Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Grant, James (1822-1887)

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GRANT, JAMES (1822–1887), novelist and miscellaneous writer, was born at Edinburgh 1 Aug. 1822. He was eldest son of John Grant and grandson of James Grant of Corrimony (1743?-1835) [q. v.], advocate. From his grandfather, James Grant, the novelist inherited strong Jacobite proclivities, and he was connected by descent with the Veitches of Dawyck, Peeblesshire, and thus possessed a strain of border blood. His mother, who died when he was a child, belonged to the Watson family of Overmains, not unknown in the artistic annals of Scotland, and through her he was intimately related to Sir Walter Scott, the Swintons of Swinton, and other eminent families. Captain Grant, his father, of the 92nd Gordon Highlanders, had served with distinction throughout the Peninsular war. After his wife's death Captain Grant obtained a command in Newfoundland, whither he sailed in 1833, taking with him his three sons. After spending six years in American barracks Grant returned home with his father, who had resigned his command, in 1839, and in 1840, through the influence of Lord Hill, under whom Captain John Grant had served in Spain, was gazetted to an ensigncy in the 62nd foot, and joined the provisional battalion at Chatham. He was soon appointed to command the depot, but in 1843 resigned his commission and entered the office of Mr. Rhind, architect, Edinburgh. He became a skilled draughtsman, but other and literary tastes were showing themselves, and he now devoted himself to novel writing, speedily becoming a most prolific writer. His first novel, and in some respects his best, 'The Romance of War,' appeared in 1845. It owed its birth to the many anecdotes of Spain and the French war, which had been related to him by his father, and described the adventures of the Gordon highlanders in the Peninsula. The vivid description of battles speedily procured for it an enormous sale; but it only produced 20l. for its author. A sequel entitled 'The Highlanders in Belgium' soon followed. Then came 'The Adventures of an Aide-de-Camp,' of which the popularity equalled that of his first novel. 'The Yellow Frigate,' ' Bothwell,' 'Jane Seton,' and many more succeeded, and from that time to his death never a year passed without one, often two, and even three novels being produced. His latest works of fiction were 'Love's Labour Won' (1888), dealing with incidents of Burmese dacoity, and 'Playing with Fire' (1887), a story of the war in the Soudan. He wrote in all some fifty-six novels. A quick succession of incidents, much vivacity of style, and a dialogue that seldom flags characterise all of them. Those dealing with Scottish history embody considerable research, are vigorous and picturesque in style, and express much sympathy with the reckless daring, loyalty, and manliness of Scotch and border heroes. A charge of plagiarism has been brought against Grant owing to his having incorporated without acknowledgment a good many descriptive passages from a book of travels and campaigning in one of his novels. Grant, however, does not seem to have exceeded the license justly allowed a novelist of appropriating local colour for his fictions from graver writers (Athenæum, 9 Jan. 1875).

Grant wrote much and well on history, especially the history of his native land. The following are his works in this department of literature: 1. ‘Memoirs and Adventures of Sir W. Kirkaldy of Grange,’ 1849. 2. ‘Memorials of the Castle of Edinburgh,’ 1850. 3. ‘Memoirs and Adventures of Sir J. Hepburn,’ 1851. 4. ‘Memoirs of Montrose,’ 1858. 5. ‘The Cavaliers of Fortune, or British Heroes in Foreign Wars,’ 1859; reissued with title reversed, 1873. 6. ‘British Battles on Land and Sea,’ 1873; followed in 1884 by ‘Recent British Battles on Land and Sea.’ 7. ‘Illustrated History of India,’ 1876. 8. ‘Old and New Edinburgh,’ 1880; of this book over thirty thousand copies were sold in the United States. 9. ‘History of the War in the Soudan,’ 1885-6. 10. ‘The Tartans of the Clans of Scotland,’ 1886. 11. ‘Scottish Soldiers of Fortune,’ 1889 (posthumous).

In 1852 Grant founded and acted as secretary to the National Association for the Vindication of Scottish Rights, upholding its views steadily in spite of the ridicule heaped upon him by 'Punch' and many English newspapers. He was an energetic supporter of the volunteer movement, and one of the first to join its ranks. As an authority on military matters he was frequently consulted by the war office, and was examined as a witness in connection with the present territorial system, and many of his suggestions, such as the present facings of the British army, were adopted. The plans for the proposed alterations in Edinburgh Castle were also submitted to him. Grant married the eldest daughter of James Browne, LL.D.. and had two sons: James, who died before his father, and Roderick, a Roman catholic priest. He had himself embraced the Romish faith in 1875. He died 5 May 1887, at 25 Tavistock Road, London, at the age of sixty-five. His popularity had decayed before his death. He was modest and retiring, genial, intensely patriotic, and of strong religious susceptibilities; but with all his devotion to literature he died penniless.

[Grant's Works; Times, 7 May 1887; Scottish News, do.; Athenæum, 14 May 1887; Academy, do.; Scottish Review, art. 'Grant's Scottish Historical Novels,' by S. F. F. Veitch, January 1888; private information from Mr. F. J. Grant, Carrick Pursuivant; Saturday Review, 14 May 1887; Daily News, 7 May 1887.]

M. G. W.