Harry Buxton FORMAN (1842–1917)
[Dictionary of National Biography]


Forman, Henry Buxton, man of letters, was born in Camberwell 11 July, 1842, the third son of George Ellery Forman, a surgeon (retired from the Royal Navy), by his wife, Maria Courthope. The family removed to Teignmouth when Henry was 10 months old, and there he was educated. He discarded his first Christian name, and habitually employed the name Harry in its stead. At the age of 18 he entered the Post Office, St Martins's-le-Grand, and became a principal clerk in 1885, afterwards second secretary, and, in 1893, controller of the packet services. In 1897 he received the CB, and in 1907 he retired at the age of 65 after 47 years' service. He attended as a representative of the United Kingdom four Postal Union Congressesat Paris in 1880, at Lisbon in 1885, at Vienna in 1891, and at Washington in 1897. In 1883 he acted as surveyor of the British post offices in the Mediterranean, and he attended the international parcel post conference in Paris the same year. He was one of the earliest workers on behalf of the Post Office library and literary association, and was its secretary for several years.

Forman's literary career began in 1869 with a series of articles in Tinsley’s Magazine , which were reprinted in 1871 as Our Living Poets. These brought him into touch with DG Rossetti, who was just then preparing the Poems of 1870 for the press. From 1872 to 1874 he was writing for the London Quarterly Review. In 1876 appeared his edition of the Poetical Works of Shelley, followed by the Prose Works in 1880, eight volumes in all. In 1878 he edited the Letters of John Keats to Fanny Brawne, and in 1883 the Poetical Works and Other Writings of John Keats in four volumes. It is his work on Shelley and Keats which constitutes Forman's chief claim to remembrance. He was scrupulously exact as a textual editor, but is open to criticism on the score of his inclusion of trivial matter. Among his other contributions to the study of Shelley were part i of the uncompleted 'Shelley Library': An Essay in Bibliography (1886), the Letters of Edward John Trelawny (1910), and Medwin's Life of Shelley, enlarged and fully commented (1913). He followed up his edition of Keats with three essays by John Keats (1889), Poetry and Prose by John Keats: a book of fresh verses and new readings (1890), and a one-volume edition of the Poetical Works of John Keats (1906). He took an active interest in the purchase and establishment of the Keats and Shelley House in Rome, and presented to it a large number of his books. [See also here]

Because of their associations with Shelley and Keats, Forman became interested in the poets Thomas Wake, Richard Henry Horne, and Charles Jeremiah Wells. When Wells's Joseph and his Brethren was reissued in 1876, with an introduction by AC Swinburne, Forman saw it through the press; he also acquired the manuscript, and printed an additional passage in W R Nicol and TJ Wise's Literary Anecdotes of the 19th Century (1805–1896), to which also he contributed articles on Wade and Horne, besides verses of his own. He left unpublished a narrative volume in verse of some ten thousand lines, inspired by his love of Devon. For A H Miles's Poets and Poetry of the 19th Century Forman made and prefaced the selections from Wade, Wells, Horne, and William Morris.

Another lifelong interest with him was the work of Mrs Browning; he edited Aurora Leigh for the 'Temple Classics', and published Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her scarcer books (1896) and Hitherto Unpublished Poems and Stories by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1914). For the 'Temple Classics' he also edited Sordello and two other volumes of Browning's poems. He salved William Morris's poem, the Pilgrims of Hope, from the pages of the Commonweal newspaper, and printed it up in book form (1886). This he followed up in 1897 with The Books of William Morris, which contains an admirable essay The Life Poetic as lived by Morris.

In 1869 Forman married Laura, the daughter of William Christian Selle, by whom he had two sons and a daughter. He died at St John's Wood 15 June, 1917 after a long illness. In 1919 his library was sold by his widow and executors and went to America. his elder brother, Alfred William Forman (1840–1925), man of letters, the second son of George Ellery Forman, was born in London 13 September, 1840. He was educated at the Royal Naval School, New Cross, but left it for a mercantile career. He became interested in Richard Wagner, and translated the libretto of Der Ring des Nibelungen (privately printed 1873–1875 and favourably received by Wagner; published 1877 on the occasion of Wagner's conducting concerts of his own music in London). Further translations from Wagner were Tristan und Isolde (1891), Parsifal (1899), and Tannhäuser (1919). This last was still unpublished at Forman's death, as also were translations of the Agamemnon of Aeschylus, Le Roi s'amuse and other of Victor Hugo's drama, and Grillparzer's Hero and Leander. Alfred and his brother Henry Buxton Forman published anonymously in the Civil Service Review (1874, privately reprinted in 1878 under their own names) a series of articles on 'The Metre of Dante's Divine Comedy discussed and exemplified': discussed by Henry and exemplified by Alfred in dissyllablic-rhymed terza rima translations of Inferno i and iii, Purgatorio I, and Paradiso i. Beside his translations Forman produced a privately printed volume of Sonnets (1886). In 1876 he married Alma, daughter of Leigh Murray, well-known as an actress in poetic drama. He died 17th December, 1925, leaving a widow and one daughter.

[The Times, 19 June 1917, 23 December 1925; private information; personal knowledge.] TJW, FP

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