Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Merivale, Herman Charles

MERIVALE, HERMAN CHARLES (1839–1906), playwright and novelist, born in London on 27 Jan. 1839, was only son of Herman Merivale, permanent under-secretary of the India office [q. v.]. Herman was educated first at a preparatory school and then at Harrow, where C. J. Vaughan, the headmaster, became much attached to him. He gives a full account of his schooldays in 'Bar, Stage, and Platform' (1902; of. pp. 168-214). On leaving school in 1857 Merivale entered Balliol College, Oxford, where Swinburne and Charles Bowen were his contemporaries. He graduated B.A. in 1861, with a first class in classical moderations and a second in the final classical school. From early youth Merivale had been devoted to the drama, and was a good amateur actor, but his endeavour to found a dramatic club at Oxford, as Sir F. C. Burnand did at Cambridge, was foiled by the opposition of the dons. He was called to the bar of the Inner Temple on 26 Jan. 1864; he went the western circuit, and also the Norfolk circuit, where Matthew Arnold was his companion. Later he was through his father's influence junior counsel for the government on Indian appeals, and in 1867 boundary commissioner for North Wales under the Reform Act. From 1870 to 1880 he edited the 'Annual Register.' At his father's house he met many distinguished men, including Lord Robert Cecil, afterwards Lord Salisbury, who was a lifelong friend.

After his father's death in 1874 Merivale gave up the law, and, following his real tastes, devoted himself to literature and the drama. As early as 1867 he had written, under the pseudonym of Felix Dale, a farce, 'He's a Lunatic,' in which John Clayton [q. v.] played the chief part, and in 1872 Hermann Vezin produced at tho Court Theatre 'A Son of the Soil,' which Merivale adapted from Ponsard's 'Le Lion Amoureux.'

His first dramatic success was 'All for her,' founded on Dickens's 'Tale of Two Cities,' written in collaboration with J. Palgrave Simpson, and produced by John Clayton at the Mirror Theatre (formerly the Holborn) on 18, Oct. 1875. In the autumn of 1879 Miss Genevieve Ward produced 'Forget-me-not,' by Herman Merivale and F. C. Grove (cf. Bram Stoker, Personal Reminiscences of Sir Henry Irving, 1907, p. 350), and she played the part of the heroine, Stéphanie de Mohrivart, for ten years (over 2000 times) in all parts of the world (cf. Helen C. Black, Pen, Pencil, Baton and Mask, p. 180). In 1882, at Bancroft's invitation, Merivale adapted with admirable skill Sardou's 'Fédora.' Merivale's 'The White Pilgrim,' produced by Hermann Vezin in 1883, is poetic drama of the highest quality. Merivale published the piece in a volume with other poems in the same year.

Merivale wrote many excellent farces and burlesques. At John Hollingshead's invitation he produced 'The Lady of Lyons Married and Settled' (Gaiety Theatre, 5 Oct. 1878), and 'Called There and Back' (Gaiety, 15 Oct. 1884). 'The Butler' (1886) and 'The Don' (1888) were both written for Toole, who took great pleasure in playing them, especially 'The Don' (cf. J. Hatton, Reminiscences of J. L. Toole, 1892, pp. 264–5). In 1882 Merivale sold the acting rights of 'Edgar and Lucy,' a play adapted from Scott's 'Bride of Lammermoor,' to Irving, who produced it on 20 Sept. 1890, under the title of 'Ravenswood' (cf. Bram Stoker, Sir Henry Irving, 1907, pp. 120-2).

Meanwhile Merivale won a reputation as a novelist with 'Faucit of Balliol' (3 vols. 1882), the earlier chapters of which give an admirable picture of Oxford life. He proved his literary facility in a fairy tale for children, 'Binko's Blues' (1884), and 'Florien,' a five-act tragedy in verse (1884), and in frequent contributions to 'Blackwood,' the 'Cornhill,' the 'Spectator,' 'Punch,' 'Saturday Review,' the 'World,' and 'Truth.' But it was in poetic drama that Merivale's ability, which combined fancy and wit with a poetic imagination, showed to best advantage.

Merivale's health required him to live at Eastbourne. There he interested himself in politics as an ardent liberal, working hard for his party between 1880 and 1890. A brilliant speaker, he refused many invitations to stand for parliament, including the offer of an Irish seat from Parnell.

In 1891 Merivale's health broke down while he was engaged on a memoir of Thackeray, for the Great Writers' series of Messrs. Walter Scott, which Sir Frank Marzials completed. Ordered a long sea-voyage to Australia, he and his wife were shipwrecked when six degrees north of the line, and on being rescued were taken to Pernambuco, where Merivale's increasing illness compelled a hasty return to England. Recovery followed, and Merivale was again at work. On leaving for Australia he had been induced to give his solicitor and trustee, Cartmell Harrison, a 'power of attorney,' and in 1900, through Harrison's default, he lost the whole of his fortune of 2000l. a year. A civil list pension of 125l. was awarded him on 25 May 1900. In June a matinée was given for his benefit at Her Majesty's Theatre. He died suddenly of heart failure on 14 Jan. 1906, at 72 Woodstock Road, Bedford Park, W. A few years before, he became a Roman catholic. He was buried in his father's grave in Brompton cemetery. Merivale married in London, on 13 May 1878, an Irish lady, Elizabeth, daughter of John Pitman, who often assisted him in his work, notably in 'The Don.' They had no children. His widow was granted a civil list pension of 50l. in 1906.

Two portraits, one by Claude Calthrop, M.A., belong to Mrs. Merivale.

Besides the plays cited, Merivale was author of:

  1. 'A Husband in Clover' (Lyceum Theatre, 26 Dec. 1873).
  2. 'Peacock's Holiday' (Court Theatre, 16 April 1874).
  3. 'The Lord of the Manor,' founded on 'Wilhelm Meister' (Imperial Theatre, 3 April 1880).
  4. 'The Cynic' (Globe Theatre, 14 Jan. 1882).
  5. 'The Whip Hand,' with Mrs, Merivale Cambridge Theatre Royal, 21 Jan. 1885).
  6. 'Our Joan' (Grand Theatre, 3 Oct, 1887).

[The Times, 17 Jan. 1906; Who's Who, 1905; Pratt, People of the Period. 1897; H. C. Merivale, Bar, Stage and Platform, 1902, informative reminiscences, lacking in dates; Hollingshead, Gaiety Chronicles, 1898; The Bancrofts, Recollections of Sixty Years 1909; private information.]

E. L.