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but those which are known as the Caxton series are undoubtedly the best. “The Caxtons,” “My Novel; or, Varieties of English Life,” and “What Will He Do With It” show his highest flight, and in respect to plot, artistic merit, and literary finish are unequaled in the language. The reader who cannot become absorbed in these is hard to please.
Two of his plays were equally successful, and “Richelieu’’ and “The Lady of Lyons "still hold the stage.
CoNTEMPORARY with Bulwer-Lytton there was another writer almost as popular and still more prolific, whose novels may still be read with a considerable degree of pleasure by those interested in the literature of the past.
In these days when the annual output of novels —many of which are of a high degree of merit —is something tremendous, it is hard to understand the avidity with which our grandfathers, and particularly our grandmothers, looked forward to the publication of the next new novel. But there was a time when the production was not so plentiful, and when a novel by G. P. R. James was hailed with almost the same sort of acclaim as Scott had received in the earlier years of the past century. In fact, James was supposed to be the lineal successor of Sir Walter. He followed the great master in writing historical novels, and
in 1822 he published “Richelieu,” the first, as it is one of the best, of his stories. He was but twenty-one at the time, but his genius was recognized by the leading critics of the time. Professor Wilson, the editor of Blackwood, said: “‘ Richelieu' is one of the most spirited romances I ever read; characters well drawn, incidents well managed, story gradually progressive, catastrophe at once natural and unexpected, moral good, but not goody, and the whole felt in every chapter to be the work of a gentleman.” Washington Irving was in England at this time, pursuing his own literary career, and he encouraged James to continue his writing. Sir Walter Scott read “Richelieu ’’ and tendered his friendship and assistance to the author. On every hand the young novelist met with encouragement. And from that time he wrote with the most astonishing rapidity, and yet his work was, as a rule, received with the greatest of favor. If any one will take the trouble to look over the catalogue of “Harper's Select Library of Novels" published, say from 1835 to 1855, he will find that the novels of G. P. R. James hold a very distinguished place in the list. And not improperly so. He was a remarkably good story-teller, and that he is not much read in these days is not due so
much to the fact that he is not worth reading, as it is that so many other and more modern storytellers press upon us. Leigh Hunt, who was certainly a most excellent critic, and withal a very honest one, once wrote:
I hail every fresh publication of James, though I half know what he is going to do with his lady, and his gentleman, and his landscape, and his mystery, and his orthodoxy, and his criminal trial. But I am charmed with the new amusement which he brings out of the old materials. I look on him as I look on a musician famous for “variations.” I am grateful for his vein of cheerfulness, for his singularly varied and vivid landscapes, for his power of painting women at once ladylike and loving (a rare talent), for his making lovers to match, at once beautiful and well-bred, and for the solace which all this has afforded me ; sometimes over and over again, in illness and in convalescence, when I required interest without violence, and entertainment at once animated and mild.
Other critics have written none the less favorably, and even the mighty Lockhart looked favorably upon him. Judged by the modern standards he is not quite up to the level of a great author. Doubtless his stories are all now forgotten, and even the “Solitary Horseman" and the “Two Cavaliers ” are no more remembered, though once the sport and play of the humorist and the parodist. But he was upon the whole
an admirable story-teller and a good writer as well. He used over and over again all the well-worn stock ingredients of a novel,-court trials, combats, tournaments, rescues, forged wills, forlorn maidens, mysterious strangers, renowned heroes, and imperishable actions. With these for his quarry, he wrought industriously for years, and the mere list of his works is simply astounding. Not even Dumas with his unmatchable novel factory, where he employed a half-dozen journeymen to turn out words by the wholesale, could more than equal him. In the annals of bookmaking there has been no such workman as George Payne Rainsford James. Novels, histories, poems, tales and sketches poured from his prolific pen as if it was inspired. He was the author of fifty novels, each in three volumes, a dozen histories, and numerous other sketches on many subjects. In all, the dictionary of authors gives him credit for two hundred printed volumes. He was born in London in 1801, and commenced to write when he was still a youth. He was historiographer to William IV., and later held a consulship in this country, and afterward in Venice. He died in 1860. What fame he achieved comes from his works, and notwithstand