By MAJOR W.E. FRYE
EDITED WITH A PREFACE AND NOTES
By SALOMON REINACH
Member of the Institute of France
The knowledge of Major Frye's manuscript and the privilege of publishing it
for the first time I owe to the kindness of two French ladies, the Misses
G - - . Their father, a well known artist and critic, used to spend the
summer months at Saint Germain-en-Laye together with his wife, who was an
English woman by birth. They had been for a long time intimately acquainted
with Major Frye, who lived and ended his life in that quiet town. The
Major's hostess, Mme. de W - - , after his death in 1858, brought the
manuscript to Mrs. G - - and gave it to her in memory of her friend. It was
duly preserved in the G - - family, but remained unnoticed. The Misses
G - - rediscovered it in 1907, when it had been lying in a cupboard for
upwards of half a century. On their showing it to me I thought it was
interesting for many reasons, and worthy of introduction to the public. I
hope the reader will share my opinion, which is also that of several
English scholars and men of letters, to whom I communicated extracts from
The reminiscences are in the form of letters addressed to a correspondent
who, however, is never named and of whose health, family and private
circumstances not the slightest mention is to be found. So I am inclined to
believe that he never existed, and that Major Frye chose to imitate
President de Brosses and others who thus recorded their travelling
experiences in epistolary form.
The manuscript - which will eventually be deposited in a public library - is
entirely in Major Frye's large and legible hand; at some later time it was
evidently revised by himself, but many names which I have endeavoured to
complete were left in blank or only indicated by initials. There are three
folio volumes, bound in paper boards. In this edition it has been thought
advisable to leave out a certain number of pages devoted to theatricals, of
which Major Frye was a great votary, and also some lengthy descriptions of
landscapes, museums and churches, the interest of which to modern readers
does not correspond to the space occupied by them. For the information
contained in the footnotes I am indebted to many correspondents, English,
French, Swiss, Belgian and Italian, to whom I here express my hearty
thanks. I am under special obligation to Sir Charles Dilke, Mr Oscar
Browning, Professor Novati, Professor Corrado Ricci, Commandant
Esperandieu, Professor Cumont, Professor Stilling and Mr Hoechberg.
Major Frye's tombstone is in the cemetery of Saint Germain, and reads thus:
"To the memory of Major William Edward Frye, who departed this life the 9th
day of October, 1858." On the same stone has been added in French:
"Perceval Edmond Litchfield, decede le 15 Avril, 1888." About P.E.
Litchfield I know nothing; he must have been the Major's intimate friend
during the last period of his life.
* * * * *
W.E. Frye was born Oct. 29, 1784, and received his education at Eton
(1797-9) in the time of the French Revolution. "The system was," he says,
"to drill into the heads of the boys strong aristocratic principles and
hatred of democracy and of the French in particular." The effect produced
on the youth was the reverse of that intended. From 1799 to 1822 he
belonged to the British army: here is an abstract of his services:
Ensign, 2nd Foot, 5th August, 1799.
Lieutenant, 2nd Foot, 7th March, 1800.
Half-pay, 4th Foot, 14th April, 1808.
Lieutenant, 24th Foot, 8th December, 1804.
Captain, 56th Foot, 18th April, 1805.
3rd Ceylon Regt., 15th Feb., 1810.
Half-pay, 3rd Foot, 7th March, 1816.
4th Foot, 24th Feb., 1820.
Brevet-Major, 12th August, 1819.
Sold out, 15th August, 1822.
In 1799, Frye took a part in the British Expedition to Holland. In 1801 he
was in Egypt with Lord Abercrombie's army and received the medal for war
service. His career in India lasted six years and gave him occasion to
visit the three presidencies and Ceylon. In 1814 he returned on furlough to
Europe and was in Brussels during the Waterloo campaign. The subsequent
years - 1815 to 1819 - he employed visiting Western Europe, as appears from
his reminiscences. I have read letters of his which prove that he lived in
Paris from 1830 to 1832. Later, about 1848, he took an apartment in Saint
Germain, and died there in 1858.
Major Frye was a very distinguished linguist; besides knowing Greek and
Latin, he understood almost all European languages, and was capable of
writing correctly in French, Italian and German. The Misses G - - have
shown me a rare book published by him at Paris in 1844 under the following
"Trois chants de l'Edda. Vaftrudnismal, Thrymsquidal, Skirnisfor, traduits
en vers francais, accompagnes de notes explicatives des mythes et
allegories, et suivis d'autres poemes par W.E. Frye, ancien major
d'infanterie au service d'Angleterre, membre de l'Academie des Arcadiens de
Rome. Se vend a Paris, pour l'auteur, chez Heideloff & Cie, Libraires, 18
Rue des Filles St. Thomas. 1844" (In 8vo, xii, 115 pp.)
At the end of that volume are translations by Major Frye of several
Northern poems - in German, Italian and English verse - from the Danish and
the Swedish; then come two sonnets in French verse, the one in honour of
Lafayette, the other about the Duke of Orleans, whose premature death he
compares with that of the Northern hero of the Edda, Balder. A part of
Frye's translation of the Edda, before appearing in book form, had been
published in _l'Echo de la Litterature et des Beaux Arts_, a periodical
edited by the Major's friend, M. de Belenet.
Frye loved poetry, though his ideas on the subject were rather those of the
eighteenth century than our own. It is interesting to find an English
officer reading Voltaire, Gessner, Ariosto, and quoting them from memory
(which explains that some of his quotations had to be corrected). The
sentimental vein of Rousseau's generation still flows and vibrates in him,
as when he says that he has never been able to read the letters of Wolmar
to St Preux in Rousseau's Nouvelle Heloise without shedding tears.