George Payne Rainsford James
|George Payne Rainsford James|
Portrait by Mathew Brady
August 9, 1799|
|Died||June 9, 1860
George Payne Rainsford James (August 9, 1799 – June 9, 1860), was an English novelist and historical writer, the son of a physician in London. He was for many years British Consul at various places in the United States and on the Continent. He held the honorary office of British Historiographer Royal during the last years of William IV's reign.
Early life 
George Payne Rainsford James was born in St George Street, Hanover Square, London in 1799. His father was a physician who had served in the navy and was in America during the Revolutionary War, serving with Benedict Arnold in the Battle of Groton Heights.
George attended the school of the Reverend William Carmalt in Putney. He developed a love of languages, including Greek, Latin, Persian and Arabic. He also studied medicine as a young man, but his inclinations led him in a different direction. He wanted to go into the navy, but his father was against it, due to his own naval experiences, finally allowing him to join the army. George served for a short time in the army as a lieutenant during the Hundred Days, and was wounded in a small action following The Battle of Waterloo. He travelled extensively, visiting France and Spain soon after the abdication of Napoleon. These early travels gave him the idea for his novel Morley Ernstein.
In 1825 he wrote his first, and probably his best known novel Richilieu, which wasn't published until 1829. After reading Richilieu, which had been given to him by a friend, and after receiving a letter from James, Walter Scott advised him to take up literature as a profession. He was also given encouragement by Washington Irving.
In 1828 he married the daughter of Honoratus Leigh Thomas, an important physician. After their marriage they lived in France, Italy, and Scotland. His wife survived him by 31 years, dying in Wisconsin in 1891.
He was appointed Historiographer Royal during the last years of William IV's reign, and published several official pamphlets. In 1842 he lived at Walmer and was frequently a guest of the Duke of Wellington at Walmer Castle. In 1845 he went to Germany, partly for recreation and partly to gather material for his writings. On his return to England he lived for some time in Farnham, Surrey.
In July 1850 he left England and traveled to New York, where he rented Charles Astor Bristed's house at Hell Gate. In 1851 he took a house at Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where he later bought property and made some efforts at farming. In 1852 he was appointed British Consul at Norfolk, Virginia. In 1856 the Consulate was moved to Richmond. His novels Ticonderoga and The Old Dominion, written at this time, were set in the United States. In 1858 he was transferred to Venice, Italy, partly due to failing health, where he was appointed Consul General. In April, 1860, he became seriously ill. He died in June 1860 from a stroke. He was buried in the cemetery at Isola di San Michele. The epitaph on his grave stone was written by his friend Walter Savage Landor. The epitaph reads:
"George Payne Rainsford James.
British Consul General in the Adriatic.
Died in Venice on the 9th day of June, 1860.
His merits as a writer are known wherever the English language is, and as a man they rest on the hearts of many.
A few friends have erected this humble and perishable monument."
At an early age he began to write romances, and continued his production with such industry that his works reach to 100 volumes. This excessive production was fatal to his permanent reputation; but his books had considerable immediate popularity. Among them are Richelieu (1829), Philip Augustus (1831), The Huguenot (1838), Henry of Guise (1839), The Man at Arms (1840), The King's Highway (1840), The Commissioner: or, De lunatico Inquirendo (1843), Agincourt (1844) and The Smuggler (1845). In addition to his novels he wrote Memoirs of Great Commanders, a Life of the Black Prince, and other historical and biographical works.
- At the Library Table, Adrian Hoffman Joline, Richard Badger, Boston, 1910.
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Cousin, John William (1910). A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: J. M. Dent & Sons. Wikisource
- Works by George Payne Rainsford James at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about George Payne Rainsford James at Internet Archive (scanned books original editions color illustrated)
- Biography via The Corvey Novels Project at the University of Nebraska
- Biography via Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition (1911)