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Louis Tracy Bibliography Page

Louis Tracy

Louis Tracy was a popular, though considered relatively minor, novelist, probably best known for his debut novel, the future-war adventure The Final War (1896), and as a crime novelist and collaborator with M. P. Shiel. Tracy was awarded a CBE for his work with the British War Mission in the USA and the bulk of his career is mapped out in his entry in Who's Who and in obituaries. There is, however, little known about his early career.

I'm going to cheat here. The best summary of Tracy's life I've found can be read here. There is also a comprehensive bibliography of Tracy's work compiled by John D. Squires. I recommend both resources to anyone who wants to find out more about Tracy, which means I can concentrate on the one thing that has been bugging me. I was checking his dates of birth and death and I couldn't find a trace of his birth.

John Squires, the compiler of the lengthy article on Louis Tracy cited above, summarizes the full extent of what is known about the first twenty years of Tracy's life in one fairly short paragraph:
Louis Tracy was born into a comfortable upper middle class family in Liverpool, England on March 18, 1863. His parents had the resources to give him a private education, first at his home in Yorkshire, and then for three years at the French Seminary at Douai. Growing up in relative leisure he amused himself with "sport, volunteering, fishing, and riding," but also joined the 1st Volunteer Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment. He showed an affinity for the army and by his eighteenth birthday had earned a full certificate for a captaincy, an unusual accomplishment at the time.
The date and place of his birth are both noted in his entry in Who's Who. Tracy seems never to have mentioned anything about his family or his parents, and briefly listed his education as "privately in Yorkshire and in France". His journalistic career began in 1884 when he joined The Northern Echo in Darlington, but the first 21 years are a blank canvas.

1901 census

A small amount of digging turns up Louis Joseph Tracy in the 1901 census, born in Liverpool aged 38 and at that time a boarder at 26 Maida Hill West, Paddington, London, along with his wife Ethel Jane Tracy and son Louis Turgis Tracy. Louis Turgis Tracy was born in Brighton, Sussex, in 1Q 1895. Who's Who notes that Tracy was married and had one son. However, there's a small twist to the story already as Louis Tracy did not marry Ethel Jane Morse, the daughter of John Morse, until 19 October 1896. At 33, Louis Tracy was already a widower.

Their marriage certificate offers the first clue about Louis Tracy's family as it lists his father's name and occupation, Thomas Tracy, police officer.

1896 marriage certificate

It took some digging but I've tracked down Thomas through various census returns.

1881 census, Sleegill, Hipswell, Yorkshire

1891 census, 48 Clay Lane Row, Eston, South Bank, Middlesborough

1901 census, 23 Skinner Street, Ruswarp, Whitby

Thomas was born in Ireland, although his age varies from one return to another—he ages 25 years in two decades—so it is difficult to pin down even a rough year of birth. Some time between 1832 and 1838. His wife, Bridget, was also born in Ireland, some time between 1835 and 1842.

Only the 1881 census shows a child's name, Joseph. Note that the 1901 census listed Louis Tracy as Louis Joseph Tracy. Given that there is no sign of a Louis Tracy born in Liverpool in 1863, I started to wonder if Louis Tracy was actually born Joseph Tracy.

1871 census, Plantation House, Ampleforth in Birdforth, Yorkshire

Working backwards (and I almost missed it due to poor OCR), I finally found the family in the 1871 census, which helpfully gives some full names: Thomas was married to Bridget Ann Tracy and their son was, in full, Patrick Joseph Tracy. I believe the deaths of both parents are registered in Whitby in 2Q 1907: Thomas in aged 74 (thus born c.1833) and Bridget Anne Tracy aged 72 (thus born c.1835). It would appear they died together as they are registered on the same page of the same volume.

My contention then is that Louis Tracy was born Patrick Joseph Tracy. I've no reason to think that the date of birth 18 March 1863 is wrong, but it seems probable that he was born in Ireland rather than Liverpool. It also seems likely that he was first married in 4Q 1888 in Whitby; there are two possibles: Emma Elizabeth Weston or Jane Ward. A George Collinson was also married in Whitby in the same record and a look in the 1891 census reveals there is a Geo. Collinson married to a Jane living in Hawsker cum Stainsacre, Yorkshire with two sons, one a 2-year-old, which just about fits the timeline for someone married in 1888.

Emma Elizabeth Weston is the likely name of Louis Tracy's first wife. And the death of an Emma Elizabeth Tracey (sic) is registered in Westminster in 2Q 1896, aged 30.

Some of this is a little speculative but it fits together quite neatly. Patrick Joseph Tracy is missing from the 1891 census when Louis Tracy is known to have been in Allahabad, India. The fact that Thomas and Bridget Anne Tracy lived in Whitby where Louis Tracy also lived is another pointer in the same direction. Now all we need is someone with some cash to buy up a few birth, marriage and death certificates to see if they can provide any more clues.

Shiel’s Collaborators II: Louis Tracy (1863-1928)


A Whiff of Collaboration

The Tracy-Shiel Connection

[Revised through August 13, 2006]




John D. Squires



“...and simultaneously [I] was in with Louis Tracy, with whom

I wrote several ‘books’ under a pen-name, he having ‘the idea,’

I concocting ‘the plot,’ writing the first half, he the second—in

a wildly different style!I can’t think now with what motive I so

wasted myself.”M. P. Shiel, “About Myself” (1929.)


Despite his brave front about writing art for art’s sake in “Premier and Maker” in his decadent masterpiece, Shapes in the Fire (1896),[1] by 1902 Shiel’s motive for collaborating with Tracy was very simple.He needed the money.Shiel left few clues about the extent of his relationship with Tracy, and no substantial caches of Tracy’s papers have been located to date.The bare facts of his biography can be extracted from an early interview and a few short biographical pieces.[2]

Louis Tracy was born into a comfortable upper middle class family in Liverpool, England on March 18, 1863.His parents had the resources to give him a private education, first at his home in Yorkshire, and then for three years at the French Seminary at Douai.Growing up in relative leisure he amused himself with “sport, volunteering, fishing, and riding,” but also joined the 1st Volunteer Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment.He showed an affinity for the army and by his eighteenth birthday had earned a full certificate for a captaincy, an unusual accomplishment at the time.[3]

Around 1884 he fell into journalism.“It was all owing to a letter I wrote in the zeal of my youth, a la Ruskin, to a local paper denouncing a railway that it was proposed to bring through a beautiful Yorkshire valley. This letter attracted the attention of a sharp-eyed local editor, who immediately offered me an appointment as a reporter.”[4]That paper was The Northern Echo at Darlington, where a few years before W. T. Stead [5] had first made his mark.He later moved on to a paper in Cardiff, Wales, and then to Allahabad where he edited the Morning Post.[6]

Tracy returned to England in late 1892 and assisted T. P. O’Connor to start The Sun.[7] While still at The Sun he advised Arthur Harmsworth (later Lord, then Viscount Northcliffe, 1865-1922) of the potential sale of The Evening News and Post and in 1894 joined Harmsworth in acquiring the paper.Tracy edited the paper for a short time, renamed The Evening News, before selling his shares to Harmsworth.By his early sale Tracy missed out on a fortune when the shares greatly increased in value, but the early proceeds may have been the source of the funds he spent in the harsh depression winter of 1894.“What Mr. Tracy is most proud of is the feeding of three and one-half millions starving Londoners in the winter of 1894. For six weeks he ran twenty-three soup kitchens unaided, and expended $45,000."[8]This was the same brutal winter that hovers in the background of Shiel’s first novel, The Rajah’s Sapphire (1896): “But the poor shivered, and moaned, and starved under the inhumanity of heaven, and the unwisdom and pitilessness of earth.”[9]

Tracy’s first book had been a biography, Magnay Mallonder, A Brief Memoir of a Short Life, London (1885), followed by (as editor) Marvin's Letters to the "Morning Post."Written during ... 1888-90, Allahabad (1891), and What I Saw in India. The Adventures of a Globetrotter, Allahabad (1892.)After his return to England Tracy contributed a series of short pieces to the Idlers’ Club and wrote several short stories, most notably “The Cholera Cloud,” all based on his Indian experiences.[10]He soon conceived the idea for his first novel:


In November, 1895...not at the time being interested in

a daily newspaper, and having been accustomed for years to

express my opinion in leading articles, I felt very keenly that

I was muzzled in face of the pronounced hostility that was

being shown to England at that time by France, Germany,

Russia and America.The whole world seemed to be up in

arms, ready and eager to jump on Old England. All countries

seemed to be snapping like fox terriers at the heels of John

Bull. I thought it was time that the bull should turn and give

them a taste of his horns, and let them know who was their

master. For, notwithstanding the use of modern arms, you

know I firmly believe in the old saying that one Englishman

is worth five of any other people in the world.

Well, I determined that the patriotic sentiments that

were very prevalent among the people at that time, although

not among the Press, should be supplied with something to

keep them alive.In this way I laid the germ of The Final War.

One Sunday Afternoon I discussed the matter with an

old friend, and the idea of the romance was thought out: a great

war to be the end of all war.[11]


Tracy’s old friend was probably W. H. S. Johnstone.George Locke, in his A Spectrum of Fantasy: The Bibliography and Biography of A Collection of Fantastic Literature, Ferret Fantasy, London, 1980, quotes at page 213 the following inscription in a first edition of The Final War, “To my oldest friend and invaluable collaborator, W. H. S. Johnstone, with 100 per cent of thanks and 30 per cent of congratulations, Louis Tracy.Nov. ‘96."In page v of his Introduction to the 1998 Routledge/Thoemmes Press edition of The Final War, Locke again quoted this inscription and wrote further, “Johnstone was probably W. H. Sonley-Johnstone, who edited Remington’s Standard Library of Foreign Classics.”

He sold the serial to C. Arthur Pearson, Ltd. based on an outline of the story, but actually wrote much of The Final War as weekly installments fell due. “You may remember that I broke down with fever when I was in the middle of the story, and, as I was doing an installment a week, just as it was required to go to press, this was pretty awkward.”[12]The serial ran from 28 December 1895 - 1 August 1896 in Pearson’s Weekly.The day after it began Dr. Leander Starr Jameson (1853-1917) led his abortive raid into the Boer Republic, riding the dream of Cecil Rhodes to unite southern Africa (and the Transvaal gold fields) under the Union Jack.The raid itself was a fiasco and the invaders quickly captured by the Boers, but Jameson appearedin later installments of Tracy’s novel as an English hero.[13]


"Now, as to my methods of writing my story. I determined first,

that England must start a struggle against France and Germany and

Russia, and must not only meet them, but beat them. I resolved to

disregard the alliance that most experts agreed existed among the

armed Powers on the Continent.

"I determined, also, that England was as strong as any other

Power on the Continent. It is true, of course, that the army corps

of France or Germany are infinitely superior to our own, but once

let Tommy Atkins come to the front, and this superiority would

be no longer. The English character will fight its way on top.

"Having settled this, I arranged my campaigns, and wove in a

personal romance with which to string my incidents together. Well,

the story started, and," added Mr. Tracy modestly, “it went.

"Where did I obtain all my military information? Many people

have been puzzled over that. In addition to my juvenile experiences,

however, I joined, when I was in India, the Allahabad Light Horse

Volunteers. Moreover, military society was the only society that

an editor could find in that station, with the exception of the Civil

Servants.[14] These latter, you must remember, are the picked men

of England. They are, in fact, the men who run India. Again, it is

in India that the true British army is to be found. It can't be equaled

all the world over, and it was by rubbing shoulders with the men

who made it that I picked up my knowledge. This accounts for

the very few technical mistakes I made.

"I have no defence, of course, for the enormous speed with

which I moved my armies from one part of the world to the other.

Hannibal or Napoleon never attained such speed as I did. At Mr.

Pearson's orders I had to whip the world between December and

July, and had also to make the English army invade, in that time,

the three capitals of France, Germany, and Russia.[15]

"But I can defend all my battles, and I believe that if they were

to occur in reality, we should beat those gentlemen who opposed

us in very much the same style as I beat them on paper.[16]

As suggested by this quotation, The Final War is a jingoistic fantasy in which the class system is never questioned, all Englishmen are brave and steadfast, all foreigners are deceptive and generally less competent than their English foes.Tracy’s presumption that small numbers of Englishmen could easily handle multitudes of foreigners was a common fallacy founded in part on the British Colonial army’s experiences suppressing hordes of ill-armed native warriors.The generation that cheerfully marched off to war in 1914 with their minds filled with such nonsense died between the trenches, including Tracy’s own son.English character did not deflect machine gun bullets and cannon shells.

"After finishing this romance I went to America to get local colour for AnAmerican Emperor,”[17] passing through customs in New York on July 18, 1896, having presumably turned in the last few installments early.In The Final War Tracy wrote of a conspiracy by the European powers to destroy England and steal her colonies in which America came to England’s aid in trouncing oldEurope.In An American Emperor the hero of the novel was an American millionaire, (Jerome K. Vansittart, the richest man in the world)who becomes emperor of France.These novels established a trend.Tracy’s fiction frequently featured American characters, which made it much easier to sell on both sides of the Atlantic.This was a practical ploy that Shiel never emulated, which may help to explain his troubles in attracting American publishers for many of his early novels.

An American Emperor was serialized in Pearson’s Weekly, 26 December 1896 - 26 June 1897.Tracy again fell ill while the serial was in progress, but this time Shiel was drafted to step in for him, writing chapters 29-39, appearing beginning 17 April 1897.We don’t know when or how Shiel met Tracy, or even if Shiel was brought in by Tracy or his publisher, but his contribution was retained in the book version, published in America in August 1897 and in England the following month, though without attribution.[18]

Then in November 1897 two German missionaries were murdered in a small village in China near the birthplace of Confucius.Kaiser Wilhelm II immediately went into full bluster and started what history recorded as the Scramble For Concessions, which in a few years would trigger the Boxer Rebellion. In 1929 in “About Myself” Shiel wrote:“When some trouble broke out in China, Keary,[19] of Pearson’s, for whom Tracy had written a very ‘successful’ serial (The Final War), asked me to do a ‘war-serial’, which became my ‘successful’ YellowDanger.....”It has been suggested that Tracy had recommended Shiel, though Keary may have known him well enough already.Though the details have yet to be confirmed, it is likely that Shiel’s novel The Man-Stealers (about a French plot to kidnap the Duke of Wellington) had already been serialized in some obscure Pearson paper.It was listed among Shiel’s prior publications in the caption of the first installment of his new serial, though The Man-Stealers would not be issued in book form for another two years.

The Empress of the Earth was published in another Pearson weekly, Short Stories, from 5 Feb -18 June 1898 and created a sensation.Shiel cleverly wove incidents from the previous week’s headlines into each successive installment, so as wild as it reads today, the serial can almost be used as a textbook on contemporary events.[20]The public loved it.Pearson was soon urging Shiel to extend it out, eventually to 150,000 words, though he cut it back by a third for the book version, issued as The Yellow Danger by Grant Richards in July.He had to further excise some anti-American comments and rewrite the last chapter at the insistence of the American publisher.[21]The serial itself was successful enough to immediately earn Shiel another commission to capitalize on the outbreak of the Spanish-American War.Contraband of War ran in Pearson’s Weekly, 7 May 1898 - 9 July 1898.As he had in Empress, Shiel incorporated on-going war news into successive weekly installments, lending verisimilitude to the first half of the serial.The overwhelming nature of the final American naval victory off Santiago, Cuba outstripped Shiel’s imagination at the end.He would later have the same problem with his novelization of the Russo-Japanese War which was quickly dated by his failure to anticipate Japan’s crushing victory over the Russian fleet at Tsushima.[22]

Meanwhile Tracy had written a sequel to An American Emperor, The Lost Provinces, which ran 1 Jan - 11 June 1898 in Pearson’s Weekly and was published in book form that November.He also drew on his Indian experiences again with Meeting the Sun. Some Anglo-Indian Snapshots, with Occasional Verses, Allahabad: Morning Post Press, 1898.

The balance of 1898 was one of Shiel’s most creative periods.During this time he conceived the loosely linked trinity of novels which made his lasting reputation.David Hartwell

once described them as the first “Future History” series in Science Fiction.[23]Each novel has a similar Preface which purports to show that it is the transcription of a medium’s accounts of successively distant future events, numbered notebooks, I, II and III.The occult framing device may have been suggested to Shiel by his first collaborator, the crusading journalist and spiritualist, W. T. Stead.

Notebook I became The Last Miracle, an account of a revolution in faith leading to a new scientific church of the overman.[24]Notebook II became The Lord of the Sea,[25] a critique ofprivate ownership of land based on Henry George’s Progress and Poverty (1879).Notebook III became The Purple Cloud, Shiel’s most famous and enduring novel.[26]

We know from surviving letters from Shiel to his primary English publisher, Grant Richards, that Shiel was seeking a publisher for The Last Miracle as early as the Fall of

1898.[27]As usual he was hoping to find both a serial market as well as a book publisher.He needed both to maximize his returns on his work.His need for money was sharpened on 3 November 1898 when Shiel married the beautiful young Parisian-Spaniard, Carolina Garcia Gomez in Saint Peter’s Italian Church, London.Legend has it that his London neighbor and friend Arthur Machen was among the witnesses for the ceremony that day, but it was Lina’s mother, Dolores Gomez, who signed the certificate as witness.Shiel later blamed her meddling for the failure of the marriage.She repeatedly induced Lina to leave him behind in London to return to her in France, harping constantly over Shiel’s ever precarious finances.Many of Shiel’s letters to Richards over the period of the marriage contained exhortations for advances against royalties or loans against work to be delivered.

Despite the best efforts of Richards and the literary agent, J. B. Pinker, the letters reveal that no serial or book publisher could be found for The Last Miracle, presumably due to its “agnostic tone.”[28]The book itself did not see print until 1906.The focus of the letters shifted to other books.

In May 1899 Shiel wrote that he was well into a “strike story” for Pearson which he expected to begin serialization soon.On June 15 he added that Pearson was looking into copyrighting the strike story in America.Then in a letter probably written in July Shiel confessed that he had been told to halt work on the story for now, but reassured Richards that all remained well.[29]

Shiel’s hopes then shifted to the anticipated success of his historical romance about Henry VIII, Cold Steel.It had been serialized in Pearson’s Weekly, 31 December 1898 - 6 May 1899, and through the Summer and Fall Shiel was urging Richards to hurry the book and to “boom” [promote] it.The heroine of the book was modeled on his young bride, Lina.[30]Shiel’s initial literary reputation had been based on the popular success of two serial novels inspired by current events, The Empress of the Earth / The Yellow Danger and Contraband of War.Part of their popular appeal had been Shiel’s skill at incorporating actual headline events from each crisis into the successive weekly installments of those serials.

It is a little ironic then that his hopes for the success of the book version of Cold Steel were crushed by another international crisis.As Shiel was correcting proofs for Richards and urging him to hurry the book to print, England was reinforcing her South African colonies in anticipation of trouble with the Boer Republics.On 13 October 1900 the Boers invaded Natal and by the end of the month Kimberley, Mafeking & Ladysmith were besieged.Cold Steel was released by Richards on November 14, but the public’s attention was elsewhere.December 10-15 brought the Battles of Stormberg, Magersfontein & Colenso, and was known as “The Black Week” of British disasters in the war.Though generally favorable reviews appeared the same month Cold Steel sank like a stone.The dismal sales left Shiel in a funk.He had talked Grant Richards into a large advance against anticipated royalties which would now have to be repaid.

Shiel blamed the war for other personal disasters as well.He had first mentioned The Purple Cloud to Richards in a letter in July, 1899 as The Second Adam.Shiel was not above offering manuscripts to several publishers seeking the best terms, and it is unclear if he ever formally offered the book to Richards at all.Another firm would eventually publish the book version though Richards did bring out The Lord of the Sea.But Shiel was playing a balancing act among his various publishers with the several books.C. Arthur Pearson, Ltd had initially agreed to publish serial versions of the two books, but its managing director, Peter Keary, insisted that book versions not be published sooner than four months after completion of the serials.The respective book publishers were equally concerned that the anticipated books not compete with each other, and expected a six month delay between them.Shiel was now desperate for money with the failure of Cold Steel, and anxious to get the serials into print so the books could proceed on time.

Then Peter Keary pulled The Lord of the Sea from the serialization queue at Pearson’s Weekly.Anxious to capitalize on the public’s natural focus on the Boer War, Keary commissioned instead a new future war serial from Shiel’s onetime collaborator, Louis Tracy.The Invaders ran in Pearson’s Weekly, 10 March - 11 August 1900 andincorporated all the usual future war clichés.[31]Germany & France take advantage of the diversion of England’s regular army to South Africa to launch a perfidious sneak attack, but are roundly defeated by English militia.In the end the chastened German and French prisoners practically thank their English victors for the sharp lesson they’ve been taught. Tracy was capable of a level of chest beating jingoism to which Shiel never sank.

Shiel’s pique at Keary was shared with Richards in at least two letters.In an undated letter [probably Jan or Feb 1900] in the Morse collection he said:


“After leaving you today I gave it pretty hard to Keary, as I said I

would — but without the bamboo, after all — with the hand.He

took it rather well, so that now I am, if anything, sorry.However,

he really deserves it....”[32]


In a letter received stamped by Richards on 28 Feb 1900 he said further:


“As to The Lord of the Sea, that will be appearing in Pearson’s

after completion of a story by Louis Tracy, as to the putting in

of which before mine I have a grievance.Mine will run quite

four to five months, so it will be about eight months before it

can be published in book.From what they tell me, however,

it will repay waiting.” [33]


Unfortunately for Shiel, The Lord of the Sea never made it back into the publishing queue at Pearson’s.Perhaps he should have dealt more civilly with Keary.[34]Worse, publication of the book itself was delayed by a dispute over rights between Richards and Hutchinson & Co., who published Shiel’s The Man-Stealers in the summer of 1900.Shiel’s financial pressures can only have been compounded by the birth of Dolores (Lola) Katherine Shiel in London on 26 July 1900. On 3 September he wrote Richards disputing Richard’s claims to publishing rights over Lord or The Second Adam, while begging for a modification of their terms over Cold Steel so the whole loss should not fall on Shiel.[35]He also complained again that Pearson had Shiel’s promise that the book would not come out until four months after the serial.

Richards and Shiel finally resolved their dispute over the two novels.Richards dropped his claim to The Second Adam and proceeded with book publication of The Lord of the Sea in May 1901.Keary ran an abbreviated serial version of The Purple Cloud in another of the Pearson magazine stable, the more upscale Royal Magazine, monthly from January to June 1901 with illustrations by J. J. Cameron.[36]Shiel’s financial straights, however, had lead him to sell all British book rights to The Purple Cloud on 13 September 1900 for a mere £70.[37]He was too desperate for immediate money to gamble on the uncertainty of future royalties.

The Purple Cloud was published that Fall by Chatto & Windus.To compound Shiel’s financial woes no American publisher could be found, so the 1901 text actually went into the public domain in America six months later.Though he was entitled to royalties on The Lord of the Sea, Grant Richards duly applied them first to the royalties previously advanced to Shiel on Cold Steel.In short, by this time Shiel had written the two books by which he is best remembered today, but was receiving almost no money for his best work.The depth of Shiel’s financial difficulties is suggested in the letter he wrote to W. T. Stead dated 15 August 1901 thanking him for his extensive review of The Lord of the Sea in the August 1901 issue of Stead’s The Review of Reviews.In a final postscript Shiel added: “P.P.S. If one of the men who help you to run the Review of Reviews die, or take to drink, or otherwise fail you, I shall be always glad, if you will offer it me, to take his place.I am at present reviewing and doing causeries for the Daily News: but have heaps of time.”Here is the Shiel who in his essays espoused art for art’s sake begging for a job as a “mere” journalist.[38]

While Shiel was struggling with Keary and Richards to get those books published, The Great Strike commenced in the 29 December 1900 issue of Pearson’s Weekly.The first installment did not give the author’s name, but all subsequent installments through the last on 13 April 1901 were credited not to Shiel, but to Louis Tracy.What then had happened to the strike story Shiel had written for Pearson?Shiel’s literary executor, John Gawsworth, left a note suggesting that it had been completed but not published.No surviving copies of his draft have been located.Shiel himself had implied to Richards that it was soon to be published, but Pearson had told him to stop work on it for the time.How did Tracy get involved?

Given the similarity of the title in Shiel’s letters to the published serial it seems too much to believe that Tracy, who Shiel had already collaborated with in An American Emperor, independently just happened to write another strike story to submit to Pearson on speculation.That leaves two possibilities.Pearson may have rejected Shiel’s version of the story out of hand and turned the project over to Tracy.Or Pearson may have demanded such extensive revisions that Shiel no longer wanted to have his name on it.In that case Shiel might have asked Tracy to either front for him, or perhaps, to rewrite his draft to Pearson’s specifications.In either event 1900 seems the watershed year for Shiel & Tracy’s future relationship.In the beginning of the year Shiel was badly hurt financially when Keary bumped The Lord of the Sea from the publication queue in favor of Tracy’s The Invaders.By the end of the year Shiel had either lost another commission to Tracy outright, or they had begun their second collaboration.

In the chapters Shiel contributed to An American Emperor and to the four subsequent books he later acknowledged as full collaborations, it is fairly easy to spot Shiel’s stylistic touches.They are much harder to find in The Great Strike.The characters, plotting and style seem much closer to Tracy’s normal work than Shiel’s.Particularly the character of the villain, Black Sam, “a good-for-nothing man and a virulent Socialist” seems alien to Shiel.He was himself a socialist, though a proponent of Henry George rather than Marx.Shiel would have been more inclined to write a novel espousing socialism, as indeed he did explicitly in The Lord of the Sea, and again in the closing chapters of The Yellow Wave (1905.)Socialist notions frequently pop up throughout his opus, though generally just in passing.If his initial draft followed Shiel’s heart on this point, that may well be why Pearson rejected it.And an outright rejection by Pearson on such political grounds may help explain why his pro-socialist messages were just inserted as asides in most later novels rather than made central to the plot.Even in The Lord of the Sea there are so many elements of the story that some readers failed to note the essence of the novel was an attack on private ownership of land based on Henry George’s theory.

One aspect of the story is particularly disturbing to modern readers, and might well have been a source of discomfort with Shiel as well.That is the attitude expressed towards the Belgian workers who are brought in as “blacklegs” (strike-breakers) in the novel.The arrival of the first group of workers and their march through the streets escorted by troops is described as follows:[39]


They were an undersized and mongrel crew—puny, even, in

comparison with the average Lancashire mill-hand, whose occupation

is not conductive to stalwart frame or well-nourished limbs.

But however insignificant individually, they provided, as a body,

a terrifying object lesson.The were quite as well qualified to guide

spindles and control engines as any class of operatives in Lancashire,

and the haunting spectre of an invasion full of greater menace than the

appearance of an armed enemy in this country stalked along with them.

For these men would work longer hours for less pay than an

Englishman would deem possible.They were able to exist upon food

which the working classes of England have learned to reject.Their

wants were few, their pleasure simple and inexpensive.The catering

which they would receive and the wages they would earn must seem

to them an El Dorado by comparison with the slums of Ghent.

In a word, they constituted a moving plague, and men’s hearts

were sore, whilst women’s eyes filled with tears as they watched these

human bacilli moving through the streets under the protection of British



As has been noted by Harold Billings in his M. P. Shiel: A Biography of the Early Years, Shiel remained conscious that he himself “was no Englishman,” and would have been unlikely to have so readily likened peaceful foreigners in England to plague germs.[40]In contrast this passage evokes a comment from Tracy’s interview in Pearson’s Weekly, which assured its readers that“He is a fine specimen of the shrewd Yorkshireman, and the only thing foreign about him is the three years education that he had in France.”[41]

Though the characters, plotting and style seem closer to Tracy, the conclusion of The Great Strike is pretty radical for the time.The resolution of the strike includes the owner of the mill effectively giving 2/3 of his future profits to his workers on a cooperative basis, with 1/3 given outright and 1/3 given in trust to a pension fund.That scheme was revolutionary in 1901 and seems a very odd thing for Tracy to have conceived.If it was Shiel’s contribution, the outlines of the proposal may well be eventually traced to some progressive tract.If it originated with Tracy, perhaps it is a reflection of the compassion which led him to run those soup kitchens in the harsh winter of 1894.The serial was retitled The Wooing of Esther Gray when published in book form by Pearson the next year.[42]

In September 1901 Pearson also published Tracy’s The Strange Disappearance of Lady Delia.A prior serial was likely, but remains untraced since most of the weekly and daily papers of the period which ran such fiction have not been indexed.No US publication occurred within six months, so that novel passed into the public domain in America.That may explain why Tracy later changed a few names, retitled it A Mysterious Disappearance, and published it in New York under the Gordon Holmes pseudonym.[43]Shiel told John Gawsworth that he had nothing to do with it, but this was the first Holmes novel.

In 1902 Shiel’s fiction took a new direction.In Love’s Whirlpool was serialized in Cassell’s Saturday Journal, No 972, 14 May 1902 - No 988, 3 Sept 1902, and published by Grant Richards as The Weird o’It that December.This was the first of a series of novels published between 1902 and 1909 sometimes described as his middle period romantics.Unlike the majority of his prior novels they were set in contemporary England and concerned with something closer to everyday life.In a broad sense they were closer to the more traditional romantic mystery stories that Tracy typically wrote.But unlike a typical lightweight Tracy novel, The Weird o’It includes multiple layers of meaning and philosophical depth.In 1909 in “On Reading,” Shiel wrote:


“You might read, or reread, if you love life, or conscience, or progress,

this Weird o’It: a book no longer in every respect to my liking: but a true

Bible, or Holy Book, once more in modern times, with ‘plenary inspiration’ enough, if you like it plenary.Only forgive where I ‘spoke as a man’ saying

more than I knew, since I meant well.”[44]

In a collector’s copy in 1924 he elaborated:


“An attempt this at the presentation of Christianity in a radical way, I

at the time being enamoured of ‘the personality of Jesus.’But, since

what we know of Jesus is so much like nothing, that some critics can

even doubt that he ever lived, it follows that whoever is enamoured

of ‘his’ personality must be enamoured of a subjective image, not of

an objective reality.I did not realize this then.However, better an

enthusiasm for a dream-image than no enthusiasm, and I can still

look down with respect upon our writer here, without having his

point of view.”[45]


In contrast Tracy had explained in his 1897 interview:


“No. I haven't gone in for any high art in fiction yet. I leave that for

the future. I just try to write a bright, popular story that will interest

the reader and carry him on from one installment to another. I am

dead against the problem novel, and think that the time is coming

when only the books and papers that avoid such things will make

their way."[46]


Tracy never really deviated from his early approach to fiction.He used a simple, straightforward style to tell conventional romantic stories, usually with mystery elements and happy endings.Shiel’s novels were written in a far more elaborate style, often approaching poetry in prose, and rarely had conventional happy endings.In the final chapters of The Weird o’It seven major characters die, including the hero and heroine, yet in Shiel’s terms it was a “happy ending” because Jack Hay’s family is morally redeemed.The Grant Richards edition was not reprinted and no American publisher took on the book.[47]

Shiel’s next novel, Unto the Third Generation, began serialization in The Morning Leader on March 30, 1903 and ran through May 20.It was published as a book in September by Chatto & Windus.There is no evidence that Tracy contributed, but sometime in 1903 Shiel began collaborating with Tracy in earnest.Perhaps coincidentally Tracy’s output went into overdrive that year, increasing from an annual output of one or two serials or books to five books published in 1903.It is a little difficult to judge when some of these were actually written. Most were probably serialized, though none of those serials have been confirmed.It was not uncommon for a six month or a year’s delay between serial and book publication, so some of the 1903 books might have been written in 1902, or even earlier.But Tracy’s output remained at four or five books a year through 1907.He may have wanted help from Shiel just to keep up with the volume.1903 was also the year that Edward J. Clode (1868-1941) left Brentanos to start his own publishing firm in New York.

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