Page images

CHARLES READE AND HIS BOOKS. is read. The man or woman who can read “The

Cloister and the Hearth,” or “Hard Cash,” or A RETROSPECT.

“Griffith Gaunt," without having his knowledge BY W. J. JOHNSON.

of other men and other times vastly extended, bis In the year of grace 1851 there was in London

views of life broadened and his sympathies and a hard-working young man of thirty-seven who

feelings stirred to the very quick, has a very thick ardently desired above all things to be a play

head and a very cold heart. wright. He was no mere Grub street hack, but a

But, as it was the ambition of Scott and George man of good family and sound education. He

Eliot to be great poets rather than great novelists, came of an old Oxfordshire stock; he had had a

it was Reade's life-long struggle to gain success distinguished career at the premier University of

as a dramatist. It is said that he would willingly England, and was a fellow of one of its colleges;

have given up all his fame as a novelist to have he bad traveled on the Continent and seen a con

had one unqualified triumph on the stage-a siderable share of the world. Yet here he was

triumph that never came. The comedy of “Masks in London, with a brain full of grand ideas and a

and Faces" certainly did take London by storm drawer full of plays that no theatrical manager

in 1852, but Reade was not the sole author and would accept on any terms, eating his heart out

could not claim all the credit, though the best part with vexation and ready to give up the struggle.

of that play must be attributed to him. He conIn his despair he wrote to an actress whom he

ceived and elaborated most of the characters: Peg had often seen and admired on the boards of the

Woffington, the beautiful Irish woman who could Haymarket Theatre-wrote her a piteous note,

turn the men folk round her little finger, but was telling her, no doubt, all about his ambitions and

melted by the sight of her rival's tears; Triplet,

the writer of unacted tragedies, the man who the merits of his plays, and asking for leave to read one of them to her. Mrs. Seymour was only

lived in imagination in king's palaces and who

could not fill the mouths of his starving progeny an actress, but she had a kind heart, and she

with bread; Mabel Vane, the sweet, unsophistiasked this unknown Skakespeare to come and see her. Next day he went to her house, armed with

cated country girl who came to London town after an original drama of his own composition, in

a weak and erring husband. It was Reade who which the loves and despairs of a noble lord and

invented the story and most of the incidents; but a noble lady, a struggling artist and a New haven

Tom Taylor, his collaborateur, threw the whole

into dramatic shape and gave the play its most fishwife were pulled into a beautiful tangle in the first three or four acts and deftly unraveled in the sparkling passages of dialogue. A year later last. The young man declained his beautiful

Reade turned his part of the work into a story, dialogue to the actress and her friends, and

calling it “Peg Woffington.” This is his first and waited for her to fall on his neck in astonishment

one of his finest books. It is a model of artistic and delight; but Mrs. Seymour did not seem to

construction, containing neither a word too much be a bit impressed, and the poor author slunk

nor a word too little. It tells a cliarmingly fresh away, heartbroken. The following morning,

and original story, the reading of which is like however, he got a note from her telling him that setting one's teeth in a juicy pear fresh from the the play had merit, but advising him to turn it into

warm sunshine. a story. The letter concluded with a woman's

It is related that in his early days Reade said : postscript. She told him how sorry she was to

“I am like Goldsmith and others—I shall blossom see a gentleman of his obvious birth and breeding late," and, true enough, he was almost forty years so low in the world, and she begged to enclose a

of age before his life-work began. He deliberfive-pound note-as a loan. This, to a Reade of ately sets out in his diary at this time the plan Ipsden, and a fellow of Magdalen College, was a

that he intended to follow in the writing of fiction. surprise, and the acquaintanceship thus begun He proposed never to guess where he could know; ripened into a friendship that was of immense to visit all the places and experience all the sensapractical use to Reade in after years, and only

tions he intended to describe; to understand all ended with the death of Laura Seymour twenty

that was possible of the hearts and brains of the eight years later.

people he intended to portray-in a word, to be a Charles Reade was a born story-steller. No writer of truths instead of a writer of lies. “Now English writer has ever been able to spin a yarn,

I know exactly what I am worth,” he says. “If pure and simple, with the directness and force, I can work the above great system, there is the terseness and dramatic vividness of this enough of me to make one of the writers of the writer. In every one of his eighteen books he day. Without it—no, no.” tells a story of fascinating interest, which grips His first long novel, “It Is Never Too Late to tbe attention of the reader from the first line and Mend,” gives a lurid picture of prison life in Engholds it as in a vice until the last entbralling word land in the early years of the century, and

brought about some important changes in the law dramatic possibilities, and Reade determined to with regard to the detention of prisoners. The breathe into it the spirit of humanity. Accordatrocities practiced on Tom Robinson by the ingly, our author was to be seen, toward the end brutal governor and his warders are written, as of the year 1859, in the Bodleian and Magdalen Reade himself said of another book, “in many College Libraries grubbing among the writings places with art, in all with red ink and the biceps and chronicles of Froissart, Erasmus, Gringoire, muscle." While he was writing this book he took Luther and their fellows, and endeavoring to get the utmost pains to verify every fact and incident an insight as to the state of society in Holland, that is described. He visited many prisons, be Germany and Italy in the fourteenth and fifteenth put himself in the convict's place, he did his turn centuries. The pains that he took with this book on the treadmill, he turned the crank, he even called first “ A Good Fight,” and afterward “The submitted to incarceration in the dark cell, and Cloister and the Hearth,” were almost supersuffered while there unspeakable torture. He human. His letters at this time are full of it supplemented the information gained thus by "I am under weigh again,” he writes, “but reading libraries of blue books, pamphlets, letters, rather slowly. I think this story will almost wear and volumes dealing with prisons and prison life. my mind out." Again, “I can't tell whether it In "Hard Cash” he exposed, with the same ruth will succeed or not as a whole, but there shall be less pen and the same strength of invective, the great and tender things in it." It is interesting villainies and dark deeds practiced on the, unfor to trace through these letters the gradual evolutunate inmates of private lunatic asylumis; and tion of characters and scenes that have charmed in “Put Yourself in His Place,” he dealt in the millions of people since. In one of them he says: same trenchant style with outrages committed by “Gerard

“Gerard is just now getting to France after illegal trade unions. These three stories, if they many adventures in Germany. The new charare not distinguished by any subtle exposition of acter I have added-Denys, a Burgundian soldier, character nor by any abstruse psychological anal. a cross-bowman--will, I hope and trust, please ysis of motive and conduct, simply reek with you.” Never was hope better founded. Since human nature and pulsate with life and move those words were written many and many a ment from beginning to end. In the writing of reader has lived over again the sayings and dothem Reade may have totally disregarded the ings of this honest, true-hearted adventurer, with canons of art (so called), but he did not mind any his everlasting “Courage, le diable est mort." such puny limitation on his genius when he had Denys' “foible," as are told, was woman. a story to tell. In every one of his books the “When he met a peasant girl on the road he took reader is sucked into the wild current of the nar off his cap to her as if she was a queen, the inrative on the very first page, and carried with variable effect of which was that she suddenly feverish haste from one scene of excitement, drew herself up quite stiff like a soldier on parade, daring, terror, or pity to another, until he sud and wore a forbidden aspect.” denly finds himself stranded on the last unwel "They drive me to despair,' sighed poor Denys. come word “finis."

'Is that a just return for a civil bonnetade ? They After the publication of "It Is Never Too Late are large, they are fair, but stupid as swans. * ** to Mend,” Reade's next important work was a A little affability adorns even beauty." story called "Love Me Little, Love Me Long," a When “The Cloister and the Hearth” was pub“mild tale,” in which our author discusses no lished in 1861 it was accepted by the critics and social problems and indulges in no red ink. It is the public as a great work, but it created no burst entirely a love story, relating the efforts of a big, of enthusiasm. However, that year was prolific simple-minded, fiddle-playing sailor to capture the in great works. A public that was reading “Silas somewhat elusive affections of Miss Lucy Foun Marner," "Great Expectations," "The Adventain, a young lady with a complex mind, whose tures of Philip," "The Woman in White," "The anxiety to displease nobody carried her too often Ordeal of Richard Feverel,” and a new book by into the neutral zone between truth and false. Anthony Trollope, had its powers of appreciation hood, and sometimes even beyond that territory fully engaged and had little attention to devote to on the wrong side.

a comparatively new author like Reade. Time, But all these efforts were but the skirmishes however, has stamped “The Cloister and the before the real engagement. Reade had done Hearth" with the seal of immortality. The pitiful good work, but nothing yet that entitled him to story of Gerard and Margaret, "the sweetest, sadimmortality. About this time an old Latin legend dest and most tender love story ever devised by came under his notice which told “with harsh wit of man," can never die Here is how Reade brevity the strange history of a pair who lived tells the end of it all: uptrumpeted and died unsung four hundred years “ Thus after life's fitful fever these true lovers ago." It was a touching story, with artistic and

were at peace. The grave, kinder to them than



the church, united them forever; and now a mar of them, are as carefully and truthfully drawn as of another age and nation, touched with their any characters in fiction. Altogether, as regards fate, has labored to build their tombstone and characters, incidents and construction, the book is rescue them from long and unmerited obliv a triumph, full of noble passages and distinion. * *

In every age the Master of life guished by the keenest pathos. and death, who is kinder as well as wiser than we It has never been denied that Reade was are, has transplanted to heaven, young, earth's writer who, when he chose, could play on the sweetest flowers. I ask your sympathy, then, for terror and pity of bis readers; but Sir Walter their rare constancy and pure affection, and their Besant has said that, although always cheerful cruel separation by a vile heresy in the bosom of and hopeful, he is wanting in fun and mirth. the church; but not your pity for their early but Certainly he has written nothing that will prohappy end. 'Beati sunt qui in Domino moriun voke noisy hilarity or unctuous chuckling ; but, tur.'”

as has been said, if the keenest humor is only a It is difficult to see how any one can approach delightful sense of something perfect in allusion this book in a critical spirit, although one writer or suggestion, Reade's work does contain much has had the temerity to say certain disparaging that is humorous. Witness the sly passage in things about it. It is entitled to nothing but the "The Double Marriage": profoundest admiration and its author to the most “She does not love him quite enough. Cure-marriage. unbounded gratitude. Sir Walter Besant calls it He loves her a little too much. Cure-marriage.” the greatest historical novel in the language, and Reade's use of the English language, too, was very few will be found to deny the justice of such eccentric, not to say ludicrous. In “A Simpleton,” praise.

when he wished to signify that two people turned In Reade's next book, “Hard Cash,” which their backs on each other in a fit of temper, he was written for Dickens' magazine, the author wrote, “They show ed napes." Describing the gives a vivid picture of himself at work, calling complexion of the Newhaven fishwives in himself Mr. Rolfe, “the writer of romances

'Christie Johnstone," he says: “It is a race of founded on facts.” He describes his library as women that the northern sun peachifies instead one of note books and indexes-great volumes, of rosewoodizing.” In “Readiana” he describes containing a classified collection of facts, ideas, a gentleman giving a lunch to two ladies at a railpictures, incidents, characters, scraps of dialogues way restaurant as follows: "He souped them, he and letters. They were arranged and indexed tough chickened them, he brandied and cochiunder a multitude of headings, such as Curialia, nealed one, and he bravdied and burnt-sigared or man as revealed in the law courts; Femina the other.” (Brandy and cochineal, and brandy Vera, or the real woman; Humores Diei, or the and burnt sugar, being Reade's euphorismis for honor of the day; Nigri Loci, or reports of dark port and sherry respectively.) While he was deeds perpetrated in prison and lunatic asylums; preparing his series of articles on Old Testament "the dirty oligarchy,” which included reports of

characters, he read what he had written to John trade outrages and strikes. Such an insatiable Coleman on one occasion and came to this startthirst had be for facts of the very smallest impor- ling passage in his argument: tance that he even collected and classified the ex. Having now arrived at this conclusion, we clamations and colloquial expressions commonly must go the whole hog or none." used by women in real life. When he was writ

Coleman objected to this phrase. ing a novel he arranged in parallel columns, on

“You don't like the hog, I see,” said Reade. thick pasteboard cards, each about the size of a "Well, it's a strong figure of speech, and it's un. large portfolio, all the facts, incidents, living dia

derstanded of the people; but-yes, you are right; logues, reflections and situations that he intended it's scarcely Scriptural-so out it goes." to use in the book. On this pile of dry bones he

Unlike Eliot and Meredith, Reade develops the breathed the breath of genius, and immediately individuality of his people, and shows their there sprang into life and being those great books various thoughts, motives, feelings and passions that have been the delight and comfort of many by means of dialogue and action rather than a wearied brain.

through deliberate analysis. He himself said of Reade reached the height of his fame and pow. George Eliot that her business seemed to him to ers with “Griffith Gaunt," published in 1866.

consist principally in describing with marvelous Although full of incident and action, this book is accuracy the habits, manners and customs of ani. the nearest approach to a mere character study

malculæ as they exist under the microscope. that Reade ever attempted. Kate Gaunt and Reade indulges in no introspection; he makes no Mercy Vint, examples of two very different types pretence of being a psychologist; he assumes to of noble womanhood, and Griffith Gaunt, the poor,

be only a recorder of events and nothing more. weak, jealous bero, vascillating between the two

When Griffith Gaunt left his wife in the wood,

full of rage at her supposed faithlessness, and tells fibs; Christie Johnston mangles the Queen's determined to look on her beautiful face no more English ; even Peter Brandt's red-haired girl, the forever, the reader is told simply that he darted most lovable of them all, is not above some small to the stable yard, sprang on his horse and gal deceits. But these shortcomings are nothing as loped away from Hernshaw Castle, with the face, compared with their good qualities, their stanchthe eyes, the gestures, the incoherent mutterings ness and loyalty to their own, the depths of devoof a raving Bedlamite. With what pages and tion and affection in their nature, their mercifulpages of reflections and philosophizings Eliot ness and forgiveness. No writer in the English would have watered down this powerful scene. language ever showed the beauty of womanhood Reade describes it all in about two dozen sen so truly, tenderly and sympathetically as Reade tences, and the reader knows intuitively every has done. thing that is passing in the minds of the three It was the fate of Reade, as it was the fate of persons concerned. But then Reade's silences Shakespeare and Scott, not to be appreciated at are often more eloquent than Eliot's wordiness. his true worth during his lifetime. When he

Of the gallery of portraits in Reade's books no first came before the reading public with “Peg class has created such discussion as his heroines Woffington" Scott had been dead only twenty Margaret Brandt, Christie Johnstone, Jael Dence, years, Dickens and Thackeray had already pubPeg Woffington and the others. No one has been lished the best portion of their work and were yet bold enough to deny that they are at least in the idol of the hour, and George Eliot was getteresting creations; but, says Ouida, who leads the ting ready to compete with them as a fictionattack, are not gentlewomen: “Take, for instance, monger. The capacity of the public to digest Zoe Vizard, who is described of good birth and mediocre work is stupendous, but its appreciation breeding. She speaks and acts like a barmaid ; of the fruits of genius is limited, and for a time giggles and cries 'La!'” But gentility is some Reade's books did not get all the attention they thing more than skin deep, and so Quida's major deserved. However, in spite of Time's handicap proposition is fallacious. Besides, she has at

they have now placed themselves in the affections tacked so many other writers of fiction in almost

of the public on terms of equality with the writexactly the same terms that her criticisms are not ings of the older authors, and “The Cloister and of much weight. Then Mr. W. L. Courtney the Hearth” is almost as well known and appremakes a counter-attack by charging that Reade's ciated as “David Copperfield," "Ivanhoe," or heroines are not real living people at all, but only “The Newcomes.” Scott, Dickens and Thackeray a series of monotonous types of womanhood are kings each in his own particular realm ; but namely, the strong natural girl, the sweet, simple,

any one who wants a good, bracing story that will lovable girl, without much strength of character, bring the color to the cheek and the brightness to and the wicked passionate woman who has mo the eye-full of plenty of pathos and humor, ments of grace. This form of criticism has been

terror and pity, moving accidents by flood and made to do duty very often. One ingenious gen field, and strong human nature-a dramatic story tleman has classified all the characters in Dickens'

that will carry the reader along without a single books and reduced them to about a dozen distinct

interruption, written in honest English that says types. There is no doubt that the same thing what it wants to say without any circumlocutioncould be done with Scott and Thackeray. And a story exhaling the author's love of right and if Mr. Courtney were so wishful he could classify honest indignation at wrong, and inculcating with even Shakespeare's headings under the

every sentence the eternal truths of Holy Writheadings as he has assigned to Reade's. Kate, let him step for an hour or two into the wonderful Portia, Rosalind and Olivia would easily come world that Charles Reade has created, and he will under the classification of the strong natural girl. not be disappointed.- The Gentleman's Magazine. Ophelia, Desdemona, Juliet and Viola would represept the sweet, simple, loving girl, without much Illustrating the absurdities that sometimes crop strength except where her love was concerned ; out in the bookselling business, the following exwhile Lady Macbeth, Lear's two daughters and

amples may be of interest: An order was received Cleopatra are obviously Mr. Courtney's wicked, by the publishers for a copy of “Nonsense in passionate women. There are plenty of sweet America,” which was finally translated to mean and natural women in fiction, from Fielding down "The Rulers of the Sea," which had the sub-title, to Stevenson, but, as Besant points out, it is “Norsemen in America." Again "Raisins and Reade who has found the true woman—the "aver

Beavs” was ordered, and “Rosin the Beau" supage woman,” with plenty of small faults and

plied. "Foil and Sabre," a treatise on fencing, plenty of great virtues. Reade neither palliates filled an order for "Toil and Labor." "The the one nor unduly magnifies the other. Kate Knickerbocker Club of North Africa," was ordered Gaunt is imperious and haughty; Lucy Fountain for "The Knock about Club in North Africa."



and delve among its treasures for the pure gold

bis own soul veeds. I have an acquaintance who BY REV. H. C. MESERVE.

delights in that abomination of a busy student, Robert Browning's position in the front rank of “complete works.” There is no man so great the nineteenth century poets is already assured. that obligation is laid upon other men to read his Indeed, sbould the remaining year of the century every utterance. The very essence of the scholar's fail to bring forth a poet (and his head has not

habit is the power to discriminate, to pick out the yet appeared above the horizon) greater than he,

things he needs, to appropriate the message his it is liardly a question for argument as to who, if

soul longs for. A well-known critic of the “libnot he; should occupy first place. Yet he is not eral” scbool is wont to say of the “conservative" in any real sense the poet of the people. He

brethren, appropos of their attitude toward the cannot paint the glories of nature like Words Bible, and with not a little disgust: “They say, as worth, or weave romances like Tennyson, or he as

the housewife says, but with less truth, 'Cut in dear to our hearts as Longfellow, though Long.

anywhere, and it's all cake.'” But the fact is that fellow be singer of the lesser order. But he can

it isn't all “cake,” and one needs to discriminate be, and he is, what none of the others are, a carefully ere he appropriates. So with Brown* Browning" of intellectual vigor, of broad vision ing, or any other writer for that matter, one needs and power to see with a poet's soul through to select a few things, by way of introduction, the deepest philosophies of men. It is not a

before he launches himself on that awful sea of strange thing, though some have it to be incom "complete works" in whose depths he may sink. prehensible, that a poet should be other than a One may with perfect propriety take the judg. dreamer; and here is one who has brought the

ment of another to begin with. He may, with antipodes of human thought together and given comparative safety, follow the beaten track, as to the world a strong and deep philosophy of represented in that other and often terrible word, human life, in all the high ligbts and splendid

"selections"; but these are but precautions till he colors of a poet's fancy, Let these things be ever

is ready to explore for himself and to appraise in the background of our thought as we seek to correctly such treasures as he finds. Probably no get into the poet's mind. If you have found poet, certainly none in this generation, has sufthese things in other poets, as I doubt not that fered so much at the hands of the “ fadists" as you have, to a degree at least, expect to find them has Browning. When the little circle of those here in larger measure and demanding therefore

who had known him and loved him began to gain greater consideration. There is an occult relation for him a larger reading, the discussions which between Browning the poet and Browning the arose drew the attention of a lot of literary man that requires of us that we know something “incompetents” who dipped in and, with shallow of the latter before we can know and adequately judgment, passed on to herald their discoveries. appreciate the former. It does not so much But I am assuming that we believe in the man matter whether we know Shakespeare personally and his work; that we desire to get at the secret or not. His grasp of buman life is so sure that of his power; that we are willing to sacrifice we feel that he knows us, and that suffices. But something to come close to the throbbings of his Brownirg, with a different if not more delicate great heart; therefore, that we are willing to touch, reveals bimself to those who have come spend a little time and some energy in our purclosest to his heart and understand best his suit. methods. With such a man, who breathes hini

The American idea of enjoyment is sadly at self into his poems, with an abandon which only fault. We do not know what it means to enjoy a true lover of his art can attain, one must be on in any real sense. Work, our vocation, is our intimate terms if he would approach the master's tread-mill of existence, while anything that may work with something of the master's spirit. come in to interrupt that dull round is our recreaBrowning's life was itself a poem-with not a tion, our enjoyment. Recreation from our point few soniber lines, it is true, and much that to the of view as a people is largely dissipation and casual reader even is pathetic. But through his borders on depravity. Not that we are dissipated life, as through his work, there breathes a note or depraved in the ordinary use of those terms, of hope that tells of wonderful visions, both seen but that our leisure hours have often no more and lived and one day retold to the world of men, profitable relation to our life. wlio sorely need such glimpses of the other world. Now, Browning is the poet of the intellect. He But when one has entered into the poet's life and appeals to us, not as other of the poets do, seen the environment whence the poet's message through the feelings, the love of the beautiful, the proceeded, and caught, as he must, something of attraction of the pathetic, or the spell of the the spirit which made possible these inspired romantic, but through that most difficult of all words, let him betake himself to the printed page channels, the human mind. You may dream

« PreviousContinue »