James, George Payne
richelieu scott history
JAMES, GEORGE PAYNE Ruxsror,r) (1801-1860), English novelist, was born in George Street, Hanover Square, London, in 1801, and was educated at Greenwich and afterwards in France. He began to write early, and had, according to his own account, composed the stories afterwards published as A ,S"tiiny of Pearls before he was seventeen. Contributing plentifully to newspapers and magazines, he came under the notice of Washington Irving, who is said to have encouraged him to produce (in 1822) his Life of Edward the Black Prince. His next attempt was Richelieu, which was finished in 1825, and was well thought of by Sir Walter Scott (who apparently saw it in manuscript), but was not brought out till 1829. Perhaps Irving and Scott, from their natural amiability and invariable habit of encouraging literary aspirants, were rather dangerous advisers for a writer so well inclined by nature to abundant production as James. But he took up the ball of historical romance writing at a lucky moment. Scott had firmly established the popularity of the style, and James in England, like Dumas in France, reaped the reward of their masters' labours as well as of their own. For thirty years the author of Richelieu continued to pour out novels of the same kind though of varying merit. The full list of his works in prose fiction, verse narrative, and history of an easy kind includes between seventy and eighty items, most of them being three-volume novels of the usual length. The best examples of his style are perhaps Richelieu, 1829; Philip Augustus, 1831; Henry Jiastertote (probably the best of all), 1832; Mary of Burgundy, 1833 ; Darnley, 1839 ; Corse de L6on, 1841 ; The Smuggler, 1845. His poetry does not require special mention, nor does his history, though for a short time in the reign of. William IV. he held the office of historiographer royal. After writing vigorously in all these styles for about twenty years, James in 1850 went to America with his family. He was appointed consul at Richmond, Virginia, and held that post from 1852 to 1858. In September of the latter year he was appointed to a similar post at Venice, where he died May 9, 1860. - James has been compared to Dumas, and the comparison holds good in respect of kind, though by no means in respect of degree of merit. Both had a certain gift of separating from the picturesque parts of history what could without much difficulty be worked up into picturesque fiction, and both were possessed of a ready pen. Here, however, the likeness ends. Of purely literary talent James had little. His plots are poor, his descriptions weak, his dialogue often below even a fair average, and he was deplorably prone to repeat himself. His " two cavaliers" who in one form or another open most of his books have passed into a proverb, and Thackeray's good-natured but fatal parody of Barbazure is likely to outlast Richelieu and Darnley by many a year. Nevertheless, though James cannot be allowed any very high rank even among the second class of novelists, the generation that read him, and those chiefly youthful persons who read him now and will read him for some time to come so long as he is attainable on the bookstalls, are not wholly without excuse. He had a considerable portion of the narrative gift, and, though his very Rest books fall far below Les trois Jfons7uetceires and La Reine Jlargot, there is a certain even level of interest, such as it is, to be found in all of them. James never resorted to illegitimate methods to attract readers, and deserves such credit as may be due to a purveyor of amusement to the public who never caters for the less creditable tastes of his guests.