William Makepeace Thackeray, 1811–1863
Novelist, son of Richmond Thackeray, who held various important appointments in the service of the East India Company, and who belonged to an old and respectable Yorkshire family, was born at Calcutta, and soon after the death of his father, which took place in 1816, sent home to England. After being at a school at Chiswick, he was sent to the Charterhouse School, where he remained from 1822–26, and where he does not appear to have been very happy. Meanwhile in 1818 his mother had married Major H.W.C. Smythe, who is believed to be, in part at any rate, the original of Colonel Newcome. In 1829 he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he remained for a year only, and where he did not distinguish himself particularly as a student, but made many life-long friends, including Spedding, Tennyson, Fitzgerald, and Monckton Milnes, and contributed verses and caricatures to two University papers, “The Snob” and “The Gownsman.” The following year, 1831, was spent chiefly in travelling on the Continent, especially Germany, when, at Weimar, he visited Goethe. Returning he entered the Middle Temple, but having no liking for legal studies, he soon abandoned them, and turning his attention to journalism, became proprietor, wholly or in part, of two papers successively, both of which failed. These enterprises, together with some unfortunate investments and also, it would seem, play, stripped him of the comfortable fortune, which he had inherited; and he now found himself dependent on his own exertions for a living. He thought at first of art as a profession, and studied for a time at Paris and Rome.
In 1836, while acting as Paris correspondent for the second of his journals, he married Isabella, daughter of Colonel Shawe, an Irish officer, and the next year he returned to England and became a contributor to Fraser’s Magazine, in which appeared The Yellowplush Papers, The Great Hoggarty Diamond, Catherine, and Barry Lyndon, the history of an Irish sharper, which contains some of his best work. Other works of this period were The Paris Sketch-book  and The Irish Sketch-book . His work in Fraser, while it was appreciated at its true worth by a select circle, had not brought him any very wide recognition: it was his contributions to Punch — the Book of Snobs and Jeames’s Diary — which first caught the ear of the wider public. The turning point in his career, however, was the publication in monthly numbers of Vanity Fair (1847–48). This extraordinary work gave him at once a place beside Fielding at the head of English novelists, and left him no living competitor except Dickens. Pendennis, largely autobiographical, followed in 1848–50, and fully maintained his reputation. In 1851 he broke new ground, and appeared, with great success, as a lecturer, taking for his subject The English Humourists of the Eighteenth Century, following this up in 1855 with the Four Georges, first delivered in America. Meanwhile Esmond, perhaps his masterpiece, and probably the greatest novel of its kind in existence, had appeared in 1852, and The Newcomes , The Virginians, a sequel to Esmond, which, though containing much fine work, is generally considered to show a falling off as compared with its two immediate predecessors, came out in 1857–59. In 1860 the Cornhill Magazine was started with Thackeray for its ed., and to it he contributed Lovel the Widower , The Adventures of Philip (1861–62), The Roundabout Papers, a series of charming essays, and Denis Duval, left a mere fragment by his sudden death, but which gave promise of a return to his highest level of performance. In addition to the works mentioned, Thackeray for some years produced Christmas books and burlesques, of which the best were The Rose and the Ring and The Kickleburys on the Rhine. He also wrote graceful verses, some of which, like Bouillabaisse, are in a strain of humour shot through with pathos, while others are the purest rollicking fun.
For some years Thackeray suffered from spasms of the heart, and he died suddenly during the night of December 23, 1863, in his 53rd year. He was a man of the tenderest heart, and had an intense enjoyment of domestic happiness; and the interruption of this, caused by the permanent breakdown of his wife’s health, was a heavy calamity. This, along with his own latterly broken health, and a sensitiveness which made him keenly alive to criticism, doubtless fostered the tendency to what was often superficially called his cynical view of life. He possessed an inimitable irony and a power of sarcasm which could scorch like lightning, but the latter is almost invariably directed against what is base and hateful. To human weakness he is lenient and often tender, and even when weakness passes into wickedness, he is just and compassionate. He saw human nature “steadily and saw it whole,” and paints it with a light but sure hand. He was master of a style of great distinction and individuality, and ranks as one of the very greatest of English novelists.
- Catherine, a Story, by Ikey Solomons, Esq., junior. [Fraser’s Magazine May 1839–February 1840]
- The History of Samuel Titmarsh and the Great Hoggarty Diamond [ Printed in Fraser’s Magazine Sept.-Dec., 1841. As The Great Hoggarty Diamond. New York, 1848. Under original title. 1849. Reprinted in Miscellanies, vol. IV, 1857. ]
- The Luck of Barry Lyndon, a Romance of the Last Century, by Fitz-Boodle.
[Printed in Fraser (12 nos.), Jan. — Dec., 1844; as 2 vols. New York, 1852. As The Memoires of Barry Lyndon, Esq., 1856.]
- Vanity Fair, Pen and Pencil Sketches of English Society.
[Printed in 20 serial nos., Jan., 1847–July, 1848. As Vanity Fair, a Novel without a Hero, 1848. Also 2 pt. New York, 1848. Revised edition 1853. 2nd revised edition 1863 .]
- The History of Pendennis, his Fortunes and Misfortunes, his Friends and his greatest
[Printed in 24 serial nos. Nov., 1848–Dec., 1850. 2 vols.: vol. I, 1849; vol. II, 1850. Also 2 vols. New York, 1850. Revised edition 1863 .]
- The History of Henry Esmond
[1852. Revised edition 1858.]
- The Newcomes, Memoirs of a most respectable Family, ed. by Arthur Pendennis,
[Printed in 24 serial nos. Oct., 1853–Aug., 1855. Also, in Harper’s Monthly Magazine, New York, Nov., 1853–Oct., 1855. Reprinted in 2 vols.: vol. I, 1854; vol. II, 1855; and 3 vols. New York, 1855. 1860. Last revised edition 1863.]
- The Virginians, a Tale of the Last Century
[Printed in 24 serial nos. Nov., 1857–Sept., 1859. Also, in Harper, New York, Dec., 1857–Nov., 1859. 2 vols.: vol. I, 1858; vol. II, 1859. New York, 1859.]
- The Adventures of Philip on his way through the World; shewing who robbed him, who
helped him, and who passed him by
[Printed in The Cornhill (20 nos.), Jan., 1861–August, 1862. Also in Harper, New York, Feb., 1861–Sept., 1862. 3 vols. 1862.]
- Denis Duval
[Unfinished. Printed in The Cornhill (4 nos.). April–June, 1864. Also in Harper, New York, April, May, July, August, 1864.]
Essays and Lectures
- An Essay on the Genius of George Cruikshank
[1840. Reprinted from The Westminster Review, June, 1840.]
- The English Humourists of the Eighteenth Century: a
series of lectures delivered in England, Scotland and the United States of America
- Jonathan Swift
- John Leech’s Pictures of Life and Character
[The Quarterly Review, Dec. 1854]
- The Four Georges: Sketches of Manners, Morals, Court and Town Life.
[Printed in The Cornhill (4 nos.), July–Oct., 1860. Also, in Harper, New York, August–Nov., 1860, and in Littell’s Living Age. New York, 1860. 1861.]
- The Paris Sketch Book, by Mr. Titmarsh.
[1840 The contents included some miscellaneous sketches, already printed, with new matter.]
- The Irish Sketch-Book, by Mr. M. A. Titmarsh.
- Little Travels and Roadside Sketches
[Fraser’s Magazine May, 1844]
- Notes of a Journey From Cornhill to Grand Cairo…by Mr. M. A. Titmarsh. 
- The Professor. A Tale.
[Printed in Bentley’s Miscellany, Sept., 1837; reprinted in Comic Tales and Sketches, vol. II, 1841, as by Goliah Gahagan, and in A Shabby Genteel Story, etc., New York, 1852, 1853.]
- The Memoirs of Mr. Charles J. Yellowplush
[First published as The Yellowplush Correspondence in Fraser’s Magazine (8 nos.), Nov., 1837-August, 1838, without Mr. Yellowplush’s Ajew. Reprinted in Comic Tales and Sketches, vol. I, 1814, with Fashnable Fax and Polite Annygoats omitted, and Mr. Yellowplush’s Ajew (August, 1838) and the epistle to sir Edward Lytton Bulwer, bart. (Epistles to the Literati, no. XIII, Jan., 1840) added. Reprinted in Miscellanies, Prose and Verse, vol. II, 1856, under the title Memoirs of Mr. C. J. Yellowplush, and in a separate volume with The Diary of C. Jeames de la Pluche, Esq., 1856.]
- The Tremendous Adventures of Major Gahagan
[Some Passages in the Life of Major Gahagan. Begun in The New Monthly Magazine, Feb., 1838; continued as Historical Recollections by Major Gahagan, March, 1838, and as Major Gahagan’s Historical Reminiscences (3 nos.), Nov., 1838–Feb., 1839. Reminiscences of Major Gahagan in Comic Tales and Sketches, vol. II, 1841, and as The Tremendous Adventures of Major Gahagan in Miscellanies, vol. I, 1855.]
- Stubbs’s Calendar; or, the Fatal Boots
- The Bedford-Row Conspiracy
[Printed in The New Monthly (3 nos.), Jan-April, 1840. Reprinted New York, 1852, 1853; in Comic Tales and Sketches, vol. I, 1841; in Miscellanies, vol. III, 1856.]
- A Shabby Genteel Story.
[Fraser’s Magazine June-Oct. 1840]
- Barber Cox and the Cutting of his Comb
[Cruikshank’s Comic Annual, 1840; reprinted as Cox’s Diary, in Miscellanies, vol. I, 1855]
- The Fitz-Boodle Papers
- Men’s Wives
[Fraser’s Magazine, March — Nov. 1843]
- The History of the Next French Revolution, from a forthcoming history of
[Punch 24 Feb. — 20 April, 1844]
- A Legend of the Rhine
- The diary of C. Jeames De La Pluche, Esq., with his letters
- Novels by eminent hands
- Mrs. Perkins’s Ball, by Mr. M. A. Titmarsh
- A Little Dinner at Timmins’s
[Punch 27 May–29 July, 1848]
- The Book of Snobs
[Originally The Snobs of England, by one of themselves printed in Punch (53 nos.), 28 Feb., 1846–27 Feb., 1847.]
- Our Street
- Dr. Birch and his young friends
- Rebecca and Rowena; a romance upon romance
- The Kickleburys on the Rhine
- The Rose and the Ring; or The history of Prince Giglio and Prince Bulbo
- The Christmas Books of M.A. Titmarsh
[1857: Collection comprising: Mrs. Perkins’s Ball — Our Street — Dr. Birch and his young friends — The Kickleburys on the Rhine — The Rose and the Ring ]
- Lovel the widower
[Printed in The Cornhill Magazine (6 nos.), Jan.–June, 1860. Also in Harper, New York, Feb.–July, 1860. 1861.]
- Poems and essays
- Roundabout Papers
- The Second Funeral of Napoleon 
- The Wolves and the Lamb