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MacDonald, George, 1824-1905



  • Existence: 1824-12-10 - 1905-09-18

George MacDonald--poet, novelist, fantasy writer, and minister--was born in Huntly, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, on December 10, 1824, one of six children of George and Helen Mackay MacDonald. Educated locally, MacDonald attended King's College, Aberdeen, taking his M. A. degree in 1845. Brought up in a strict Calvinist environment, MacDonald, after a brief stint as a tutor, prepared for the ministry, attending Highbury Theological college in 1848 and accepting a ministerial post at Trinity Congregational Church at Arundel in 1850.

In 1851 he married Louisa Powell, and the next year the first of their eleven children was born. MacDonald's first real publication was a privately printed translation of Twelve of the Spiritual Songs of Novalis, distributed only to close friends. After resigning his position at Arundel and moving to Manchester in 1853, tutoring and giving lectures on English literature to pay for room and board, he turned increasingly to writing. After contributing poems, articles, and brief stories to the Monthly Christian Spectator, he achieved his first publishing success in 1855 with the appearance of Within and Without, a long dramatic poem in blank verse with the strong religious overtones that were to characterize all of his subsequent publications.

Although he never held another full-time pastorate after his post at Arundel, MacDonald remained active in the ministry for the rest of his life, preaching sermons on call as an independent to a wide audience. In addition to positions at Bedford College, as professor of English literature (1859-1868), King’s College, London, as lecturer (1865-1868), and Good Words for the Young, a popular juvenile publication, as editor (1869-1872), he depended on his writings and his lecture tours for income to support his large family. Never in good health, MacDonald faced a continuous series of afflictions that impeded his productivity and his ability to support his family, although he managed to publish some fifty works of poetry, fantasy fiction, tales of simple Scottish life, essays, sermons, and children's books.

MacDonald's reputation as a writer and a speaker earned him the admiration and patronage of Lady Noel Byron, sister of the poet, and gained him a profitable American lecture tour in 1872, where he met and became friends with most of the famous literati in the country, especially the editor and poet Richard Watson Gilder.

Constantly plagued by health and money problems (even after being awarded a Civil List Pension by Queen Victoria in 1877), MacDonald was often forced to relocate his family to take advantage of good climate and whatever economic opportunities were present; thus the family moved from Manchester to Hastings (1857), to London (1859), to Hammersmith (1867), to Bournemouth (1875), and finally to Bordighera, Italy (1880), a move necessitated by the poor health of MacDonald and several of his children. By 1877 the family found it necessary to help meet expenses by presenting amateur theatrics to a paying audience, an activity that eventually involved the whole family and several neighbors.

George MacDonald has retained some reputation as an author of fantasy fiction and annals of Scottish life. Most popular among his novels and fantasy stories are Phantastes (1858), David Elginbrod (1863), Robert Falconer (1868), At the Back of the North Wind (1871), The Princess and the Goblin (1872), Sir Gibbie (1879), and Lilith (1895). He has been credited with influencing the work of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and other modern practicers of fantasy.

After suffering a serious stroke in 1898 that incapacitated him both mentally and physically, MacDonald needed constant care. He died on September 18, 1905 at age 80 and was buried at Bordighera.

Found in 9 Collections and/or Records:

Letter : Corage, Boscombe, Bournemouth, England, to Roswell Smith, undated

 Part of Collection — Box: 268, Folder: 23
Call Number: GEN MSS MISC
Scope and Contents: Autograph manuscript letter, signed, making plans to see each other in London.
Dates: undated

Letter : Great Tangley Manor, near Guilford, to Roswell Smith, 1875 Jun 2

 Part of Collection — Box: 33, Folder: GROUP 612, F-3
Call Number: GEN MSS MISC
Scope and Contents: ALS inviting Smith to his London home and noting illness and work on a story.
Dates: 1875 Jun 2

Letter : Hillfield, Hampstead. N.W., London, to “Madam”, 1889 November 7

 Part of Collection — Box: 268, Folder: 20
Call Number: GEN MSS MISC
Scope and Contents: Autograph manuscript letter, signed, offering the recipient advice on her writing. MacDonald says that her writing will not be worth much to a magazine, because it lacks unity and harmony.
Dates: 1889 November 7

Letter : Portofino, Riviera di Levante, Italy, to Paul Apfelsted, 1879 May 7

 Part of Collection — Box: 268, Folder: 22
Call Number: GEN MSS MISC
Scope and Contents: Autograph manuscript letter, signed, agreeing to an unidentified request.
Dates: 1879 May 7

Letter : The Retreat, Hammersmith, W., London, to J. W. Peabody, 1870 June 20

 Part of Collection — Box: 268, Folder: 21
Call Number: GEN MSS MISC
Scope and Contents: Autograph manuscript letter, signed, saying that due to his literary commitments he is unable to schedule any preaching.
Dates: 1870 June 20


Call Number: GEN MSS MISC

George MacDonald Collection

Call Number: GEN MSS 103
Overview: The George MacDonald Collection consists of correspondence, manuscripts, personal papers, and photographs relating to MacDonald's career and to the daily life of the MacDonald family.
Dates: (1822-1946)

Note : Bowdon, to an unidentified recipient, Dec 21

 Part of Collection — Box: 33, Folder: GROUP 612, F-1
Call Number: GEN MSS MISC
Scope and Contents: ANS to "Loved & honoured Doctor."

Accompanied by a printed photograph and clipping about MacDonald from Book News.
Dates: Dec 21

Note : The Farm, to Mr. Smith, n.d.

 Part of Collection — Box: 33, Folder: GROUP 612, F-2
Call Number: GEN MSS MISC
Scope and Contents: ANS confirming his visit to Mr. Smith.
Dates: n.d.