The Tragic Case of Henry William Herbert, America’s Unruly “Forester”-Part One
by Ann Neilson
Frank Forester was not an uncommon name during the mid nineteenth-century. Forester, a dignified sportsman, known to his friends as being full of vitality and exuberance, published several accomplished volumes of literature, including manuals about Horsemanship and guides about the Warwick woodlands and field sports. Behind this steadily growing literary star, however, was the primary source of the Forester character-nay, pseudonym-an ambivert with a penchant for sorrow and cynicism—Henry William Herbert.
By the time Herbert’s Forester alter-ego began to emerge, Henry had faced several hardships, which had forced him, albeit slowly, into a sedentary life in New Jersey, eventually nearly being confined to the tranquil, morose solitude of his home, The Cedars. Life had been vastly different for the Englishman just two years before, especially more than a decade before; and although this turbulent figure had a temper to be unsurpassed, our sympathies lie with Henry—fate’s unscrupulous, demanding hold confined him to a prison of the mind and soul from which he never escaped.
Born in London, United Kingdom, April 7, 1807, young Henry found himself swathed and nurtured in the wealth of his aristocratic lineage, being the grandson of Henry Herbert, the 1st Earl of Carnarvon. According to Luke White, Jr., author of Henry William Herbert and the American Publishing Scene, Herbert, during his early years, “acquired that twin enthusiasm for books and the out-of-doors…” (5). Henry commenced with receiving a classical education, was enrolled at Caius college, Cambridge, and graduated with honors in 1830 (5). Upon graduation, he carried with him proper knowledge of the classical languages-which he would put to use while completing an eleven-year professorship as a teacher of Greek and Latin at the Reverend R. Townsend Huddart’s Classical Institute-as well as several debts due to gambling and spending lavishly, a habit that would follow him to the grave (5, 20). These overwhelming debts may have caused concern for his family, for between just 1830 and 1831 it is recorded that Henry left his home in London. It is also recorded, according to White, that “in answer to an inquiry, ‘the Herbert family, the late Earl of Carnarvon speaking through his secretary, said they were not aware of any Henry William Herbert in their family'” (6). This statement alone seems to lend credence and severity to the notion that Henry had brought shame to the family due to his erratic indulgences, and may have affected an implied estrangement from the family—let it be noted that Henry never returned to England, nor did he seem to remain close with his family, as far as lack of correspondences prove.
After his departure from London, he stayed briefly in France, either to take in the culture and language, as exaggeratedly evinced by Henry, or to (most likely) escape the debtors on his tail. France did not seem to provide either the security or needs that Henry needed however, and he set sail for America in 1831, carrying at his side money and letters of introduction for a gentleman in Canada. Thus began the beginning of Henry’s hopeful new life, and climb to literary fame—thus also began the downfall to his unforeseen and tragic demise.