Henry Morley

Henry Morley

Henry Morley, the younger of the two sons of Henry Morley (1793–1877), a member of the Society of Apothecaries, was born at 100 Hatton Garden, London, on 15th September 1822. His mother, Anne Morley, died two years later. Morley attended private boarding-schools, before being sent, aged ten, to the Moravian school at Neuwied, on the Rhine. He later recalled that these two years were the happiest of his life. In 1835, Morley returned to a preparatory school in Stockwell, where he developed a strong interest in writing. This included poetry, plays, and a twice-weekly school newspaper.

In 1838 he began medical studies at King's College and, in 1841, founded the King's College Magazine . After graduating he worked as a physician's assistant in Somerset. He then became a partner with another doctor in Madeley, Shropshire. According to his biographer, Fred Hunter: "he was ruined when his partner proved dishonest. Refusing to declare himself bankrupt, Morley spent the ensuing six years repaying his debts. Determined on a new career, Morley decided to establish a school along the lines of the Moravian school."

Morley moved to Manchester and met the Revd William Gaskell and his wife, Elizabeth Gaskell. For a while he became a private tutor for her cousin, Charles Holland. In April 1849 started a progressive school at 2 Marine Terrace in Liscard. He later wrote "it is only when his teaching gives great pleasure to himself that it can give any pleasure whatever to his pupils". Hunter has pointed out: "two three-hour sessions were broken up by eight minutes of recreation, when pupils and teacher would run and tumble on the sands in front of the house." Another aspect of his philosophy is reflected in refusal to administer corporal punishment in the school.

Morley also wrote articles for the newly formed Journal of Public Health. His coverage of the 1848 Cholera Epidemic brought him to the attention of several newspaper and magazine editors. In March 1850, John Forster asked him to write for The Examiner . Charles Dickens was also impressed with his writing and asked him to write on sanitary matters in Household Words . In June 1851 he was offered 5 guineas a week to join the staff of the journal. He also received 1 guinea a week by Forster for writing book and theatre reviews.

Claire Tomalin wrote that with the journal: "He set out to raise standards of journalism in the crowded field of periodical publication and, by winning educated readers and speaking to their consciences, to exert some influence on public matters; and to this end he himself wrote on many social issues - housing, sanitation, education, accidents in factories, workhouses, and in defence of the right of the poor to enjoy Sundays as they chose." The journal was a great success and it was soon selling 39,000 copies.

The leading article was usually written by John Forster. Other contributors included Wilkie Collins, Eliza Lynn Linton, Blanchard Jerrold, George Augustus Sala and Percy Fitzgerald. Sala later recalled meeting Dickens for the first time: "I was overcome with astonishment at the sight of the spare, wiry gentleman who, standing on the hearthrug, shook me cordially by the hand - both hands, if I remember alright... He was then, I should say, barely forty; yet to my eyes he seemed to be rapidly approaching fifty."

The journal also included the Household Narrative of Current Events , compiled by his father-in-law, George Hogarth. In April 1851, Household Words began to serialise Hard Times. Other novels that appeared in the journal included Cranford (1851) and North and South (1855) by Elizabeth Gaskell. Dickens was known to be a quick and generous payer, which made him popular with his contributors.

Morley produced a controversial series of articles on factory accidents which aroused the anger of the National Association of Factory Occupiers. Ground in the Mill , published on 22nd April 1854, was an account of how factory children were insufficiently protected from the dangers of unguarded machinery. Morley also contributed to Fraser's Magazine, The Athenaeum, The Quarterly Review and The Edinburgh Review.

Jealous of the money that Bradbury & Evans had made out of publishing Household Words, Dickens decided to start a new journal, All the Year Round . He had 300,000 handbills and posters printed, in order to advertise the new journal. When Bradbury & Evans heard the news they issued an injunction claiming that Dickens was still contracted to work for their journal. Dickens refused to back-down and the first edition of the journal was published on 30th April 1859. For the first time in his life he had sole control of a journal. "He owned it, he edited it, and only he could take the major decisions concerning it." This was reinforced by the masthead that said: "A weekly journal conducted by Charles Dickens." Dickens took William Henry Wills with him as partner at the increased rate of £420 a year and a quarter share. Morley was recruited to become a staff reporter of the new journal.

As well as his writing, Morley taught a course of evening lectures on English literature at King's College. He also became involved in the university extension movement and travelled widely for the service during the next twenty years. He also lectured on behalf of the Ladies' Educational Association, which sought university entrance for women. Morley became professor of English language and literature at University College in December 1865, where he continued his campaign to get universities to award degrees to women.

In 1889 Morley retired from teaching to concentrate on his writing. Over the next seven years he completed ten volumes of English Writers (out of a proposed series of twenty), and edited some 300 volumes of English and foreign classics. As the Dictionary of National Biography entry recorded: "It is as a populariser of literature that he did his countrymen the highest service".

Henry Morley died at his home at Carisbrooke, on the Isle of Wight, on 14th May 1894.

Primary Sources

(1) Peter Ackroyd, Dickens (1990)

So it was by trial and error that Dickens was able to assemble a team of writers around him. Among the first of his regular contributors were Henry Morley, R. H. Horne, Dudley Costello and Blanchard Jerrold; some of them had worked with him on the Daily News and some of them were young aspiring writers who naturally tended to copy him and were for a while branded as "slavish imitators" of his style. In later years others joined this inner circle of regular writers, among them Percy Fitzgerald, G.A.H. Sala, and Wilkie Collins.