STANLEY J. WEYMAN

"Prince of Romance"

 

 

Admired by renowned authors such as Stevenson, Wilde, and Rafael Sabatini, Stanley John Weyman is today a forgotten literary giant of the late 19th century. While for years his best-selling historical romances enchanted thousands of readers, today his books are mostly neglected.

Stanley Weyman (pronounced Wyman) was the second of three sons born to solicitor Thomas Weyman and his wife Mary Maria Black on August 7, 1855, at 54 Broad Street, Ludlow, Shropshire.  He attended King Edward VI Grammar School, Shrewsbury School (after age 16) and obtained a second class degree in Modern History at Christ Church, Oxford in 1877.  As History Master at King's School, Chester, he served under his future brother-in-law, Rev'd. George Preston.

In Ludlow in 1879 he read for the Bar and was called in 1881, to begin a disappointing law career with Weyman, Weyman and Weyman, the family law firm.  He has been described as nervous, shy, short in height and a poor cross-examiner and was said to have angered a judge because of these shortcomings.  It is to our blessing that Weyman's law career was unsatisfactory.  As a result, he was able to devote his ample spare time to writing.  James Payn, editor of Cornhill Magazine, encouraged him to tackle larger literary works.  The House of the Wolf was serialized in the English Illustrated Magazine in 1888/89 and was published in 1890 after Weyman contacted literary agent, A. P. Watt. This first book received no less than six rejections by publishers.  Two additional books, The New Rector and The Story of Francis Cludde, were published in 1891 and these allowed him to become a full-time novelist.

Beginning his professional literary career in middle age, Weyman had a lifetime of experience to share including the insights gained from his extensive travels.  On one notable vacation in the south of France in 1886, for a "weakness in the lungs" in the company of his younger brother Arthur, both were arrested as spies for sketching and crossing the border into Spain.  They were detained for 24 hours until the British Ambassador helped them.

Experiences such as these are reflected in his novels.  Stanley Weyman was a man of few words but those that were given were meant to be savoured.  As an author, he had an uncanny way of using precisely the correct phrase.  With his eloquent and extraordinary use of language, he painted a vivid picture of life and human emotion.   His work is finely honed by a razor sharp mind that combines the skill of a great storyteller and an Oxford scholar's love of history.

Weyman's fame stands on the foundation of his historical, romantic fiction.  The 15 novels written between 1890 and 1904 are set amidst the turmoil of 16th and 17th century France. Weyman was one of the first authors to 'cast the romance of adventure' in the historical framework. He was able to resurrect the great heroes and bring them to life by his loving hand. This author claimed: "The graves of our heroes--the real heroes--move us; the doors through which the famous dead have passed are sacred to us."  Stanley Weyman regarded himself as fortunate that the timing of his early novels followed closely the popular historical fiction of Alexandre Dumas in France.

One of his most well known novels was A Gentleman of France, which describes the "grand climacteric of a man's life".  Forty-year-old M. de Marsac is in the process of losing his finances and gentleman status.  He has been forced to groom his own horse by cover of night and faces ridicule because of his tattered appearance when he goes before the court of Henry of Navarre seeking a commission.  Rewarded for his past valor and loyalty to France, M. de Marsac teaches others that the clothes in no way make the man and that a true gentleman can win the respect he so rightly deserves by initiative and courage.  These words play out until the final curtain "I had need of all the courage which religion and a campaigner's life could supply."  A silent film in 1921 was based on the novel.

Also well known in its time was Under the Red Robe, an extremely popular novel with several stage productions and movies (1923 and 1937) to its credit.  A duelist and gambler, Gil de Berault, is saved from the gallows by Cardinal Richelieu and sent on a mission to capture a Huguenot rebel causing trouble in the south of France.  M. de Berault falls in love, becoming a victim in his own web of deceit and discovers that life without honor is death.

Also worth noting are The Man in Black, a short and spellbinding Cinderella tale with a monkey, a cruel, crafty-eyed showman and the evil of the man in black, a charlatan and wizard.  This is a tale of corruption, abuse of the innocent and the complete destruction of evil by good.  One of the most imaginative and clever works by Weyman, it is a magnificent tale. Count Hannibal is a fine example of clever manipulation by the author of the complex main character, who will inspire both awe and loathing in the reader. The horrific time of St. Bartholomew's Day is courageously faced by the ruthless Count Hannibal as he saves the beautiful and brave femme fatal from both martyrdom and her less than honorable fiancée.  The final cost is her love and loyal devotion.

The Long Night, copyrighted in 1903, was one of the author's favourite works. Although it concerned a topic that many of his readers were unfamiliar with; Weyman felt that he had properly balanced the historical background (the night attack of Roman Catholic Savoy on the Protestant Free City of Geneva) and the drama of the fiction. Weyman earned a special commendation from the municipal authorities of Geneva as a tribute for his detailed historical accuracy. It was in the form of an illuminated scroll written in French and signed by leading citizens and members of the University. He also was presented with a bronze statuette of Calvin, the French Protestant Theologian.

Several collections of Weyman's short stories (most written prior to the novels) were published.  They represent the fine historical fiction that his readership loved and another format that so well describes daily English life.  For the Cause, The King's Stratagem and In Kings' Byways contain complex historical vignettes set in 16th and 17th century France.  The dedication in Laid Up in Lavender leads one to believe that the author especially loved this group of short stories, perhaps because they represent his earliest attempts at writing.  Weyman's short stories resemble poetry in form because they are highly structured and condensed.  They contain profound thought with regard to social and political issues.

Weyman was married to Charlotte Kate Eliza Panting, daughter of Rev'd. Richard Panting (former head of Shrewsbury School) on August 1st, 1895 at Great Fransham, Norfolk. They went to live at Plas Llanrhydd, also known as Llanrhydd Hall, built in 1620, near Ruthin, North Wales. Weyman is quoted as saying he was going to "grow books and cows, the former for profit and the latter for pleasure".  True to his word, he wrote approximately 1000 words a day. He also enjoyed horse-riding and cycling.  The Weymans were happily married for 33 years, and I believe a loving tribute to his wife is recorded in his last novel published posthumously in 1928, The Lively Peggy, with the characters Sir Albery Wyke and Charlotte Bicester.

"Then, I'm only 'plain Charlotte', she added wildly.  "Never plain to me", he said; "but the woman I love and desire, Charlotte; the woman I want to be my companion, my wife and the mother of my children.  Never plain to me, since the day that you stopped me on the road in the kindness of your heart--and I had the first inkling of what you were."

Equally wonderful are the Weyman novels and short stories, written in the tradition of Anthony Trollope, that describe daily English life.  He published such fiction early in his career and after 1904 exclusively.  These romances were well received by critics but were generally disappointing to his readership who wanted the "swashbuckling" novels.  These works contain social and political viewpoints as to class and conscience, religion, politics and individual honor.

There are two novels that were written by Stanley Weyman as last novels.  He wanted to quit while "playing to a full house" in 1908 with the publication of The Wild Geese. In a preface essay for a collection of his entire works published by Smith, Elder & Co. in 1911, Weyman states: "But by and by, with youth and energy behind him, he will begin to discover that he has done his best. He may possess greater skill--experience is a powerful helper--but the freshness of fancy is past, the well of imagination sinks low, the pen flags. Then, if he be wise, and necessity do not drive, he will own that the world belongs to the young--if not in years, in art--and he will withdraw from that rivalry with himself which can now have but one ending."  These novels clearly hint at this finality, with the force of the plot directed toward the author's main theme, the importance of individual honor.  In The Wild Geese, Colonel John Sullivan, exemplifies the best that man can be.….brave, strong, steadfast and preferring death with honor than life without courage.  Again in The Lively Peggy, Captain Charles Bligh, risks his life to redeem his honor and prove his worthiness.

After World War I, Stanley Weyman decided to come out of retirement and continue writing. In 1919 he tested public opinion by writing a book Madam Constantia under the pseudonym of Jefferson Carter. It was a success and confirmed his popularity. He continued his authorship under his own name.

During his retirement, Weyman became involved in civic and legal affairs.  He was a churchwarden and parish councilor at St. Meugans, Llanrhydd, where he read the lesson for many years.  He was Governor of Ruthin School and of Howell's School, Denbigh.  A fellow Governor, Dr. A. G. Edwards, first Archbishop of Wales, officiated at his funeral in 1928 after his death on April 10.  He is buried just opposite his beloved home, Plas Llanrhydd, at St. Meugans cemetery.

On August 7th 1955, the hundredth anniversary of his birth, his nephew, Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Weyman, erected a memorial. Located beneath a window on the south side of Llanrhydd Church and close to the pew where Weyman used to sit, it is in the form of a large open book constructed out of Broughton Moor sea green stone with an illuminated script picked out in gold and silver, 'To The Glory of God and In memory of Stanley John Weyman, Author'. This rests on two smaller books of Portland stone. These smaller books are replicas of two early novels. One shows in green the head of a wolf and the other shows a bookmarker in red in the form of a Cardinal's robe. The supporting ledge is of Purbeck marble.

In the Weyman novels you will meet the man who lived and wrote about an honorable life, fully aware of the human pitfalls and weakness of man.  He was the "Prince of Romance" that "never grew up" and he cherished his youthful imagination.  His marvellous stories are "pleasant fables" that demonstrate how courage and love will triumph over adversity.

A Checklist of Stanley Weyman's books

House of the Wolf 1890

The Story of Francis Cludde 1891

The New Rector 1891

The Kings Stratagem 1891

A Gentleman of France 1893

From the Memoirs of a Minister of France 1893

Under the Red Robe 1894

My Lady Rotha 1894

The Man in Black 1894

The Red Cockade 1895

A Little Wizard 1895

For The Cause 1897

Shrewsbury 1897

Castle Inn 1898

Sophia 1900

Count Hannibal 1901

In Kings' Byways 1902

The Long Night 1903

Abbess of Vlaye 1904

Starvecrow Farm 1905

Chippinge 1906

Laid Up in Lavender 1907

The Wild Geese 1908

Madam Constantia 1919 edited by Jefferson Carter

The Great House 1919

Ovington's Bank 1922

Traveller in the Fur Cloak 1924

Queen's Folly 1925

The Lively Peggy 1928

 

Donna Dightman Rudin

email: nova2001@pacbell.net

Copyright © March 21, 2001

References:

"Stanley John Weyman, Novelist and Man of Letters", John Williams, Rhuthun Local History Broadsheet, Issue No. 38 June 1994.

"Dictionary of Literary Biography", DLB articles by Carol Anita Tarr, James R. Simmons Jr., Volumes 139 and 141, A Bruccoli Clark Layman Book, Gale Research Inc., 1996.

 

 

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