Edwin F Roberts

The Life of Edwin F. Roberts | Robert J. Kirkpatrick

Robert J. Kirkpatrick has researched and published on the subject of Victorian popular literature for many years. His recent works include a biographical dictionary of forgotten authors as well as a bibliographical study of Victorian boys’ fiction. Reynolds’s News and Miscellany is honoured to showcase this contribution from Kirkpatrick which delves into the details of the life of a forgotten Victorian writer named Edwin F. Roberts who was associated with George W.M. Reynolds for many years.

Edwin F. Roberts had a 16-year career as a prolific and versatile writer of short stories, serials and articles, and for many years was closely associated with G.W.M. Reynolds. Yet he is now a totally forgotten figure.

He was born on 3 June 1818 and baptised, as Edwin Franklin Roberts, on 27 June 1818 at the English Presbyterian Church in Toxteth Park, Liverpool. His parents were John Roberts (born around 1791 and Ann (born around 1781).Nothing is known about his early life, other than that at the time of the 1841 census he was recorded as a student living with his parents in Luke Street, Toxteth Park, with his father working as a bookseller.

His first publication, as E.F. Roberts, was Essays and Poems, published by Saunders & Otley, Conduit Street, London, in 1844. This included s dramatic poem Mephistophiles, another poem, Legend of the Cross, and essays on subjects such as Time, Life and Death.

Stephen Basdeo Personal Collection

By 1848 he had moved to Norwood, Surrey, which was the address he gave on the dedication page to what was his second publication, this time as Edwin F. Roberts: Athanase: A Dramatic Poem, printed and published by William Edward Painter, of 342 Strand, London. He also began writing stories for The Weekly Magazine of Fiction, Miscellaneous Reading and General Entertainment, which was launched on 1 January 1848 and edited by Susannah Reynolds (the wife of G.W.M. Reynolds), and which ran for six months before it was absorbed into Reynolds’s Miscellany. Also in 1848 he began contributing, alongside the Rev. J. Trusler, text for The Complete Works of William Hogarth, issued in monthly parts by E.T. Brain & Co. Complete volumes were subsequently published by Griffith, Bohn & Co., The London Printing & Publishing Company, and William Mackenzie. He was also contributing essays to The Church of England Quarterly Review.

He also began his association with G.W.M. Reynolds in April 1848, when he started contributing short stories and serials to Reynolds’s Miscellany of Romance, General Literature, Science and Art, which had been founded by Reynolds in 1846. He wrote in a variety of genres, especially adventure stories, historical stories and romances.

He also wrote a lengthy series, A New History of England, for Reynolds’s Political Instructor between 1848 and 1850. By then he had become a regular contributor to both Reynolds’s Miscellany and Reynold’s Newspaper. In 1849 he began contruting the descriptions and biographies to The Royal Gallery of Engravings, a 2 shilling monthly serial, published by E.T. Brain & Co.

On 1 March 1848 Roberts married Mary Stacy, (born in 1820, the daughter of Isaac Stacey, a tailor and his wife Eliza), at St, James’s Church, Piccadilly. At the time they were both living in Titchborne Street, Piccadilly, but they subsequently moved to 27 Tavistock Street, Covent Garden. They went on to have six children: Mary (born around 1849), Louisa Blanche (1850, died 1854), Edwin Stacy (1852), Harry Carl Weber (1854), Arthur John Howard (1857), and Lille (1859). The baptism record for Harry (at St. Giles Church, Camberwell, 23 July 1854) gave the family’s address as Westmorland Place, Marylebone, and that for Lillie (at St. Mark’s Church, Tollington Park, Islington, on 3 July 1859) as 95 Devonshire Road, Islington. (Rather oddly, the baptism record for Edwin (at St. Paul’s Church, Covent Garden, on 7 November 1852), records Roberts’s profession as “Artist”).

Between 1854 and 1864 Roberts contributed to several more periodicals, including articles and stories to Colburn’s United Services Magazine, essays and stories to S.O. Beeton’s The Boy’s Own Magazine (including a series of articles on the history of the British navy), and essays and stories to Beeton’s The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine. He also contributed to The Odd Fellows’ Quarterly Magazine, The Family Herald, Hood’s Magazine, The Parlour Magazine, The Welcome Guest, and Once a Week. His widow, in her application to the Royal Literary Fund (see later) also noted that he had written criticism and articles for The Weekly Dispatch for 13 years, criticism (dramatic and fine arts) for The Illustrated News of the World for two years, and for a while he was editor of Tallis’s Dramatic Magazine. She also pointed out that many of his periodical contributions were anonymous. Strangely, she did mention any of his work for G.W.M. Reynolds.

He had two collections of short stories, The Christmas Guests and The Christmas Guests Round the Sea-Coal Fire, published by George Vickers and 1856 and 1857. His last works were Little Golden Hair, or The Snow Wreath (H. Lea, 1861), and The Robber Lord of the Rhine, published in Vol. II of Ward & Lock’s Shilling Library in 1861.

By 1861 Roberts and his family had moved from Tavistock Crescent to 3 Tottenham Terrace, Tottenham. He died three years later, on 7 September 1864, at Goldsmith Villa, Fitzroy Road, Havertsock Hill, and was buried in Tottenham Cemetery five days later. He left an estate valued at under £200, with his wife Mary being the sole executor.

On 6 December 1864 Mary applied to the Royal Literary Fund.[1] In her covering letter to her application form she wrote that her husband had had a £100 life insurance policy but would have made a larger provision for her and her four surviving children were it not for his sudden death (which she said was from “diseased intestines”). The £100 would cover his debts but leave little over. She received 13 letters of support, including from the Archdeacon of Bath, the Editor of The Field (who referred to Roberts’s “particularly nervous and feeble constitution”), G.A. Sala, the writer and dramatist William Brough, and the journalists William Jeffrey Prowse, Andrew Halliday, Frederick Guest Tomlins and Stephen Watson Fullom (although not G.W.M Reynolds). Shortly afterwards Mary was awarded £50.

Almost a year later, in November 1865, her sister Louisa Stacy wrote to the RLF saying that one of the children had died and that Mary had suffered an “attack of congestion of the brain, which has left her a complete invalid and rendered it impossible for her to help in any way at all towards the support of herself and her children.” Unfortunately, she fell foul of the rule that widows could only receive help once, and no further action was taken. It is not known when, or where, she died.

[1] BL Loan 96 RLF 1/1659