John de Grenier Fonblanque, a banker, had been naturalized in England under the name of Fonblanque; and his son, John Anthony Fonblanque, was Albany's father. Albany's mother, Frances Caroline Fitzgerald, was a granddaughter of Colonel Samuel Martin of Antigua, West Indies and niece of Samuel Martin (Secretary to the Treasury). Her brother was the poet, William Thomas Fitzgerald.
Albany Fonblanque married Caroline Keane. They had a daughter and three sons.
Young Fonblanque was sent to Tonbridge School, and then was sent to the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, to prepare for a career in the Royal Engineers. His health was not good enough, and his studies were suspended. Upon his recovery he studied law with a view to being called to the bar. At the age of nineteen (1812) he began writing for the newspapers, and soon attracted attention because of the boldness and liberality of his opinions, and because of the superiority of his style to what Macaulay, when speaking of him, called the "rant and twaddle" of the daily and weekly press. While he was sharing in all the political struggles of this eventful period, he was also studying, devoting at least six hours a day to the study of classics and political philosophy. Under this regime, his health once more broke down. He continued to be a regular contributor to the newspapers and reviews, making a reasonable living.
From 1820 to 1830, Fonblanque was successively employed on the staff of The Times and the Morning Chronicle, whilst he contributed to the Examiner, to the London Magazine and to the Westminster Review.
The Examiner was a weekly newspaper founded by Leigh and John Hunt in 1808. Albany Fonblanque was the journal's political commentator beginning in 1826. In 1828 the paper, having been purchased by the Rev. Dr. Fellowes, author of the Religion of the Universe, etc., 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 independence and literary ability which The Examiner had gained under the direction of Leigh Hunt and his brother John, but even compelled his political opponents to acknowledge a certain delight in the boldness and brightness 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 Edward Bulwer-Lytton volunteer his aid, but also Benjamin Disraeli, who was then flirting with radicalism. During his time with the Examiner, Fonbianque had many offers of further literary employment; but he devoted his energies and talents to the service of the paper he had resolved to make a standard of literary excellence in the world of journalism.
Fonblanque entirely took over the Examiner in 1830, serving as editor until 1847. He brought in such contributors as John Stuart Mill, John Forster, William Makepeace Thackeray, and most notably Charles Dickens. He wrote the first notice of Sketches by Boz (28 February 1836) and of The Pickwick Papers (4 September 1836). Foster became the magazine's literary editor in 1835, and succeeded Fonblanque as editor from 1847 to 1855. Fonblanque retained ownership until 1865. The magazine ceased publication in 1886.
Board of Trade
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 employment. 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 contribute 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 he seemed, as his nephew, Edward Fonblanque, observes, a man who had lived and toiled in an age gone by and in a cause long since established.
Albany Fonblanque's political activity may be judged by a study of his England under Seven Administrations (1837), in comparison with the course of social and political events in England frnm 1826 to 1837. As a journalist, he must be regarded in the light of a reformer.
How Fonblanque changed attitudes to journalists
Journalism before Fonblanque's 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 honorably put forth his best gifts, must have helped, in no small degree, to correct the old prejudice.
See the Life and Labours of Albany Fonblanque, edited by his nephew, Edward Barrington de Fonblanque (London, 1874); a collection of his articles with a brief biographical notice.
- Philip V. Allingham, Charles Dickens, the Examiner, and "The Fine Old English Gentleman" (1841)
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