Garrett, Fydell Edmund (DNB12)

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GARRETT, FYDELL EDMUND (1865–1907), publicist, born on 20 July 1865, was fourth son of John Fisher Garrett, rector of Elton, Derbyshire, by his wife, Mary, daughter of Godfrey Gray. He was educated at Rossall school and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. in the summer term of 1887 with a third class in classics. At the university he was more distinguished at the Union Debating Society, of which he was president in 1887, than in the schools. But though not taking a high degree, he gave in other ways early evidence of exceptional literary ability. Some of his translations from the classical poets, as well as his original pieces, contained in a small volume of undergraduate verse, 'Rhymes and Renderings,' published at Cambridge in 1887, are remarkable not only for their grace and ease of expression but for a real poetic feeling. On leaving the university Garrett joined the staff of the 'Pall Mall Gazette,' and rapidly made his mark as a journalist by the force of his convictions—he was at this time a very ardent radical—the freshness of his style, and a happy gift of humour. But he had always been delicate, and after two years of work in London his health broke down. The first symptoms of the disease to which he ultimately succumbed, phthisis, became apparent, and he was sent for cure to South Africa. The remedy was for the moment apparently successful, and in any case this visit to South Africa in the winter of 1889–90 led to other consequences most important to his career. South Africa was at that time entering the critical period of her history which terminated in the war of 1899–1902. Garrett, an ardent young man of exceptionally keen intelligence, not lacking in audacity, and of most winning manners and appearance, was quick to seize the salient points in an interesting situation and to make the acquaintance of the leading actors in the drama. He won the confidence of Sir Hercules Robinson [q. v. Suppl. I], then high commissioner for South Africa, and made great friends with Cecil Rhodes [q. v. Suppl. II], besides establishing more or less intimate relations with the leading Dutch politicians, including Jan Hofmeyr [q. v. Suppl. III and President Kruger. The result was a series of articles in the 'Pall Mall Gazette,' subsequently published as a book, 'In Afrikanderland and the Land of Ophir' (1891, 2 edits.), which is still the best description of South Africa in that momentous phase of its development. The next four years were again devoted, as far as recurrent attacks of ill-health permitted, to journalistic work in London, first for the 'Pall Mall Gazette,' then, from 1893, for the 'Westminster Gazette,' in the opening years of its career, in either case under the editorship of Garrett's friend, (Sir) E. T. Cook. In 1894 he also produced a translation of Ibsen's 'Brand' into English verse in the original metres, which, if not perfect as a translation, for Garrett was not a great Norwegian scholar, is singularly successful in reproducing the spirit and poetry of the original.

In April 1895 Garrett returned to South Africa to become editor of the 'Cape Times,' the leading English newspaper in the sub-continent, and far the most important work of Garrett's life was done during his four and a half years' active tenure of that office (April 1895–August 1899). He was not only editor of the paper but the principal writer in it, and being a man of strong character and convictions, gifted moreover with extra-ordinary quickness of political insight, he on more than one occasion exercised by his trenchant pen a decisive influence on the course of affairs. In the rapid series of stirring events of these four years, the raid, the abortive rebellion in Johannesburg, the struggle between Rhodes and the Bond at the Cape, and between Kruger and the Uitlanders in the Transvaal, the Bloemfontein conference, and the growing tension between Great Britain and the South African republic, Garrett played a leading part. His position in South African politics became one of such importance that he was practically compelled to add to his arduous duties as editor of the 'Cape Times' those of a member of parliament. Returned at the Cape general election of 1898 as member for Victoria East, he immediately took a foremost place in the house of assembly, and in the two heated sessions preceding the war he was perhaps the most eloquent, and he was certainly the most persuasive, speaker on the 'progressive' (i.e. British) side, for, while warmly supporting Rhodes and the policy of Lord (then Sir Alfred) Milner, he showed great tact in dealing with the susceptibilities of his Dutch opponents. Indeed the policy which he always advocated, that of a United South Africa, absolutely autonomous in its own affairs, but remaining part of the British empire, is now an established fact, readily accepted by men of all parties. Garrett's important contribution to that result constitutes his chief title to remembrance. But the enormous physical strain was too much for his frail constitution. In the summer of 1899 his health broke down permanently. Obliged to leave South Africa, in an advanced stage of consumption, just before the outbreak of the war, he spent the next two or three years in sanatoria, first on the Continent and then in England, still hoping against hope that he might be able to return to an active political career. He had already in January 1900 resigned the editorship of the 'Cape Times,' and in 1902 he also gave up his seat in the house of assembly. He still from time to time, when his health permitted the exertion, wrote short articles and poems of exceptional merit, which are of permanent value, notably his brilliant 'Character Sketch' of Cecil Rhodes, published directly after Rhodes's death in the 'Contemporary Review' of June 1902, which is by far the most lifelike and best balanced picture of that great personality. Of much interest likewise are some of his memorial verses: 'The Last Trek,' written on the occasion of President Kruger's funeral progress from Cape Town to Pretoria (Spectator, 10 Dec. 1904), 'In Memoriam F. W. R.' (Frank Rhodes), (Westminster Gazette, 27 Oct. 1905), and 'A Millionaire's Epitaph' [​Alfred Beit, q. v. Suppl. II], (ibid. 20 July 1906). In March 1903 Garrett, then a hopeless invalid, was married to Miss Ellen Marriage, whose acquaintance he had made, as a fellow patient, at the sanatorium at Wiston, in Essex. Miss Marriage had been completely restored to health, and it was doubtless due to her care and devotion that Garrett's life was prolonged for another four years—years of great happiness, despite his complete physical prostration. In June 1904 Mr. and Mrs. Garrett settled in a cottage, Wiverton Acre, near Plympton, Devonshire. Garrett died there on 10 May 1907, and was buried at Brixton, Devonshire. To the last he occasionally wrote, chiefly on South Africa. Within a month of his death he contributed to the 'Standard' (12 April) an article on 'The Boer in the Saddle,' which showed no loss of his old brilliancy and force, although the effort involved in writing it was nearly fatal.

Besides the works mentioned Garrett published 'The Story of an African Crisis' (1897), and he contributed a chapter, 'Rhodes and Milner,' to 'The Empire and the Century' (1905). The Garrett Colonial Library, which was founded by colonial admirers in his memory, was opened at the Cambridge Union Society on 23 May 1911. A pencil portrait by Sir Edward Poynter is in the possession of his widow.

[An excellent Life by (Sir) E. T. Cook (1909) contains many extracts from his letters, a good photographic portrait, and, in the Appendix, some of his best fugitive pieces in prose and verse.]