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William Gaskell

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Published : 2 Articles
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Gaskell, William I Mr. Gaskell I 1805–1884, Unitarian minister. M.A. University of Glasgow, 1825 (Graduates of the University of Glasgow); thereafter divinity student at Manchester College, York. From 1828 to his death, minister of Cross Street Chapel, Manchester. Professor of English history and literature at Manchester New College; lecturer at Owens College. For many years one of the editors of Unitarian Herald. Published sermons and controversial tracts, and Two Lectures on the Lancashire Dialect, 1854. Also wrote verse: "Sketches among the Poor," Blackwood's, 1837, written in collaboration with his wife; Temperance Rhymes, 1839; Cottonopolis, 1882. Composed and translated hymns. 

      Through Elizabeth Gaskell's connection with Dickens, William Gaskell and Dickens were acquainted. William Gaskell, on at least two occasions, asked Dickens's assistance in support of sanitation projects; Dickens was unable to comply with the requests. Dickens read with pleasure a copy of Gaskell's lectures that Elizabeth Gaskell sent him in 1854; he found them "sagacious and unaffacted" (to Elizabeth Gaskell, June 16 [15]–17, 1854). During the altercation between Dickens and Elizabeth Gaskell concerning the H.W. serialization of North and South, Gaskell intervened in his wife's behalf. 
      Both items written by Gaskell ["Bran", VIII, 179–81. Oct. 22, 1853; "The Scholar's Story", (Christmas 1853), pp. 32–34] are translations from Hersart de la Villemarqué's collection of Breton ballads, Barzaz-Breiz, 3rd edn., 1845. To the ballad "Bran" in H.W. is attached a footnote reproducing in part (largely in direct translation) the editorial material that accompanies the ballad in Barzaz-Breiz; the source of the ballad and of the explanatory footnote is not acknowledged. The source of "The Scholar's Story," in the H.W. Christmas number, is vaguely acknowledged: the prefatory comment states that the ballad "was taken down ... seventy-one years ago, by the mother of the person who communicated it to M. Villemarqué when he was making his collection of Breton Ballads" (see "Argument" to "Le Clerc de Rohan," Barzaz-Breiz). 
      Both translations are by William Gaskell. Both have been reprinted as by Elizabeth Gaskell. 
      The Office Book notation for "Bran" reads "per Mrs. Gaskell" with "Mr. Gaskell" inserted very lightly before that notation. The word "Mr." is not clearly written; it might possibly be read as "Mrs." If Elizabeth Gaskell had sent in the item as her own writing, however, there would have been no occasion for the "per" notation. C. K. Shorter, in his World's Classics Edition of Elizabeth Gaskell's writings (Vol. X, 1915), first attributed the item to Elizabeth Gaskell and reprinted it in that edition; the basis of his ascription was the Office Book, which he either consulted himself or had consulted for him. On the basis of Shorter's ascription, "Bran" appeares in C.B.E.L. and other bibliographies as by Elizabeth Gaskell. 
      The Office Book ascription of "The Scholar's Story" reads "Mrs. Gaskell." The ballad is prefaced by some introductory remarks, supposedly spoken by the scholar-narrator to his fire-side listeners. In A Bibliographical Guide to the Gaskell Collection in the Moss Side Library, 1911, J. A. Green wrote concerning this item; "This story was translated by Mr. Gaskell from a Breton ballad by the Vicomte de la Villemarqué, and the introductory remarks were written by Mrs. Gaskell." Green did not state the source of his information. Since he was a Manchester librarian and was acquainted with members of the Gaskell family, it seems likely, however, that he obtained the information from a trustworthy source. Why Elizabeth Gaskell, rather than her husband, should have written the two brief introductory paragraphs, and why Green should have thought that fact worthy of remark, is not clear. One of Elizabeth Gaskell's stories appeared in the same Christmas number; presumably she was thought or thought herself able to introduce the scholar-narrator in a way that would place him appropriately among the other story tellers around the Christmas fire. 
      On the basis of the Office Book ascription, shorter reprinted "The Scholar's Story" as by Elizabeth Gaskell in his World's Classic Edition of her writings (Vol. X); he made no mention of Green's statement. C.B.E.L. includes the poem among Elizabeth Gaskell's writings; the title is there followed by the notation (for which no authority is given) that the poem is a translation made not by Elizabeth Gaskell but by her husband, and that only the "introduction" is her writing. Other bibliographies record the same (or part of the same) information.
Author: Anne Lohrli; © University of Toronto Press, 1971

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

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