4,000 gold miners who had rioted over the payment of their mining license fee and, in his memoirs, stated that he believed this action, in light of the events at the Eureka Stockade a few months later, was never adequately recognised.

In 1856, he was an unsuccessful candidate for the Victorian Electoral district of Rodney. In his platform of policies was an ambitious proposal for an irrigation system which was realised with the construction of the Waranga Basin in the 1900s. It is usually stated that he became a commissioner of the Yan Yean water-supply either in 1858 or 1859, but as he responded for the commissioners at the dinner held on the opening day 31 December 1857, it is clear that he was given the position in that year or earlier. It is unfortunate that his lively Australian Autobiography, prefixed to his Australian Facts and Prospects published in 1859, abruptly breaks off about 1854-5. While in Australia Horne brought out an Australian edition of Orion (1854), and in 1864 published his lyrical drama Prometheus the Fire-bringer. Another edition, printed in Australia, came out in 1866. In this year was also published The South Sea Sisters, a Lyric Masque, for which Charles Edward Horsley, then living in Melbourne, wrote the music. It was sung at the opening of the intercolonial exhibition held in 1866. Along with such literary figures as Henry Kendall, Adam Lindsay Gordon, George Gordon McCrae and Marcus Clarke he was a member of the Yorick Club where members met and discussed literature.

In 1860 Horne was again unemployed. In 1869, "dissatisfied with the failure of the Victorian government to fulfil what he conceived to be its obligations to him", he returned to England.

Horne received a Civil List pension of £50 a year in 1874, which was increased to £100 in 1880, and died at Margate on 13 March 1884, leaving behind him much unpublished work. Of his published volumes only the more important have been mentioned here. A more complete list will be found in the British museum catalogue. Horne married a Miss Foggo in 1847, but husband and wife soon parted. During the 15 years after his return to England Horne published several books, but the only one which aroused much interest he did not write, the Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Richard Hengist Horne.

Horne possessed extraordinary versatility, but, except in the case of Orion, he never attained to a very high degree of distinction. That poem, indeed, has much of the quality of fine poetry; it is earnest, vivid and alive with spirit. But Horne early drove his talent too hard, and continued to write when he had little left to say. In criticism he had insight and quickness. He was one of the first to appreciate Keats and Tennyson, and he gave valuable encouragement to Mrs. Browning when she was still Miss Elizabeth Barrett.

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