Keon, Miles Gerald (DNB00)


KEON, MILES GERALD (1821–1875), novelist and colonial secretary, last male descendant of an old Irish family, the Keons of Keonbrooke, co. Leitrim, was born on 20 Feb. 1821 in the paternal castle on the banks of the Shannon, which was built entirely of white marble quarried on the estate, and still known as Keon's Folly. Miles was the only son of Myles Gerald Keon, barrister-at-law, by his second wife, Mary Jane, fifth daughter of Patrick, count Magawly, and of Jane, daughter of Christopher Fallon of Runnymede, co. Roscommon. His father having died at Keonbrooke in 1824, and his mother in 1825 at Temora, he and his younger sister, Ellen Benedicta, were left to the care of their maternal grandmother, Countess Magawly, and upon her death to the care of their uncle, Francis Philip, count Magawly, sometime prime minister of Marie Louise in the duchies of Parma, Placentia, and Guastalla. On 27 March 1832 Keon was entered as a student at the jesuit college of Stonyhurst, then under the presidency of Father Parker. He won many prizes, including one for a poem on Queen Victoria's accession, reprinted in the jubilee year, in the thirty-second number of the ‘Stonyhurst Magazine.’ On quitting Stonyhurst he made a pedestrian tour through France and crossed to Algeria, where he served for a short time in the French army under Bugeaud. He afterwards became a law student at Gray's Inn, but soon abandoned law for literature. In 1843 he published at Dublin an octavo pamphlet entitled (see the Tablet, iv. 532) ‘The Irish Revolution, or What can the Repealers do? And what shall be the New Constitution?’ His earliest success as a writer was a vindication of the jesuits, published in the third number of the ‘Oxford and Cambridge Review,’ September 1845. Appearing in the nominal organ of both universities it provoked a smart controversy. The author's name was revealed, and the paper itself was reissued as a separate publication. Messrs. Longman announced as in preparation a history of the jesuits by Keon, which never appeared. In September 1845 Keon began a series of contributions to Colburn's ‘United Service Magazine,’ pp. 59–71, entitled ‘The Late Struggles of Abd-el-Kader, and the Campaign of Isly. By one who has served in the French Army.’ They contain vivid sketches of Abd-el-Kader, Horace Vernet, and Lamoricière. Two other instalments appeared in the July and October numbers under the title of ‘An Idler's Journey on Foot through France.’ From April to November 1846 he was the editor of ‘Dolman's Magazine.’ In 1847 he published ‘The Life of Saint Alexis, the Roman Patrician.’ Shortly afterwards he secured an appointment on the staff of the ‘Morning Post,’ with which he was connected for twelve years. In 1850 he went as its representative to St. Petersburg, whence he wrote ‘A Letter on the Greek Question.’ Between 22 Feb. and 32 Aug. 1851 he contributed a series of twenty-six ‘Lessons in French’ to ‘Cassell's Working Man's Friend,’ which afterwards came into extensive use in the United States and Canada. In 1852 Keon wrote in the ‘London Journal’ a serial novel called ‘Harding, the Money-Spinner,’ which was published posthumously in 1879 in three volumes. In 1856 he was sent for the second time by the ‘Morning Post’ to St. Petersburg, to describe the coronation of the emperor, Alexander II. He there made the acquaintance of M. Boucher de Perthes, who, in his ‘Voyage en Russie’ (1859), has written pleasantly of their intercourse. In 1858, under a mistaken arrangement, Keon went out to Calcutta to edit the ‘Bengal Hurkaru.’ He returned in 1859, and was appointed in March the colonial secretary at Bermuda by the then secretary of state for the colonies, Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton. He held the post till his death. In 1866 he published in two volumes octavo ‘Dion and the Sibyls, a Romance of the First Century.’ In the winter of 1869 he obtained leave of absence, and visited Rome at the opening of the council of the Vatican. In 1867 he had delivered in the Mechanics' Hall at Hamilton a course of lectures on ‘Government; its Source, its Form, and its Means.’ He was invited to lecture in the United States, but declined on account of his official position. On 3 June 1875 he died at Bermuda. On 21 Nov. 1846 Keon married Anne de la Pierre, third daughter of Major Hawkes of the 21st light dragoons.

[Personal recollections of the writer; Hewitson's Stonyhurst Present and Past, 8vo, pp. 244–246; Hatt's two papers on A Colonial Secretary in the Stonyhurst Magazine for March and June 1886; Burke's Peerage, under ‘Foreign Titles of Nobility,’ p. 1535, ed. 1890; Boucher de Perthes' Voyage en Russie en 1856, 12mo, passim, 1859; Gillow's Bibl. Dict. vol. iv. 1891.]

C. K.