5 APRIL 2003, Page 32

Yarns of yesteryear

From Mr Richard Bruton Sir: Max Hastings ('When boys were boys', 29 March) rightly sings the praises of G.A. Henty, the prolific writer of Victorian schoolboy adventure stories that incorporated bags of action with meticulously researched historical detail.

I have one of the books Mr Hastings mentions — By Pike and Dyke, the inside cover revealing that it was presented to my father in 1910 as a Sunday-school prize for 'written lessons and regular attendance'. It's an account of the 16thcentury Dutch struggle to throw off the Spanish yoke. Fascinating stuff, as are some of the stirring titles advertised in the end-pages: With Roberts to Pretoria, Through Russian Snows, The Tiger of Mysore and At the Point of the Bayonet.

These were all 'books for boys' — girls presumably were not attracted by such manly tales. Henty himself was obviously aware of the gender divide, for he recalled that in one story he made a boy of 12 kiss a girl of 11 'and I received a very indignant letter from a dissenting minister'.

Incidentally. like Mr Hastings, Henty was also a noted war correspondent, covering the Austro-Italian, Franco-Prussian and Ashanti wars among other campaigns in the 1860s.

Richard Bruton Ewell, Surrey