The Right Reverend George Robert Gleig (1796-1888) was the son of George Gleig who became Bishop of Brechin in 1808. Against the Bishop’s wishes he took up an ensigncy in 3rd Garrison Battalion rather than a scholarship to Baliol. In January 1813 he was appointed lieutenant in the 85th King’s Light Infantry. The portrait below comes from Barrett’s History of the 85th which includes lengthy excerpts from Gleig’s journal.
Gleig’s first book, published in 1821, was The Campaigns of the British Army at Washington and New Orleans 1814 and 1815. On the plus side we burned the White House. On the minus side we suffered a hideous disaster when the Americans under Andrew Jackson repulsed a frontal attack by Sir Edward Pakenham. Below (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) is a heroic image of Andrew Jackson who has recently been displaced from his position as worst American President ever by Donald Trump.
30% of the British force were killed or wounded. Fortunately for Gleig, the 85th wasn’t involved in the main attack but successfully stormed a redoubt on the right side of The Mississippi. It is interesting to compare Gleig’s journal in Barrett’s History of the 85th with his book. Gleig’s better known book, The Subaltern, concerns the last months of the Peninsular War. It was first published in instalments in Blackwoods Magazine and then as a book in 1825. It purports to be fiction but is clearly autobiographical.
In 1816 Gleig bowed to his father’s wishes and went on half pay. He took up his scholarship at Oxford, graduated and took holy orders in 1820. So far, so conventional. Gleig’s second book was far from conventional. The Stranger’s Grave (1823) is an account of an incestuous affair whose anti-hero says, “There is not a crime of which man or devil can be guilty, that I have not committed.” Wikipedia claims that “Gleig’s authorship of this work was proved beyond doubt by research into Longman’s archives” but give no clues about where or when this research was published. Patrick Bridgwater attributes it to Thomas de Quincey in De Quincey’s Gothic Masquerade. You can also find it listed on line with Henry Villiers given as the author. Such are the perils of anonymity.
From 1822 Gleig was Rector of Ivy Church, a living worth £250 a year, rather more than most clergymen enjoyed, so presumably his immense output of books wasn’t spawned by financial need. He published far too many books for me to list. There were three major works of theology as well as two volumes of sermons. There was fiction such as The Country Curate and The Chronicles of Waltham. There were histories. There were immense tombstone biographies of men like Sir Thomas Munro and Warren Hastings.
This last was described by Lord Macaulay as “three big, bad volumes, full of undigested correspondence and undiscerning panegyric,” an opinion I don’t find it necessary to include when cataloguing the book.
More interesting were two books “edited” by Gleig. These are The Only Daughter (1839) and Katherine Randolph (1842), both by Harriette Campbell, both anonymous.
The Wikipedia article on Gleig says “of the author Harriette Campbell, we know very little as Gleig refuses to tell.” Actually we know a great deal about the author. There is a long obituary of her on page 544 of Gentleman’s Magazine for May 1841 which can be found on line. Also on page vii of his preface to Katherine Randolph Gleig names “his dear departed friend” who had died of influenza in Switzerland. There are any number of reasons why a delicate 21 year old (as she was when her first book was published) might follow Jane Austen’s lead and write anonymously. So sorry – no conspiracy.
Gleig was that rare thing, an agreeable human being. Given that, it’s slightly surprising he contrived to be a good friend of the Duke of Wellington.
Gleig met Wellington in 1829 presumably while researching his Lives of the Most Eminent Military Commanders published in 1831. The Duke was however an admirer of The Subaltern long before that. Most unusually he wrote to Gleig suggesting he dedicate the 1826 second edition to him. After Wellington’s death, Gleig translated Brialmont’s biography of the great man and also wrote a biography himself. In the 1830s Gleig was a frequent guest at Walmer Castle, the duke’s residence as Warden of the Cinque Ports, and accompanied him to church at St Mary’s where the Duke would “fall asleep snoring loudly” whenever the sermon failed to command his attention. The two men were agreed on most issues, including opposition to the Reform Act. They parted company over army education which Gleig favoured. The Duke fulminated about school masters and mutiny but the friendship survived.
It was thanks to the Duke that Gleig was appointed chaplain of the Royal Hospital Chelsea. The appointment was confirmed by the new Prime Minister, Lord John Russell, a Whig. Grudgingly, Frasers’ Magazine commented in September 1834:
There is every sign that Gleig was popular amongst the Chelsea Pensioners. He gave sermons beneath the flag of the 1st Harford Light Dragoons captured at Bladensburg, a battle in which he himself had been wounded in the thigh. Today you’ll find it frequently stated that the flag was captured by the 85th and that Gleig was wounded in the process. No such claim is made in Barrett’s History which gives a detailed account of the battle based mainly on Gleig’s journal. Can it be that the excited whisperings of Chelsea Pensioners have turned into historical fact?
Gleig expended much time and effort listening to old soldiers and writing up their memories. Two full length books that he published are The Light Dragoon and The Hussar, autobiographies respectively of George Farmer and Norbert Landsheit. In his ‘advertisement’ to the second, Gleig describes his method, “our practice was that my friend Landsheit came to me every morning, and told his tale until one or two o’clock in the day; after which I wrote – being sometimes unable to keep pace with him, even though I repeatedly encroached upon the short hours of the night.” Truly a workaholic. There are more old soldiers’ memories to be found in his Chelsea Hospital and its Traditions, a three volume work published in 1838.
Gleig went on to become Inspector General of Military Schools and Chaplain General of the Forces. He was happily married and had hordes of children. He went on churning out books well into the 1870s.
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