Fargus, Frederick John (DNB00)

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FARGUS, FREDERICK JOHN (1847–1885), novelist under the pseudonym of Hugh Conway, born at Bristol on 26 Dec. 1847, was the eldest of three brothers who were the children of Frederick Charles Fargus, a local auctioneer. Their mother, whose maiden name was Elizabeth Marson, died during their boyhood. Frederick was a quiet, contemplative child. His boyish passion for reading novels made him long to be a sailor. His father, who had meant that he should join him in business, reluctantly assented to his wish to be entered, when thirteen years old, as a student on board the school frigate Conway, then stationed on the Mersey. He was quickly advanced from the first to the second class, and in June 1862 won prizes for general proficiency, mathematics, and astronomy. Fargus then wanted to enter the royal navy, but to this his father was opposed, the boy finally resolving to abandon the maritime profession. Placed for a time at a private school in Bristol, he wrote, at the age of seventeen, a burlesque in three acts upon ‘Jason, or the Golden Fleece,’ and sent it to William Robertson, father of the dramatist, then engaged at the Bristol Theatre. Robertson commissioned Fargus to write a duologue for his daughter Margaret (now Mrs. Kendal) and Mr. Fosbrooke, the comedian; but the company leaving Bristol the order was cancelled.

On quitting school Fargus was articled to Messrs. Williams & Co., a firm of public accountants, in whose office he remained until his father's death, on 14 April 1868, when he succeeded to his father's business. He had written songs while a clerk, many of which were set to music by different composers. The words were given as ‘by Hugh Conway,’ a name taken in memory of his old school frigate on the Mersey. They were collected in 1879 as ‘A Life's Idylls and other Poems.’ In the winter of 1881 Fargus contributed to a collection of tales entitled ‘Thirteen at Table’ his first story, called ‘The Daughter of the Stars.’ The ‘Miscellany’ was the earliest of the Christmas annuals published at Bristol by Mr. Arrowsmith. Fargus contributed to ‘Blackwood's Magazine’ of December 1881 his tale of ‘The Secret of the Stradivarius;’ in April 1882 ‘The Bandsman's Story;’ and in April 1883 ‘Fleurette.’ In the last-named year he published his romance ‘Called Back,’ the sale of which was steady from the first. By 16 March 1884 thirty thousand copies, and by 27 June 1887 352,000 had been sold. Immediately upon its appearance it was translated into French, German, Italian, Swedish, Spanish, and Dutch. It was dramatised by its author, in collaboration with Mr. Comyns Carr, and produced at the Prince's (now Prince of Wales's) Theatre in London on 20 May 1884, where it ran with great success for nearly two hundred nights. A banquet in honour of the author was given on 12 June 1884 by the mayor of Bristol. The original agreement as to ‘Called Back’ was 150l. for an edition of ten thousand, with a small royalty afterwards. This was cancelled by mutual consent on the astonishing success of the book. In December 1883 Fargus published ‘My First Client’ in the ‘Bristol Times and Mirror,’ and ‘Miss Rivers' Revenge’ in ‘Chambers's Edinburgh Journal.’ During the same year he produced a serial fiction called the ‘Red Hill Mystery’ in the ‘Yorkshire Post.’ Rechristened ‘A Cardinal Sin,’ it was afterwards reissued as a three-volume novel. In April 1884 he wrote ‘Paul Vargas’ in the ‘English Illustrated Magazine,’ and in May ‘Chewton Abbot’ in ‘Chambers's Edinburgh Journal.’ In November 1884 he published ‘Dark Days,’ which was at once translated into Welsh, as well as into French and German, and dramatised. In 1884 a dozen of his minor tales were collected in 2 vols., under the title of ‘Bound Together.’ ‘The Bichwa’ appeared in the Christmas number of the ‘Bristol Times and Mirror,’ and ‘A Dead Man's Face’ in the Christmas number of ‘Harper's Magazine.’ Early in 1885 he was suddenly ordered abroad by reason of a weakness in the lungs. While in the Riviera in the spring he was attacked by typhoid fever. When convalescent, he caught a chill, and died at Monte Carlo on 15 May 1885. On the 18th of that month he was buried in the cemetery at Nice. An epitaph by Lord Houghton placed over his grave describes him as ‘A British writer of fiction of great renown and greater promise, who died prematurely.’ A memorial tablet in his honour has been erected by public subscription in Bristol Cathedral.

Until about two years before his death Fargus had been engaged in his business as an auctioneer at Bristol, where he was principally known as a good judge of art, curiosities, china, and bric-à-brac, and as such was employed to value and catalogue the Strawberry Hill collection. Fargus married on 26 Aug. 1871 Amy, the youngest daughter of Alderman Spark, J.P., of Bristol, by whom he had four children, three boys and a girl. Several of his works appeared posthumously. In the summer number of the ‘Graphic’ for 1885 was his story of ‘Cariston's Gift.’ In August his most promising novel, entitled ‘A Family Affair,’ was reprinted in 3 vols. from the ‘English Illustrated Magazine.’ Another book was published in October, called ‘At what Cost,’ comprising two other tales, ‘The Story of a Sculptor’ and ‘Capital Wine.’ His last Christmas annual, called ‘Slings and Arrows,’ appeared (1885) in ‘Arrowsmith's Bristol Library.’ Besides these works Fargus left for publication another three-volume novel called ‘Living or Dead’ (1886). His latest performance appeared a year afterwards as ‘Somebody's Story, by Hugh Conway.’ It was written in nine days for the ‘Shakespearean Show Book,’ in aid of the Chelsea Hospital for Women, the manuscript of its being published in facsimile in twenty-three pages, oblong 8vo, followed by twenty additional pages, giving the text in ordinary type.

[For several of the particulars mentioned in this memoir the writer is indebted to Fargus's widow. Notices appeared in the Times, 16 May 1885, p. 12; Athenæum, 23 May 1885, p. 662; Illustrated London News, 30 May 1885, p. 559, giving both portrait and notice; Annual Register for 1885, p. 161. See also the Sketch of the Life of Hugh Conway, prefixed to the 1885 illustrated edition of Called Back, pp. vii–xiii, the frontispiece to which volume is an admirable photograph.]

C. K.