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Henry Fothergill Chorley

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Published : 24 Articles
Pen Names : None
Date of Birth : N/A
Death : N/A
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Critic, author. Received some years' schooling in Lancashire, but was early placed as clerk in mercantile office. Took advantage of opportunities for selfculture that offered; had great interest in music. Before he was twenty, began to contribute to annuals and minor periodicals. In 1834 settled in London and became member of Athenaeum staff. "Had I sought all the world over, I could not have found a situation more to my mind" (Autobiography, I, 98-99). Remained on staff for more than thirty years. Best known as Athenaeum's music critic, but was important as literary critic as well. Contributed also to other periodicals, e.g., London & Westminster Review, People's Journal, Howitt's Journal, Edinburgh Review. For a time edited Ladies' Companion. Author of The Lion: A Tale of the Coteries, 1839, and other novels; also dramas and libretti; Music and Manners in France and Germany, 1841, and other works on music. Compiled Memorials of Mrs. Hemans, 1836; edited selection of Mary RusseIl Mitford's letters.


During the last fifteen or so years of Dickens's life, Chorley was one of Dickens's close friends. He was a frequent and always welcome guest at Gad's Hill, seldom missing the Christmas festivities there. Mary Dickens wrote: "My father was very fond of him, and had the greatest respect for his honest, straightforward, upright, and generous character". Chorley wrote of Dickens as "one of the noblest and most gifted men I have ever known, whose regard for me was one of those honours which make amends for much failure and disappointment". At the suggestion of Sir Charles Wentworth Dilke, Chorley himself wrote the obituary of Dickens in the Athenaeum, "unwilling that it should be entrusted to any less reverent hand" (Autobiography,  II, 239-240, 320-321).

Chorley reviewed in the Athenaeum, A Christmas Carol and five of Dickens's novels (Chuzzlewit, Copperfield, Bleak House, Great Expectations, Our Mutual Friend), his praise for the novels being not entirely unmixed with blame. In Bleak House, for instance, in which he found much to admire, Chorley deprecated the repugnant depiction of physical defects in certain characters, and, in others, the too undisguised portraiture of living persons. His review of Our Mutual Friend—the "new novel by the greatest novelist living"—brought Chorley a letter of thanks from Dickens (October 28 1865) for the generous appreciation and sympathy expressed. Dickens, on his part, had high praise for Chorley's novel Roccabella; he found it  "a very remarkable book" of "high merits," so moving that he, "cried over it heartily"; he pointed out to Chorley, however, what he thought unfair in the presentation of the Italian characters (February 3 1860).

According to his biographer, Chorley contributed "several sketches and poems" to H.W. and A.Y.R. (Autobiography, II, 176).  He obviously wrote more for the second periodical than he did for the first. Dickens's letters to Wills mention as by ChorIey a paper (or papers) on music published in A.Y.R. Percy Fitzgerald (Memoirs of an Author, I, 151-152) mentioned Dickens's good-naturedly yielding to Chorley's insistence that "The Area Sneak" (obviously "An Area Sneak", A.Y.R., April 15 1865) be accepted for publication, despite Dickens's inability to "'make head or tail of it" or discover what the author would be at. Dickens considered publishing Chorley's A Prodigy in A.Y.R., but decided that the novel would not lend itself well to serialization (to Frederic Chapman, January 28 1865: typescript Huntington Library).

Author: Anne Lohrli; © University of Toronto Press, 1973.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

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