Note; Although this introduction has been part of The Victorian Web for many years — probably since 1988, long before it was on the internet — I do not remember its source. If anyone recognizes it, please let me know. [GPL]
eorge Macdonald, Scottish novelist, poet, clergyman, and author of children's stories, was born at Huntly, in the western part of Aberdeenshire, the son of George Macdonald and Helen MacKay. He attended the country schools, and went to Aberdeen University in 1840-41 and 1844-45, taking prizes in chemistry and natural philosophy. Three years of tutoring in London followed; he then studied for the Congregationalist ministry at Independent College, Highbury. He was made pastor at Arundel in 1850, displeased his congregation by the lack of dogmatic material in his sermons, and after three unsatisfactory years, found it necessary to resign. He went to Manchester; was obliged to go to Algiers for the sake of his health, and returned to England resolved to be a professional author. Macdonald was converted to the Church of England, becoming a lay member in 1860; but he continued to preach independently at intervals.
His poem Within and Without appeared in 1855; Poems in 1857; and Phantastes in 1858. However, his first real success came with his novels of Scottish country life, David Elginbrod (1862), Alec Forbes (1865), and Robert Falconer (1868). In this year he received the degree of L.L.D.; he attracted the notice of Lady Byron, who befriended him and later left him a legacy, and met Ruskin, Arnold, Carlyle, Tennyson, Ruskin, and others. An American lecture tour in 1872 won many friends, including Emerson. Macdonald lectured chiefly on Burns, and a subscription was made up to reimburse him for losses he had suffered through the pirating of his works in this country.
Although his Scottish novels and his charming children's books such as At the Back of the North Wind, The Princess and the Goblin, and The Princess and Curdie were successful, Macdonald's financial returns from his works had not been sufficient to provide for the needs of his wife and family, and in 1877 he was pensioned at the request of Queen Victoria. He had never been strong, and indeed was obliged to care for his health during all his long life. When his daughter had to be taken to Italy for her health in 1877 — a trip which ended in her death — Macdonald found the climate so beneficial to himself that he spent the greater part of each year from 1881 to 1902 at Bordighera, in the house he had built with the aid of friends, Casa Coraggio. His wife became organist of the Catholic church there, and organ concerts were often held at the Macdonald home for the benefit of the parish. Here the Macdonald family led a merry life, for although Macdonald had a vein of Celtic melancholy in him, he was merry and amiable, and readings and amateur theatricals were frequent in his house, (The praise of the Macdonald children for his manuscripts was what induced Lewis Carroll to publish his work.)
Mrs. Macdonald, the former Louisa Powell, died the year after their golden wedding anniversary, in 1902. Macdonald, after a long illness, died at Ashstead in England in 1905. His remains were cremated and taken for burial to Bordighera, where his wife had been interred.
The Macdonalds had six sons and five daughters. One of the sons, Greville Macdonald, later became a writer. He is the author of the biography of his father.
George Macdonald published over fifty volumes of fiction, verse, children's stories, and sermons. His verse is delicate, graceful, and tender in feeling, with a pervading spiritual quality. The Diary of an Old Soul strikes a deeper note of thoughtfulness. His stories for children rank among the classics of juvenile literature.
Last modified 27 July 2004; thanks to George Gardiner Wood for correcting some errors.