The Tragic Case of Henry William Herbert, America’s Unruly “Forester”-Part Two

by Ann Neilson

After a month long hiatus of this series, I have decided to finally raise it from the dead and commence with the tragic tale of Henry William Herbert. Before we continue, please feel free to either acquaint or reacquaint yourself with the first part of this biographical tale.

Before his arrival in Canada, it is noteworthy that Herbert spent a couple of months in New York, where he became acquainted with the sporting crowd and was “admired [as being a] Byronic young Englishman for his horsemanship and for the cavalier boots and King Charles spurs that he affected” (White 20). White continues, “The earliest recorded incident of his life in the new world is a horse race in which he defeated a professional jockey” (20).

The United States seemed promising to Henry, despite any prejudiced sneers he may have received due to his British lineage. Author Luke White explains this in a thorough manner,

Into the hard, hostile environment of New York in the spring of 1831 stepped the twenty-four-year-old Henry William Herbert, a tall, muscular young man, fashionably dressed, who was a charming gentleman when he wanted to be, but an arrogant, overbearing brawler when opposed. He was aggressively proud of his aristocratic background, extremely sensitive to any criticism of himself or his country, and quick to take offense (19).

Ultimately, after two months in the States, he left to find prospects in Canada. Upon his arrival in Canada, Herbert took advantage of the warm summer climate to familiarize himself with the woodlands and wilderness of this new foreign country. Although it is surmised that he wanted to establish himself amongst the Canadians of the region, he ultimately left to return to the United States. He did not leave in vain, for David Judd, editor of Frank Forester: Life and Writings Volume 1, states, “Despite his short sojourn, the future sporting author gleaned much valuable information with regard to the game and field sports of British America,” information that would be pertinent in his future sport and nature writings (13).

His return to the United States fared seemingly well, for, although initially harboring ill feelings towards his new job prospect, he accepted a position in New York City as a Greek and Latin preceptor in the Reverend Townsend Huddart’s Classical Institute, a school established to “operate as a rival to the Grammar School of Columbia College” (14). Regardless of Herbert’s resentment towards his new position, it is said his students praised their professor and his elocutionary skills, especially when reading translations from various texts. Not only did Herbert inspire literature, language, and translation in the minds of his students, but his pupils would progressively follow in his steps, and he would form especial bonds with a few, namely Philip Hone Anthon.

Not only did this position favor Herbert in the way of allowing a passage to establish himself in New York and alongside what would be future peers, but it also placed him in contact with the head of Huddart’s English department, A. D. Patterson [sometimes spelled “Paterson,” which is how it will thus be spelled in these articles]. This connection was a pivotal point for Herbert in his literary and editorial career, for Paterson was “an elderly gentleman of superior education, whose popularity as a journalist commanded universal respect among the mercantile classes…” (14). While completing a total of eight years at Hudart’s, Henry was introduced by Paterson to the literary publishing world, where he found budding success in submitting theatrical criticisms to The Courier and Enquirer, a rival newspaper of The Herald in New York.

Although this will be discussed in my next post, it is worth noting ahead of time that the latter newspaper is of importance, for Henry would find both humiliation and an enemy in the editor of The Herald, James Gordon Bennett, a ruthless gentleman with great intolerance for anything that walked or breathed. Not only will my next post discuss how their rivalry, a shocking encounter, and public humiliation are connected between Herbert and Bennett, but we will emphasize how 1832 and 1833 proved to be both pivotal and slightly degrading years for Henry. Finally, I will discuss, in depth, the deep-rooted, respected partnership between Herbert and Paterson and their creation of the American Monthly Magazine in 1833.