Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Scott, Hugh Stowell

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SCOTT, HUGH STOWELL (1862–1903), novelist, who wrote under the pseudonym of Henry Seton Merriman, born at Newcastle-on-Tyne on 9 May 1862, was son of Henry Scott, a shipowner, of Newcastle-on-Tyne, by his wife Mary Sweet, daughter of James Wilson Carmichael [q. v.], marine painter. Hugh was educated at Loretto school, Musselburgh, and afterwards at Vevey and Wiesbaden. At eighteen he was placed by his father in an underwriter's office at Lloyd's in London. The routine of commerce proved distasteful. He cherished an ardent desire to travel abroad and to study foreign nationalities, and was thus impelled to try his hand at romance. His first experiment was 'Young Mistley,' which he submitted to Bentley and published anonymously in 1888 (2 vols.). In his next book, 'The Phantom Future' (1889, 2 vols.), he adopted the pseudonym of Henry Seton Merriman in order to evade the disapproval of his family, and he used the same disguise to the end. 'The Phantom Future' was followed by two other stories equally immature, 'Suspense' (1890, 3 vols.) and 'Prisoners and Captives' (1891, 3 vols.). Scott subsequently suppressed these three novels in England, but he failed to prevent their continued circulation in America. In 1892 he succeeded in interesting James Payn, then editor of 'Cornhill,' in a well-constructed story of French and English life, 'The Slave of the Lamp,' which after running through the magazine was well received on its separate issue. Its successor, 'From One Generation to Another' (1892), was welcomed so warmly as to justify Scott, whose means were always ample, in abandoning the City and in adopting exclusively the profession of novelist. In 1894 his West African story, 'With Edged Tools,' caught the fancy of the public and gave him a prominent position among popular romancists of his day. There quickly followed 'The Grey Lady' (1895), which dealt with seafaring life; some of its scenes were drawn from a visit to the Balearic Islands. Henceforth Merriman, as he was invariably called by the critics, lived a comparatively secluded life in the country, varied by foreign travel.

In conjunction with Stanley J. Weyman, a literary comrade who achieved a success parallel to his own, he studied the methods of Dumas and devoted all the time and money he could spare to the detailed mise en scène of a series of novels of modern nationalities. His most ambitious and on the whole most successful performance was the exciting Russian story which appeared in 1896 entitled 'The Sowers,' went through thirty editions in England alone, and was included in the Tauchnitz collection. It was followed at intervals of nearly eighteen months each by 'Flotsam,' a story of Delhi in Mutiny days (1896); 'In Kedar's Tents,' a tale of Spanish Carlist intrigue (1897); 'Roden's Corner,' an Anglo-Dutch story embodying an attack on unprincipled company promoting (1898); 'Dross' (Toronto, 1899), which was not issued in volume form in Great Britain; 'The Isle of Unrest,' a story of Corsican vendetta somewhat in the Merimee vein (1900); 'The Velvet Glove' (1901), in which, following the lead of 'In Kedar's Tents,' he depicted a Spanish gentleman and put some of his best work; 'Barlasch of the Guard' (1902), a story of Dantzig in 1812 and of Borodino and after, one of his most successful attempts at historical presentation; 'The Vultures' (1902), dealing with the abortive rising in Poland after the assassination of the Czar Alexander in 1881; and 'The Last Hope' (1904), a curious story of 1849 in which strands of Bourbon and Louis Napoleon romance are ingeniously mixed. The last work was issued posthumously. At his death Scott was one of the most effective and widely read novelists of his day. His success under a pseudonym had led several impostors to present themselves as authors of his most widely circulated books. More than most novelists he worked by a strenuous method, which involved rigid concentration and omission, close personal study of his backgrounds, and much rewriting of dialogue. His faults were a growing tendency to a moralising and sententious cynicism, a stereotyped repertory of characters — strong silent gentlemen, reserved and romance-loving maidens, and inflexibly trusty servants, and a progressive heightening of human faculties and idiosyncrasies at the expense of verisimilitude. His method did not suit either the short story or the essay, and his attempts in these directions, 'Tomaso's Fortune and other Stories' (1904), remained deservedly obscure. Scott's success was exclusively literary, for he avoided all self-advertisement.

Of singularly equable and genial temper, with a bent towards stoicism and the simple life, he had a gipsy-like love of 'the open road,' and watched with keen absorption the Life about him, especially in foreign towns. He died prematurely, after an attack of appendicitis, on 19 Nov. 1903, at Long Spring, Melton, near Woodbridge, and was buried at Eltham, Kent. He married on 19 June 1889 Ethel Frances Hall, who survived him without issue and became in August 1912 wife of the Rev. George Augustus Cobbold, perpetual curate of St. Bartholomew's, Ipswich. In two volumes of short stories, 'From Wisdom Court' (1893) and 'The Money Spinner' (1896), Scott collaborated with his wife's sister, Miss E. Beatrice Hall, who writes under the pseudonym of S. G. Tallentyre. A memorial collected edition of fourteen of Scott's novels in as many volumes appeared in 1909-10.

[The Times, 20 Nov. 1903; preface to Memorial Edition, 1909, by E. F. S[cott] and S. G. T., i.e. Miss E. Beatrice Hall; private information.]

T. S.