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Theodore Watts

Theodore Watts, English man of letters, was born at St Ives, Huntingdon, on the 12th of October 1832, his family surname being Watts, to which he added in 1897 his mother's name of Dunton. He was originally educated as a naturalist, and saw much of the East Anglian gypsies, of whose superstitions and folk-lore he made careful study. Abandoning natural history for the law, he qualified as a solicitor and went to London, where he practised for some years, giving his spare time to his chosen pursuit of literature. He contributed regularly to the Examiner from 1874 and to the Athenaeum from 1875 until 1898, being for more than twenty years the principal critic of poetry in the latter journal. His article on " Poetry " in the ninth edition of the Ency. Brit. (vol. xix., 1885) was the principal expression of his views on the first principles of the subject, and did much to increase his reputation, which was maintained by other articles he wrote for the Encyclopaedia Brilannica and for the chief periodicals and reviews. Mr Watts-Dunton had considerable influence as the friend of many of the leading men of letters of his time; he enjoyed the confidence of Tennyson, and contributed an appreciation of him to the authorized biography. He was in later years Rossetti's most intimate friend. He was the bosom friend of Swinburne, who shared his home in Putney for nearly thirty years before he died in 1909. The obituary notices and appreciations of the poets of the time, which he contributed to the Athenaeum and other periodicals, bore testimony to his sympathy, insight and critical acumen. It was not, however, until 1897 that he published a volume under his own name, this being his collection of poems called The Coming of Love, portions of which he had printed in periodicals from time to time. In the following year his prose romance Aylivin attained immediate success, and ran through many editions in the course of a few months. Both The Coming of Love and Aylwinset forth, the one in poetry, the other in prose, the romantic and passionate associations of Romany life, and maintain the traditions of Borrow, whom Mr Watts-Dunton had known well in his own early days. Imaginative glamour and mysticism are their prominent characteristics, and the novel in particular has had its share in restoring the charms of pure romance to the favour of the general public. He edited George Borrow's Lavengro (1893) and Romany Rye (1903); in 1903 he published The Renascence of Wonder, a treatise on the romantic movement; and his Studies of Shakespeare appeared in 1910. But it was not only in his published work that Mr Watts-Dunton's influence on the literary life of his time was potent. His long and intimate association with Rossetti and Swinburne made him, no doubt, a unique figure in the world of letters; but his own grasp of metrical principle and of the historic perspective of the glories of English poetry made him, among the younger generation, the embodiment of a great tradition of literary criticism which could never cease to command respect. In 1905 he married. His life has been essentially one of devotion to letters, faithfully and disinterestedly followed.

Edited from 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica