Mayne T. Reid

Mayne T. Reid books and biography

Thomas Mayne Reid

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Thomas Mayne Reid (April 4, 1818 - October 22, 1883), was an Irish-American novelist. "Captain" Reid wrote many adventure novels akin to those written by Frederick Marryat and Robert Louis Stevenson. He was a great admirer of Lord Byron. These novels contain action that takes place primarily in untamed settings: The American West, Mexico, South Africa, The Himalayas, and Jamaica.


Born in Ballyroney, County Down, in the north of Ireland, the son of Rev. Thomas Mayne Reid Sr., who was a senior clerk of the Irish General Assembly. His father had wanted him to become a Presbyterian minister, so in September of 1834 he enrolled at Royal Academical Institution in Belfast. But, although he stayed for four years, he could not motivate himself enough to complete his studies and receive a degree. He headed back home to Ballyroney to teach school.

In December of 1839 he boarded the Dumfriesshire bound for New Orleans, Louisiana, arriving in January 1840. He made his way to New York City, and landed a job as a corn factor, or corn trader in the corn market. He only stayed six months, reports saying he left the position for refusing to whip slaves on the wharf. Next he became the tutor for General Peyton Robertson's children. Soon after he ran the New English, Mathematical, and Classical School; this lasted seven months, when he headed south again. He found work as a clerk for a provision dealer (general store; in either Natchez, Mississippi, or Natchitoches, Louisiana-not sure). In 1843 he had made his way to St. Louis, Missouri; here he joined a company headed west to the Rocky Mountains.

Literary Career

After his return from the west he had his first poem published in Godey's Lady's Book under the pseudonym "A Poor Scholar". He headed to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1843, and worked as a journalist. It was here that he met Edgar Allan Poe.

  • Poe would later write of Reid: "a colossal but most picturesque liar. He fibs on a surprising scale but with the finish of an artist, and that is why I listen to him attentively."

On December 3, 1846, he joined the First New York Volunteer Infantry to fight in the Mexican-American War; he received the commission of second lieutenant. A month later he landed in Vera Cruz with Major General Winfield Scott's army. Using the pseudonym "Ecolier", he was a correspondent for the Spirit of the Times of St. Louis, and published "Sketches by a Skirmisher" on May 1, 1843. At the battle of Chapultepec, on September 13, he received a severe thigh wound; three days later he was promoted to first lieutenant, for showing great courage during the battle. He was discharged from the army in May of 1848.

Love's Martyr, his first play, played at the Walnut Street Theater in New York for five nights, in October 1848. He published War Life, an account of his army service, June 27, 1849.

Learning of the Bavarian Revolution, he headed to England to volunteer. But, after the Atlantic crossing changed his mind, and instead headed home to northern Ireland. He shortly moved to London, and in 1850 published his first novel, The Rifle Rangers. This was followed by The Scalp Hunters (1851; dedicated to Commodore Edwin W. Moore, whom he met in 1841), The Desert Home (1852), and The Boy Hunters (1853). This latter book, set in Texas and Louisiana, was "juvenile scientific travelog". It would become a favorite of a young Theodore Roosevelt, who would become a huge Reid fan. That same year he married the daughter of his publisher G. W. Hyde, an English aristocrat, Elizabeth Hyde, a 15-year-old young lady.

After a short time off to spend with his new bride and honeymoon, he soon returned to writing. Continuing to base his novels off of his adventures in America, he turned out several more successful novels: The White Chief (1855), The Quadroon (1856), Oceola (1859), and The Headless Horseman (1865).

He spent money freely, including building the sprawling "Ranche", an elaborate reproduction of a Mexican hacienda that he had seen during the Mexican-American War. This extravagant living forced him to declare bankruptcy in November of 1866. The following October he moved to Newport, Rhode Island, he was hoping to recapture the success the U.S. had brought him earlier.

He lectured at Steinway Hall in New York, and published the novel The Helpless Hand in 1868. But America was not being as kind to Reid this time around. The wound he had received at Chapultepec started to bother him, and he was hospitalized for several months at St. Luke in June of 1870. Elizabeth hated America, and following his discharge from the hospital he and his wife returned to England on October 22, 1870, and lived at Ross on Wye, Herefordshire. Suffering from acute melancholia he was soon again hospitalized. He tried to write, but completed few projects. Living mainly off his U.S. Army pension, this was not enough to cover his situation.

Reid died in London, at the age of 65, and was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery.

  • "This is `weed prairie'; it is misnamed: It is the Garden of God." is on his grave marker and is a quotation from The Scalp Hunters.

Books like the Young Voyagers had great popularity, especially with boys. He was also very popular around the world, his tales of the American West captivated children everywhere, including Europe and Russia. Vladimir Nabokov recalled The Headless Horseman as a favourite adventure novel of his childhood years.

Although Mayne Reid called himself, and is listed often as, "captain", Francis B. Heitman's definitive Historical Register and Dictionary of the U.S. Army only shows lieutenant.

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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