Pt. IV

Time Traveling With R.E. Prindle


R.E. Prindle

The Past Is Always Present


While we are concentrating on the early mid-nineteenth century it may be worthwhile to travel back to a few earlier periods of interest. In addition to Time, Place is equally important. As there are limitations to the human mind to be all inclusive I limit my travels to Greater Europe and the US. If one had the great universal mind of the god Zeus one might be able to include all times and places but the information could hardly be presented in a coherent, comprehensive manner to a reading public and that public could not ingest and digest such massive amounts of information. Forgetting begins the moment the impression begins.

Even an author like Reynolds with only forty some really long books has probably never been read in his entirety nor is it likely he should for a well rounded education. I will attempt it but at my age completion is unlikely.

Speaking of Zeus, perhaps the most important book ever written is Homer’s Iliad which recounted the great struggle between East and West, the Patriarchy and the Matriarchy during the years circa 1200 BC that finally was reduced to written form c. 800-600 BC. Proto-scientific it catalogued all the personality types and their characteristics. In the sense of as above, so below it fused seamlessly the celestial and terrestrial worlds. The supernatural and natural in a comprehensive rationalistic manner. Homer, to whom the work is accredited while not having the universal mind of Zeus came as close as any human will. As a single work it will never be topped.

Moving back toward mid-nineteenth century, the end of the eighteenth, a marvelous piece of time travel by the great, the immortal Edward Gibbon is the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire that runs through fifteen hundred years of the spectacular and unbelievable crimes and follies of humanity, but true. Together with the Iliad of Homer the two works present an incomparable view of the human situation. Indeed, Zeus threw Folly our of heaven for making a fool of his Great Universal Mind.

These two works are the greatest of the Time Travelers but sometimes one, a reader, finds he has landed in a period with a guide who forms a complete personal rapport. Such was the case with me when I entered the world of the Frenchman, the Duc de Roquelaure. The Duc lived during the time of Louis XIV in the seventeenth century. His memoirs were unknown in the English speaking world until 1895. The secret memoirs were kept secret from England and America to that date.

The Duc speaks to me though person to person. He transports me back to that amazing time.

Going even further back there is an amazing time capsule called Huon of Bordeaux. What an adventure this is. Huon is trapped in a world conflict between the terrestrial Charlemagne, the Christian God and Oberon of the Faerie Kingdom. Part of the Chansons de Geste of Charlemagne it captures the feel of the struggle between the worldly kingdom of Charlemagne, the Faerie Kingdom of Arthur and the Pope in Rome. The author lives in a multiplicity of supernatural and natural worlds. He posits a contest between the Catholic God and Oberon, King of the Faeries. One can almost believe God and Oberon are real, of course, Charlemagne was.

The Chansons de Geste were written at the same time the fantastic fairy stories of Arthur were. Between the two they create a whole new universe that is provides an intimate connection to the world of Homer and through both and woven through both worlds that of Christianity. And that of course leads us up to the nineteenth century universe of George W.M. Reynolds.

Reynolds does not have the universal mind of Zeus but then who does? Reynolds at his peak from 1844 to 1856 or 58 was Herculean.

Reynolds began his career floundering around trying to find his method and style. He always considered himself an educator. He called one of his magazines The Political Instructor. In the epilogue to the Mysteries of London in his own signed voice he rather peevishly responds to the criticism of his writing ‘sensational literature’ rather than moral or instructive. I quote:

‘Tis done: VIRTUE is rewarded—VICE has received its punishment.

Said we not, in the very opening of this work, that from London branched off two roads, leading to two points totally distinct the one from the other?

Have we not shown how one winds its torturous way through all the noisome dens of crime, chicanery, dissipation and voluptuousness; and how the other meanders through treacherous rocks, and wearisome acclivities, but having on the way-side the resting places of rectitude and virtue?

The triumph of virtue over vice is very important to Reynolds. While in France he had read the novels of the Marquis de Sade in which de Sade posits the superiority of vice over virtue. The notion mortally offended Reynolds and so he seeks to refute de Sade in novels at least as long as Justine or Juliette.

He goes on in self-justification:

Have we not taught in fine how the example and the philanthropy of one good man can “save more souls and redeem more sinners than all the Bishops that ever wore lawn sleeves?”

Quite obviously Reynolds considers himself one of those good men, indeed, a very priest among them. And further more:

And if, in addition to considerations of this nature, we may presume that so long as we are able to afford entertainment, our labors will be rewarded by the approval of the immense audience to whom we address ourselves, –we may with confidence invite attention to a “SECOND SERIES of “THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON.”

So, in other words, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet and if you are not part of ‘the immense audience’ you don’t count. And justly so as the second series would be The Mysteries of the Court of London that doubled down on the original. In the second series he would continue his explanations, the odd fact, criminal argot. His researches that appear fairly extensive are always informative and enlightening. For instance his history of the catacombs of Paris was entirely new to me. It turns out that there is an extensive necropolis under Paris containing the bones of six million or more souls. At one time the cemeteries of Paris became so overcrowded that the bodies, buried in stacks, one on top of the other were dug up and the bones removed in organized piles in these catacombs.

In fact, cemeteries seem to be a major interest of Reynolds as he conducts a tour of London’s burial grounds led by his character The Resurrection Man. But that doesn’t concern us here.

Before Reynolds found his way beginning in 1844 he wrote a total of eight books that by 1842 when he took a hiatus of two years were leading nowhere. Apart from sparks of genius flying from these volumes they are not seminal works although exhibiting many high points of interest.

His continuation of Dickens’ Pickwick Papers, Pickwick Abroad, has already been discussed while it is perhaps the most worthy of his early oeuvre followed closely by Master Timothy’s Bookcase. His novel The Steam Packet of 1840 is not readily available nor the Modern Literature of France, 1839. Robert Macaire, of 1839, has already been discussed while Alfred de Rosann or The Adventures of a French Gentleman, 1838, and Grace Darling or The Heroine of the Ferne Islands, 1839 remain.

Reynold seems unable to generate a novel without a model on which to base his work. Thus, as we know, he used Charles Dickens and in Alfred de Rosann he piggybacked on Bulwer Lytton’s first novel Pelham or The Adventures of a Gentleman. Bulwer Lytton as a novelist does not move me. Pelham apparently launched him but I find it a very amateurish first effort. Difficult reading.

With his Grace Darling Reynolds is piggy backing on the fame of one Grace Darling or The Heroine of the Fern Islands as the novel barely uses the story of her fame as a prop. Now spelled Farne Islands and perhaps pronounced that way in Reynolds’ day, the story alerted me to the identity of such an island group. The Farnes are a group of small islands off the coast of East Anglia. I had never noticed them on my maps or heard of them before.

At any rate a big storm arose in the days of the paddle wheel steamships or ‘packets’ as they were known then and one of them became disabled and thrown on the rocks guarding one of the islands. Grace and her father braved the waves rowing out to rescue the passengers. On an apparent slow news day this event was made big news and Grace became a temporary celebrity. Reynolds takes advantage of it in an attempt to sell his book.

I shouldn’t say temporary because in the early twenty-first century there were half a dozen or more books available to the reading public that celebrated this celebrated rescue by Grace and her aged father. But Grace’s story appears to be a mere bid for a few sales as it contributes nothing to the novel. Reynolds should have been ashamed of himself. Maybe he was.

Otherwise in a disjointed novel I found several charms that made for an enjoyable read before the disappointing ending. The novels protagonist, the humorous Slapwell Twill, might possibly be based on Reynolds himself.

The novel was written after a stay on the Queen’s Bench prison by Reynolds in 1837-38. As Dick Collins mentions that Reynolds may have been committed for trying to steal jewelery to pay his bill at Long’s Hotel that may have been the reason he was in prison. While it is true that he was involved in a bankruptcy at this time bankruptcies didn’t involve imprisonment. In fact, Reynolds who may have used bankruptcies as a tool to avoid paying debts without injury speaks rapturously about it or has a character do so in The Mysteries of London. His imprisonment may therefore have been the result of a failed theft and a complaint from Long’s.

At any rate Slapwell Twill suffered the same fate while he seems to have had plenty of money in prison as he was an aristocrat while serving. It is clear that he was familiar with the inside of prisons both in France and England. In addition he toured all these establishments so his descriptions are very accurate. He often seems to be reporting with additional fictional fillups.

The main story involves the seduction and abandonment of Eliza Richards. She was impregnated by her seducer and abandoned.   Not unreasonably she has a deep hatred of him that can only be satisfied by his death. Unable as a woman to encompass this she marries a man on condition that he find and kill her seducer, Henry Hunter.

Reynolds of course as a sociologist portrays as many types of women as he can. While he is very sympathetic to the plight of women he is no ideologist and portrays both good and bad women. But woman as woman is indispensable to him. In Mysteries of London he says:

…he learnt that woman possesses attractions far—far more witching, more permanent, and more endearing than all the boons that nature ever bestowed on their countenances or their forms.

Such an attitude may explain why he and Susanna had such a satisfying marriage. Still Reynolds is no slave to feminism or its more ridiculous attitudes. Women had positive and negative attributes the same as men.

Eliza becomes bad even evil in her hatred and distress. Thus, she meets her future husband Sommerville who she marries on condition that he avenge her by murdering her seducer, known as Mr. Stanley. He is difficult to find because Stanley had been an alias while his real name was Henry Hunter.

So incident rolls along until Sommerville and Eliza find Stanley/Hunter and Sommerville challenges him to a duel which he wins, wounds Stanley but doesn’t kill him. Eliza is unsatisfied she wants Stanley/Hunter dead.

As the novel is titled Grace Darling Reynolds has to work her in somewhere. That somewhere was in the Fern Islands where the whole outfit is improbably aboard the Forfarshire as it lands on the rocks. While on the island Hunter arrives and Eliza demands that Sommerville fight another duel with him and this time Sommerville kills Stanley/Hunter. There was only one hitch; Sommerville also receives his death wound. So Eliza drove her husband, who had inherited a fortune making them rich to his death, negating the revenge on her seducer. One is reminded of Paris and Helen.

Thus Reynolds shows another side of woman: too weak to revenge themselves they induce a man to sacrifice himself for them. I think it is the absence of the doctrinaire that makes Reynolds interesting. He has strong and consistent opinions that are based on reason and sociologically sound.

The last of the early group of novels and the last of the group I will consider here is Master Timothy’s Bookcase. I think it fair to say that the early novels did little to establish Reynold’s reputation. The most successful of the early batch, Pickwick Abroad, probably hurt his reputation as much as it helped as it was considered a plagiarism rather than a continuation. Adapting Bulwer-Lytton’s Pelham in Alfred Rosann led nowhere. However, let me say, that except for some obvious faults his early books have merit. The description of the prison at Brest was worth the read. Sociologically valuable.

Grace Darling apart from touches was laughable but fun. So, by 1842 Reynolds was obviously at his wits end and the only role model he could come up with was another stab at Dickens. Dickens himself appears to have had few novel ideas so he began a magazine called Master Humphrey’s Clock which was a collection of short stories held together by a very loose narrative something after the manner of ETA Hoffman and his Serapion Brethren.

I’m no Dickens fan so I have a fairly low opinion of his early output although those novels were rapturously received. His reputation far exceeded his talent but he was riding a wave. His magazine faltered after a couple issues, most likely because of its ridiculous three pence price, until The Old Curiosity Shop emerged from its pages. My first reading was recent at eighty years of age and I didn’t find it very impressive. At the time it was another great success for him and is still highly regarded.

So, seeking a model, Reynolds plagiarized Dicken’s idea once again composing Master Timothy’s Bookcase. Two thirds is French based while the last third takes place in England as Reynolds had returned to England himself while he also ended the Bookcase with another continuation of Pickwick apparently having run out of inspiration. As Reynolds was also familiar with German literature as well as French and English one wonders whether he too was influenced by ETA Hoffman’s masterful Serapion Brotherhood collection of stories.

The French part of Bookcase is superb. A collection of short stories with a tight narrative continuation. I highly recommend it. The book definitely presages Reynolds’ finest work.

It probably disappeared with but moderate success at best. Reynold’s ran out of inspiration so for two years from 1842 to 1844 he was infertile. Amazingly after following up The Old Curiosity Shop with Barnaby Rudge Dickens ran out of novelistic ideas putting out only a series of long short stort stories or novellas until Dombey and Son.

The question is then what was Reynolds doing during those two years that he wasn’t writing. There are hints in the earlier novels that the idea central to the Mysteries Of London of the two brothers and the two trees representing them was gestating in his mind but he had no framework to base his story on. He had during his time in France read the Marquis de Sade’s novels Justine and Juliette in which de Sade contrasts whether a life of virtue or vice leads to greater happiness coming down in favor or vice. Reynolds was offended by this conclusion and Mysteries of London is written in refutation of de Sade’s notion.

The important question here is what was Reynolds doing during his writing hiatus between 1842-44? As of 1842 at the age of twenty eight, a very important age, he may very well have been considered a failed novelist and one who plagiarized freely. Two years later in 1844 at the age of thirty his situation was precarious. It was a do or die point in his life.

On one level one must believe that he was reading furiously. He, at that time, was familiar with English, German and French literature. He had a concept of British and European history. Certainly he must have been surveying the scene, analyzing the periodic literature situation to come up with a sure fire or hit story to make his fortune.  In looking at the previous few years it was quite clear that the penny serialization story could be made profitable if a good story line could be continued for several years.

The problem with that was getting a good deal with the publisher who had the whip hand. Even Dickens’ Pickwick Papers was not a solo effort. Publisher, illustrator with Dickens as writer worked out the novel in concert so Dickens probably received a slim return from serialization profits; the publisher undoubtedly getting the lion’s share. This literary scene can be compared with the music record scene of the mid twentieth century.

Certainly Reynolds had connections in the business. I imagine Reynolds was working for a way to realize his concept of the two brothers, good and evil. He was trying to work out a method of presenting it. Then, when the Frenchman Eugene Sue began the serialization of the Mysteries of Paris, that monumental long work, in 1843 the entire plot line of his own Mysteries of London was laid out before him. Of a sudden the means of telling the story of two brothers became clear in his mind. Using Sue’s solution for the story he was able to write with incredible coherence for forty eight straight months, four years. Two hundred four instalments. Within a year the story was selling thirty thousand copies a week, edging up toward fifty thousand. You should let those figures sink in. They’re phenomenal. At the time the population of England was something over twenty million with more than eleven million illiterates. Fifty thousand weekly copies was market penetration. It blew Reynolds’ mind. In the postscript to Mysteries of London, speaking in his own voice Reynolds says this about that:

…we may presume that so long a we are able to afford entertainment, our labours will be rewarded by the approval of the immense audience to whom we address ourselves—we may with confidence invite attention to a SECOND SERIES OF THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON.

In other words it worked so well the first time we’re going to do it again and make it twice as long. Further his confidence was justified by the results. Now, fifty thousands of pennies a week at twenty pennies to the pound equates to two thousand five hundred pounds a week. We are now talking big money. Profits might amount to somewhere between a thousand to perhaps fifteen hundred pounds a week. I haven’t read anywhere what deal he had cut with his publisher on the first series. It isn’t clear what he was paid or on what schedule. As in the record business of the twentieth century the publishers or manufacturers were very reluctant to pay royalties at all and if they did pay it was only after a very long delay and sometimes you had to sue to get paid. Thus Reynolds may have believed he was cheated, and I can almost guarantee that he was, so he was reluctant to repeat the process with the second series.

At any rate with the vision of satisfying the entertainment needs of an immense public before him Reynolds elected to strike out on his own being his own publisher while employing the printer John Dicks to manufacture the parts. On the title page of the books it says explicitly: Printed for the Publisher by John Dicks. Dicks therefore contracted to print the books for a fee. He had no rights. In the early sixties when Reynolds gave up novel writing he sold the copyrights to Dicks, thus rewarding him for loyal service. One wonders what Dicks paid: thirty of fifty thousand pounds?

Stephen Knight in his G.W.M. Reynolds And His Fiction posits that he had a falling out with George Stiff his first publisher because of an abrasive personality. I have nothing to say on that score but Reynolds would have been foolish not to have struck out on his own unless he could cut his own deal with Stiff which he could not do. Manufacturers tend to consider writers and performers their personal property, something like owning a gold mine.

A comparable twentieth century situation is afforded by the relationship between the Beatles and their company EMI/Capitol Records, EMI being the English publisher and Capitol being the American. As non-entities the Beatles had been signed to miniscule royalties as was the custom with record companies. Like Reynolds the Beatles then became a massive seller representing perhaps fifty percent or more of EMI/Capitol’s sales. A tremendous battle ensued in which the contract was voided. In the new contract the Beatles acquired a much larger royalty and the establishment of their own record label distributed by EMI/Capitol.

The two companies could not afford to lose the revenue the Beatles provided. I’m certain that Stiff refused to cut Reynolds a new deal and Reynolds went out on his own. Thus while he must have been very prosperous during the twelve Mysteries of London and other novels years, when the second series, The Mysteries of the Court of London, began he must have been earning at minimum two thousand pounds a month, probably more or say twenty to thirty thousand pounds a year. The gap between the rich and the poor, with which he was so concerned, remained the same but it was more rewarding for George William McArthur Reynolds.

So, as if 1844 Reynolds had mastered the format. As the record people used to say in the age of vinyl, he was in the groove, groovy.


Part V of Time Traveling with R.E. Prindle begins the review of the First Series of the Mysteries of London.