Today, the 8th December, marks the 182nd anniversary of George Alfred Henty’s birth. Henty was a prolific children’s author who wrote adventure stories for boys. His works were not only popular at the time but still are today with his texts being a desirable collector’s item. The Research Collections are proud to house not only the full collection of titles but also an archive containing biographies, catalogues and materials from the Henty Society. As we focus on research materials which are based on the experience of childhood I thought I would commemorate Henty’s 182nd birthday by looking at his early years.
In an interview conducted by George Knight, Henty was initially somewhat reluctant to divulge details of his upbringing. He said that he spent the majority of his boyhood in bed and ‘was practically a confirmed invalid’. This self-definition as bed bound was seen as enough information regarding his past; ‘The life of one invalid is pretty much like that of another, isn’t it? So now you know all about my boyhood’. As the conversation continued more details flowed and we learn a little more about how Henty became a renowned author. He was born in 1832 in Trumpington, a village near Cambridge, and moved to Canterbury five years later and then on to London when he was aged ten. So as well as being remebered by sickness, his childhood was also marked by relocating.
Before the age of fourteen, Henty had already had ‘a formidable list or more or less serious ailments’ which included profusely bleeding gums and rheumatic fever. The doctors were not expecting him to reach adulthood and his condition prevented him being in contact with any sharp implements as this could lead to bleeding to death.
Henty had a strong interest in reading and spent a lot of his time reading romance and adventure fiction when he was unable to attend school due to sickness. As well as reading, Henty was also an amateur poet, writing about love and fair maidens, much to the disapproval of his fellow school children. At the age of fourteen he attended Westminster School where his hobby of his led to him being mercilessly bullied ‘as if the whole school bore a personal animosity towards poets and poetry’. He reacted to these bullies by taking up boxing and attempted to seek revenge by challenging them, this had little success.
Henty had an interesting and varied life and this is only a snippet into his youth. I’m going to look through our archives and dig out more about his life and his career and share my findings with you!
Thank you for reading,
Interview taken from ‘When I was a boy’ in The Captain: A Magazine for Boys and Old Boys, Vol. 1, April – September 1899