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Steevens, George Warrington (DNB01)

STEEVENS, GEORGE WARRINGTON (1869–1900), journalist, son of James Steevens, was born at Sydenham on 10 Dec. 1869. He was educated at the City of London school, where he greatly distinguished himself in classics. He was captain of the school in 1887–8, and was elected in 1888 scholar of Balliol College, Oxford. At Balliol he fully maintained his reputation as a classical scholar. He was placed in the first class both in classical moderations and in the final classical school, and during the same period obtained the highest honours at each of the three examinations held in connection with the B.A. degree at the university of London. He graduated B.A. at both Oxford and London in 1892. In 1893 he was elected fellow of Pembroke College, Oxford. Although shy and retiring in general society, Steevens developed in his undergraduate days, both as a talker and as a writer in undergraduate periodicals, a wayward brilliance and amusing tendency to paradox.

Meanwhile at Cambridge, where he had many school friends, he made the acquaintance of Mr. Oscar Browning, fellow of King's College, whose liberal opinions attracted him. In the early autumn of 1892 he helped Mr. Browning in his candidature for the representation in parliament of East Worcestershire, and cleverly edited an electioneering paper in the constituency in the liberal interest. At the same period he made his first appearance in the London press with an original paper on 'The other View of Barnum,' which appeared in 'The Speaker.' At the beginning of Lent term, 1893, some friends at Cambridge who since the preceding May had conducted a weekly periodical called 'The Cambridge Observer,' invited Steevens to edit it. He edited the last seven numbers, and these evinced unmistakable talents for vivid journalism of literary quality. At the same time he began a connection with the 'National Observer,' a brilliant weekly London paper, of which Mr. W. E. Henley was editor. Mr. Henley formed a high opinion of Steevens's abilities and personality, and a friendship sprang up between them which lasted till Steevens's death.

In the early summer of 1893 Steevens went to London and definitely adopted the calling of a journalist. He joined the staff of the 'Pall Mall Gazette,' of which Mr. W. W. Astor had just become proprietor, and Mr. Henry Gust editor. Steevens proved a first-rate contributor of literary and descriptive articles, which, if not always convincing, rarely lacked the saving graces of originality and independence. While writing in the 'Pall Mall Gazette' he became a frequent contributor of essays to the 'New Review,' of which his friend Mr. Henley had become editor in 1894, and to 'Blackwood's Magazine.' In his contributions to these magazines Steevens's literary power was seen to the best advantage. In 1895 he published a volume of realistic 'Monologues of the Dead,' portions of which had already appeared in periodicals; the speakers are classical heroes and heroines who express themselves with too studied a crudeness and carelessness of language win complete success. A second volume next year on 'Naval Policy' (1896), which had also been contributed serially to periodicals, illustrated the growth of Steevens's political interests, and the decay of his youthful sympathies with current liberalism.

When in 1895 Mr. Gust, the editor of the 'Pall Mall Gazette,' resigned his position, Steevens left the office with him. In 1896 he joined the staff of the 'Daily Mail,' a new London daily paper, founded by Mr. Alfred Harmsworth, who acted as editor. After he had written in London many miscellaneous descriptive articles, Mr. Harmsworth gave Steevens his first commission to serve as a special correspondent abroad. He was ordered to the United States to report for the 'Daily Mail' the progress of the presidential election, which Mr. W. J. Bryan vainly contested against Mr. William McKinley. Steevens expanded his articles into a spirited account of America, which was published in 1897 under the title of 'The Land of the Dollar.' This proved the best of a long series of similar volumes. In the same year Steevens had his first experience as a war correspondent. Joining the Turkish army under Edhem Pasha he described the Græco-Turkish war in Thessaly, and his articles were republished under the title of 'With the Conquering Turk.' In the summer he went to Germany, and sent home some sketches of German life, which were republished, with other sketches of London and Paris from the 'Daily Mail,' in 'Glimpses of Three Nations' (posthumously issued). At the end of 1897 he visited Egypt, and the result was the volume called 'Egypt in 1898.' In 1898 he returned to Egypt to join as war correspondent the army which was sent out under General (afterwards Lord) Kitchener to destroy the power of the khalifa in the Soudan. His vivid descriptions of this expedition were collected after their appearance in the 'Daily Mail' into what proved his most popular book, 'With Kitchener to Khartum.' In the winter of 1898-9 Steevens went out to India in the track of Lord Curzon, the newly appointed viceroy, and his record of the journey ultimately took the form of the volume called 'In India.' Returning from India in 1899, he went to Rennes to report the second trial of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, and these articles, after serving their purpose in the 'Daily Mail,' were reissued in the book entitled 'The Tragedy of Dreyfus.'

On the conclusion of the Dreyfus trial in September 1899 Steevens was ordered by his editor to South Africa, where the pending negotiations between the Transvaal government and the British government rendered war probable. On the actual outbreak of hostilities in October he joined the army which under Sir George White undertook the defence of Natal. Within three weeks of the opening of active operations, on 1 Nov., that force was besieged in Ladysmith. The siege of Ladysmith cost Steevens his life. On 13 Dec. he sickened of enteric fever, and when he appeared to be on the road to convalescence he died at five in the afternoon on 15 Jan. 1900. He was buried in Ladysmith cemetery at midnight of the same day. The town was relieved on 28 Feb.

The articles Steevens had sent home from South Africa were issued posthumously in a volume called 'From Cape Town to Ladysmith,' with a 'last chapter' by Mr. Vernon Blackburn. A ' Memorial edition ' of Steevens's collected works is in course of publication, under the editorship of his friends Mr. G. S. Street and Mr. Blackburn. The first volume, 'Things Seen' (1900), brings together Steevens's scattered contributions to magazines and newspapers, and contains an appreciative memoir of the author by his friend Mr. W. E. Henley. The second volume was called 'Glimpses of Three Nations' (1901).

Steevens's portrait was painted by the Hon. John Collier in 1898; a replica was presented by Steevens's schoolfellows to the City of London school, where it was unveiled on 23 Oct. 1900. A reproduction in photogravure of Mr. Collier's portrait is prefixed to the 'Memorial edition' of Steevens's works.

In 1894 he married Mrs. Rogerson, who was many years his senior; she survived him.

As a man Steevens was distinguished by admirable courage and resolution. It was his endeavour in journalism to present in words with all possible vividness, frankness, and terseness what he saw, thought, and felt. The success he often achieved, especially in the miscellaneous articles which were collected after his death in the volume called 'Things Seen,' was sufficient to prove that his capacities were in harmony with his aims. But only a small fraction of his work does genuine justice to his powers. The hurried conditions under which he ordinarily wrote lent an aspect of crudity to many of his books and articles, and often gave the reader the uncomfortable impression of a vain straining after effect. His premature death prevented the fulfilment of his high literary promise.

[The appreciative Memoir by Mr. W. E. Henley prefixed to Things Seen, 1900; The Last Chapter by Mr. Vernon Blackburn in From Cape Town to Ladysmith, 1900; Memoir by Mr. B. L. Abrahams in City of London School Mag. for March 1900, with early portrait from photograph.]

S. L.