‘THE BUSIEST MAN IN ENGLAND: GRANT ALLEN’: Book Part 1

During the summer busy journalists like Eliza Lynn Linton took cottages for rest and recreation. Of all the calamities that might crush the professional writer, incapacitating illness was one of the most dreadful. The career of Richard Jefferies, a naturalist, novelist and countryman who was born the same year as Allen, is a reminder of this. Jefferies had an even shorter life, but while it lasted his career and Allen’s marched alongside each other.

He certainly made his son read Herbert Spencer. And, like several Victorian atheists, Grant Allen acquired a knowledge of the Bible that would have shamed many a divine; he quotes from it more than from any other work. On the other hand, he said once that he had no problem giving his villains an occupation, because he made them all clergymen. The converse is certainly true. He made most of the clerics in his fiction hypocrites, trimmers, time-servers, fanatics, arsonists or murderous psychopaths.

When Allen was born the population of Wolfe Island was only about 1300, nearly all of them tenant farmers, but in the years when he was growing up the community was expanding and prospering. By the time he left Canada, the population had almost tripled and a canal had been dug across the island to improve transport with the American side of the St Lawrence. So during the young Allen’s rather idyllic childhood the island where he wandered at large was undergoing an invasion of eager farmers intent on turning the wilderness into cropland. Perhaps his observation of this process stands behind his later denunciations of the philistine habits of the North American farmer.

Certainly the family home in Broad Street, in the centre of the town, must have been congenial enough for the Oxonian brothers-in-law, because both the Allen and Richards families spent a good deal of time there. Allen loved the Lyme area and wrote a good deal about its topography and remarkable palaeontology. Such an eager anticipation of a regime of communistic puritanism would seem odd in almost any young man.

It was fiercely loyal to the British Crown. It was already home to what would become one of the great Canadian educational institutions, Queen’s University. No doubt whatever intellectual stimulation Kingston offered at the time centred on that college, to which Joseph Allen was briefly affiliated. But Kingston had another very different side to it. After 1847 the Orangemen were joined by tens of thousands of poverty-stricken Irish Catholic refugees fleeing the Potato Famine.

There are worse intrusions than being called too early to a meal whose preparation had been undertaken, like all the other domestic tasks of Allen’s well-conducted household, by several resident servants who looked after a family of three. Grant Allen suffers from ill-health for all of his life and is a semi-invalid for some of it.

At the time of Allen’s birth the Grants owned about a third of the island, or around 4500 hectares, of which a small portion was cultivated. The presence of the Martello towers and the grim Fort Henry are reminders that Kingston is an ex-garrison town, founded by refugees from the American Revolution and afterwards settled by Irish Protestant immigrants.

‘There is absolutely no reason — no moral reason — why you should not publish it’, he told Lane. ‘It merely deals with the conscientious scruples of a woman regarding marriage, and England being a free country we are free to consider marriage as an evil or as a blessing. The book is as superficial in thought as it is in style. At the same time it cannot be denied that there is a certain amount of “go” in the book and it was read with some interest. It carried one on like a newspaper article.

  • And although he did work of more lasting value than Allen in folklore and anthropology, his range of interests were narrow.
  • He thought the book would rivet its readership and would, in due course, make a good play.
  • The most comparable name that comes to mind at once is Allen’s colleague and sparring-partner Andrew Lang (1844-1912).
  • ] The pompous sub-title to the collection, Reminiscences of Excursions round the Base of Helicon, Undertaken for the Most Part in Early Manhood is a typical piece of mock self-disparagement.
  • Meredith’s Lord Ormont and His Aminta (1894) was criticized rather severely but not on moral grounds, even though its subject is adultery sympathetically treated.
  • The whites were a mixed bag, the main constituents being the British, some Jews from Portugal and Spain, and French refugees.

There was more severe condemnation, some of it very nasty, and its effect on Hardy himself is notorious; but neither Hardy nor his publisher incurred the displeasure of the law. At the time, however, Allen took Chatto’s advice and put it aside. He tried no other publisher.

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He certainly intended them to prefigure and amplify the purpose of the forthcoming The Woman Who Did, as we shall see. Two of Lane’s readers for The Woman Who Did were Richard Le Gallienne and George Moore.

The typical John Bull! pig-headed, ignorant, brutal.

Jefferies’ only regular resource at the start was a weekly column in a trade magazine, the Livestock Journal, but he eventually wrote some 450 essays and articles, which was an impressive total considering that he never saw his fortieth birthday. He contributed nature essays to the Pall Mall Gazette in 1877-80, and then collected them into books — The Gamekeeper at Home (1878), The Amateur Poacher (1879) and Round About a Great Estate (1880) — which is just the same course that Allen followed slightly later. Indeed, Allen’s own articles for the Pall Mall Gazette occupied the same physical space in the newspaper where Jefferies had left off.

His wife Patience was a milliner. We guess that Thomas Jerrard was in a prosperous line of business and could afford to raise his daughters as ladies, since two of them were found acceptable in Oxford’s academic society.

Other characters include Lady Hilda Tregellis, a bold and bored young aristocrat eager to marry someone ‘different’, and Arthur Berkeley, a composer of comic operas and the first in the long line of Allen’s self-sacrificing heroes who decorously love another man’s wife from afar. By the time this withering exercise was written Allen’s touchstone of scenic and architectural excellence had become Italy. But his love affair with rural England came first; and now, as his freelancing life got under way, he had the chance to consummate it and escape London for good. The family lived first in Hastings and Lyme and then in 1881 they shifted to the small market town of Dorking, in Surrey.

It was a private matter, but it had serious public consequences. On the last day of September 1868, at Holy Trinity Church, Brompton, West London, he got married. part of the Allen family began one of those leisurely tours of Europe, their duration measured in years rather than months, which were such an attractive feature of upper class life of the time.

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