Last reviewed: June 2018
May 2, 1779
Irvine, Ayrshire, Scotland
April 11, 1839
John Galt (gawlt) was the son of a Scottish sea captain. He received his education through private tutors and irregular attendance at various schools, and upon finishing school he entered the British customs service at Greenock, Scotland. A few years later he left the customs service to become a clerical employee of a private business house. In 1804 he left Scotland and went to London, where, shortly after his arrival, he published and then immediately suppressed an epic poem titled The Battle of Largs. He found employment in business, but when his firm failed he began to study law at Lincoln’s Inn. That study ended within a few months, however, and Galt began a three-year tour that took him as far from England as Greece and Turkey. Bust of John Galt.
Bust of John Galt.
Upon his return to London in 1811 he became editor of the Political Review. In 1912 he began writing and published two books, The Life and Administration of Cardinal Wolsey and a volume relating his adventures abroad. He married Elizabeth Tilloch, daughter of a fellow editor, in 1813, and they had three sons, all born between 1814 and 1817. This family Galt supported by his editorship, by writing articles for Lives of the British Admirals, and by some writing of fiction. He began to be known as an author in 1820, when Blackwood’s Magazine began publishing his novel, The Ayrshire Legatees. Annals of the Parish gave that fame a secure foundation. After that Galt continued as a professional writer, but none of his later work attained the popularity or the critical acclaim of that book. Most of his stories and novels, like Annals of the Parish, have a Scottish background; during his lifetime he saw published sixty books, twelve plays, and an uncounted number of articles.
In the history of the novel Galt is regarded as something of a pioneer realist, but critical judgment has not granted him what he claimed for himself, a rating equal to that of Sir Walter Scott. In addition to his career as a writer, Galt served his government as secretary to a commission sent to Canada to investigate land claims. After 1828 he wrote furiously in an effort to keep out of debtor’s prison. He died after suffering a series of strokes.