Wednesday, 12 August 2020

"The great work of diffusing Anglo-Saxon energy throughout the globe..."; Captain Mayne Reid (1818-1883) Kensal Green Cemetery

THE Wild West fiction of Captain Mayne Reid (1818–1883), translated and simplified, was tremendously popular with Russian children at the beginning of this century, long after his American fame had faded. Knowing English, I could savor his Headless Horseman in the unabridged original. Two friends swap clothes, hats, mounts, and the wrong man gets murdered—this is the main whorl of its intricate plot. The edition I had (possibly a British one) remains in the stacks of my memory as a puffy book bound in red cloth, with a watery-gray frontispiece, the gloss of which had been gauzed over when the book was new by a leaf of tissue paper. I see this leaf as it disintegrated—at first folded improperly, then torn off—but the frontispiece itself, which no doubt depicted Louise Pointdexter’s unfortunate brother (and perhaps a coyote or two, unless I am thinking of The Death Shot, another Mayne Reid tale), has been so long exposed to the blaze of my imagination that it is now completely bleached (but miraculously replaced by the real thing, as I noted when translating this chapter into Russian in the spring of 1953, and namely, by the view from a ranch you and I rented that year: a cactus-and-yucca waste whence came that morning the plaintive call of a quail—Gambel’s Quail, I believe—overwhelming me with a sense of undeserved attainments and rewards).

Vladimir Nabokov ‘Speak Memory’ Chapter 10

DEATH OF CAPTAIN MAYNE REID. The death of Captain Mayne Reid is not the premature end of a career, for the literary activity of the author of the " Scalp Hunters " practically ceased some years ago. It is no discredit to a man to say that at the age of 67 he has written himself out. Though a cripple, Captain Mayne Reid was a familiar figure in one of the numerous local Parliaments in London, and, in spite of his infirmity, he did not look like a man who had nearly reached the end of the allotted span of existence. Captain Mayne Reid must have enjoyed the satisfaction of knowing that though his hand had lost its cunning, and he was no longer able to weave stories of breathless adventure as successfully as of old, his early books were still precious to the schoolboy. Few writers have made a more vivid impression on the juvenile mind, and there can be little doubt that to Captain Mayne Reid's novels many a man owes the impulse which led him as a lad to seek a life of adventure beyond the seas, and to take his share in the great work of diffusing Anglo-Saxon energy throughout the globe. It cannot, of course, be said that Captain Mayne Reid was gifted with brilliant imagination or with great literary power.

South London Chronicle - Saturday 27 October 1883

DEATH OF CAPTAIN MAYNE REID. Captain Mayne Reid, the well-known novelist, died at a late hour on Monday, at his residence, Maida Vale. He had been ailing for the last two years, and was in his sixty-seventh year, but died in harness, having half completed a new work. Men of the Time says that Capt. Mayne Reid was a native of the North of Ireland, and paternally descended from one of the pioneers of the Ulster Plantations." He was born in 1818, and educated for the Established Church. A taste for travel and adventure induced him, in 1838, to set out for Mexico, without any very definite aim. On arriving in New Orleans, he went on two excursions up the Red River, trading and hunting in company with the Indians, and afterwards made other excursions up the Missouri and on the prairies, where he remained for nearly five years. He afterwards travelled through almost every State in the Union, and these journeys, with his previous experience in the backwoods, acquired that knowledge of character and incident displayed his writings. In 1845, when war was declared between the United States and Mexico, Mayne Reid, who had devoted himself to literature, obtained commission in the United States' army. He was present at the siege and capture of Vera Cruz, and took active part in various encounters, led the last charge of infantry at Churubusco, and the forlorn hope at the assault Chapultepec, where he was shot down and reported to be killed. For his gallantry at Chapultepec Captain Reid was honourably mentioned in the despatches. At the close of the Mexican war he resigned his commission, and 1849 organised a body of men in New York to proceed to Hungary, to aid in the struggle of that country for independence. On reaching Paris he received the news of the total failure of the Hungarian insurrection. Captain Reid repaired to London, where he once more devoted himself to literature.

Manchester Evening News - Wednesday 24 October 1883

What manner of man Mayne Reid was, the following sketch of his career will show. Mayne Reid, the son of a Presbyterian minister, was born in the north of Ireland in 1818, and died in London in 1883. His father naturally desired that his eldest son should become a minister like himself; but it was found that the young man's inclinations were altogether opposed to this calling. He yearned to travel; and when the opportunity of visiting America came, it was "without a sigh that he beheld the hills of his native land sink behind the black waves, not much caring whether he ever saw them again." In America Mayne Reid had the most varied experiences. He encountered bears and buffaloes on the prairies; he met Indians on the war path with their trophies of scalps; he trapped, he hunted, he rode. Moreover, he kept store, drove niggers, and taught a school. Then be drifted into journalism, which he gave up in order that he might join the army. He obtained a commission in the New York Volunteers, the first regiment raised in New York for the Mexican War, and in December, 1846, sailed for Vera Cruz.

Pall Mall Gazette - Thursday 17 July 1890

No man could have been better qualified to recount thrilling adventures in America in the days when Indian warfare was a more serious business than it is now. Captain Mayne Reid began life by roving about Texas with his life in his hand, and that hand against every Mexican he met. His contempt for Mexicans, who were contemptuously called "Greasers", is vigorously expressed in several of his books.

South London Chronicle - Saturday 27 October 1883

Before the war was over, Mayne Reid was reported to have died of his wounds. "Gone!" exclaimed a young poetess of Ohio, in some verses written and recited at the time:-

Gone to his dreamless sleep;
And spirits of the brave,
Watching o'er his lone grave,

But Mayne Reid hadn't gone. He stayed in the City of Mexico, and made love to the fair Mexican ladies, by whom he was called "Don Juan de Tenoris." He must have been a captivating young gentleman, or an American journalist (one of those gentlemen who eschew exaggeration) would not have described him as a "mixture of Adonis and the Apollo Belvedere with a dash of the Centaur."

Pall Mall Gazette - Thursday 17 July 1890

THE CAPTAIN AND HIS CHILD WIFE. We cannot conclude this notice of Mrs. Reid's book without making some reference to Captain Mayne Reid’s "child wife " - that is, to herself. She was not more than fifteen when she married. Reid met her at an aunt's house, and, although she was scarcely thirteen, he fell in love with her at first sight. She resembled the Zoe of his "Scalp Hunters," he said. But " Zoe” did not take kindly to the "middle-aged gentleman" as she called him, and it was two years before they were married. "Her aunt was greatly astonished at hearing the news of the marriage, as she was daily expecting her niece's arrival en route for school." In fact, Mrs. Reid was generally thought by strangers to be the captain's daughter.
Pall Mall Gazette - Thursday 17 July 1890

'Osceola the Seminole' comes to a harrowing end in Mayne Reid's book

CAPTAIN MAYNE REID. The Times cannot take Captain Mayne Reid seriously as a novelist. His books will hardly live, even among the favourites of schoolboys; and if they do, it will be rather as fairy tales than as literature. There is a vast difference, for example, between his work and that of Fenimore Cooper, with whom it is natural to compare him.… We do not ask for this kind of work in Mayne Reid. Look to him neither for character nor for nature, nor for imagination in the strict sense of the term; but only for a kind of barbarous invention, and for a power of painting in coarse, effective colours, like the colours of a scene-painter, the deeds of savage heroes, bad and good. When he tried to write a novel of a sober kind the attempt was a ludicrous failure; the measure of his powers was reached when he had described his Spanish Indians, their loves and hates, their wild lives and violent deaths in the forest or on the prairie. Of his class of writers, he was certainly the best; and those who have read him as boys will not allow their maturer critical judgment to condemn him altogether.
St James's Gazette - Wednesday 24 October 1883

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