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CHARLES READE AND HIS BOOKS. A RETROSPECT.
BY W. J. JOHNSON.
In the year of grace 1851 there was in London a hard-working young man of thirty-seven who ardently desired above all things to be a playwright. He was no mere Grub street hack, but a man of good family and sound education. He came of an old Oxfordshire stock; he had had a distinguished career at the premier University of England, and was a fellow of one of its colleges; he had traveled on the Continent and seen a considerable share of the world. Yet here he was in London, with a brain full of grand ideas and a drawer full of plays that no theatrical manager would accept on any terms, eating his heart out with vexation and ready to give up the struggle.
In his despair he wrote to an actress whom he had often seen and admired on the boards of the Haymarket Theatre-wrote her a piteous note, telling her, no doubt, all about his ambitions and the merits of his plays, and asking for leave to read one of them to her. Mrs. Seymour was only an actress, but she had a kind heart, and she asked this unknown Skakespeare to come and see her. Next day he went to her house, armed with an original drama of his own composition, in which the loves and despairs of a noble lord and a noble lady, a struggling artist and a Newhaven fishwife were pulled into a beautiful tangle in the first three or four acts and deftly unraveled in the last. The young man declaimed his beautiful dialogue to the actress and her friends, and waited for her to fall on his neck in astonishment and delight; but Mrs. Seymour did not seem to be a bit impressed, and the poor author slunk heartbroken. The following morning, however, he got a note from her telling him that the play had merit, but advising him to turn it into a story. The letter concluded with a woman's postscript. She told him how sorry she was to see a gentleman of his obvious birth and breeding so low in the world, and she begged to enclose a five-pound note-as a loan. This, to a Reade of Ipsden, and a fellow of Magdalen College, was a surprise, and the acquaintanceship thus begun ripened into a friendship that was of immense practical use to Reade in after years, and only ended with the death of Laura Seymour twentyeight years later.
Charles Reade was a born story-steller. No English writer has ever been able to spin a yarn, pure and simple, with the directness and force, the terseness and dramatic vividness of this writer. In every one of his eighteen books he tells a story of fascinating interest, which grips the attention of the reader from the first line and holds it as in a vice until the last enthralling word
is read. The man or woman who can read "The Cloister and the Hearth," or "Hard Cash," or "Griffith Gaunt," without having his knowledge. of other men and other times vastly extended, his views of life broadened and his sympathies and feelings stirred to the very quick, has a very thick head and a very cold heart.
But, as it was the ambition of Scott and George Eliot to be great poets rather than great novelists, it was Reade's life-long struggle to gain success. as a dramatist. It is said that he would willingly have given up all his fame as a novelist to have had one unqualified triumph on the stage-a triumph that never came. The comedy of "Masks and Faces" certainly did take London by storm in 1852, but Reade was not the sole author and could not claim all the credit, though the best part of that play must be attributed to him. He conceived and elaborated most of the characters: Peg Woffington, the beautiful Irish woman who could turn the men folk round her little finger, but was melted by the sight of her rival's tears; Triplet, the writer of unacted tragedies, the man who lived in imagination in king's palaces and who could not fill the mouths of his starving progeny with bread; Mabel Vane, the sweet, unsophisticated country girl who came to London town after a weak and erring husband. It was Reade who invented the story and most of the incidents; but Tom Taylor, his collaborateur, threw the whole into dramatic shape and gave the play its most. sparkling passages of dialogue. A year later Reade turned his part of the work into a story, calling it "Peg Woffington." This is his first and one of his finest books. It is a model of artistic construction, containing neither a word too much nor a word too little. It tells a charmingly fresh and original story, the reading of which is like setting one's teeth in a juicy pear fresh from the warm sunshine.
It is related that in his early days Reade said: "I am like Goldsmith and others-I shall blossom
late," and, true enough, he was almost forty years. of age before his life-work began. He deliberately sets out in his diary at this time the plan that he intended to follow in the writing of fiction. He proposed never to guess where he could know; to visit all the places and experience all the sensations he intended to describe; to understand all that was possible of the hearts and brains of the people he intended to portray-in a word, to be a writer of truths instead of a writer of lies. "Now I know exactly what I am worth," he says. "If I can work the above great system, there is enough of me to make one of the writers of the day. Without it-no, no."
His first long novel, "It Is Never Too Late to Mend," gives a lurid picture of prison life in England in the early years of the century, and
brought about some important changes in the law with regard to the detention of prisoners. The atrocities practiced on Tom Robinson by the brutal governor and his warders are written, as Reade himself said of another book, "in many places with art, in all with red ink and the biceps muscle." While he was writing this book he took the utmost pains to verify every fact and incident that is described. He visited many prisons, he put himself in the convict's place, he did his turn on the treadmill, he turned the crank, he even submitted to incarceration in the dark cell, and suffered while there unspeakable torture. He supplemented the information gained thus by reading libraries of blue books, pamphlets, letters, and volumes dealing with prisons and prison life. In "Hard Cash" he exposed, with the same ruthless pen and the same strength of invective, the villainies and dark deeds practiced on the, unfortunate inmates of private lunatic asylums; and in "Put Yourself in His Place," he dealt in the same trenchant style with outrages committed by illegal trade unions. These three stories, if they are not distinguished by any subtle exposition of character nor by any abstruse psychological analysis of motive and conduct, simply reek with human nature and pulsate with life and movement from beginning to end. In the writing of them Reade may have totally disregarded the canons of art (so called), but he did not mind any such puny limitation on his genius when he had a story to tell. In every one of his books the reader is sucked into the wild current of the narrative on the very first page, and carried with feverish haste from one scene of excitement, daring, terror, or pity to another, until he suddenly finds himself stranded on the last unwelcome word "finis."
After the publication of "It Is Never Too Late to Mend," Reade's next important work was a story called "Love Me Little, Love Me Long," a "mild tale," in which our author discusses no social problems and indulges in no red ink. It is entirely a love story, relating the efforts of a big, simple-minded, fiddle-playing sailor to capture the somewhat elusive affections of Miss Lucy Fountain, a young lady with a complex mind, whose anxiety to displease nobody carried her too often into the neutral zone between truth and falsehood, and sometimes even beyond that territory on the wrong side.
But all these efforts were but the skirmishes before the real engagement. Reade had done good work, but nothing yet that entitled him to immortality. About this time an old Latin legend came under his notice which told "with harsh brevity the strange history of a pair who lived untrumpeted and died unsung four hundred years ago." It was a touching story, with artistic and
dramatic possibilities, and Reade determined to breathe into it the spirit of humanity. Accordingly, our author was to be seen, toward the end of the year 1859, in the Bodleian and Magdalen College Libraries grubbing among the writings. and chronicles of Froissart, Erasmus, Gringoire, Luther and their fellows, and endeavoring to get an insight as to the state of society in Holland, Germany and Italy in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The pains that he took with this book called first "A Good Fight," and afterward "The Cloister and the Hearth," were almost superhuman. His letters at this time are full of it "I am under weigh again," he writes, "but rather slowly. I think this story will almost wear my mind out." Again, "I can't tell whether it will succeed or not as a whole, but there shall be great and tender things in it." It is interesting to trace through these letters the gradual evolution of characters and scenes that have charmed millions of people since. In one of them he says: "Gerard is just now getting to France after many adventures in Germany. The new character I have added-Denys, a Burgundian soldier, a cross-bowman-will, I hope and trust, please you." Never was hope better founded. Since those words were written many and many a reader has lived over again the sayings and doings of this honest, true-hearted adventurer, with his everlasting "Courage, le diable est mort." Denys' "foible," as we are told, was woman. "When he met a peasant girl on the road he took off his cap to her as if she was a queen, the invariable effect of which was that she suddenly drew herself up quite stiff like a soldier on parade, and wore a forbidden aspect."
""They drive me to despair,' sighed poor Denys. 'Is that a just return for a civil bonnetade? They are large, they are fair, but stupid as swans. *** A little affability adorns even beauty.""
When "The Cloister and the Hearth" was published in 1861 it was accepted by the critics and the public as a great work, but it created no burst of enthusiasm. However, that year was prolific in great works. A public that was reading "Silas Marner," "Great Expectations," "The Adventures of Philip," "The Woman in White," "The Ordeal of Richard Feverel," and a new book by Anthony Trollope, had its powers of appreciation fully engaged and had little attention to devote to a comparatively new author like Reade. Time, however, has stamped "The Cloister and the Hearth" with the seal of immortality. The pitiful story of Gerard and Margaret, "the sweetest, saddest and most tender love story ever devised by wit of man," can never die. Here is how Reade tells the end of it all:
"Thus after life's fitful fever these true lovers were at peace. The grave, kinder to them than
the church, united them forever; and now a mar of another age and nation, touched with their fate, has labored to build their tombstone and rescue them from long and unmerited oblivion. * * * In every age the Master of life and death, who is kinder as well as wiser than we are, has transplanted to heaven, young, earth's sweetest flowers. I ask your sympathy, then, for their rare constancy and pure affection, and their cruel separation by a vile heresy in the bosom of the church; but not your pity for their early but happy end. 'Beati sunt qui in Domino moriuntur.'"
It is difficult to see how any one can approach this book in a critical spirit, although one writer has had the temerity to say certain disparaging things about it. It is entitled to nothing but the profoundest admiration and its author to the most unbounded gratitude. Sir Walter Besant calls it the greatest historical novel in the language, and very few will be found to deny the justice of such praise.
In Reade's next book, "Hard Cash," which was written for Dickens' magazine, the author gives a vivid picture of himself at work, calling himself Mr. Rolfe, "the writer of romances founded on facts." He describes his library as one of note books and indexes-great volumes, containing a classified collection of facts, ideas, pictures, incidents, characters, scraps of dialogues and letters. They were arranged and indexed under a multitude of headings, such as Curialia, or man as revealed in the law courts; Femina Vera, or the real woman; Humores Diei, or the humor of the day; Nigri Loci, or reports of dark deeds perpetrated in prison and lunatic asylums; "the dirty oligarchy," which included reports of trade outrages and strikes. Such an insatiable thirst had he for facts of the very smallest importance that he even collected and classified the exclamations and colloquial expressions commonly used by women in real life. When he was writing a novel he arranged in parallel columns, on thick pasteboard cards, each about the size of a large portfolio, all the facts, incidents, living dialogues, reflections and situations that he intended to use in the book. On this pile of dry bones he breathed the breath of genius, and immediately there sprang into life and being those great books that have been the delight and comfort of many a wearied brain.
of them, are as carefully and truthfully drawn as any characters in fiction. Altogether, as regards characters, incidents and construction, the book is a triumph, full of noble passages and distinguished by the keenest pathos.
Reade reached the height of his fame and powers with "Griffith Gaunt," published in 1866. Although full of incident and action, this book is the nearest approach to a mere character study that Reade ever attempted. Kate Gaunt and Mercy Vint, examples of two very different types of noble womanhood, and Griffith Gaunt, the poor, weak, jealous hero, vascillating between the two
It has never been denied that Reade was a writer who, when he chose, could play on the terror and pity of his readers; but Sir Walter Besant has said that, although always cheerful and hopeful, he is wanting in fun and mirth. Certainly he has written nothing that will provoke noisy hilarity or unctuous chuckling; but, as has been said, if the keenest humor is only a delightful sense of something perfect in allusion or suggestion, Reade's work does contain much that is humorous. Witness the sly passage in "The Double Marriage":
"She does not love him quite enough. Cure-marriage. He loves her a little too much. Cure-marriage."
Reade's use of the English language, too, was eccentric, not to say ludicrous. In "A Simpleton," when he wished to signify that two people turned their backs on each other in a fit of temper, he wrote, "They showed napes." Describing the complexion of the Newhaven fishwives in "Christie Johnstone," he says: "It is a race of women that the northern sun peachifies instead of rosewoodizing." In "Readiana" he describes a gentleman giving a lunch to two ladies at a railway restaurant as follows: "He souped them, he tough chickened them, he brandied and cochinealed one, and he brandied and burnt-sugared the other." (Brandy and cochineal, and brandy and burnt sugar, being Reade's euphorisms for port and sherry respectively.) While he was preparing his series of articles on Old Testament characters, he read what he had written to John Coleman on one occasion and came to this startling passage in his argument:
"Having now arrived at this conclusion, we must go the whole hog or none."
Coleman objected to this phrase.
"You don't like the hog, I see," said Reade. "Well, it's a strong figure of speech, and it's understanded of the people; but-yes, you are right; it's scarcely Scriptural-so out it goes."
Unlike Eliot and Meredith, Reade develops the individuality of his people, and shows their various thoughts, motives, feelings and passions by means of dialogue and action rather than through deliberate analysis. He himself said of George Eliot that her business seemed to him to consist principally in describing with marvelous accuracy the habits, manners and customs of animalculæ as they exist under the microscope. Reade indulges in no introspection; he makes no pretence of being a psychologist; he assumes to be only a recorder of events and nothing more. When Griffith Gaunt left his wife in the wood,
full of rage at her supposed faithlessness, and determined to look on her beautiful face no more forever, the reader is told simply that he darted. to the stable yard, sprang on his horse and galloped away from Hernshaw Castle, with the face, the eyes, the gestures, the incoherent mutterings of a raving Bedlamite. With what pages and pages of reflections and philosophizings Eliot would have watered down this powerful scene. Reade describes it all in about two dozen sentences, and the reader knows intuitively everything that is passing in the minds of the three persons concerned. But then Reade's silences are often more eloquent than Eliot's wordiness.
Of the gallery of portraits in Reade's books no class has created such discussion as his heroinesMargaret Brandt, Christie Johnstone, Jael Dence, Peg Woffington and the others. No one has been yet bold enough to deny that they are at least interesting creations; but, says Ouida, who leads the attack, are not gentlewomen: "Take, for instance, Zoe Vizard, who is described of good birth and breeding. She speaks and acts like a barmaid; giggles and cries 'La!" But gentility is something more than skin deep, and so Ouida's major proposition is fallacious. Besides, she has attacked so many other writers of fiction in almost exactly the same terms that her criticisms are not of much weight. Then Mr. W. L. Courtney makes a counter-attack by charging that Reade's heroines are not real living people at all, but only a series of monotonous types of womanhoodnamely, the strong natural girl, the sweet, simple, lovable girl, without much strength of character, and the wicked passionate woman who has moments of grace. This form of criticism has been made to do duty very often. One ingenious gentleman has classified all the characters in Dickens' books and reduced them to about a dozen distinct types. There is no doubt that the same thing could be done with Scott and Thackeray. And if Mr. Courtney were so wishful he could classify even Shakespeare's headings under the headings as he has assigned to Reade's. Kate, Portia, Rosalind and Olivia would easily come under the classification of the strong natural girl. Ophelia, Desdemona, Juliet and Viola would represent the sweet, simple, loving girl, without much strength except where her love was concerned; while Lady Macbeth, Lear's two daughters and Cleopatra are obviously Mr. Courtney's wicked, passionate women. There are plenty of sweet and natural women in fiction, from Fielding down to Stevenson, but, as Besant points out, it is Reade who has found the true woman-the "average woman," with plenty of small faults and plenty of great virtues. Reade neither palliates. the one nor unduly magnifies the other. Kate Gaunt is imperious and haughty; Lucy Fountain
tells fibs; Christie Johnston mangles the Queen's English; even Peter Brandt's red-haired girl, the most lovable of them all, is not above some small deceits. But these shortcomings are nothing as compared with their good qualities- their stanchness and loyalty to their own, the depths of devotion and affection in their nature, their mercifulness and forgiveness. No writer in the English language ever showed the beauty of womanhood so truly, tenderly and sympathetically as Reade has done.
It was the fate of Reade, as it was the fate of Shakespeare and Scott, not to be appreciated at his true worth during his lifetime. When he first came before the reading public with "Peg Woffington" Scott had been dead only twenty years, Dickens and Thackeray had already published the best portion of their work and were the idol of the hour, and George Eliot was getting ready to compete with them as a fictionmonger. The capacity of the public to digest mediocre work is stupendous, but its appreciation of the fruits of genius is limited, and for a time. Reade's books did not get all the attention they deserved. However, in spite of Time's handicap they have now placed themselves in the affections of the public on terms of equality with the writings of the older authors, and "The Cloister and the Hearth" is almost as well known and appreciated as "David Copperfield," "Ivanhoe," or "The Newcomes." Scott, Dickens and Thackeray are kings each in his own particular realm; but any one who wants a good, bracing story that will bring the color to the cheek and the brightness to the eye-full of plenty of pathos and humor, terror and pity, moving accidents by flood and field, and strong human nature-a dramatic story that will carry the reader along without a single. interruption, written in honest English that says what it wants to say without any circumlocutiona story exhaling the author's love of right and honest indignation at wrong, and inculcating with every sentence the eternal truths of Holy Writlet him step for an hour or two into the wonderful world that Charles Reade has created, and he will not be disappointed.- The Gentleman's Magazine.
Illustrating the absurdities that sometimes crop out in the bookselling business, the following examples may be of interest: An order was received by the publishers for a copy of "Nonsense in America," which was finally translated to mean "The Rulers of the Sea," which had the sub-title, "Norsemen in America." Again "Raisins and Beans" was ordered, and "Rosin the Beau" supplied. "Foil and Sabre," a treatise on fencing, filled an order for "Toil and Labor." "The Knickerbocker Club of North Africa," was ordered for "The Knock about Club in North Africa."
HOW TO ENJOY BROWNING.
and delve among its treasures for the pure gold his own soul needs. I have an acquaintance who delights in that abomination of a busy student, "complete works." There is no man so great that obligation is laid upon other men to read his every utterance. The very essence of the scholar's habit is the power to discriminate, to pick out the things he needs, to appropriate the message his soul longs for. A well-known critic of the "liberal" school is wont to say of the "conservative" brethren, appropos of their attitude toward the Bible, and with not a little disgust: "They say, as the housewife says, but with less truth, 'Cut in anywhere, and it's all cake."" But the fact is that it isn't all "cake," and one needs to discriminate carefully ere he appropriates. So with Browning, or any other writer for that matter, one needs to select a few things, by way of introduction, before he launches himself on that awful sea of "complete works" in whose depths he may sink. One may with perfect propriety take the judgment of another to begin with. He may, with comparative safety, follow the beaten track, as represented in that other and often terrible word, "selections"; but these are but precautions till he is ready to explore for himself and to appraise correctly such treasures as he finds. Probably no poet, certainly none in this generation, has suffered so much at the hands of the " fadists" as has Browning. When the little circle of those who had known him and loved him began to gain for him a larger reading, the discussions which arose drew the attention of a lot of literary "incompetents" who dipped in and, with shallow judgment, passed on to herald their discoveries. But I am assuming that we believe in the man and his work; that we desire to get at the secret of his power; that we are willing to sacrifice something to come close to the throbbings of his great heart; therefore, that we are willing to spend little time and some energy in our pursuit. The fault.
BY REV. H. C. MEserve.
Robert Browning's position in the front rank of the nineteenth century poets is already assured. Indeed, should the remaining year of the century fail to bring forth a poet (and his head has not yet appeared above the horizon) greater than he, it is hardly a question for argument as to who, if not he; should occupy first place. Yet he is not in any real sense the poet of the people. He cannot paint the glories of nature like Wordsworth, or weave romances like Tennyson, or be as dear to our hearts as Longfellow, though Longfellow be singer of the lesser order. But he can be, and he is, what none of the others are, a "Browning" of intellectual vigor, of broad vision and power to see with a poet's soul through the deepest philosophies of men. It is not a strange thing, though some have it to be incomprehensible, that a poet should be other than at dreamer; and here is one who has brought the antipodes of human thought together and given to the world a strong and deep philosophy of human life, in all the high lights and splendid colors of a poet's fancy, Let these things be ever in the background of our thought as we seek to get into the poet's mind. If you have found these things in other poets, as I doubt not that you have, to a degree at least, expect to find them here in larger measure and demanding therefore greater consideration. There is an occult relation between Browning the poet and Browning the man that requires of us that we know something of the latter before we can know and adequately appreciate the former. It does not so much matter whether we know Shakespeare personally or not. His grasp of human life is so sure that we feel that he knows us, and that suffices. But Browning, with a different if not more delicate touch, reveals himself to those who have come closest to his heart and understand best his methods. With such a man, who breathes himself into his poems, with an abandon which only a true lover of his art can attain, one must be on intimate terms if he would approach the master's work with something of the master's spirit. Browning's life was itself a poem-with not a few somber lines, it is true, and much that to the casual reader even is pathetic. But through his life, as through his work, there breathes a note of hope that tells of wonderful visions, both seen and lived and one day retold to the world of men, who sorely need such glimpses of the other world. But when one has entered into the poet's life and seen the environment whence the poet's message proceeded, and caught, as he must, something of the spirit which made possible these inspired words, let him betake himself to the printed page
American idea of enjoyment is sadly at We do not know what it means to enjoy in any real sense. Work, our vocation, is our tread-mill of existence, while anything that may come in to interrupt that dull round is our recreation, our enjoyment. Recreation from our point of view as a people is largely dissipation and borders on depravity. Not that we are dissipated or depraved in the ordinary use of those terms, but that our leisure hours have often no more profitable relation to our life.
Now, Browning is the poet of the intellect. He appeals to us, not as other of the poets do, through the feelings, the love of the beautiful, the attraction of the pathetic, attraction of the pathetic, or the spell of the romantic, but through that most difficult of all channels, the human mind. You may dream