John Wilson of Elleray
Was a Scottish advocate, literary critic and author, the writer most frequently identified with the pseudonym Christopher North of Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine. He was professor of Moral Philosophy at Edinburgh University (1820–1851). In 1803 Wilson was entered as a gentleman commoner at Magdalen College, Oxford. He was inspired by Oxford and obtained a first-class degree in 1807, and at twenty-two was his own master, with a good income, no guardian to control him, and no need to work for a living. Instead, his occupation was an estate on Windermere called Elleray. Here he built, boated, wrestled, shot, fished, walked and amused himself for four years, besides composing or collecting from previous compositions a considerable volume of poems, published in 1812 as The Isle of Palms. He became intimate with William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Southey and Thomas de Quincey. In 1811 he married Jane Penny, daughter of the Liverpool merchant and slave trader James Penny, and they were happy for four years, until most of his fortune was lost by the dishonest speculation of an uncle, in whose hands Wilson had carelessly left it. His mother had a house in Edinburgh, in which she was able and willing to receive her son and his family; he was not forced to give up Elleray, though he was no longer able to live there. He read law and was elected to the Faculty of Advocates in 1815, still with many outside interests, and in 1816 produced a second volume of poems, The City of the Plague. In 1817, soon after the founding of Blackwood's Magazine, Wilson began his connection with the Tory monthly. He became the principal writer for Blackwood's, though never its nominal editor, the publisher retaining supervision even over Lockhart's and "Christopher North's" contributions, which were the making of the magazine. In 1822 began the series of Noctes Ambrosianae, after 1825 mostly Wilson's work. Wilson left his mother's house and established himself (1819) in Ann Street, Edinburgh, with his wife and five children. His election to the chair of Moral Philosophy in the University of Edinburgh (1820) was unexpected, as the best qualified man in the United Kingdom, Sir William Hamilton, was also a candidate. But the matter was made a political one; the Tories still had a majority in the burgh council; Wilson was backed by powerful friends, Sir Walter Scott at their head; and his adversaries played into his hands by attacking his moral character, which was not open to any fair reproach. Wilson was a popular professor, never perhaps attaining to any great scientific knowledge in his subject or power of expounding it but acting on generation after generation of students with a stimulating force that some thought far more valuable than the most exhaustive knowledge of a particular topic. In his last thirty years, he oscillated between Edinburgh and Elleray, with excursions and summer residences elsewhere. The death of his wife in 1837 was an exceedingly severe blow to him, especially as it followed within three years that of his friend Blackwood.