Grattan, Thomas Colley (DNB00)

GRATTAN, THOMAS COLLEY (1792–1864), author of ‘Highways and Byways,’ born in Dublin in 1792, was son of Colley Grattan of Clayton Lodge, co. Kildare, formerly a solicitor in Dublin, who afterwards retired to the country and devoted himself to agricultural pursuits. He was educated in Athy by the Rev. Henry Bristow; was afterwards sent to Dublin to study law, but having no liking for the profession accepted a commission in the Louth militia, with which regiment he did duty in several towns in the north of England. He had desired to enter the army, but the war being over no commissions were to be obtained. Having decided to take a share in the war of independence, then raging in South America, he embarked for Bordeaux in 1818, there to take a ship bound to Venezuela, but on his passage he met Miss Eliza O'Donnel, and having married her settled in the neighbourhood of Bordeaux. Here he commenced the profession of an author, his first work being ‘Philibert,’ an octo-syllabic poem in six cantos. In a short time he removed to Paris, where he made the acquaintance of Moore, Washington Irving, Thiers, Béranger, Lamartine, and other distinguished literary men, and became a constant contributor to the ‘Westminster’ and ‘Edinburgh’ Reviews, the ‘New Monthly Magazine,’ and other periodicals. His translations from modern French poets were very successful. He also commenced a serial of his own, which he called ‘The Paris Monthly Review of British and Continental Literature, by a Society of English Gentlemen.’ No. 1 came out in January 1822, and No. 15 (April 1823) appears to have been the last issue of this magazine. By Washington Irving's advice he reduced to order the memoranda of some of his tours, and submitted the manuscript to four publishing houses of eminence in succession, who all rejected it. This work was ‘Highways and Byways, or Tales of the Roadside,’ which, on its appearance in 1823, dedicated to Washington Irving, made its author's name widely known both in England and on the continent, and was several times reprinted. The second series of these tales came out in 1825, and the third in 1827. Grattan's next public appearance was as the writer of a tragedy, ‘Ben Nazir, the Saracen.’ This was produced by Edmund Kean at Drury Lane Theatre on 21 May 1827, but the actor, through ill-health and domestic misfortunes, broke down, and the play failed with him (Morning Post, 22 May 1827, p. 3).

Having sustained pecuniary losses, Grattan removed to Brussels about 1828. He there produced ‘Traits of Travel,’ which was received with well-deserved favour; ‘The Heiress of Bruges,’ one of the best historical romances of the day; and ‘The History of the Netherlands,’ which has become a standard work. In 1830 the revolution drove him from Brussels; his house was almost destroyed by cannon and his property was pillaged. He retired to Antwerp, and accompanied the Prince of Orange from that town to the Hague, where he wrote ‘Jacqueline of Holland.’ In May 1831 he was at Heidelberg, where he was stimulated to fresh literary exertions, and composed the ‘Legends of the Rhine.’ About the same time (1832) he was appointed gentleman of the privy chamber to William IV. Returning to Brussels he was well received by King Leopold, and henceforth for some years again resided in Belgium. He was now a frequent contributor to the British and foreign reviews, writing upon the state of European affairs, chiefly in connection with Belgium. At a critical moment in the affairs of the new kingdom, during the riots at Brussels in 1834, he commenced a correspondence with the ‘Times’ newspaper, and his letters were translated and reproduced in continental journals. His services were acknowledged by Leopold, and partly owing to his influence he, in 1839, received the appointment of British consul to the state of Massachusetts, whither he repaired in the summer of that year, and took up his residence at Boston. At this period the controversy between the American states and the British provinces relative to the north-eastern boundary was the absorbing topic. Grattan made himself completely master of the subject, and communicated his opinions to Lord Ashburton when that nobleman arrived in the United States in 1842 as minister plenipotentiary for the purpose of settling the boundary question. Grattan was unanimously chosen by both parties to assist at the negotiations at Washington, and contributed to the conclusion of the treaty of 9 April 1842. In the United States Grattan gained considerable reputation as a speaker and raconteur. Returning to England in 1846 he was permitted, in consideration of his services, to resign his consulship in favour of his eldest son, Edmund (now Sir Edmund) Grattan. From this period he chiefly resided in London, where he resumed his literary labours, and among other works produced, in 2 vols., in 1862, ‘Beaten Paths and those who trod them,’ which contains his autobiographical recollections. He died at his residence in Jermyn Street, London, 4 July 1864, leaving a daughter and three sons. He was the author of the following works: 1. ‘Philibert, a Poetical Romance,’ Bordeaux, 1819. 2. ‘Highways and Byways, or Tales of the Roadside picked up in the French Provinces by a Walking Gentleman,’ 1823, 2 vols.; 2nd series, 1825, 3 vols., and 3rd series, 1827, 3 vols. 3. ‘The History of Switzerland’ (anon.), 1825. 4. ‘Ben Nazir, the Saracen, a Tragedy,’ 1827. 5. ‘Traits of Travel, or Tales of Men and Cities,’ 1829, 3 vols. 6. ‘The History of the Netherlands to the Belgium Revolution in 1830’ (Lardner's ‘Cyclop.’ vol. x. 1830). 7. ‘The Heiress of Bruges, a Tale of the Year Sixteen Hundred,’ 1831. 8. ‘Jacqueline of Holland, an Historical Tale,’ 1831, 3 vols. 9. ‘Legends of the Rhine and of the Low Countries,’ 1832, 3 vols. 10. ‘Agnes de Mansfeldt, an Historical Tale,’ 1836, 3 vols. 11. ‘The Boundary Question raised and Dr. Franklin's Red Line shown to be the right one, by a British subject,’ New York, 1843. 12. ‘The Master Passion and other Tales,’ 1845, 3 vols. 13. ‘Chance Medley of Light Matter,’ 1845. 14. ‘The Cagot's Hut and the Conscript's Bride,’ 1852 (‘Parlour Library,’ No. 83). 15. ‘The Forfeit Hand and other Tales,’ 1857 (‘Parlour Library,’ No. 163). 16. ‘Curse of the Black Lady and other Tales,’ 1857 (‘Parlour Library,’ No. 165). 17. ‘Civilised America,’ 1859, 2 vols. 18. ‘England and the Disrupted States of America,’ 1861. 19. ‘Beaten Paths and those who trod them,’ 1862, 2 vols. Many of these works have been reprinted in various forms.

[Gent. Mag. August 1864, pp. 252–3; Colburn's New Monthly Mag. 1831, xxxii. 77–80, with portrait; Dublin Univ. Mag., December 1853, pp. 658–65, with portrait.]

G. C. B.