Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Rice, James

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659954Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 48 — Rice, James1896Richard Garnett

RICE, JAMES (1843–1882), novelist and historian of the turf, son of Samuel Rice, was born at Northampton on 26 Sept. 1843, and admitted on 1 Nov. 1865 at Queens' College, Cambridge, where he resided for nine terms. In 1868 he became editor and proprietor of ‘Once a Week,’ which he conducted not very successfully until 1872. At the same time he was studying for the bar, and was called at Lincoln's Inn in 1871, but never obtained much practice. In 1872 he became London correspondent of the ‘Toronto Globe,’ and in 1879 published his history of the British turf in two volumes. Only the first of these can be considered as strictly historical, and it rather merits commendation as a lively contribution to the subject than a serious history, Rice being more inclined to gossip pleasantly about the events of his own time than to retrieve the recollections of the past. The second volume consists mainly of entertaining, desultory essays, too numerous for a history, and too few for a miscellany of ‘Turfiana.’ The book, as a whole, is creditable to his abilities, but can only be regarded as a stopgap.

Seven years before its appearance Rice's abiding reputation had been assured by the publication of ‘Ready Money Mortiboy’ (London, 1872, 8vo), the first of the series of clever novels he issued in conjunction with Mr. (after Sir) Walter Besant, a literary partnership as remarkable as that of the Alsatian romance-writers Emile Erckmann and Alexandre Chatrian. Rice numbered Mr. Besant among the contributors to ‘Once a Week,’ and, after attempting singlehanded a novel in its pages with indifferent success, proposed that they should conjointly write the novel which they entitled ‘Ready Money Mortiboy.’ The admirable idea on which the story is founded was Rice's own, and he had already written two or three chapters before inviting Mr. Besant's aid. It was published anonymously at the authors' risk, and proved a great literary, though not a great commercial, success; it was subsequently dramatised, under the title of ‘Ready-Money,’ by the authors. The piece was produced at the Court Theatre 12 March 1874, and printed. After the appearance of its successor, ‘My Little Girl,’ the partnership was for a time placed in jeopardy by Rice's resolution to devote himself to the bar; but he found little encouragement there, and soon returned to literature. ‘With Harp and Crown’ appeared in 1874, and ‘This Son of Vulcan’ in 1875. In 1876 the partners obtained a great success with ‘The Golden Butterfly,’ which became unusually popular from its intrinsic merit, especially in the portrait of the American, Gilead P. Beck, and by the advantage it derived from publication in the ‘World.’ ‘The Monks of Thelema’ (1877) also appeared in the ‘World,’ and in 1878 and 1879 ‘By Celia's Arbour’ and ‘The Chaplain of the Fleet’ were published in the ‘Graphic.’ The last novel in which Rice had a share was ‘The Seamy Side’ (1881). He and his colleague had for some time past been writing Christmas stories for ‘All the Year Round’ and the ‘World,’ and had made some unsuccessful experiments in the drama. In January 1881 Rice, whose health had hitherto been excellent, was attacked by a serious illness, and, although apparently recovering, could never rally from its results. He died at Redhill, of failure of the heart's action, on 26 April 1882. In 1871 he married, at Dublin, Lillie, daughter of George Latouche Dickinson of St. Stephen's Green, Dublin, by whom he left a son, Fabian Arthur Besant Rice.

Rice's literary colleague, writing to the ‘Athenæum’ on the day of his death, spoke of him as eminently large-minded, thoroughly businesslike, and full of loyalty and goodness of heart. The novels in which he had a hand have almost all the merit of vigorous developments of a single excellent idea, enriched with humorous and truthful portraiture, manly throughout, and never tedious.

[Sir Walter Besant in the preface to the library edition of Ready Money Mortiboy, 1887, and in the Athenæum for 29 April 1882; private information; notes furnished by the Rev. J. H. Gray of Queens' College.]

R. G.