George John Whyte-Melville
From Classic Encyclopedia 1911
GEORGE JOHN WHYTE-MELVILLE (1821-1878), Scottish novelist, son of John Whyte-Melville of Strathkinness, Fifeshire, and grandson on his mother's side of the 5th duke of Leeds, was born on the 19th of June 1821. Whyte-Melville received his education at Eton, entered the army in 1839, became captain in the Coldstream Guards in 1846 and retired in 1849. After translating Horace (1850) in fluent and graceful verse, he published his first novel, Digby Grand, in 1853. The unflagging verve and intimate technical knowledge with which he described sporting scenes and sporting characters at once drew attention to him as a novelist with a new vein. He was the laureate of fox-hunting; all his most popular and distinctive heroes and heroines, Digby Grand, Tilbury Nogo, the Honourable Crasher, Mr Sawyer, Kate Coventry, Mrs Lascelles, are or would be mighty hunters. Tilbury Nogo was contributed to the Sporting Magazine in 1853 and published separately in 1854. He showed in the adventures of Mr Nogo - and it became more apparent in his later works - that he had a surer hand in humorous narrative than in pathetic description; his pathos is the pathos of the preacher. His next novel, General Bounce, appeared in Fraser's Magazine (1854). When the Crimean War broke out Whyte-Melville went out as a volunteer major of Turkish irregular cavalry; but this was the only break in his literary career from the time that he began to write novels till his death. By a strange accident, he lost his life in the hunting-field on the 5th of December 1878, the hero of many a stiff ride meeting his fate in galloping quietly over an ordinary ploughed field in the Vale of the White Horse.
Twenty-one novels appeared from his pen after his return from the Crimea : - Kate Coventry (1856); The Interpreter (1858); Holmby House (1860); Good for Nothing (1861); Market Harborough (1861); The Queen's Maries (1862); The Gladiators (1863); Brookes of Bridlemere (1864); Cerise (1866); Bones and I (1868); The White Rose (1868); M or N (1869); Contraband (1870); Sarchedon (1871); Satanella (1873); Uncle John (1874); Sister Louise (1875); Katerfelto (1875); Rosine (1875); Roy's Wife (1878); Black but Comely (1878). Several of these novels are historical, The Gladiators being perhaps the most famous of them. As an historical novelist WhyteMelville is not equal to Harrison Ainsworth in painstaking accuracy and minuteness of detail; but he makes his characters live and move with great vividness. It is on his portraiture of contemporary sporting society that his reputation as a novelist must rest; and, though now and then a character reappears, such as the supercilious studgroom, the dark and wary steeple-chaser, or the fascinating sporting widow, his variety in the invention of incidents is amazing. WhyteMelville was not merely the annalist of sporting society for his generation, but may also be fairly described as the principal moralist of that society; he exerted a considerable and a wholesome influence on the manners and morals of the gilded youth of his time. His Songs and Verses (1869) and his metrical Legend of the True Cross (1873), though respectable in point of versification, are of no particular merit.