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 William James Linton  (1812 - 1897)

About: William James Linton


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Lived/Active: New York/Connecticut / England      Known for: wood engraving, watercolor sketches

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
William James Linton, wood engraver, printer, and poet, was likely the finest wood engraver of his generation, as well as an important figure in political and literary circles.

He was born in London, England, the son of William Linton, an accountant and provision broker, and Mary Stephenson. In 1818, the Lintons moved to Stratford, where he attended Chigwell School, and he moved to London in 1828 in order to serve an apprenticeship with George Wilmot Bonner, a wood engraver.

Subsequently he worked for two leading engravers, William Henry Powis and John Thompson, and then from 1840 to 1843 for John Orrin Smith. His work appeared in the Illustrated London News, the leading pictorial journal of the time.

In 1837 Linton married Laura Wade, the sister of the poet and dramatist Thomas Wade. She died of consumption the next year. He then lived with her sister Emily; they may never have married because of a law prohibiting marriage between in-laws, but they had seven children. Beginning in 1849 the family lived in the Lake District. Emily died in December 1856, and Linton subsequently married Eliza Lynn; they had no children.

Linton was active politically, espousing freedom of the press, free speech, universal suffrage, and women's rights. A member of the Chartist movement, he became interested in the activities of Mazzini and other Italian and Polish reformers. He was also involved in numerous publications, both as an editor and author.

Among the works whose illustrations he engraved was an edition
of Tennyson (1857) and Milton's L'Allegro (1859). He also illustrated
his own poetry, published under the title Claribel and Other Poems (1865).

In 1866 he separated amicably from his wife. Heavily in debt because of his political activities and ill-fated investments in publications that failed to prosper, he moved to New York that same year.

Although Linton had not intended to remain long in the United States, he discovered that his skills as a wood engraver found a ready market there. He soon started working for Frank Leslie's Illustrated News. From 1868 to 1870 he also taught at the Ladies' School of Design at the Cooper Institute. Established in 1857, the faculty of this institution trained about two hundred women as wood engravers by 1880.

He also designed and engraved illustrations for American book publishers, including Ticknor and Fields of Boston, Massachusetts, and D. Appleton and Company, Charles Scribner & Co., and G. P. Putnam & Son of New York.

During this period Linton also engraved literary illustrations for Scribner's Monthly and Century Magazine. For the Aldine, a fine art journal published in New York and edited by Richard H. Stoddard, he engraved reproductions of American landscape paintings. Linton considered these prints among his best.

In the 1870s the use of photographic technology transformed the work of wood engravers. No longer did the artist or engraver draw directly on the block; instead, designs were photographed onto treated blocks. Engravers of this "New School" were capable of producing greater realistic detail. The visual effect was very different, and Linton was foremost among the traditional engravers to attack the changes in technique and style.

On this topic, he wrote a book titled "Some Practical Hints on Wood-Engraving for the Instruction of Reviewers and the Public (1879). The debate and his this book led to the production of his The History of Wood-Engraving in America, a book that contains many valuable reminiscences and biographical
sketches of engravers.

During these first years in the United States, Linton continued his political activities, becoming involved in the Universal Republican Alliance, sympathetic to Mazzini and the Italian movement. He spoke before the Boston Radical Club in January 1869 on the topic of republican organization.

Linton also wrote pamphlets about the Irish Fenians and the uprising by revolutionaries in Cuba. He eventually became disillusioned by American politics and ceased any active engagement in reform activities after the mid-1870s.

In the spring of 1870, Linton moved to "Appledore Farm" in Hamden,
Connecticut. Within a few years, he had established his own printing
press in his home and was able to continue supplying publishers with engraved blocks. Living near New Haven, he became a frequent reader in the Yale College libraries and eventually compiled several anthologies of British and American poetry.

From 1878, he published a number of books and pamphlets at the Appledore
Press, including collections of his own poems. Linton found both wealth and an intellectual and artistic acceptance in his adopted land that had eluded him in his native England.

Shortly after his arrival in New York, he was elected a member of the Century Club, and in 1870 he became a member of the National Academy of Design. He was also a founder of the American Society of Painters in Watercolors. He visited England several times in the 1870s and 1880s, including extended stays during 1872 and 1873 and from 1882 to 1884.

During his final visit in 1889, he supervised the printing of his Masters of Wood-Engraving at the Chiswick Press. He worked at his printing press until a few months before his death at the home of his daughter in New Haven.

The major collection of Linton's papers in the United States is at Yale University's Beinecke Library.

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