HORNE, Richard Henry, or Hengist (1803-1884)

HORNE, Richard Henry, or Hengist (1803-1884)
was born at Edmonton, near London, on 1 January 1803. He was originally given the names of Richard Henry, but changed his second name to Hengist after meeting a Mr Hengist in Australia who was a good friend to him. His father, a man of means, died early. Horne was sent to a school at Edmonton and then to Sandhurst, as he was designed for the army. He appears to have had as little sense of discipline as A. L. Gordon (q.v.) showed at the Royal Military College, 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 in 1825 went as a midshipman to the Mexican expedition, was taken prisoner, joined the Mexican service, travelled in the United States and Canada, returned to England in 1827, and took up literature as a profession. He contributed to magazines and wrote two or three now forgotten books, but in 1837 published two poetical dramas showing ability, Cosmo de Medici and The Death of Marlowe. Another drama in blank verse, Gregory VII, appeared in 1840, and in 1841 he published The 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, at the price of one farthing, of which three editions were published at that price, and three more at increased prices before the end of the year. Three other editions were published before the end of his life, but the poet never received a penny for himself from this work. He did, however, succeed in bringing it before the public, and it was highly praised by good judges of poetry. A New Spirit of the Age, edited by R. H. Horne, was largely written by himself, though he had some assistance from Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Bell. Other works followed including a novel, The Dreamer and the Worker, which appeared in 1851, and Horne then decided to try his fortunes at the gold-diggings in Australia.
Horne left England in June 1852 and, sailing on the same vessel with his friend William Howitt refer to entry for Alfred William Howitt, arrived at Melbourne in September. Almost at once he was given a position as commander of a gold escort. He was made a commissioner of crown lands for the gold fields, 1853-4, and a territorial magistrate in 1855. 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. It is not clear what positions he held after 1859, but apparently he remained in government employ for another 10 years as 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. 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. 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. He was given a civil list pension of £50 a year in 1874, which was increased to £100 in 1880. He 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.
Horne was below medium height, strong and athletic, a fine swimmer. He had a too active brain and a too fluent pen, and never realized that even a quarter might be greater than the whole. But, however little read it may be, Orion remains one of the finest poems of its kind in English literature, and his Death of Marlowe is a masterpiece in little, far superior to most of the dropsical dramas written by other poets of his time. He did very little writing in Australia, but A. Patchett Martin (q.v.), in an article on Horne in the Academy (29 March 1884), spoke of the "impetus he gave to Australian literature during his 17 years of colonial life". This may have been so, though it is now difficult to find the evidence. Literature was certainly very much alive in Melbourne about the time of Horne's departure, and it is possible that this was more due to his influence than has been hitherto realized.
H. Buxton Forman in Nicholl and Wise's Literary Anecdotes of the Nineteenth Century, vol. I; Erie Partridge, Introduction to Orion, 1928 ed.; Sir Ernest Scott, The Argus, Melbourne, 18 August 1928; Hugh McCrae, The Bulletin, 13 February 1929.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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