The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

III. Critical and Miscellaneous Prose

§ 8. Watts-Dunton

Perhaps the most remarkable instance of the tendency of the periodical to submerge the man of letters is afforded by Theodore Watts-Dunton, a richly gifted critic, a poet and a romancer, who was yet practically unknown by name outside literary circles until he was nearly sixty, and whose earliest independent publication appeared when he was sixty-five. A great mass of valuable criticism is still and, it may be feared, will remain, buried in The Athenaeum. But his admirable article on poetry contributed to The Encyclopaedia Britannica, and that entitled The Renascence of Wonder in Poetry in Chambers’s Cyclopaedia of English Literature, are enough to prove that Watts-Dunton had in rare fullness the qualities which go to make a great critic. He had scholarship, refined taste and a firm grasp of principles; and they are all generously used for the purpose of securing recognition for rising genius. No one did more pioneer work in criticism than he. Nor were Watts-Dunton’s gifts limited to criticism: he had the gift of poetry and the gift of the romancer; and he put both at the service of the gypsies whom he had studied for many years—the first in The Coming of Love and the second in Aylwin. A less conspicuous instance of submergence in the periodical is offered by Sidney T. Irwin, who is more likely to be remembered by the short and slight memoir prefixed to the letters of the Manx poet Thomas Edward Brown, than by articles contributed to magazines and reviews, though these show a gift of keen appreciation as well as of happy expression.

His interest in gypsies brought Watts-Dunton into touch with George Borrow and with Francis Hindes Groome. It was Borrow who first gave gypsies a citizenship in literature, though his knowledge of them, as of many other things, seems to have been wide and general rather than exact. Watts-Dunton’s authority is conclusive, and he declares that Borrow’s firsthand knowledge of gypsy life was superficial compared with Hindes Groome’s; yet Borrow made gypsies live in the English mind as neither Hindes Groome did in his absurdly named and ill-constructed Romany novel Kriegspiel, nor Watts-Dunton in Aylwin.