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The Burns Encyclopedia
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Lockhart, John Gibson (1794 — 1854)

Scottish man of letters, editor and journalist, son in law and, later, biographer, of Sir Walter Scott. Lockhart was born in the manse of Cambunethan, Lanarkshire, where his father, Dr John Lockhart, was minister. His mother, a woman of marked intellectual gifts, was the daughter of the Rev John Gibson of Edinburgh. Lockhart went to Glasgow High School, until ill health necessitated his removal. But at the age of 12 he was sent to Glasgow University, where his precocity, especially in Greek, won him a Snell exhibition at Oxford. Before his 14th birthday he had gained entry to Balliol Colege. His reading was wide, and he took a first in classics in 1813. He was called to the Scottish bar in 1816. The following year he met Goethe at Weimar, and soon after his return from Germany, joined the staff of Blackwood's Magazine. The brilliance of the criticism of Lockhart and John Wilson ('Christopher North') startled the Edinburgh world. But it was an aggressive, bitter brilliance, as is borne out by the reviews on Coleridge, Leigh Hunt and Keats, in which Lockhart is presumed to have had a share. In 1818 Lockhart met Scott, and in 1820 married Scott's eldest daughter, Sophia. The Lockharts wintered in Edinburgh, but spent the summers at Chiefswood near Abbotsford. From 1818 to 1825, Lockhart worked prodigiously, his books including his best novel, reginald Dalton (1823), and the perceptive Peter's Letters to His Kinsfolk (1819), which describes the Edinburgh scene, and has taken its place as a minor Scottish classic.

In 1825, Lockhart became editor of the Quarterly Review, though he continued to write for Blackwood's, his masterpiece was, of course, his great Life of Sir Walter Scott, published in 7 volumes in 1837 and 1838. The revelation of Scott's transactions with the Ballantynes and Constable caused an outcry. In the Ballantyne Humbug Handled, that bitterness which seems to have eaten into Lockhart was again revealed. After Boswell's Johnson, Lockhart's Scott is the greatest biography in English. Its author made over the profits to Scott's creditors.

Lockhart's last years were clouded by misfortunes which he bore stoically. His eldest boy, (the 'Hugh Littlejohn' of Scott's Tales of a Grandfather) died in 1831; Scott himself the following year; Mrs Lockhart in 1837; and his surviving son, Walter, in 1852.

Lockhart resigned the editorship of the Quarterly Review in 1853, spent a winter in Rome, then was taken to Abbots ford by his Daughter Charlotte (Mrs James Hope-Scott) where he died in the next room to that in which Scot had died. He lies in Dryburgh Abbey at Scott's feet.

Lockhart comes into the Burns story because in 1828, he produced his Life of Robert Burns as Volume XXIII of Constable's Miscellany. Because Lockhart was the only one of Burns's biographers to have been the author of a classic, his Burns has been treated with a respect and given a circulation which its merits, in spite of its graceful style do not justify. For it is misleading and dishonest. As Snyder puts it: 'The best that one can say of it today... is that it occasioned Carlyle's review. It is inexcusably inaccurate from beginning to end, at times demonstrably mendacious, and should never be trusted in any respect or detail.'

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Complete Burns Songs

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