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Thomas Mayne Reid

Born April 4, 1818
Ballyroney, County Down, Ireland
Died October 22, 1883
London, United Kingdom
Occupation novelist
Genres adventure

Thomas Mayne Reid (April 4, 1818 – October 22, 1883), was an Irish-American novelist. "Captain" Reid wrote many adventure novels akin to those written by Frederick Marryat and Robert Louis Stevenson. He was a great admirer of Lord Byron. These novels contain action that takes place primarily in untamed settings: the American West, Mexico, South Africa, the Himalayas, and Jamaica.



Reid was born in Ballyroney, County Down, in the north of Ireland, the son of Rev. Thomas Mayne Reid Sr., who was a senior clerk of the Irish General Assembly. His father had wanted him to become a Presbyterian minister, so in September 1834 he enrolled at the Royal Academical Institution in Belfast. But, although he stayed for four years, he could not motivate himself enough to complete his studies and receive a degree. He headed back home to Ballyroney to teach school.

In December 1839 he boarded the Dumfriesshire bound for New Orleans, Louisiana, arriving in January 1840. He made his way to New York City, and landed a job as a corn factor, or corn trader in the corn market. He only stayed six months, reports saying he left the position for refusing to whip slaves on the wharf.

Next he became the tutor for General Peyton Robertson's children. Soon after he ran the New English, Mathematical, and Classical School; this lasted seven months, when he headed south again. He found work as a clerk for a provision dealer (in a general store in either Natchez, Mississippi, or Natchitoches, Louisiana). In 1843 he had made his way to St. Louis, Missouri; here he joined a company headed west to the Rocky Mountains.

Literary career

After his return from the west he had his first poem published in Godey's Lady's Book under the pseudonym "A Poor Scholar". He headed to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1843, and worked as a journalist. It was here that he met Edgar Allan Poe and the two became drinking companions for a time.[1] Poe would later call Reid "a colossal but most picturesque liar. He fibs on a surprising scale but with the finish of an artist, and that is why I listen to him attentively."

On December 3, 1846,, he joined the First New York Volunteer Infantry to fight in the Mexican-American War; he received the commission of second lieutenant. A month later he landed in Vera Cruz with Major General Winfield Scott's army. Using the pseudonym "Ecolier", he was a correspondent for the Spirit of the Times of St. Louis, and published "Sketches by a Skirmisher" on May 1, 1843. At the battle of Chapultepec, on September 13, he received a severe thigh wound; three days later he was promoted to first lieutenant for showing great courage during the battle. He was discharged from the army in May of 1848.

Love's Martyr, his first play, played at the Walnut Street Theater in New York for five nights, in October 1848. He published War Life, an account of his army service, June 27, 1849.

Learning of the Bavarian Revolution, he headed to England to volunteer. But, after the Atlantic crossing changed his mind, and instead headed home to northern Ireland. He shortly moved to London, and in 1850 published his first novel, The Rifle Rangers. This was followed by The Scalp Hunters (1851; dedicated to Commodore Edwin W. Moore, whom he met in 1841), The Desert Home (1852), and The Boy Hunters (1853). This latter book, set in Texas and Louisiana, was "juvenile scientific travelog". It would become a favorite of a young Theodore Roosevelt, who would become a huge Reid fan. That same year he married the daughter of his publisher G. W. Hyde, an English aristocrat, Elizabeth Hyde, a 15-year-old young lady.

After a short time off to spend with his new bride and honeymoon, he soon returned to writing. Continuing to base his novels on his adventures in America, he turned out several more successful novels: The White Chief (1855), The Quadroon (1856), Oceola (1859), and The Headless Horseman (1865).

He spent money freely, including building the sprawling "Ranche", an elaborate reproduction of a Mexican hacienda that he had seen during the Mexican-American War. This extravagant living forced him to declare bankruptcy in November of 1866. The following October he moved to Newport, Rhode Island, hoping to recapture the success the U.S. had brought him earlier. He went back to New York in 1867 and founded the Onward Magazine.[2]

He lectured at Steinway Hall in New York, and published the novel The Helpless Hand in 1868. But America was not as kind to Reid this time around. The wound he had received at Chapultepec started to bother him, and he was hospitalized for several months at St. Luke in June 1870. Elizabeth hated America, and following his discharge from the hospital he and his wife returned to England on October 22, 1870, and lived at Ross on Wye, Herefordshire.

Suffering from acute melancholia, he was soon again hospitalized. He tried to write, but completed few projects. He lived mainly off his U.S. Army pension, which was not enough to cover his situation. Reid died in London, at the age of 65, and was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery. A quotation from The Scalp Hunters is on his grave marker: "This is `weed prairie'; it is misnamed: It is the Garden of God."

Influence and legacy

Books such as the Young Voyagers had great popularity, especially with boys. He was also very popular around the world; his tales of the American West captivated children everywhere, including Europe and Russia. Among his books, many of which were popular in translation in Poland and Russia, were The Rifle Rangers (1850), Scalp Hunters (1851), Boy Hunters (1853), War Trail (1851), Boy Tar (1859), and Headless Horseman (1865/6).[2] Vladimir Nabokov recalled The Headless Horseman as a favourite adventure novel of his childhood years - "which had given him a vision of the prairies and the great open spaces and the overarching sky."[3] At 11, Nabokov even translated The Headless Horseman into French alexandrines.[4]

Although Mayne Reid called himself, and is listed often as, "captain", Francis B. Heitman's definitive Historical Register and Dictionary of the U.S. Army only shows lieutenant.



  1. ^ Meyers, Jeffrey. Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy. Cooper Square Press, 1992. p. 142. ISBN 0815410387
  2. ^ a b Open Source Books. Internet Archive. Accessed July 14, 2007.
  3. ^ CLASSICS ON CASSETTE:'SPEAK, MEMORY'. John Espey. Los Angeles Times Book Review; Page 8; Book Review Desk. October 20, 1991.
  4. ^ Artist as Precocious Young Man. Rutherford A. Sunday Herald December 30, 1990.

External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

THOMAS MAYNE REID (1818-1883), better known as Mayne Reid, British novelist, the son of a Presbyterian minister, was born at Ballyroney, Co. Down, Ireland, on the 4th of April 1818. His own early life was as adventurous as any boy reader of his novels could desire. He was educated for the church, but did not take orders, and when twenty years old went to America in search of excitement and fortune. He made trading excursions on the Red river, studying the ways of the red man and the white pioneer. He made acquaintance with the Missouri in the same manner, and roved through all the states of the Union. In Philadelphia, where he was engaged in journalism from 1843 to 1846, he made the acquaintance of Edgar Allan Poe. When the war with Mexico broke out in 1846 he obtained a captain's commission, was present at the siege and capture of Vera Cruz, and led a forlorn hope at Chapultepec, where he sustained such severe injuries that his life was despaired of. In one of his novels he says that he believed theoretically in the military value of untrained troops, and that he had found his theories confirmed in actual warfare. An enthusiastic republican, he offered his services to the Hungarian insurgents in 1849, raised a body of volunteers, and sailed for Europe, but arrived too late. He then settled in England, and began his career of a novelist with the publication, in 1850, of the Rifle Rangers. This was followed next year by the Scalp Hunters. He never surpassed his first productions, except perhaps in The White Chief (1859) and The Quadroon (1856); but he continued to produce tales of self-reliant enterprise and exciting adventure with great fertility. Simplicity of plot and easy variety of exciting incident are among the merits that contribute to his popularity with boys. His reflections are not profound, but are frequently more sensible than might be presumed at first from his aggressive manner of expressing them. He died in London on the 22nd of October 1883.

See Memoir (1890) by his widow, Elizabeth Mayne Reid.

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