Edmund Hodgson Yates, the only child of the well-known actors Frederick Henry Yates (1797–1842) and Elizabeth Brunton Yates (1799–1860), was born in Edinburgh on 3rd July 1831. As a child he the private house over the Adelphi Theatre, of which his father was manager from 1825 to 1842. Yates attended Sir Roger Cholmeley's School in Highgate before spending nine months in Düsseldorf learning German.
Yates joined the Post Office but had ambitions to become a writer. On 14th April 1853 he married Louise Katherine Wilkinson (1830-1900), the daughter of James Wilkinson, the owner of Wilkinson Sword. Over the next few years she gave birth to four sons.
In 1854 Yates visited Tavistock House, the home of Charles Dickens. He later recalled: "There was no one in the world for whom I had so much admiration, or whom I had so much admiration, or whom I so longed to know". Dickens was too busy writing to see Yates but Georgina Hogarth arranged for him to visit the following Sunday. Dickens liked Yates and agreed to read the book he had been writing. The men became close friends and spent time together at the Garrick Club.
According to Lucinda Hawksley , the author of Katey: The Life and Loves of Dickens's Artist Daughter (2006), Dickens's fifteen year old daughter, Kate Dickens, fell in love with Yates: "Many decades later, she recalled the feelings she had for him, telling her biographer, Gladys Storey, that Yates either did not notice or affected not to notice her feelings. It was a pitiful unrequited love she was to feel keenly, in the all-consuming manner only a teenager with very little else to occupy her mind to do."
Peter Ackroyd has argued in Dickens (1990): "He (Yates) was a young journalist, in a sense one of Dickens's squad (as Carlyle called the young men who clustered around him... one of those young men of plausible manner and ready talent who ingratiate themselves with famous but somewhat insecure men like Dickens." Dickens' sister-in-law, Georgina Hogarth , described Yates as "pleasant" but "not a man to be relied upon" and "very weak and easily influenced". With the help of Dickens, Yates became the theatre critic for The Daily News.
Claire Tomalin, the author of Dickens: A Life (2011): "Dickens surrounded himself with clever young men, aspiring writers who were eager to learn from him and ready to flatter: Edmund Yates, George Sala, Percy Fitzgerald, an Irish lawyer with a fluent pen, and John Hollingshead, a largely self-taught journalist who later became a theatre manager. Dickens gave them work, corrected and improved their copy, was a good friend to them and dined them well."
Yates was also the editor of Comic Times (1855) and The Train (1856–8). P. D. Edwards, the author of Dickens's Young Men: George Augustus Sala, Edmund Yates and the World of Victorian Journalism (1997) has argued: "Yates... contributed a gossip column, The lounger at the clubs, to the weekly Illustrated Times. With this he later claimed to have invented the style of personal journalism that dominated the popular press from the 1870s on, a claim modern scholars have supported."
In May 1858, Yates supported Charles Dickens in the dispute with his wife, Catherine Dickens, who had accidentally received a bracelet meant for his girlfriend, Ellen Ternan. Dickens responded by a meeting with his solicitors. By the end of the month he negotiated a settlement where Catherine should have £400 a year and a carriage and the children would live with Dickens. Later, the children insisted they had been forced to live with their father. Charles Culliford Dickens refused and decided that he would live with his mother. He told his father in a letter: "Don't suppose that in making my choice, I was actuated by any feeling of preference for my mother to you. God knows I love you dearly, and it will be a hard day for me when I have to part from you and the girls. But in doing as I have done, I hope I am doing my duty, and that you will understand it so."
Dickens claimed that Catherine's mother and her daughter Helen Hogarth had spread rumours about his relationship with Georgina Hogarth . Dickens insisted that Mrs Hogarth sign a statement withdrawing her claim that he had been involved in a sexual relationship with Georgina. In return, he would raise Catherine's annual income to £600. On 29th May, 1858, Mrs Hogarth and Helen Hogarth reluctantly put their names to a document which said in part: "Certain statements have been circulated that such differences are occasioned by circumstances deeply affecting the moral character of Mr. Dickens and compromising the reputation and good name of others, we solemnly declare that we now disbelieve such statements." They also promised not to take any legal action against Dickens.
Charles Dickens decided to issue a statement to the press about the rumours involving him and two unnamed women : "By some means, arising out of wickedness, or out of folly, or out of inconceivable wild chance, or out of all three, this trouble has been the occasion of misrepresentations, mostly grossly false, most monstrous, and most cruel - involving, not only me, but innocent persons dear to my heart... I most solemnly declare, then - and this I do both in my own name and in my wife's name - that all the lately whispered rumours touching the trouble, at which I have glanced, are abominably false. And whosoever repeats one of them after this denial, will lie as wilfully and as foully as it is possible for any false witness to lie, before heaven and earth."
The statement was published in The Times and Household Words. However, Punch Magazine, edited by his great friend, Mark Lemon, refused, bringing an end to their long friendship. William Makepeace Thackeray also took the side of Catherine and he was also banned from the house. Dickens was so upset that he insisted that his daughters, Mamie Dickens and Kate Dickens, brought an end to their friendship with the children of Lemon and Thackeray.
Yates supported Dickens in this dispute and on 12th June 1858 Yates published an article on Thackeray in a weekly called Town Talk . Thackeray complained to the committee of the Garrick Club that Yates, a fellow member, must have spied on him there. Charles Dickens, interceded on Yates's behalf, but he was expelled from the club, of which he had been a member since he was seventeen. Dickens resigned from the club in protest.
William Makepeace Thackeray wrote to a friend: "I'm not even angry with Dickens now for being the mover in the whole affair. He can't help hating me; and he can't help not being a - you know what (gentleman)... His quarrel with his wife has driven him almost frantic." Dickens had also been hurt by this dispute. He wrote to Yates: "If you could know how much I have felt within this last month, and what a sense of wrong has been upon me, and what a strain and struggle I have lived under, you would see that my heart is so jagged and rent and out of shape, that it does not this day leave me hand enough to shape these words."
In June 1860, Yates sent the New York Times a story making malicious use of things his Post Office colleague Anthony Trollope had told him about the conversation at a dinner for the staff of the Cornhill Magazine. Trollope never forgave him and helped to spread the story that several of his novels had in fact been written, or partly written, by Frances Cashel Hoey.
In 1867 Yates began editing Tinsley's Magazine, but fell out with the proprietor, William Tinsley, who believed Yates was overpaying contributors, including himself. His official salary was by now £520 p.a. and his income from literary sources probably twice as much, but he was living beyond his means. He appeared before the court of bankruptcy in July 1868, with debts of over £7,000.
On 10th March, 1872 he retired from the Post Office. His biographer, P. D. Edwards, has pointed out: "On 30 August he embarked on a lecture tour of America, where he enjoyed considerable success thanks to his skills as a speaker and professional entertainer, his fame and notoriety as a journalist, his well-known intimacy with Dickens (who had died in 1870), and his reputation as a novelist. He arrived back in England on 23 March 1873, richer by £1,500 and with an appointment as European correspondent of the New York Herald at £1200 p.a. The following year, in partnership with another journalist, Grenville Murray, he founded a new weekly, The World... It began publication on 8 July 1874 and did so well that after six months he was able to buy out his partner, who made almost a tenfold profit on his investment. Its most popular feature, several columns of news and gossip."
Yates's willingness to publish gossip got him into trouble. An article about the love life of Hugh Lowther, 5th Earl of Lonsdale, on 17th January, 1883, resulted in him being charged with criminal libel and sentenced to four months' imprisonment. He served only seven weeks of his sentence but both his physical and mental health suffered and never fully recovered.
Dickens surrounded himself with clever young men, aspiring writers who were eager to learn from him and ready to flatter: Edmund Yates, George Sala, Percy Fitzgerald, an Irish lawyer with a fluent pen, and John Hollingshead, a largely self-taught journalist who later became a theatre manager. Dickens gave them work, corrected and improved their copy, was a good friend to them and dined them well.
Behind this bravado, Charles was furious with his son. In December 1858 Charley wrote a piece for Punch about the Thackeray/Yates affair - a quarrel between the two men in which Charles had publicly supported Yates. In his article, Charley took Thackeray's side. Charley seems to have despised Edmund Yates, no doubt partly because of Katey's heartbreak, but also because Yates had very deliberately set about creating a rift between Thackeray and Dickens. Incensed by the article, Charles took malicious revenge upon his own son for what he saw as a lack of loyalty: he removed Charley's name from the list of potential new members of the Garrick Club - just as it was about to come up for election. Charley had been waiting patiently to become a member, and membership opportunities were scarce. Charles's step effectively ruined Charley's chances of ever becoming a member; if his name were resubmitted, it would take many years to get back up to the top of the list. One cannot help speculating that Charles's vindictive act had less to do with the Edmund Yates affair than it had with Charley's decision to stand by his mother. A sympathetic and grateful Thackeray wrote a letter to a friend, stating "the poor boy is very much cast down at his father's proceedings".