The Book Buyer April 1894


Stanley J. Weyman


Contributed by Kenneth Hillier


     A FEW years ago it occurred to Mr. Stanley J. Weyman, then a young man writing short stories constructed more or less on Anthony Trollope’s model, that there was really no reason why a historical novel should be the forbidding thing which, nowadays, most of its creators seemed impelled to make it.  Mr. Weyman conceived the idea of writing a novel founded on the very real events in France in the fine old romantic days, and of putting actual human beings into it who should go their ways and live their stirring lives in a human sort of fashion, and who should do their talking without winding themselves up in a tangle of obsolete words.  As he himself says, narrating the circumstance.  “Blood and thunder being the fashion, I thought the historical story might be received with success if the characters were created so far as possible ‘modernly,’ and all the old properties—the alack-a-days and the gadzookses—were discarded.”  Accordingly, “The House of the Wolf” was written upon these lines, its first inspiration coming from a perusal of Baird’s “Rise of the Huguenots.”  It was first published as a serial in The English Illustrated Magazine.  It was then published in book form by Longmans, Green & Co...  The book was at once brilliantly successful, appearing in several English and American editions, was translated into French, and reprinted in the Tauchnitz Library.


     Mr. Weyman was born at Ludlow, Salop, in 1855, and is the son of Thomas Weyman, Solicitor and Coroner for the County of Shropshire.  He went to his first boarding-school when seven years old; at fifteen to Shrewsbury School, and to Oxford at nineteen years of age.  He took his degree of B.A. at Christ Church in 1875, and afterward was classical instructor in the King’s School, Chester, and then read for the bar, being called in 1881.  He went the Oxford circuit, and continued to practice until 1890. 


     In the autumn of 1885 he started for a year of wandering, often on foot and “without any Spanish,” through the south of France, the Pyrenees (where he was arrested by the French as a German spy), Spain, Morocco, and all the Barbary States.  In 1890 he visited Egypt, Italy, and Sicily, but (he says) “this time I had more money to spend, and was older, and I went the ways of other men.”  In his boyhood he had been a good walker, and at college he had won several long-distance races; so his foot-wandering came easily to him and he went in varied ways, minding men and customs.


     He has always been a voracious reader of lighter literature, beginning with Charlotte Bronte before he was twelve years old.  At about that age it was his delight to lie on the rug before the fire and read Chambers’ Journal, in the days when “Lost Sir Massingberd” and “The Family Scapegrace” appeared in it; and he got from it a vast quantity of miscellaneous information.  His father used to give him sixpence for each volume of Macaulay’s history that he read—he had the eight-volume edition.  But beyond the dates of the kings of England he says he knew little of history when he left school, where he had mastered these under the ferule.  And to this day, although he has a bad memory, he can recall his dates better than anything else.


     His first valuable literary connection was with The Cornhill in 1883, where was printed “King Pepin and Sweet Clive.”  In the same year, “The Story of a Courtship” appeared in The English Illustrated Magazine, then just started.  To these magazines he contributed, pretty regularly, sketches of the Trollope school.  In 1885, at the suggestion of James Payn, he wrote a long novel of the same order.  This was a failure, being declined by several publishers and finally destroyed by the author.  Speaking of this false step, Mr. Weyman says:  “By this experience I learned a great deal as to the value of incident and plot, and the danger of any divergence from the story, for the story is the thing.”  The main idea of this book he afterward used in “The New Rector,” published in 1891.


     In 1887, as noted above, he wrote “The House of the Wolf,” which gained him his first wide reputation.  This was followed by “Francis Cludde,” a story of Elizabeth’s day, with foreign scenes.  Next he spent a whole year upon “A Gentleman of France,” a book even better than “The House of the Wolf,” and which has been called the best historical novel written since Sir Walter published his masterpieces.  Much of the story of this book, and even some of its style, was derived from the well-know eighteenth century translation of an epitome of Sully’s Memoirs.  It was the author’s idea to make the gentleman the central and dominating figure in this book, and how well he has succeeded is attested by the strength of the fascination which keeps the reader’s allegiance unswerving from Gaston de Bonne through all his adventures undertaken for love of Mademoiselle de la Vire, while steel flashed up and down through France, and the King of Valois fell by the Jacobin’s dagger.  In this tale Mr. Weyman’s skill is shown in its fullest excellence.  The story rushes fast as the Leaguer’s horses.


     The author considers the history of France more picturesque than that of England; its scenes more dramatic and its characters full of romance.  He thinks that what he calls the best novels of the present school—“The Master of Ballantrae,”  “The Silver Spur,” and “Micah Clarke”—show a healthy reaction.  In particular Mr. Weyman is an enthusiastic admirer of Robert Louis Stevenson, and reads his books over and over again, along with “Pickwick,” “Quentin Durward,” “Martin Chuzzlewit,” Thackeray’s “Christmas Books,” “Lorna Doone,” and Henry Kingsley’s matchless “Recollections of Geoffrey Hamlyn.”  He likes to read “Vanity Fair,” “Pendennis,” and “Adam Bede,” but (he says) “I turn oftenest to cheerful books—to books in which my old friends marry well; for I think the scope of a novel is properly limited to providing sound, wholesome amusement.  The novelist should not strive either to preach or to prove, but merely to portray.”  Which shows he is a wise man as well as a brilliant writer.


From The Book Buyer, April, 1894


Prepared by Donna Rudin