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John Westland Marston

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Marston, John Westland I Marston, W. Marston I, 1819–1890, dramatic poet. At fifteen came to London from Lincolnshire, to be articled to solicitor; interested in literature and the stage rather than in law. Contributed to Heraud's Sunbeam and other periodicals; some of his verses and reviews in Athenaeum. Editor of psyche, 1840; co-editor for some years of National Magazine. As dramatist, attempted to revive poetic drama. Author of three verse tragedies: The Patrician's Daughter, 1841; Strathmore, 1849; Philip of
France and Marie de Méranie
, 1850; also of romantic and comic pieces and domestic dramas. Published a volume of poems, a novel, two collections of stories, and Our Recent Actors, 1888. Hon. LL.D., University of Glasgow, 1863. 
     


 Marston and Dickens were friends. Forster states that The Patrician's Daughter, Marston's first play, attracted Dickens less "by the beauty of its composition ... than by the courage with which its subject had been chosen from the actual life of the time" (Life, Book IV, sect. i). Dickens wrote to Macready (Nov. 12, 1842) that he felt a prologue would help assure the success of the play on opening night – would "Get the curtain up with a dash, and begin the play with a sledge-hammer blow." The play was produced at Drury Lane, Dec. 10, 1842, Dickens's verse prologue being spoken by Macready. "How shall I thank Mr. Dickens for the spontaneous kindness which has furnished me with so excellent a letter of introduction to the audience?" wrote Marston in his preface to the second edition of the play. Dickens was present at Marston's rehearsal performanceof Strathmore as a public reading – an ineffectual, monotonous performance, at the end of which Dickens himsef read aloud some scene from the play to show Marston "how you ought to do it" (Wright, Life of Charles Dickens, p. 257). In 1851 Marston played a role in Dickens's production of Not So Bad As We Seem. In 1858 Dickens attended a performance of Marston's prose play A Hard Struggle. It moved him to tears. "I am at a loss to let you know how much I admired it ... or how heartily I cried over it," he wrote in a letter to Marston, Feb. 3. The letter was included in the first published collection of Dickens's letters; in Our Recent Actors, II, 185, Marston referred to it as containing Dickens's "emphatic praise" of the play. Dickens praised the play also in his letter to friends and sent a copy to F. J. Régnier in an attempt to interest him in presenting it at the Théâtre Français.
      Marston dedicated to Dickens Gerald; a Dramatic Poem,1842, "as a very humble acknowledgment of many delightful hours" for which he was indevted to Dickens's writings; in addition to the enjoyment that the books had given him, he wrote, "I would hope ... that I have been in some degree susceptible of their tendencies to foster generous feelings and benevolent sentiments." In his Athenaeum review of The Battle of LIfe and his review of The Haunted Man (Dec. 26, 1846; Dec. 23, 1848), he again dwelt on the value of Dickens's book in awakening and fostering altruistic feelings. "To few living writers are we more indebted than to Mr. Dickens for lessons in the Philosophy of the Heart," he wrote in his review of the first; in his review of the second, he commended the "moral suggestiveness" of the "touching chronicle" – its depicting the power of suffering "to educate human sympathy."
      In the Office Book, Dixon is recorded as author of "The Golden Mean" [XII, 469–71. Dec. 15, 1855]; his name is marked out and substituted by that of Marston.
                                                    D.N.B.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Author: Anne Lohrli; © University of Toronto Press, 1971

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