Sue Young Histories

William Bell Scott 1811 - 1890

August 25, 2008

William Bell Scott 1811 – 1890 British poet and artist, son of Robert Scott, the engraver, and brother of David Scott, the painter, was born in Edinburgh.

William Bell Scott was a friend of the famous homeopathic Epps family, and of homeopath James John Garth Wilkinson (Some time in 1839, James John Garth Wilkinson met William Bell Scott who wrote that James John Garth Wilkinson ‘… was as tall and as straight as a spear, and looked steadily at you from behind his spectacles as if he saw your thoughts as distinctly as your nose...’ (William Bell Scott, William Minto (Ed.), Autobiographical notes of the life of William Bell Scott … and notices of his artistic and poetic circle of friends, 1830 to 1882, Volume 1, (AMS Press, 1970). Pages 22 and 298)).

Ellen Elliott Epps was a school friend of William Bell Scott’s wife. William Bell Scott introduced the Epps family to William Michael Rossetti. William Bell Scott was also a close friend of John Le Gay Brereton.

From In Newcastle, William Bell Scott was visited by all the Rossetti family, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti painted Maria Leathart’s portrait at Scott’s house 14 St Thoms’ Crescent (plaque erected 2005). Algernon Charles Swinburne, who wrote two poems to Scott, spent much time with him in Newcastle after being sent down from Oxford.

After 1870 Scott was much in London, where he bought a house in Chelsea, and he was an intimate friend of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and in high repute as an artist and an author. He was, however, at daggers drawn with John Ruskin.

His poetry, which he published at intervals (notably Poems, 1875, illustrated by etchings by himself and Lawrence Alma-Tadema), recalled William Blake and Percy Bysse Shelley, and was considerably influenced by Dante Gabriel Rossetti; he also wrote several volumes of artistic and literary criticism, and edited John Keats, Letitia Elizabeth Landon, Lord Byron, Samuel Taylor** **Coleridge, Percy Bysse Shelley, William Shakespeare and Walter Scott.

He resigned his appointment under the Science and Art Department in 1885, and from then till his death he was mainly occupied in writing his reminiscences, which were published posthumously in 1892, with a memoir by Professor Minto. It is for his connection with Rossetti’s circle that Bell Scott will be chiefly remembered…

While a young man he studied art and assisted his father, and he published verses in the Scottish magazines. In 1837 he went to London, where he became sufficiently well known as an artist to be appointed in 1844 master of the government school of design at Newcastle-on-Tyne.

He held the post for twenty years, and did good work in organizing art-teaching and examining under the Science and Art Department. He did much fine decorative work, too, on his own account, notably at Wallington Hall, in the shape of eight large pictures illustrating Border history, with life-size figures, supplemented by eighteen pictures illustrating the ballad of Chevy Chase in the spandrels of the arches of the hall. For Penkill Castle, Ayrshire, he executed a similar series, illustrating James I’s The Kingis Quair.


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