Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Fenn, George Manville

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1517259Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement, Volume 2 — Fenn, George Manville1912George Simonds Boulger

FENN, GEORGE MANVILLE (1831–1909), novelist, born in Pimlico on 3 Jan. 1831, was third child and the eldest of three sons of Charles and Ann Louisa Fenn. After a scanty education at private schools, Fenn studied at the Battersea Training College for Teachers under Samuel Clark [q. v.] from 1851 to 1854, and became on leaving master of the small national school at Alford, Lincolnshire. After some employment as a private tutor, he moved to London in quest of work, and became a printer. Purchasing a small press at Crowle, Lincolnshire, he started 'Modern Metre,' a little magazine, entirely in verse, which was set up by himself, and ran from May to October 1862. In 1864 Fenn became part proprietor of the 'Herts, and Essex Observer,' published at Bishop's Stortford; but this venture proved no more successful. After endless disappointments, a short sketch entitled 'In Jeopardy' was accepted for 'All the Year Round' in 1864 by Dickens, and attracted the notice of other editors. Manuscripts were soon accepted by James Payn [q. v. Suppl. I] for 'Chambers's Journal' and by Edward Walford [q. v.] for 'Once a Week.' 'Readings by Starlight,' papers on working-class life, appeared in 1866 in the 'Star' newspaper under the editorship of Justin McCarthy, and were colleeted into four volumes in 1867. There soon followed 'Spots and Blots,' a similar series, in the 'Weekly Times' under Mr. (afterwards Sir John) Hutton. 'Hollowdell Grange,' Fenn's first boy's story, and 'Featherland,' a natural history tale for children, were both published by Messrs. Griffith & Farran in 1867; and from that date onwards he produced novel after novel, in magazine, newspaper, and volume form, with an industrious rapidity which few writers excelled. His separate books numbered more than 170. After 1881 his more successful works were books for boys, in which he often effectively embodied studies of natural history and geography. The boys' books met with some success in America, where several were reprinted under the general title of 'The Fenn Books.' Meanwhile in 1870 he succeeded Hugh Reginald Haweis [q. v. Suppl. II] as editor of 'Cassell's Magazine'; and in 1873 he purchased from James Rice [q. v.] 'Once a Week,' which he carried on at a loss until the close of 1879. He never wholly abandoned journalism, and was for some years dramatic critic of the 'Echo' newspaper. In 1887 he produced at the Comedy Theatre a three-act farce, 'The Barrister,' and at Terry's Theatre next year he prepared a like piece, 'The Balloon,' in collaboration with Mr. John Henry Darnley. In 1903 he wrote for the family a privately printed memoir of B. F. Stevens, the American bookseller and man of letters. A lover of the country and of gardening, Fenn resided for some years on a remotely situated farm near Ewhurst, in Sussex; but from 1889 he lived at Syon Lodge, Isle worth, an old house with a large garden, where he amassed a library of some 25,000 volumes and amused his leisure in constructing astronomical telescopes of considerable size. On the day of the completion in 1907 of his last book, a memoir of his friend George Alfred Henty [q. v. Suppl. II], Fenn's health finally broke. He died after a long illness at Syon Lodge on 26 Aug. 1909, and was buried in Isleworth cemetery.

Fenn married in 1855 Susanna, daughter of John Leake, of Alford, Lincolnshire, who survived him. By her he had two sons and six daughters. The eldest son, Frederick, and the second son, Clive, engaged in literary pursuits.

[Personal knowledge; private information; Sketch, 6 Aug. 1902, an 'interview,' with excellent portraits; the Captain, Oct. 1909.]

G. S. B.