Allen French (1879-1946)
Allen French was a careful, scholarly writer of history. Several of his historical works on the Early American period are still in print today. More than once he traced undiscovered primary sources, which shed new light on the happenings of the American Revolution. Yet, meticulous as he was, history was always more than dry facts. Whether Allen French was writing scholarly works or exciting tales for boys, his endless fascination with the past allowed history to come alive. His wife, Aletta, once wrote that while deeply immersed in what was to be his final major historical work, The First Year of the American Revolution, her husband also wrote a children’s book on the Romans in Britain and a novel about the Puritan Migration to America. She says, “His imagination fired his mind to the point where it blazed and he would take to fiction to let off the heat!”
She further writes, “I think there were two elements in his devotion to history. One, a deep desire to proclaim the truth, avoiding no damaging details and letting the honors fall where they might. The other an enthusiasm for the drama of history which required heroes and villains and all the ‘props,’ and which logically led to stories of knighthood and chivalry such as The Colonials, Sir Marrok, Grettir the Strong, The Story of Rolf and the Viking’s Bow, The Red Keep and The Lost Baron.
Long-time family friend and author, T. Morris Longstreth, writes of Allen French, “It was hard for him to sit through a meal without our talk driving him to the encyclopedia. Yet there was no pedantry in all this, but rather a sense of adventure, the same romantic sense that led him to write his boys’ books. History was for him a living glory.”
In all of his writing, Allen French sought to provide exciting stories, which sprang from the best sense he could gain of the particular historical period. Each of the three books set in Iceland, Heroes of Iceland, The Story of Grettir and The Story of Rolf and the Viking’s Bow also reflect this approach. He wrote, “Of the writing of history I have only this to say: that as my fiction was constructed out of imagination guided by common-sense, my history is common-sense illuminated by imagination. Common-sense: one should always be controlled by the facts of the case, ascertained by the most careful study, and set forth fairly to both sides. And imagination should try to make the facts living and interesting—not romantic nor sensational, but human.” He finishes by saying, “If a man takes his work seriously, and himself not too seriously, he has a good chance of doing something worth while.”