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William Howitt

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William Howitt
Portrait of William Howitt, c. 1863, by Ernest Edwards
Born(1792-12-18)18 December 1792[1]
Heanor, Derbyshire, England[1]
Died3 March 1879(1879-03-03) (aged 86)
Rome, Kingdom of Italy
EducationFriends public school at Ackworth
SpouseMary Botham
Children4, including Anna and Alfred

William Howitt (18 December 1792 – 3 March 1879), was a prolific English writer on history and other subjects. Howitt Primary Community School in Heanor, Derbyshire, is named after him and his wife.


Howitt was born in Heanor, Derbyshire. His parents were Quakers, and he was educated at the Friends public school at Ackworth, Yorkshire. His younger brothers were Richard and Godfrey whom he helped tutor. In 1814, he published a poem on the Influence of Nature and Poetry on National Spirit. In 1821, he married Mary Botham, who, like himself, was a Quaker and a poet. William and Mary Howitt collaborated throughout a long literary career; the first of their joint productions was The Forest Minstrels and other Poems (1821).

In 1831, William Howitt produced a work that naturally resulted from his habits of observation and his genuine love of nature. It was a history of the changes in the face of the outside world in the different months of the year, and was entitled The Book of the Seasons, or the Calendar of Nature (1831). His Popular History of Priestcraft (1833) won him the favour of active Liberals and the office of alderman in Nottingham, where the Howitts had made their home.

They moved to Esher in 1837 and became friends with Elizabeth Gaskell and her husband. In 1838, the publication of his Colonization and Christianity, which was later quoted approvingly by Karl Marx in Capital, Volume I,[2] marked a significant moment. In 1840, they went to Heidelberg, primarily for the education of their children, and remained in Germany for two years. In 1841, William Howitt produced, using the pseudonym Dr Cornelius, produced The Student Life of Germany, the first of a series of works on German social life and institutions. Mary Howitt devoted herself to Scandinavian literature, and between 1842 and 1863 she translated the novels of Frederika Bremer and many of the stories of Hans Christian Andersen.

In 1847 Howitt published the 'Homes and Haunts of the most Eminent British Poets' with the publisher Richard Bently. The Preface to the Second Edition dated 1847, and referring to careful revision of the work is included in the third edition, published by George Routledge & Sons in 1877, suggesting there were either two editions in 1847, or the first edition was earlier. With her husband Mary wrote, in 1852, The Literature and Romance of Northern Europe.

In September 1852 William Howitt, with two of his sons, arrived in Melbourne Australia where he visited his younget brother and visited the newly discovered goldfields. The results of two years in the colony were A Boy's Adventures in the Wilds of Australia (1854), Land, Labour and Gold; or, Two Years in Victoria (1855) and Tallangetta, the Squatter's Home (1857). His eldest son Alfred William Howitt remained in Australia as an anthropologist, explorer and naturalist. He was known for leading the Victorian Relief Expedition, which set out to establish the fate of the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition.[3]

On his return to England Howitt had settled at Highgate and resumed his indefatigable book-making. From 1856 to 1862 he was engaged on Cassell's Illustrated History of England, and from 1861 to 1864 he and his wife worked at the Ruined Abbeys and Castles of Great Britain. The Howitts had left the Society of Friends in 1847, and became interested in Spiritualism. In 1863 he published The History of the Supernatural in all Ages and Nations, and in all Churches, Christian and Pagan, demonstrating a Universal Faith. He added his own conclusions from a practical examination of the higher phenomena through a course of seven years.

From 1870 onwards Howitt spent the summers in Tyrol and the winters in Rome, where he died. In 1880 Mary Howitt had a house built for her (which is still standing) in the spa town of Meran in South Tyrol (then part of Austria) and from then on divided her time between Rome and Meran. Mary Howitt was much affected by William's death, and in 1882 she joined the Roman Catholic Church, towards which she had been gradually moving during her connection with spiritualism. She died at Rome on 30 January 1888.[1]

The Howitts are remembered for their untiring efforts to provide wholesome and instructive literature. Anna Mary Howitt was both an artist and a poet, and married Alaric Alfred Watts.[4] Mary Howitt's autobiography was edited by her daughter, Margaret Howitt, in 1889.[1] William Howitt wrote some fifty books, and his wife's publications, inclusive of translations, number over a hundred.

Published works[edit]

William Howitt BritishLibraryuk C3031-02

As translator (incomplete list)

Subtitle: To which is added an Appendix of the most remarkable and best authenticated stories of Apparitions, Dreams, Second Sight, Somnambulism, Predictions, Divination, Witchcraft, Vampires, Fairies, Table-turning, and Spirit-rapping. Selected by Mary Howitt. [Editor's Preface closes "M. H."]


  1. ^ a b c d Dictionary of National Biography,1885–1900, Volume 28, William Howitt, now in the public domain.
  2. ^ The passage, which is used in chapter 31 of Volume I, is from p. 9 of Colonization and Christianity: "The barbarities and desperate outrages of the so-called Christian race, throughout every region of the world, and upon every people they have been able to subdue, are not to be paralleled by those of any other race, however fierce, however untaught, and however reckless of mercy and of shame, in any age of the earth."
  3. ^ Portraits of Men of Eminence in Literature, Science, and Art, with Biographical Memoirs, by Ernest Edwards, B.A. ; Ed. by Lovell Reeve, Lovell Reeve & Co., 1863
  4. ^ Anna Mary Howitt's ODNB entry: Retrieved 9 July 2011. Subscription required.
  • This entry contains information from the Meran Stadtarchiv and an on the spot visit to the house in Meran, which has a plaque with her initials MAH and the date 1880.
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Howitt, William". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.

External links[edit]