Intending to enter the Church, he proceeded to Edinburgh University, where he studied theology under Dr Chalmers, whose friendship he enjoyed until the divine's death in 1847. However, abandoning his project of the ministry, be returned to his native city to undertake the editorship of the Banner, a weekly paper devoted to the advocacy of Free Kirk principles. After two years he resigned this post and went back to the capital, bent upon pursuing a purely literary career. There he wrote a great deal, contributing to Fraser's Magazine, Dublin University Magazine (in which appeared his essays on Chatterton) and other periodicals. In 1847 he went to London, where he found wider scope for his energy and knowledge.
He was secretary (1851-1852) of the "Society of the Friends of Italy." In a famous interview with Mrs Browning at Florence he contested her admiration for Napoleon III. He had known De Quincey, whose biography he contributed in 1878 to the "English Men of Letters" series, and he was an enthusiastic friend and admirer of Carlyle. In 1852 he was appointed professor of English literature at University College, London, in succession to AH Clough, and from 1858 to 1865 be edited the newly established Macmillan's Magazine. In 1865 he was selected for the chair of rhetoric and English literature at Edinburgh, and during the early years of his professorship actively promoted the movement for the university education of women. In 1879 he became editor of the Register of the Scottish Privy Council, and in 1893 was appointed Historiographer Royal for Scotland. Two years later he resigned his professorship.
His magnum opus is his Life of Milton in Connexion with the History of His Own Time in six volumes, the first of which appeared in 1858 and the last in 1880. He also edited the library edition of Milton's Poetical Works (3 vols., 1874), and De Quincey's Collected Works (14 vols., 1889-1890). Among his other publications are Essays, Biographical and Critical (1856, reprinted with additions, 3 vols., 1874), British Novelists and their Styles (1859), Drummond of Hawthornden (1873), Chatterton (1873) and Edinburgh Sketches (1892). A bust of Masson was presented to the senate of the university of Edinburgh in 1897. Professor Masson had married Rosaline Orme. His son Orme Masson became professor of chemistry in the university of Melbourne, and his daughter Rosaline was known as a writer and novelist.
This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.