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Herbert, Henry William (1807-1858)

Historian, Illustrator, Journalist, Novelist, Poet

Henry William Herbert was born into a decorated family in London to parents Rev. William Herbert and Hon. Letitia Emily Dorothea. He emigrated to the United States in 1831 and he spent the following eight years working as a professor of Latin and Greek at a New York City school. His brilliance as a teacher was undeniable; “as a classical scholar he had few equals in this country . . . his knowledge of English history and literature was extensive; he was a pen-and-ink artist of marked ability; as a sportsman he was unsurpassed; his pupils idolized him” (Starr) Hemstreet suggests that he had already started working on early manuscripts while teaching at in Whitehall, notably his historical romance Cromwell (216).

Herbert left his teaching job to devot himself entirely to his writing career, throughout which he wrote prodigiously. He co-founded the American Monthly Magazine in 1833 and, in 1835, he anonymously published the historical romance, The Brothers, a Tale of the Fronde. He published several other novels before transitioning into the mode of historical writing. He wrote The Knights of England, France, and Scotland (1852), The Captains of the Roman Republic (1854) and also continued to publish work in periodicals (Starr).

Herbert adopted the alias Frank Forester in 1839 when he began writing for American Turf. As Forester, he published several novels, including The Warwick Woodlands, or Things as They Were There Ten Years Ago (1845) and his prodigious Frank Forester’s Field of Sports of the United States, and British Provinces, of North America (1849) (Starr). Hemstreet writes that he was made famous by these novels, and “was the first to introduce sports of the field into fiction in America” (216-7). These books also highlighted Herbert’s artistic ability--he drew many of the illustrations found within them (Starr). Thomas Butler Gunn recalls meeting Herbert at a publishing house in 1849, describing him as a “very overbearing, self willed man” with a great deal of passion (9.151-3). While Gunn is sometimes overly critical, Starr writes that he sometimes alientated friends with his egnimatic mood swings, ambition, and aritsocratic pretensions.

Herbert was evidently known to Pfaffians, who mourned him when he committed suicide in 1858. Herbert's wife left him after only a few weeks of marriage, and her departure brought on a fit of depression which culminated when he shot himself. Gunn writes that his second wife, following his earlier widowhood (Starr), was “not herself unexceptional, flightyish &c, had a horror of her husband. He had struck and sworn at her” (Gunn 10.110) Charles Hemstreet describes the “hour of sadness” which hit Pfaff’s when his suicide was known, as “even his dearest friends were not prepared for the news” (216-7).

Yet, Herbert, whom Parry calls “an aristocrat among the Bohemians of New York, evidently did not spend much time at Pfaff’s. Parry writes, “He appeared among them rarely, and as seldom he included them among his guests at his New Jersey estate of the Cedars. An older man than most of the mansarders, he treated them with a certain touch of lordly superiority...but insisted that he was part of New York’s Bohemia." "The Pfaffians gladly accepted him as their own man” due to the intrigue provided by his love affairs and unpredictable actions. Parry’s account also sheds a more grisly light on Herbert’s suicide: “When his last young wife left him, Herbert-Forester arranged a grand dinner at the Stevens House on Broadway, near Bowling Green. There he invited his friends to eat, drink, and see him shoot himself dead before a large mirror" (49-50).

Herbert was buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Newark and was gifted a gravestone eighteen years later by the Newark Herbert Association. Frank Forester’s Sporting Scenes and Characters and Life and Writings of Frank Forester, at two volumes each, were published in 1881 and 1882, respectively.