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John Galt

Galt, John (1779–1839). Novelist and miscellaneous writer, son of the captain of a West Indiaman, was born at Irvine, Ayrshire, but while still a young man he went to London and formed a commercial partnership, which proved unfortunate, and he then entered Lincoln’s Inn to study law. A little before this he had produced his first book, a poem on the Battle of Largs, which, however, he soon suppressed. He then went to various parts of the Continent in connection with certain commercial schemes, and met Lord Byron, with whom he travelled for some time. Returning home he published Letters from the Levant, which had a favourable reception, and some dramas, which were less successful. He soon, however, found his true vocation in the novel of Scottish country life, and his fame rests upon the Ayrshire Legatees (1820), The Annals of the Parish (1821), Sir Andrew Wylie (1822), The Entail (1824), and The Provost. He was not so successful in the domain of historical romance, which he tried in Ringan Gilbaize, The Spae-wife, The Omen, etc., although these contain many striking passages. In addition to his novels G. produced many historical and biographical works, including a Life of Wolsey (1812), Life and Studies of Benjamin West (1816), Tour of Asia, Life of Byron (1830), Lives of the Players, and an Autobiography (1834). In addition to this copious literary output, G. was constantly forming and carrying out commercial schemes, the most important of which was the Canada Company, which, like most of his other enterprises, though conducted with great energy and ability on his part, ended in disappointment and trouble for himself. In 1834 he returned from Canada to Greenock, broken in health and spirits, and died there in 1839 of paralysis. G. was a man of immense talent and energy, but would have held a higher place in literature had he concentrated these qualities upon fewer objects. Most of his 60 books are forgotten, but some of his novels, especially perhaps The Annals of the Parish, have deservedly a secure place. The town of Galt in Canada is named after him.

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