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John William Mackail O.M. (26 August 1859 - 13 December 1945) was a Scottish man of letters and socialist, now best remembered as a Virgil scholar. He was also a poet, literary historian and biographer.
He was born in Ascog on Bute, the second child and only son of the Rev. John Mackail (Free Church) and Louisa Irving, youngest daughter of Aglionby Ross Carson, rector of Edinburgh High School. Educated first at Ayr Academy, he entered Edinburgh University in 1874 and proceeded to Balliol College, Oxford, as Warner Exhibitioner in 1877. At Oxford he took first classes in classical moderations (1879) and literae humaniores ('Greats') in 1881. He also obtained the Hertford (1880), Ireland (1880), Newdigate (1881), Craven (1882) and Derby (1884). He was elected to a Balliol fellowship in 1882. All looked fair for an academic career. Instead, he took up a post in the Education Department of the Privy Council (later the Board of Education) in 1884. He rose to Assistant Secretary in 1903 and played a major part in setting up the system of secondary education established by the 1902 Education Act. He also helped to organise a system of voluntary inspection for the public schools. He retired from office in 1919.
He was Oxford Professor of Poetry (1906-11), and President of the British Academy (1932-36). A friend of William Morris, he wrote the 1899 official biography. He also published works on Virgil, the Latin poets, the Icelandic sagas, Shakespeare and the sayings of Jesus. He married Margaret Burne-Jones (1866-1953), the only daughter of artist and designer Edward Burne-Jones. They lived in Kensington and later Holland Park. He became a member of the Order of Merit in 1935. He died in London and was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium on 17 December 1945.
The couple's elder daughter, Angela Margaret, and their son, Denis George, are better known as the novelists Angela Thirkell and Denis Mackail.