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John Nichol (biographer)

John Nichol

John Nichol (8 September 1833 – 11 October 1894), was a Scottish literary academic, and the first Regius Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Glasgow.

Early life

Born in Montrose, Scotland, Nichol was the son of John Pringle Nichol, Regius Professor of Astronomy at the University of Glasgow. John Jr. studied first at Glasgow (1848–55) and then Balliol College, Oxford (1855–9) as a Snell Exhibitioner, graduating with a First-Class degree in Classics, Philosophy and Mathematics. After graduating, Nicholl remained at Oxford as a coach. With Albert Venn Dicey, Thomas Hill Green, Swinburne and others, he formed the Old Mortality Society for discussions on literary matters.


In 1862 he was made Regius Professor of English Literature at Glasgow. He had already made a reputation as an acute critic and a successful lecturer, and his influence at Glasgow was very marked. During his tenure as Regius Professor, he also lectured at Oxford University as well as private tutoring across Britain, and formed a strong reputation as an inspiring lecturer, later joining Glasgow's Dialectic Society.

He left Glasgow for London in 1889, and died on 11 October 1894. A Memoir by Professor Knight was published in 1896.


Among the major works by Nichol were his drama Hannibal (1873), The Death of Themistocles, and other Poems (1881), his Byron in the "English Men of Letters" series (1880), his Robert Burns (1882) and Carlyle (1892).

Nichol was also an enthusiastic Americanist and wrote the ground-breaking American Literature: An Historical Review, 1620–1880 (1882).[1] He visited the United States in 1865, and in 1882 he wrote the article on American literature for the ninth edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica.[2]

In addition to the above, he was also the author of the following works:

  • Fragments of Criticism, a volume of essays, (1860);
  • Tables of European Literature and History, A.D. 200-1876 (1876);
  • Tables of Ancient Literature and History, (1877);
  • English Composition, a literature primer, (1879);
  • Questions on English Composition, (1890); and
  • two volumes on Lord Bacon's Life and Philosophy for Black's "Series of Philosophical Writers", (1887–89).

Nichol also wrote essays for the Westminster Review, North British Review, and other reviews; articles in the Encyclopædia Britannica; and several pamphlets on education questions.[3]

Nichol was long blamed by biographers of the poet Swinburne for leading Swinburne to lose his faith and to alcoholism. Neither charge is true (See Terry L. Meyers, "On Drink and Faith: Swinburne and John Nichol at Oxford". Review of English Studies, ns 55:220 (June 2004), 392–424).


  1. ^ University of Glasgow :: Story :: Biography of John Nichol. (6 August 2008). Retrieved on 2011-07-21.
  2. ^ Terry L. Meyers, "John Nichol’s Visit to Virginia, 1865: 'The James River.'" Victorians Institute Journal, 30 (2002), 140–153.
  3. ^ The Times/1894/Obituary/John Nichol – Wikisource. Retrieved on 2011-07-21.
  • Works by John Nichol at Project Gutenberg
  • Works by or about John Nichol at Internet Archive
  • His article about American Literature (in Encyclopædia Britannica 9th ed.)
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Nichol, John". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
Academic offices Preceded byChair founded Regius Professor of English Language and Literature,University of Glasgow 1862–1889 Succeeded byA. C. Bradley
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John Nichol (biographer)
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