GEORGE PAYNE RAINSFORD JAMES (1799-1860), English novelist, son of Pinkstan James, physician, was born in George Street, Hanover Square, London, on the 9th of August 1799. He was educated at a private school at Putney, and afterwards in France. He began to write early, and had, according to his own account, composed the stories afterwards published as A String of Pearls before he was seventeen. As a contributor to newspapers and magazines, he came under the notice of Washington Irving, who encouraged him to produce his Life of Edward the Black Prince (1822). Richelieu was finished in 1825, and was well thought of by Sir Walter Scott (who apparently saw it in manuscript), but was not brought out till 1829. Perhaps Irving and Scott, from their natural amiability, were rather dangerous advisers for a writer so inclined by nature to abundant production as James. But he took up historical romance writing at a lucky moment. Scott had firmly established the popularity of the style, and James in England, like Dumas in France, reaped the reward of their master's labours as well as of their own. For thirty years the author of Richelieu continued to pour out novels of the same kind though of varying merit. His works in prose fiction, verse narrative, and history of an easy kind are said to number over a hundred, most of them being three-volume novels of the usual length. Sixty-seven are catalogued in the British Museum. The best examples of his style are perhaps Richelieu (1829); Philip Augustus (1831); Henry Masterton, probably the best of all (1832); Mary of Burgundy (1833); Darnley (1839); Corse de Leon (1841); The Smuggler (1845). His poetry does not require special mention, nor does his history, though for a short time during the reign of William IV. he held the office of historiographer royal. After writing copiously for about twenty years, James in 1850 went to America as British Consul for Massachusetts. He was consul at Richmond, Virginia, from 1852 to 1856, when he was appointed to a similar post at Venice, where he died on the 9th of June 1860.
James has been compared to Dumas, and the comparison holds good in respect of kind, though by no means in respect of merit. Both had a certain gift of separating from the picturesque parts of history what could without much difficulty be worked up into picturesque fiction, and both were possessed of a ready pen. Here, however, the likeness ends. Of purely literary talent James had little. His plots are poor, his descriptions weak, his dialogue often below even a fair average, and he was deplorably prone to repeat himself. The "two cavaliers" who in one form or another open most of his books have passed into a proverb, and Thackeray's good-natured but fatal parody of Barbazure is likely to outlast Richelieu and Darnley by many a year. Nevertheless, though James cannot be allowed any very high rank among novelists, he had a genuine narrative gift, and, though his very best books fall far below Les trois mousquetaires and La reine Margot, there is a certain even level of interest to be found in all of them. James never resorted to illegitimate methods to attract readers, and deserves such credit as may be due to a purveyor of amusement who never caters for the less creditable tastes of his guests.
His best novels were published in a revised form in 21 volumes (1844-1849)
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