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A Few Thoughts on G.A. Henty

By Joshua Phillips — October 06, 2008

"You are all soldiers of Christ," he said, "and now is an opportunity given to you to show that you are worthy soldiers. When the troops of a worldly monarch go into battle they do so with head erect, with proud and resolute bearing, with flashing eye, and with high courage, determined to bear aloft his banner and to crown it with victory, even though it cost them their lives. Such is the mien that soldiers of Christ should bear in the mortal strife now raging round us. Let them show the same fearlessness of death, the same high courage, the same unlimited confidence in their Leader. What matter if they die in His service? He has told them what their work should be. He has bidden them visit the sick and comfort the sorrowing. What if there be danger in the work? Did He shrink from the Cross which was to end His work of love, and is it for His followers to do so? 'Though you go down into the pit,' He has said, 'I am there also'; and with His companionship one must be craven indeed to tremble. This is a noble opportunity for holding high the banner of Christ. There is work to be done for all, and as the work is done, men should see by the calm courage, the cheerfulness, and the patience of those that do it, that they know that they are doing His work, and that they are content to leave the issue, whatever it be, in His hands." -Mr. Wallace, from G.A. Henty's When London Burned.

When I first read this, I stopped to really think about what I had just read. This isn't the mad battle cry of some fierce war lord or the shout of victory coming from some mad Viking raider. Rather, this is the fervent prayer of a minister to his congregation during the fierce plague of London in 1666. This is a call to manly sacrifice given by a man who does not fear death, but rather is willing to give his all in the expansion of the knowledge of Christ during a time of darkness.

The previous quote is what we find all throughout G.A. Henty's books. Not only do we see the outward effects of Christianity in his stories, we see an amazing sense of detailed history and God's providence throughout. Otto Scott said:

"Henty's stream of books provided a knowledge of history to his young readers that the preseant generation (including our historians) cannot match." -Otto Scott, from Otto Scott's Compass, April 1995 edition on the "Hatred of History."

And this is precisely correct. Henty believed in telling the deeds of old. He would consult the greatest historical references of his time, or rely on his own eye-witness perspective, and would then sit down to begin a book that boys throughout England and America would read. Not only did Henty write detailed histories, but he would center the story around an active young man, prepared to give his all, going out to fight for "God, King, and Country!"

Another feature of Henty's stories is that boys did not have to be perfect, but they needed to exert themselves to "do their duty" whether or not it seemed an easy thing to do. Henty firmly believed that sitting around and moping, or waiting for opportunities to come knocking instead of getting up and taking initiative and looking for ways to serve only proved you were a weakling and not worthy of the title "man". Henty understood the idea that "no man behaves as a complete gentlemen at all times, but the best men never cease yearning to." He also said that if you wish to act as a Christian gentleman, you must "do your duty and a little more," to put it in his own words.

Henty so firmly believed this that he gave his books titles to fit this concept of character. One such book, "By Sheer Pluck," is about a young man who exerts himself to work his way through life literally "by sheer pluck." The Merriam-Webster dictionary says that the noun "pluck" actually means a 'courageous readiness to fight or continue against odds : dogged resolution.'

G.A. Henty believed in living out the life that he preached. Henty believed, much like our Teddy Roosevelt, that we were meant to endure the strenuous life. And Henty lived with vigor! He was over six feet tall and weighed two hundred and forty pounds. He first fought in the Crimean War and later served in Belfast and Italy. Mr. Bill Potter, in his book The Boys Guide to the Historical Adventures of G.A. Henty, says that Henty was:

. . . not a man to be trifled with. He could walk 50 miles in a day and was a formidable boxer and wrestler. Set upon by four knife-wielding bandits in Italy, Henty disarmed them all and sent them flying. An Irishman insulted his wife on a street in Belfast, and Henty beat him to the ground. He fought a duel with a Spaniard who insulted Queen Victoria. Cultivation of personal honor, manly independence, and tenacity were character traits of George Henty, and he instilled them in his boys of literary fiction and through those characters to his youthful readers.

This really signifies the character of a true "Henty boy." When I read Henty's books, I know I am not going to read about a sap, or a wimp, who goes through life eating the scraps off other people's tables. I know that I will always see a courageous young man who does make mistakes, but gets over them; who is willing to protect his family, country, and especially his faith; who is not afraid of man, but rather wishes only to honor; a man who will defend women, protect children, and help the innocent. In other words, Henty's hero is a young man who is out to conquer for the kingdom of Christ.

My good friend Samuel Turley and I have been reading Henty's books for almost seven years now. (Sam has joined me in the past for a G.A.Henty radio show.) We are happy to see that our sisters (my sister Jubilee and Sam's sister Mary Elaine are both ten years old) have recently joined the ranks of the G.A. Henty readers. Both Mary Elaine and Jubilee have set a goal to read one Henty book a week. I think this is fantastic! To read an article on why it is good for girls to be reading this sort of literature click here. I believe that G.A. Henty is a very important tool for any Christian family wishing to understand their history. I know that all of the Henty readers in the Phillips family have grown in their knowledge of history in leaps and bounds.

As my father often says, when speaking of Henty,

When your child picks up a G.A. Henty historical novel, he will travel back in time to some of the greatest events in Western civilization. He will rejoice with an ancient barbarian who receives Christ, ride with Lee through the battlefields of Virginia, travel with the Conquistadors to distant lands, and watch the fall of the Temple of Jerusalem. Most importantly, he will see the world through the lens of biblical Christianity. In this world, he will learn that men are to live a life of duty and sacrifice, and that God requires even little boys to act with nobility.

This is important and that is why I plan to give a set of his books to each of my children some day.

— Joshua Phillips

Joshua Phillips
Managing Director of
"Alba gu bra"

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