JEFFERY FARNOL, whose books have charmed so many readers
in both hemispheres, has been the means of inspiring the
following quaint eulogy, which is worthy of reproduction:
BY WALT MASON.
"Blithe teller of gay sunny tales,
Of open roads and rural vales,
Long may you by the fireside stay
And charm the winter hours away !
I love your tinkers and your churls,
Your vagrants and your rosy girls;
The atmosphere of farm and wold,
And woodlands flecked with autumn gold,
And wayside inns and village chimes,
And customs of die old dead times.
And when beside the inglenook,
I take again your cheery book,
I know I'll find no dismal page,
Concerning problems of the age;
No dismal message of despair,
No dreary ' purpose ' lingers there;
No analyst discusses crimes,
Or brooding evils of the times.
You do not pose and try to teach;
Your characters don't always preach;
No uplift bores explain their dreams,
Or rant awhile on vital themes.
You leave the sordid world behind,
And take us from the beastly grind,
To rolling downs and rippling rills,
And sighing woods and verdant hills,
Where pansies pan and zephyrs zeph,
And you're a peachinero, Jeff !"
A FEW YEARS before "grim visaged war" had
substituted stark reality for the weaving of romances,
and had changed our merry meetings to stern
alarums, the writer of this brief account of the
career of a famous novelist walked from an office in Warwick
Lane, to the British Museum, with Jeffery Farnol, who had
arrived recently in this country, from America; and who had
asked to have revealed to him, by what magic a man, sitting
under the great dome of the Reading Room there, surrounded
by four million books, can cause the volume he needs, to he
deposited before him upon the table. I had volunteered to
explain this mystery; and we threaded our way, upon a winter
afternoon, along Newgate Street, Holborn, and New Oxford
Street, as crowded almost with the fantastic folk of Dickens, as
with actual men and women; a region memorable and
impressive also, as the scene of the death of Chatterton.
"And long since then, of bloody men,
Through this tract of London we passed, unnoticed and
unnoticeable; and often have I thought since, that if anyone
had known what fame my companion was to achieve, there
would have been many amongst that hurrying crowd who
would have bestowed a glance upon him, as we sauntered along;
but he did not know; I did not know; nobody knew; and so
Jeffery Farnol went past Mudie's shop, at the cornet of Oxford
Street, and Museum Street, without any thought that in the
years that were to follow, his own books would hold their own
with the " best sellers " in these alluring windows.
It is a far cry from Oxford Street, the " stony-hearted stepmother "
of De Quincey, to the place of our author's " kindly engendure,"
in the Six Ways region of Birmingham, where Jeffery Farnol was born
on February 10th, 1878; and many stages had to be passed from Jeffery
Farnol, lying in his cradle in Warwickshire, to Jeffery Farnol at the
portal of the British Museum; and, also, upon the threshold of his success
Our romantics are not necessarily born in romantic surroundings;
and Birmingham no more suggests " The Broad Highway " than the undistinguished
little house at Portsea foreshadows " David Copperfield;" or Maiden Lane,
Covent Garden, leads necessarily to Turner's " Temeraire "; but we need
not forget that in more picturesque days, a very lovable old landscape
painter, David Cox, was born in Birmingham; and Burne-Jones, too, least
prosaic of artists, a man " of imagination all compact," with no hint of
brass or steel in his composition.
Dickens found amongst the belongings of his father, the works of Smollet,
Fielding, Cervantes, Le Sage, Defoe, and Goldsmith; with " The Spectator,"
" The Tatler," " The Idler," " The Citizen of the World," and Mrs. Inchbold's
farces; so that his memory was stored with the recollections of Partridge,
Strap, Tom Pipes, and Sancho Panza; but Jeffery Farnol was admitted to the
freedom of the republic of letters in another way.
The elder Mr. Farnol had adopted the very commendable practice of reading
entertaining stories to Mrs. Farnol, as she sat by the fireside sewing, when
their two boys, Jeffery, at that time eight years of age, and his younger brother,
Ewart, killed afterwards in the Boer War, had been sent to bed; and were supposed,
by a fiction which obtained in the sanguine minds of their parents, to be at that
time fast asleep. So far was this from being the truth, that the boys were sitting
in their night-shirts, " upon the shores of old romance," in this instance a spot that lay just
outside the parlour door, listening eagerly to every word they could catch from
the treasures of Fenimore Cooper, Scott, Dickens, Thackeray, Dumas, and other
writers. One of the books was " The Count of Monte Cristo," and we may recall
that Robert Louis Stevenson, writing of this work, says that the early part,
" down to the finding of the treasure, is a piece of perfect story-telling; the
man never breathed who shared these moving incidents without a tremor," and
Stevenson adds, " I saw the other day, with envy, an old and a very clever
lady setting forth on a second or third voyage into Monte Cristo."
Thus we may be sure that the Farnol boys had thrilling times; and on one occasion,
so absorbed were they in the story, that the need for silence was forgotten; and
the air was rent with a ringing sneeze, which brought the father to the door;
but, sensible man that he was, he recognised, not only the humour of the incident,
but also the good sense revealed by the boys in taking all the romance they could
find; and the result was that they were allowed afterwards to attend the readings
for an hour each evening. Looking back over his life, after his fame had been
established, Jeffery Farnol could feel that these readings had a powerful influence
upon him; for the books were well chosen; and his father was a good reader. "
I can never he grateful enough to my father," wrote Jeffery Farnol, many years
afterwards, " for those long, delightful hours when he, an excellent reader,
varying his voice as the characters required, made the stories live for us."
At a later time, acting upon the advice of his good friend, Mr. Shirley Byron Jevons,
Jeffery Farnol read Sterne; an thereafter counted the author of " Tristram Shandy "
among his favourites; and another hint from Mr. Jevons sent Jeffery Farnol to the
writers of the Queen Anne period also; and adopting a further suggestion from
the same quarter he read Congreave.
Farnol's love for books owed much to his father;
and yet, later in life it was his father who warned him that though he might derive
much pleasure from reading, indulgence of this kind might prevent him from applying
himself to pursuits upon which depended his daily bread. In his early attempts to
write stories, it seemed as though Jeffery Farnol were frittering away the time that
ought to have been given to other activities; though his mother always encouraged
him to compose tales; and she played her part in bringing about the great victory
that he scored with " The Broad Highway."
People who have survived from the Victorian era, may recall that in the old
Christmas numbers; and in other publications, a series of short stories would
be strung together by supposing a dormitory at a boarding school; and each
night one of the boys told a story to the others. In actual life this would
not be possible; because very few boys can tell a story; but Jeffery Farnol
himself could have kept a dormitory supplied with tales from the beginning
of a term to the end; and even when he was no more than ten or twelve years
of age, he could entertain his companions with far-fetched yarns of marvellous escapades.
Whose deeds tradition saves;
Of lonely folk cut off unseen,
And hid in sudden graves;
Of horrid stabs, in groves forlorn,
And murders done in caves."
Some of Jeffery Farnol's early recollections of Birmingham are interesting.
People who are old enough to recall the late 'sixties and the early 'seventies
of the nineteenth century, may remember the appearance of a primitive form of the bicycle, known then as the
velocipede. It had two wheels, of equal size, made of wood; and bound and protected
by iron tyres. There was no chain; but pedals worked directly upon the axle of the
front wheel. Such a velocipede rode Jeffery Farnol's father, who infected his son
with a love for cycling, and cricket, and other games; and, with his father,
and the vicar and curate of the church of St. Mathias, the Rev. Mr. Haslam and
the Rev. Mr. Hasluck, who engaged in most outdoor pastimes, Jeffery Farnol
Mr. Shirlcy Byron Jevons, who knew Jeffery Farnol's mother and father, and maternal
grandmother, became acquainted with Farnol himself when the boy was about eight years
of age; and he remembers him as sturdy and thick-set, dark haired, and inclined to
swarthiness. He had a lively interest in the usual boyish pleasures and occupations,
a healthy little animal; but with many of the traits that distinguish human beings
from other animals, including a warm attachment to his younger brother Ewart, whose
fate it was to be slain in the Boer War.
When Jeffery Farnol was about thirteen years of age, Mr. Jevons became acquainted
with him again; but not yet had anyone discerned the famous author in the schoolboy,
any more than his friends had detected our leading novelist in the little Charles
Dickens, sticking labels upon blacking bottles. Jeffery Farnol was high spirited;
as eager- in his quest for information as Rosa Dartle; but " with a difference ";
and haunted with the notion that he was young; and less well-informed than he ought
to be. There were traits in him that arc certainly not the outstanding features of
a later generation of boys. He was naturally polite and considerate; and these
engaging qualities were encouraged and confirmed by the influence of a wise and
devoted mother. Even at this early period, Jeffery Farnol's preoccupation with books
was unmistakable; and he was never tired of discussing literary topics.
When Jeffery Farnol was ten years of age, the family moved from Birmingham to London,
a fortunate chance for one destined to be an author; because it is not given to a
provincial town of iron puddlers, and brass casters, to afford that intellectual
stimulus that can be aroused by such an abounding place as the city of London; and
we have only to recall how much the intellect of Dickens was roused and enriched
by his sojourn in London, to understand the power of this teeming city.
Anyone who wishes " to go to the dogs " will find every facility for doing so in
London; but sometimes it is not sufficiently remembered that in no other centre
in the King's realm is there so much assistance for those who desire to live an
intellectual life as may he found in London.
It was during this period, too, that Jeffery Farnol spent a few years at Lee,
whence he could explore Kent, a county less under the influence of London at that
time than it is today, when the ancient peace of this tract of England is invaded
by an increase of railway travellers; and by motor car traffic. The Kent of
Jeffery Farnol is that which we knew before motor cars had been invented, the
Kent of Pennell's " A Canterbury Pilgrimage "; and of countless other romantic
artists and writers, since the days of Chaucer. It would be easy to overrate
its significance; and yet we like to think that Jeffery Farnol was born in
Shakespeare's county; and that he spent some of his most impressionable years
in the county that includes Gads Hill, where Shakespeare and Dickens meet, the
county that Dickens loved above all other counties, as innumerable references
in his writings show; and the county in which his crowded life came to an end.
Small wonder that Jeffery Farnol's first book, and the one that heralded
his entry into his kingdom should be a story of Kent.
photo Mr. And Mrs. Farnol on the
Verandah of their beautiful
Home near Brighton.
photo Another photograph of Mr.
Farnol with " Wog"
In Farnol's stories, as in those of George Borrow, we have much glorification of
fisticuffs; and many hard-won encounters like the memorable struggle between
Borrow and the Flaming Tinman; or that combat described for all time by Hazlitt
between Bill Neate and the Gas-man. " Dear to the English heart is a fair
stand-up fight," notes Ernerson, in taking stock of our manners and customs;
and he detects " a readiness for a set to in the streets, delightful to the
English of all classes." The conversations that he overheard amongst the
costermongers of London included such bellicose utterances as, " We must
work our fists well; we are all handy with our fists "; and Jeffery Farnol's
description of fights were not merely academical exercises; 'for he had fought
many fights before be essayed to describe one; and John Fry might have given
the same advice to Jeffery Farnol that he gave to Jan Ridd, in " Lorna Doone,"
when Ridd asked if he should fight Robin Snell, " Chraist's will be done;
I zim thee had better faight, Jan . . there be a dale of faighting avore thee.
Best wai to begin guide taime laike and later, when all was ready for the combat,
" The Lord be with thee, Jan, and turn thy thumb-knuckle inwards."
There was " a dale of faighting avore " Jeffery Farnol; and an American
writer says, " There is a story, reputed to be on good authority, which
is illuminative of this small-boy phase of Farnol's existence. Although
lacking in stature, he was a plucky lad with his fists, and so, when be
and his brother Ewart got it into their heads that, they were not likely
to be treated with proper respect by their school chums until they made
their real worth known, they decided to pick a few quarrels with boys a bit
heavier and bigger than themselves. Being short, quick and decisive, they
emerged from their encounters so successfully that they won the respect
they had estimated was their due."
Farnol's fighting days were not over when he left school;
for his father, as the way of fathers is, growing nervous about his
preoccupation with what seemed to be no more than the idle
pastime of story writing; and fearing that something more
utilitarian was needed for the making of a living, packed him
off to Birmingham again, to a firm of engineers and brass
founders, where, without being apprenticed, he was attached
to the tool-making staff, in the hope that he would become
absorbed in lathes, and wheels, and pistons, amongst the grimy
denizens of mirky workshops, rather than in mellow Elizabethan
halls, in wooded parks, that lie under unpolluted skies, far from
the madding crowd.
In this rough, crude world in which he worked at the bench,
tool-making and screw-cutting, his pugnacity stood him in
better stead than his romantic bias; and soon he was engaged
again in a series of dogged fights.
Even amidst the uninspiring gear of the workshop, Jeffery
Farnol continued to spin legends and to make sketches, and in
the dinner hour it was not an uncommon sight to see him in the
centre of a captivated auditory; moreover, the portraits of
some of the listeners found their way into his sketch books.
One of the baser sort of workman suggested that Jeffery Farnol's
occupations indicated a lack of manliness; and he contrasted
this sketching and tale telling with the feat of a former workman
, who had climbed the inside of the works chimney, which towered
one hundred and twenty feet above their heads. Jeffery Farnol laid
a number of bets, amounting to two shillings, all told, that he, also,
would climb the chimney; and he did, leaving his handkerchief to
flutter in the breezes upon the summit, to testify that he, too, had been there.
Coming down proved to be worse than going up; for, snatching a
glimpse of the sky, lie had his eyes filled with soot;
and so he reached the bottom blind, and sick with pain, to find profounder
depths of blackguardism than he had ever suspected; knavery fouler and
blacker than the soot in the chimney; for the men refused to pay their bets;
and a fight following, Jeffery Farnol, exhausted by his recent journey
up the chimney and back, was worsted; but was gloriously right upon
all the points at issue; and, despite his fatigue, refused to give his opponent
an easy victory.
On one day, Jeffery Farnol fought a man three times; and
though he was badly beaten and battered during the two first
struggles, in the end he conquered. It was this fighting that
brought his career as an engineer to a close. A foreman called
him a liar, whereupon Jeffery knocked him down; and though,
to the student of logic, this method of proving that you speak the truth
habitually may not he impeccable; yet, in the rough and tumble of a
workshop, in an establishment not counted academical, the method
serves well enough; but as the foreman's head struck a piece of iron,
and he became unconscious, serious views were taken of the incident;
and Jeffery Farnol was dismissed, and was returned to his parents in
London. He had left his mark upon the foreman; and the last thing
he saw was his handkerchief audaciously fluttering from the top of
the chimney; but he had not become an engineer, and so had fallen
between two stools, for neither had he become an author.
Another way seemed to be open. Jeffery Farnol had revealed skill in
sketching, and there was hope that he might yet retrieve lost ground
by success as an artist. Not far away from his home in London was the
Westminstrr Art School, in charge of Mouat Loudan, an institution
which at that time had been dovetailed into the architectural Museum,
so that the student, as he stepped into the building, from the Great Smith
Street region, seemed to leap backwards from the nineteenth century,
to the Middle Ages, into an impressive array of gothic architecture; a
scene that might have charmed Sir Waiter Scott or George Cattermole.
Jeffery Farnol enjoyed the experience; but comparing his work with that
of more talented students, he did not think himself capable of becoming
sufficiently accomplished to earn his living as a painter, or draughtsman,
and, abandoning this notion also, he fell back again upon authorship,
and achieved a few small successes with short.stories, some of his relations
regarding him now as committed finally to an idle and useless life.
His relations did not know; Jeffery Farnol did not know that, so far from
having set out upon a sleeveless quest, he was embarking upon the tide
that would lead him on to fame and fortune. " Jones, A.B. " was the title
of the first story that was accepted; and for this he received a guinea.
Farnol tells us that " My favourite recreation at this time was cycling.
All the highroads and byroads of Kent, Surrey and Sussex became familiar
to me as, sometimes with a chum or brother, sometimes alone, I wheeled
between the flowery hedgerows and quenched my thirst at the quaint wayside
taverns. I remember it was on one of these week-end excursions, a hot Sunday
evening in August, found me sitting with my friend, Mr. H. London Pope,
in the porch of 'The Bull' at Sissinghurst, where we had made our headquarters,
resting and washing the dust from our throats with good brown ale. It was then,
while watching the villagers wending their way to church, that I first saw the Ancient.
There he was, tall hat, smock-frock, shrewd, wrinkled face, and gnarled hands
grasping his knobbly staff, just as I have described him in ' The Broad Highway.'
And that was the very first inception of the book, though it was not until several
years afterwards that it came to be written."
photo Relaxation. Mr. Farnol at
work in his orchard
photo Mr. Farnol at work in
A writer of a very different kind, Jonathan Swift, was fond of such vagrom
wanderings, when Bohemianism of this sort was counted disgraceful, as
we learn from many a reference in the works of bygone writers, particularly in
" Travels in England in 1782," by C. P.Moritz; and who can forget De Quincey's
pleasantries concerning " the scandal of pedestrianisrn " in " Confessions of an English Opium Eater "?
Swift mentions a walk that he accomplished from Farnham in Surrey, to London,
and it has been stated that in these rambles he slept at roadside inns, in which the hosts
offered .. Lodgings for a penny," but that he gave the rnaid sixpence, to allow him clean
sheets and a bed to himself. It is supposed that it was the love of the rough humour of
the waggoners, drovers, and hostlers that attracted him, and some of his more
conventional associates attributed Swift's occasional coarseness to this practice; but
Leslie Stephen has remarked that recreations of this kind were a relief to the serious
studies which Swift followed in Sir William Ternple's library; and he adds, " Amidst
the roar of railways we may think more tolerantly of the humours of the road in the
good old clays, when each village had its humours and traditions and quaint legends,
and when homely maxims of unlettered wisdon-1 were to be picked up at rustic firesides."
One of the reasons why his father thought that Jeffery Farnol would fail as a writer,
was that he had had no University education, a strange view to those who are familiar
with the history of English literature? What University taught Shakespeare and Dickens?
To what college of Oxford or Cambridge when John Bunyan or John Keats?
For a short time, Jeffery Farnol was employed by his father; but again his
attention wandered away from his business, so that this arrangement also
came to an end; and then, with that distain for prudential considerations
which is so characteristic of the romantic temperament, Jeffery Farnol
married at twenty years of age.
Mrs. Farnol was an American girl, Miss Blanche Hawley, a daughter of
Mr. F. Hughson Hawley, an artist, of New York; and Jeffery Farnol
resolved to try his fate in his wife's country.
To earn money for his immediate needs, until his books should he written,
he found employment at the Astor Theatre, New York, as a scene painter,
an occupation which, giving the artist power to transform the stage into a
veritable wonderland, has many fascinations for young people who have
been endowed with the romantic temperament; and when he was not creating
old baronial halls, picuresque inns, haunted chambers and poetical landscapes
upon the stage, he was writing " The Broad Highway "; sometimes in a New
York studio infested by rats, and at other times in Mr. Hawley's home in New Jersey.
Writing of this time, Jeffery Farnol says, " As scene-painting was not a very
profitable occupation so far as I was concerned, I went on writing, and
began to sell short stories to the American magazines. At this period I often
sat in Ainslie's office in company with an American who was so quiet and retiring that
it seemed he must be an Englishman. He turned out to be one
of the greatest short-story writers in the world -- 0. Henry. There we used to sit
together, waiting to go in and submit our stuff, and several times our stories appeared
In these days, too, he became acquainted with the poorest of the
New York' population, in the notorious " Hell's Kitchen," and the
knowledge he gained there has since helped him in his work, and
particularly in his book, " The Definite Object."
During two years he toiled at " The Broad Highway," burning much midnight
oil in the process, for Jeffery Farnol works best after sunset, ceasing sometimes
when other people are assembling round the breakfast table. In the silent watches
of the night his brain is clear, he concentrates with greater cast, and he is free from
the noise and distractions of " the gaudy, blabbing and remorseful day."
Some readers may recall a passage in one of Leigh Hunt's essays, in which
he says that " when left alone, there is sometimes a charm in watching out the
decaying fire, in getting closer and closer to it with tilted chair, and knees against
the bars, and letting the whole multitude of fancies that work in the night silence
come whispering about the yielding faculties. The world around is silent, and for
a moment the very cares of day stem to have gone with it to sleep, leaving you to
snatch a waking sense of disenthralment, and to commune with a thousand airy
visitants that come to play with innocent thoughts."
Jeffery Farnol's power to focus his attention upon one subject at a time has helped
him to win success, and Mr. Hawley says that, " I remember once taking him to
the Players' Club with me for luncheon. After luncheon he wandered into the library,
and was delighted to see the plays of Aphra Behn-some early writer I'd never
heard of, but belonging to his favourite period and well known to him-and I left
him there renewing her acquaintance with delight. I forgot all about him, but
chancing to go back to dinner, on entering the library, to my amazement I saw him
sitting there in exactly the same posture in which I'd left him hours before. He didn't
know whether ten minutes or as many hours had elapsed since I'd left him."
It has been assumed that Jeffery Farnol was in need of money during this period;
but his short stories and other activities, including sketching, brought him a living;
and though they were not published until his fame had been established. by
"The Broad Highway," he wrote " My Lady Caprice," known afterwards as
" Chronicles of the Imp," and " The Money Moon," and all this time he was
adding to his romance of " The Broad Highway," writing it with zest, and
putting into it his best work. During these New York days, other tasks he
might undertake for money, but " The Broad Highway " he wrote for
the love of the work. It was a book that he composed to please himself.
After a couple of years, " The Broad Highway " had been completed and its
author was satisfied that the book was good; but the even more difficult task
lay before him now of convincing the publishers that he had written a masterpiece.
It is easy to be wise after the event, so that readers will find it hard to believe
that a number of publishers in the United States of America refused to accept
" The Broad Highway."
To people who have spent their lives among books, the Century Company of
New York, and Messrs. Scribner and Company of the same city are firms whose
names are familiar as publishers of books that stand in the front rank, and to many
who recall the 'eighties of the last century, these firms, with Messrs. Harper Brothers,
were practically well-known in this country because of their issue of magazines whose
literary and artistic contents, during a period when wood engraving had been carried
to an amazing height, will probably never he surpassed; but even the best publishers
are caught napping sometimes, and it is surprising that both Scribner's and the Century
Company rejected "The Broad Highway." Another New York firm, Mesrs. Dodd,
Mead & Co., liked the story, but considered that it was too long and too English to
please the people of America, but events have not confirmed this opinion.
To try to placate Messrs. Dodd, Mead & Co., Jeffery Farnol cut out four chapters
that have never been reinstated, and then came the money panic of the year 1907,
and the publishers dare not run the risk of issuing even this truncated version of "
The Broad Highway," notwithstanding the author's warning, justified by the events,
" You will be sorry if you don't give it a chance."
Then the manuscript rested from its travels, and seemed likely to do so, but, " one day,"
writes Jeffery Farnol, in " T.P.'s & Cassell's Weekly," " during a rehearsal at the Astor T
heatre of ' The Man from Home,' a prominent American actor said that he understood I
was writing books and would like to help. A publisher in Boston was a great friend of his.
" As a result of this conversation, I read the opening chapters of ' The Broad Highway ' to
this actor as he sat in his dressing room building up a beard; and so interested did he become
that he got his beard wrong, and had to start afresh.
" He said he would take the story to Boston with him, and be was so enthusiastic about it,
and promised me so definitely that it would be published, that after he had gone I worked
all night with my paint-brushes filled with the most pleasurable anticipations.
" On the following Monday, the whole company moved on to Boston, and the
actor and my manuscript went too. Six months elapsed, and the company returned to
New York. I hurried off to see my actor friend.
" ' Good heavens! ', he exclaimed, when I asked about the book, ' I've had such a rough
time, I clean forgot about it ! ' "
I took the manuscript and stumbled down the stairs, the most miserable man in New York."
Small wonder that Jeffery Farnol was tempted to pitch the manuscript into the fire, and be
troubled with it no longer, but his wife, securing it, packed it off out of harm's way to England,
to the elder Mrs. Farnol, who read and enjoyed it, but fearing that she was not sufficiently
unbiassed in judging the work of her own boy, she passed it on to Jeffery's old friend,
Mr. Jevons, who was editing " The Sportsman " at that time. He agreed to read it, but did
not expect to find that the story would be one that publishers would accept. Jeffery Farnol
had seemed to fail in so many other occupations that it appeared probable he had fallen
back upon a forlorn hope, upon this last desperate expedient to write a novel in an endeavour
to escape the final disaster but as Mr. Jevons set out upon what he conceived to be this hopeless
errand, undertaken in kindness of heart, to oblige his old friend, Mrs. Farnol, he found a
change creeping over his thoughts, and gradually he began to understand that, contrary to
his expectations, here was no uninspired and mechanical piece of hack work written by an
amateur attempting what was beyond his compass, but an original romance, entitled to a place
in the main current of English literature. Instead of going to sleep, he spent a night with the
book, and it was with great joy that he found himself able to write in all sincerity to the
author's mother that her faith in " The Broad Highway " was justified. What Mrs. Farnol
thought about the story when it was no more than a stained and torn manuscript, the world
thinks now that it has emerged as a printed book.
Mr. Jevons took the work to the publishing house of Messrs. Sampson Low,
Marston & Co., Ltd., and one of the directors smelt the bacon in the story, and popularity
in the book. To him it made a double appeal; to the romantic man and to the business man.
Many years of familiarity with the book trade had taught him that here was a possible
" best seller," and yet, to check their own opinion of the new writer, Messrs. Sampson
Low, Marston & Co., Ltd., asked for the opinions of others, including Mr. Clement K. Shorter,
whose view was entirely favourable, and at last " The Broad Highway " was printed and published.
Its success was not immediate, but when the sales hung fire, members of the firm applied
themselves to the task of making the book known, bringing to bear the fruits of their long
experience, and urging the booksellers to do their part, until in a short time the run upon
the story commenced, and Jeffery Farnol woke up one morning, like Lord Byron, and found
that he was famous.
No matter in what place, nor in what incongruous surroundings, Jeffery Farnol has written,
his love for rural England has been made manifest, and truly if political and industrial
revolutions ever deprive us of great country houses, and of parks, rectories, old churches,
farms, fields, woods, windmills and waterwheels, then we shall need to continue these features
in novels, pictures and theatres, for we shall never achieve anything more picturesque than rural
Although he has written much of the Georgian period, our author has put more of his own life
into his books than would be expected, for we know that Jeffery Farnol did not live during that
age; and yet we are apt to forget that in England we have many survivals from past periods,
and that in spite of railways, and even of motor-cars, we have an England belonging still to
the era of the water-wheel and the windmill; so that with even a little imagination it is possible
for a man, especially if he reads, to transport himself into any age.
In his " Gods of Modern Grub Street," Mr. St. John Adcock has pointed out that Jeffery Farnol
gives away the recipe for his best romance in that talk between Peter Vibart and another wayfarer,
which preludes " The Broad Highway ":---
" As I sat of an early summer morning in the shade of a tree, eating friend bacon with a tinker
, the thought came to me that I might some day write a book of my own, a book that should
treat of the roads and by-roads, of trees, and wind in lonely places, of rapid brooks and lazy streams,
of the glory of the dawn the glow of evening, and the purple solitude of night, a book of
wayside inns and sequestered taverns, a book of country things and ways and people. And
the thought pleased me much."
The Tinker suggests that there must be other things as well, and the Author proposes a highwayman,
a notion that pleases the Tinker, who is still more gratified when a pugilist is mentioned. ' The Author
adds " a one-legged soldier of the Peninsula, an adventure at a lonely tavern, a flight through woods
at midnight pursued by desperate villains, and a most extraordinary tinker."
The Tinker agrees that these shall he added to the book, together with blood, and baronets, and
above all, love and plenty of it.
In a much later book, " The Loring Mystery," we have a bit of rural England, " drawn from the quick,"
when we are told that " David sauntered on and presently found himself in a small paddock where
ducks waddled and quacked, an aged horse cropped contentedly, and hens clucked comfortably
about a huge hayrick that soared aloft filling the air with fragrance; now, against this rick stood a ladder
most invitingly. The place was quiet and secluded, and what place better for thought than a hayrick?
David mounted forthwith and lying outstretched, secure from espial or interruption, began once more
to revolve the problem. . . Borne to him upon the stilly air came the good, homely sounds of the sleepy
village, a murmur of friendly voices, the snort of a horse, a faint lowing of cows from remote pastures,
the rattle of chain and clank of bucket where someone drew water from a well."
Not long after the publication of " The Broad Highway," came that charming work, " The Money Moon,"
" the sweetest story ever told," one critic decided, and then readers were delighted with
" The Amateur Gentleman," recalling " The Broad Highway"; and although Jeffery Farnol is a conscientious
A page from the manuscript
Of "Gyfford of Weare"
photo Mr. Farnol with his favourite
worker, and refuses to be hurried, he has managed to keep his admirers supplied with a steady stream
of stories. A cordial welcome was given to " Chronicles of the Imp," telling of " my Lady Caprice,
" followed by " The Honourable Mr. Tawnish," and remembering the iron worker in
" The Broad Highway," readers gave an eager reception to " Beltane the Smith. Next came,
in different vein, a romance in verse and prose, " The Geste of Duke Jocelyn "; also in this continued
flood of fiction was " The Definite Object," embodying American experiences, "Our Admirable Betty,"
" Black Bartlemy's Treasure," " Martin Conisby's Vengeance," and in " Peregrine's Progress,"
Jeffery Farnol returned to the scenes and times of " The Broad Highway," and soon afterwards "
Sir John Dering " appeared, followed by " The Loring Mystery," a tragic story of " Merrie England......
The High Adventure," " The Quest of Youth," another delightful story of The Open Road, and
" Gyfford of Weare."
Like so many other " best-laid schemes o' mice an' men," lcffery Farnol's plans were sent " a-gley "
by the Great War, and though he was prevented, by extreme short-sightedness, from dropping his
pen and taking up the sword, he used his powers as a writer in the composition of rousing articles,
inspired by visits to the firing lines, to the fleet, to shipbuilding yards, and munition factories.
These essays were published afterwards in a book, " Great Britain at War," and when the long
drawn combat had come to an end, he returned to the world of romance.
The war, which we should have expected to have separated Jeffery Farnol from his readers,
had the opposite effect of drawing them more closely together, as may be seen from a bundle
of letters received during the struggle, from soldiers in India, and in other parts of the Empire;
soldiers going into battle, waiting attacks, languishing in camps, or lying wounded in hospital,
and nurses, too, amidst their ministrations to the wounded, and to the dying, found solace and
encouragement in the pages of Jeffery Farnol's romances.
One soldier, writing from Boulogne, concerning one of Jeffery Farnol's stories, says,
" The night I received it, I read over two hundred pages, and was so deeply interested
that I gave no thought to time, and found to my surprise that it was past two a.m. ";
and a nurse describes how " The Amateur Gentleman " " relieved the monotony of a
specially deadly spell of night duty."
Another soldier, after mentioning what pleasure he received from " The Broad Highway,"
adds that when the war is over he shall have a walking tour, or a caravan tour, in Kent, to
visit the scenes of the story.
There is a further missive which relates how a soldier found a copy of " The Honourable
Mr. Tawnish " floating in the water in a bomb-proof shelter, but one of the most
interesting letters in the bundle is from a New Zealand volunteer, who took a copy of
" The Broad Highway " with him into Egypt. He was ordered to the Dardanelles,
and the men were told to leave all " extras " behind; but he had become so interested in
" The Broad Highway " that regarding the book as a necessity, he secretly held on to it.
Heavily shelled by the Turks, most of his companions perished, but he was saved because
his copy of " The Broad Highway " stopped a piece of flying casing that else would
certainly have killed him.
A second-lieutenant of the Royal Engineers wrote, " Imagine what it is, more so in
summer than now, after perhaps an eighteen hour day on Royal Engineering works,
or a long forced march over the burning desert, under a tropical sun, with a minimum
of water in our bottles, to quietly ' get down' to bed as we say out here, with a book
that tells of country things and ways and people, and of what a country ! . . .
And so, after the long hard day, which has perhaps tried our patience and tempers, I turn
over the pages of " The Broad Highway," for it is my favourite and has never left me in this
campaign, and it, restores my jaded nerves and I am once again cheery and good tempered.
What better thing can be said of a book than this, that not only does one derive recreation
from it, but it awakens in one, even as Dickens' works do, die desire to leave the world
better than one found it."
During this campaign, the same soldier discovered that a comrade had
" The Amateur Gentleman," so that, by exchanging, each was enabled to read both stories.
After Jeffery Farnol had returned from America, and while he was looking for a home in
England, his choice fell upon Lee, near to Greenwich, but after a number of years he
removed to Brighton, spending his winters at Ospedaletti, on the Italian Riviera.
When we remember the comparatively few years that Jeffery Farnol has been writing,
we marvel at the number of men and women whom he has created, and if a pageant
were to be arranged, in which all the folk from his pages were to troop before us, there
would be a march past comparable-to a similar procession that might be compassed from
the works of Dickens and of Dumas, and a problem for the metaphysician is, where
would have been these people if Jeffery Farnol had remained at the tool bench in Birmingham ?
Innumerable readers will breathe a sigh of relief when they realise how easily they might have
lost the many hours of delightful recreation they have enjoyed, in fareing through the crowded
pages of Jeffery Farnol's romances; and these readers will be of many soon. Wealthy people,
and men and women of leisure, find daily relief in fiction, from the tedium that is not to be
bought off, not even by riches; but it is the toilers with hand and brain who come to romance
with the sharpest appetite. The pressure of commerce and manufacture, the need to keep pace
with machinery, forces millions into hard, monotonous occupations that absorb many hours of
the day; and just as the East End dipsomaniac is said to have urged that he found drink the
quickest way out of Whitechapel, so more prudent folk regard a resort to fiction as the most
rapid escape from stark reality.
In the letters from soldiers, we have seen how, in the works of Jeffery Farnol, they found
solace from the weariness caused by the exacting tasks inflicted upon them during the Great
War; and Waiter Pater has noticed that, " Different classes of persons, at different times,
make of course, very various demands upon literature. Still scholars, I suppose, and nor
only scholars, but all disinterested lovers of books, will always look to it as to all other
fine art, for a refuge, a sort of cloistral refuge, from a certain vulgarity in the actual world.
A perfect poem like Lycidas, a perfect fiction like Esmond, the perfect 'handling of a theory
like Newman's Idea of a University has for them something of the uses of a religious ' retreat.' "
To bring sunlight and tidings of rural England, into lives that else would be entirely dull
and grey; to show us the quick exit from Coketown, is the mission of writers like
Jeffery Farnol; and in our gratitude we feel that their reward ought to be great.
Another page from the manuscript
Of "Gyfford of Weare"