1902 Encyclopedia > Albany William Fonblanque

Albany William Fonblanque
English journalist

ALBANY WILLIAM FONBLANQUE, (1793-1872), was descended from a noble French Huguenot family, the Greniers of Languedoc. The titles of Comte de Hautserre et de Fonblanque were conferred by Henry IV. on the sons of the famous Sieur Pierre de Grenier, known in history by his gallant defence of the castle of Cessenan against the Due de Montmorenci in 1584. After the revocation of the edict of Nantes, the Greniers underwent severe persecutions on account of their devotion to the Huguenot cause ; and in 1740, Abel de Grenier, Comte de Fonblanque, sent his two sons, Antoine and Jean, to England that they might be educated in the Protestant faith. John became nationalized in this country under the name of Fonblanque; and his son, John Samuel Martin Fonblanque, a distinguished equity lawyer, and the author of a standard legal work, a Treatise on Equity, became the father of the most brilliant journalist of his day. The father of Albany Fonblanque was, like his son, a staunch Liberal; he represented the borough of Camel-ford in parliament; and throughout his career was remarkable for the integrity and courage, as well as for the ability, with which he supported Liberal principles.

The subject of the present notice was born in London in 1793. At fourteen he was sent to Woolwich to prepare for the Boyal Engineers, His health, however, failed, and for two years his studies had to be suspended. Upon his recovery, he studied for some time with Chitty, the eminent special pleader, with a view to being called to the bar. Fonblanque had no inclination for law, but he valued very highly the course of training he thus obtained, and in after life maintained that a study of law should be included in a liberal education. At the age of nineteen (1812) he commenced writing for the newspapers, and very soon attracted notice both by the boldness and liberality of his opinions, and by the brilliance of his style. Fonblanque's manner of working might have lent some colour to the definition of genius as an infinite capacity for taking trouble. His nephew, Mr Edward Fonblanque, to whose biography we are indebted for the details given in this notice, tells us that in his earlier days he frequently wrote an article ten times before sending it to press, and this not from timidity or anxiety, for from the first his popularity was assured, but because his own ideal of political thought and composition was infinitely higher than that of the public.

As a result of this arduous and earnest cultivation he soon obtained sufficient popularity as a journalist to be able to renounce all idea of following law as a profession; but at the same time that he was eagerly taking his share in all the political struggles of this eventful period, he was also continuing his studies, devoting no less than six hours a day to the study of classics and political philosophy. Under this severe mental training his health once more broke down. At the age of twenty-one he had a long and dangerous illness, and continued weak and subject to nervous depression for the remainder of his life. His energy, however, was not impaired. He became a regular contributor to the newspapers and reviews, realizing a fair income, which, as his habits were simple and temperate, secured him against pecuniary anxieties. From 1820 to 1830 Albany Fonblanque was successively employed upon the staff of the Times and the Morning Chronicle, whilst he contributed to the Examiner, to the London Magazine, and to the Westminster Review. In 1828 the Examiner newspaper, which had been purchased by the Bev. Dr Fellowes, the learned and amiable author of the Religion of the Universe, &c, was given over to Fonblanque's complete control; and for a period of seventeen years (1830 to 1847) he not only sustained the high character for political in-dependence and literary ability which the Examiner had gained under the direction of Leigh Hunt and his brother John Hunt, but even compelled his political opponents to acknowledge a certain delight in the boldness and bright-ness of the wit directed against themselves. When it was proposed that the admirers and supporters of the paper should facilitate a reduction in its price by the payment of their subscription ten years in advance, not only did Mr Edward Bulwer (Lord Lytton) volunteer his aid, but also Mr Disraeli and Mr Clay, M.P., who were thus voluntarily prolonging the reign and spreading the in-fluence of the representative Eadical organ. But the Examiner under the direction of Fonblanque did not con-fine itself to the sphere of politics; the fine arts, literature, and the drama occupied a due share of its attention. Amongst its contributors were such men as Thackeray, Marmion Savage, John Stuart Mill, Walter Savage Landor, Charles Dickens, &c, names which do not belong exclu-sively to any political party, but which, associated in the work of criticism, give firm assurance that the " discovery of the best that is known and thought in the world" (Mr Arnold's admirable definition of the true function of literary criticism) was for once at any rate in competent and impartial hands. During his connexion with the Examiner, Fonblanque had many advantageous offers of further literary employment; but he devoted his energies and talents almost exclusively to the service of the paper he had resolved to make a standard of literary excellence in the world of journalism. Whatever he wrote was as carefully prepared and revised as when he was only an aspirant to fame; every reference made and every anecdote used as an illustration he was careful to verify, and in Mr E. Fonblanque's biography of his distinguished relative are given several racy answers he received from Count d'Orsay and others, concerning some witty story or saying which had taken his fancy, but which he was too scrupulous to repeat from memory. Fonblanque was offered the governorship of Nova Scotia ; but although he took great interest in colonial matters, and had used every effort to advocate the more generous political system which had colonial self-government for its goal, he decided not to abandon his beloved Examiner even for so sympathetic an employ-ment. In 1847, however, domestic reasons induced him to accept the post of Statistical Secretary of the Board of Trade. This of course compelled him to resign the editorship of the Examiner, but he still continued to con-tribute largely to the paper, which, under the control of John Forster, continued to sustain its influential position. During the later years of his life, Fonblanque took no prominent part in public affairs; and when he died at the age of seventy-nine (1872) he seemed, as his nephew rightly observes, "a man who had lived and toiled in an age gone by and in a cause long since established." The present generation, in the full enjoyment of those reforms he had laboured so bravely and unweariedly to promote, found it difficult to realize how much had been effected by Liberals of the stamp of Albany Fonblanque, in days not so remote from our own after all, before the passing of the Reform Act, when, to quote his own words—" The Test Acts were unrepealed ; the Catholics were excluded from the legislature; slavery existed in our colonies; the prestige of the perfection of the law was unbroken, and the sanguinary character of the criminal code unmitigated; the corporations were sinks of corruption ; a few individuals nominated nearly half the members of the House of Commons; and a parliamentary reformer was in common acceptation another word for a visionary."

The character of Albany Fonblanque's political activity may be judged of by a study of his England under Seven Administrations, in comparison with the course of social and political events in England from 1826 to 1837.

Although these volumes contain only articles reprinted from I the Examiner, they give a vivid and spirited history of one of the most important and stormy phases of Parlia-mentary Eeform. Fonblanque, although an ardent up-holder of popular rights and an uncompromising opponent of bigotry and oppression, will never be found upon the side of violence or licence. The Chartists received from no source more complete condemnation than from the Examiner, which consistently advocated the principle that moral force was in every case to be relied upon, and that the liberties of the constitution were to be enlarged by means which were also constitutional, " In describing Lord Durham's politics," says Mr Edward Fonblanque, '' he unconsciously depicted himself, He was not a reformer of the republican class, but he occupied as it were the frontier line of constitutional reform." In a word, Fon-blanque was an honourable example of the constitutional Radical who follows after liberty, but uses the pathway of the law. As a journalist, he must also be regarded in the light of a reformer. Journalism before his day was regarded as a somewhat discreditable profession: men of true culture were shy of entering the hot and dusty arena lest they should be confounded with the ruder combatants who fought there before the public for hire. But the fact that Fonblanque, a man not only of strong and earnest political convictions but also of exceptional literary ability, did not hesitate to choose this field as a worthy one in which both a politician and a man of letters might usefully as well as honourably put forth his best gifts, must have helped, in no small degree, to correct the old prejudice.

Life and Labours of Albany Fonblanque, edited by his nephew, Edward Barrington de Fonblanque, 1874 ; England under Seven Administrations, by Albany Fonblanque, 1837. (J. MA.)

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