The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana
by Jess Nevins
The Newton Moore Adventures (1900)
copyright © Jess Nevins 2022
The six Newton Moore Adventures were written by Fred M. White and first appeared in the serial “The Romance of the Secret Service Fund” (Pearson’s Magazine, July-Dec 1900). Fred M. White (1859-?) was a British short story writer. He is best-known for his “Doom of London” series of disaster stories, which ran in Pearson’s in 1903-1904.
Newton Moore is a clever, resourceful and tough agent of the “Secret Service Fund,” which works out of the British War Office. Moore is one of the Fund's best agents and is assigned by his superior Sir George Morley to handle the hardest and hottest cases. Moore has a number of friends, contacts, and informants in a wide range of professions, and he uses them to help him solve the cases. His cases take him around the world, from Russia, Scotland and Germany to the countries of “Contigua” and “Marenna.” Moore’s enemies are those of the Empire itself: Russia and Germany, both of which scheme against Great Britain and employ spies against it. The head of Germany’s intelligence department is Emile Nobel, the “great, gross German” who is the “chief rascal in the Rogues' Gallery of Europe.” Nobel is a deaf, squat, toad-like man who is a brilliant chemist and is responsible for many murders, “all strictly in the way of business.” Nobel succeeds in stealing the plans to a recoilless, frictionless rifle that propels bullets by means of “liquid air” and has a magazine of 400 projectiles. Moore, showing ingenuity and physical stamina (he fights on despite being dosed with poison gas and attacked by a vicious guard dog–Moore uses his diamond tie pin to kill the dog), succeeds in taking the rifle and the plans away from Nobel, although Nobel manages to escape capture.
The Newton Moore stories are not peerless, but they are brisk, slickly told, do not take themselves too seriously, and have an interesting choice of characterization for Moore. The stories are also early examples of the Secret Service genre of stories which would be popular in the slicks and pulps in the 1910s and 1920s.
Espionage was not well-respected in England during the nineteenth century. Internationally Great Britain was thought to have networks of spies in every major country, but the reality was quite different. Most English viewed espionage with contempt, as the tawdry, sordid work of immoral, mercenary men; female spies were seen as worse than adventuresses. Within the military espionage was disrespected and seen as work unfit for gentlemen. Until 1873 the British governmental body handling intelligence work consisted solely of the Topographical and Statistics Department of the British War Office, and they were widely viewed, not without reason, as being “a harmless but rather useless appendage to the War Office.”1 In 1873 they were reformed into the Intelligence Branch. In 1882 the Board of Admiralty formed the Foreign Intelligence Committee, a rival to the Intelligence Branch; in 1887 the War Office took control of the Foreign Intelligence Committee, reorganized it, and renamed it as the Naval Intelligence Department. The Board of Admiralty, angered, retaliated by slashing the Naval Intelligence Department’s available funds and pay. In 1888 the Intelligence Branch became the Intelligence Division. Until Sir John Ardagh became the Director of Military Intelligence in 1896, all of these departments distrusted and disliked each other. They were run by hapless incompetents and spent far more time and energy engaging in internecine political infighting than in gathering and assessing intelligence.
Those outside the departments, in the military and the government, held espionage work and espionage workers in disrepute. The Prime Ministers of the time, especially William Gladstone and Archibald Primrose, the Earl of Rosebery, thought that those who worked in the intelligence departments were low creatures. The Prime Ministers felt that engaging in espionage abroad was unworthy of England, as even the French would not open British government correspondence–that, in the later words of Henry L. Stimson, when he closed the American code-breaking department known as the Black Chamber, “gentlemen do not read each other’s mail."2 Intelligence Division employees did not perform fieldwork, which was seen as the province of amateurs, but instead read newspapers and foreign journals. While the Intelligence Division had the best library of any of the intelligence branches, and received additional information from amateur spies, patriotic gentlemen like Robert Baden-Powell, few outside the Intelligence Division thought their work or their information of any use. The librarian of the Intelligence Department, W.H. Cromie, grew so tired of the constant low pay and abuse from the other branches that in 1883 he began selling intelligence to the French. He wasn’t caught until 1898, and even then he was not jailed, merely dismissed from his post. Cromie was careful enough, and those who caught him were incompetent enough, that insufficient evidence was found to bring him to trial.
The popular fiction of the time reflected this attitude toward espionage. The story papers and dime novels of the mid- and late nineteenth century occasionally featured heroes who spied. But the authors of these stories always portrayed the hero as a gentleman who performed espionage out of noble patriotism (see: On the Queen’s Service), thus redeeming otherwise sordid behavior. The rise in cultural and political anxieties at the end of the century (see: Fin-de-Siècle Unease) began to change the approach to spying. Espionage novels at the turn of the twentieth century continued to emphasize spying as the work of amateurs (see: Kim) and did not glorify the particulars of spy work (see: Kruger’s Secret Service). The single most popular espionage story of the time was Erskine Childers’ The Riddle of the Sands (1903), a novel about amateurs who accidentally become spies, and the most popular writer of espionage novels in the first decade of the twentieth century was E. Phillips Oppenheim, whose espionage novels (see: The Mysterious Mister Sabin) put spying in a bad light unless it is committed by Oppenheim’s übermenschen, who are always amateurs.
But at the same time stories began to appear which stressed the need for competent, professional spies. Former British Army Major A.G.F. Griffiths wrote The Thin Red Line (1900), which portrayed the establishment of a British government intelligence agency as a necessity and portrayed both the work and the spies as respectable professionals. The Moore stories assume that what the Fund and Moore do is not at all disgraceful. Moore is a gentleman, similar to Oppenheim’s protagonists, but he is an agent on the rolls of the Fund, rather than a member of the upper class momentarily stooping to something ordinarily beneath him. This approach, making a professional spy the unsullied hero of the espionage story, would soon be duplicated in the slicks and pulps.
Like the later pulp spy stories, the Newton Moore stories are straightforward adventure on a global stage, lacking in gritty details and taking a simplistic approach to the realities of espionage. But White anticipates the approach of W. Somerset Maugham in Ashenden (1928), Ian Fleming (in the James Bond books, rather than the Bond movies), and John Le Carré in stressing the psychic damage which espionage does to the spy. Newton Moore is not invulnerable and superhuman in the way of the pulp heroes and James Bond. Moore is distinctly human. Moore’s imagination consistently exaggerates the danger that he will face during his missions, so that he is perpetually frightened, even terrified, while on the job. He describes himself as “a coward, who was a hero in spite of himself.” While on a mission Moore is a constantly nauseated and on edge. He is unable to eat and lives on cigarettes and coffee. He is so high-strung that he goes temporarily mad when trapped in a room with a bed of cobras. But he is capable when he needs to be, although to observers he is merely a foppish swell. Moore is easy prey to his own fears, but he overcomes them and does his job. If a situation calls for it and the victim is deserving he can be brutal.
Emile Nobel only appears once in the stories, but it is a memorable appearance. He is ponderous, almost bald, with cold blue eyes and the mouth of a shark. He is a coward: “there was no air of courage or resolution about him, but a suggestion of diabolical cunning.” Nobel is the first major arch-villain in espionage stories, and is a precursor for the spymaster villains of later books and movies who are often physical oddities, whether obese, club-footed (like Valentine Williams’ Prussian spymaster Dr. Adolph “Clubfoot” Grundt [1918-1944]), or bald (like Dr. No in various James Bond movies).
Print: Fred M. White, The Romance of the Secret Service Fund. Shelburne, ON: Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2002.
 Qtd. in Brian Bond, The Victorian Army and the Staff College, 1854-1914 (Abingdon: Routledge, 2015), 118.
 Qtd. in David Kahn, The Reader of Gentlemen’s Mail: Herbert O. Yardley and the Birth of American Codebreaking (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004), ix.