A Note and Aside On George W.M. Reynolds’ Mysteries Of Old London

March 12, 2020

A Note And Aside On George W. M. Reynold’s Mysteries Of Old London: Days Of Hogarth

by

R.E. Prindle

 

While Old London isn’t as widely read as George’s two masterpieces it is a very interesting book. It is an historical examination of the eighteenth century period of Duke of Wharton and his Mohocks.

A comprehensive review will follow later, this note examines an interesting passage while other notes may follow. In a review of the whole, one frequently omits significant observations or ideas. In this quote that is very remarkable for its time (1848) Reynolds examines weaving in a manner that neither Dickens or Ainsworth could touch.

The quote occurs on page 14 of the British Library reprint while George is setting up his story. Chapter 5, The Two Apprentices.

It has been well said that man is the noblest work of God; but it is not equally easy to decide which is the noblest work of man. Though in contrast with the wondrous achievements of Almighty Power, the efforts of the human race are as nothing- though the most complicated, the most perfect results of mortal ingenuity are mean and contemptible when placed in comparison with the stupendous creations of the Divine Architect- nevertheless the earth is covered with monuments, which excite our astonishment and our admiration at the intelligence, the power, and the perseverance of man!

But of all the acts which in their application, constitute the distinctions between social and savage life- between a glorious civilization and an enduring barbarism- that of Weaving is decidedly one of the chief. For though the savage may affect the finery of shells and flowers- though he may study external adornment by means of natural products most pleasing in his sight- and though he may even conceal his nakedness with leaves, or defend himself from the cold by the hides of animals- yet is only in those portions of the globe where civilization has been the tutress of the human race, that comfortable clothing is known. And for this we are indebted to the LOOM which we may therefore look upon as at least one of the noblest works of Man!

How much of her prosperity,- how much of her greatness does England now owe to that achievement of human ingenuity! Amongst all the departments of National Industry, none is more ennobling in its tendency to commercial progress, than the art of weaving! Alas! That War should ever impose its barbarism in a way of the pursuit of Peace! For while Peace aspires to make our homes happy and increase our comforts, thus augmenting the enjoyments of life- War- hideous barbaric War- snatches our industrious mechanics from their looms, and our agricultural labourers from their plowshares, to place them in the ranks of armies or on the decks of fleets. And, what gain we from War after all? Glory- yes, plenty of glory; aye- and plenty of taxation also! For taxation is a vampire that loves to feast on the blood of a Nation’s heart, and to prey upon the vitals of an industrious population. It is an avaricious, grasping, griping fiend that places it finger on every morsel of food which enters into the mouth, on every article of clothing which covers the person, and on everything which is pleasant to behold, hear, taste, feel or smell! It interferes with our warmth- our light- our locomotion- the very paper which diffuses knowledge! It roams over the land to claim its share of the produce of our fields and our manufactures: and it awaits on the key of our seaports for the unlading of vessels bringing things from abroad. The moment that the industry or the intelligence of man originates something new, the fiend Taxation overshadows it with its loathsome bat like wing. It plunges it fang into the rich man’s dish and the poor man’s porringer: but the poor man suffers the more severely from this rapacious robber because he has but one porringer, whereas the rich man has many dishes. Oh! Insatiate is that Fiend; for he attends the deathbed when the will is made, and in the spiritual court when it is proven:- he has his share of the price paid for the very marble which covers the grave of the deceased-; and it is only there- in the grave- that the victim of Taxation can be taxed no more.

As the chapter is entitled The Two Apprentices and as they are apprentice weavers I suppose that touches off George’s tirades against war and taxation. His interpretation of the role of weaving in civilization manages to bring in a sort of evolutionary discussion of clothing. Just as a note of interest Thomas Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus appeared about this time, and that is a discussion of clothes so the popular imagination may have been drawn to the importance of clothes in these marvelous years of the Dandies, of which George was one, and the early years of discovery leading to the opening of the European mind.

George elsewhere brings up the arrival of the silk weaving on English shores as, as he says, forty thousand Huguenots exiled from France arrived in England and set up the industry.

The novels are full of interesting historical facts as George was a very well read guy.

A Personal Aside

 

I have now read nineteen titles of Reynolds’ novels. The major ones twice. The third and fourth series of Mysteries of London only once, all of the novels up to and including 1850. I own most of the rest. There is one novel that John Dicks lists titled Louisa, the Orphan, to which I can find no other reference.
Apparently George was really appreciated on the other side of the Atlantic in the US. Unable to get enough of George, publishers had writers write numerous titles under his name and this was being done into the1890s. I recently purchased a book titled the Countess of Lascelles or Self-Sacrifice, Part I, a sequel Bertram Vivian also in two parts published by Hurst and Company.

Here is a partial list of title, only a partial list, written and published in the US well into the eighties and nineties by a host of publishers: Caroline of Brunswick, Lord Saxondale, Count Christoval, Eustace Quentin, Banker’s Daughter, The Opera Dancer, Child of Waterloo, Robert Bruce, The Gypsy Chief, Wallace, Hero of Scotland, Isabella Vincent, Duke Of Marchmont, Life in Paris, Countess and the Page, Edgar Montrose, The Ruined Gamester, Clifford and the Actress, Queen Joanna, Ciprina or the Secrets of a Picture Gallery. I recently purchased a title called The Countess of Lascelles, a sequel to Bertram Vivian and which is followed by the two volumes of The Doom of the Burkers. Bertram, Lascelles and Burkers is a six volume series built around the same characters

This is very strange because George W. M. Reynolds was apparently very famous in his day in the US but has been totally forgotten in the history of American literature. How could this be? A firm, T.B. Peterson of Philadelphia published more that a dozen titles under Reynolds name some legit and some not. And that was in the 1880s. Another mystery to be investigated. Why is Reynolds’ popularity in US literature totally forgotten?

Now is the time for a little recapitulation.

The range of George’s interests and the seeming depth of his knowledge is quite astounding. One wonders what his sources were. I’ve mentioned many of his more obvious influences even doubling in some cases such as the Pickwick Papers as sources.

One title I have come across in six volumes is Charles Knight’s amazing title, London. I think it is pretty clear that Reynolds read the work. It was originally published serially then issued in book form when enough articles accrued to bind from 1841-1844. These were years when Reynolds wrote no novels although remaining active journalistically. I have the Cambridge University re-issue. I can do no better than to quote the Cambridge intro:

The publisher and writer Charles Knight (1794-1873) was apprenticed to his printing father but later became a journalist and the proprietor of various periodicals and magazines, which were driven by his concern for education of the poor. As an author, he published a variety of works, including The Old Printer and the Modern Press (also issued in the [Cambridge] Series. He claimed that this six volume work on the architecture and history of London, published between 1841 and 1844, was neither a history nor a survey of London, but looked at the Present through the Past and the Past through the Present. It relies on the skills of eminent artists to bring both the present and the past of London to life, and it is arranged thematically rather then chronologically or geographically. This is a fascinating account of what was the greatest city in the world.

The articles are by several different authors that lovingly describe the attributes of London past and present. George may have read the articles and then examined the sites himself in these four years in which he obviously absorbed much of the information he includes in his novels. Some details fascinated him. In Old London he mentions the Fleet Ditch which was uncovered in the 1720s.

The Fleet Ditch is what was once a stream that was turned into a muddy, foul ditch by the advance of civilization. It was later covered so that it flowed under the city itself. George mentions it here in Old London and then opens his The Mysteries of London with a description when Eliza Sydney was pitched into it by the criminals.

As fascinating as his stories are, acquiring background information then makes the stories more intelligible while opening vistas of what the deeper meanings of the works are. Fathoming the depths of Reynolds mind is important, getting the references. So while I began writing knowing little but the stories, I have worked to develop an understanding of what George saw and was describing.

The struggle or effort goes on. I am now about to begin reading the works of Reynolds mature years, those after 1850, while I have to reread The Mysteries of London, third reading, and The Mysteries of the Court of London, also third reading. It appears that the edition most people are reading of Mysteries of the Court is that published by the Oxford Society (of which there is no knowledge) in England and the Richard F. Burton Society in Boston, USA. It is an expurgated and partially revised edition. Apparently Reynolds was more racy and explicit in the original. In his The Parricide he gets really raunchy. Thus for the third reading I would like to obtain the original.

Just as Mysteries of London had a third and fourth series it is possible that John Dicks actually published a third and fourth series of Court of London. In five volumes each they were titled The Crimes of Lady Saxondale and The Fortunes of the Ashtons. Thus the Oxford edition of 1900 consists of twenty volumes containing all four series.

It seems apparent that the latter two series were not the product of Reynolds’ pen. They must have been written by others. It seems to me that Reynolds does the same thing as Charles Knight did, that is employ other writers to write according to his plan. Thus he might also have done as Alexander Dumas did and put his name on others writing. Certainly Court of London does not seem long enough to have taken eight years to publish it. The four series of The Mysteries of London are equally massive as the The Court of London and they took only four years to publish. The massive first two series must have been completed by 1846 leaving the shorter two series to finish the series by 1848 when Court began. Thus it is probable that Dicks went on publishing Saxondale and The Ashtons after Reynolds finished with George IV and the Regency. Reynolds says that he then abandoned George IV and the Monarchy years.

It seems to me that Reynolds does the same thing in relation to the Past and Present as Charles Knight did in his London and, indeed, that is the approach I am taking in my Time Traveling series.

Knight’s work in a way forms a template for Reynolds novels that in the main are historical combining the past and present. The current novel under consideration, The Mysteries of Old London pertain to the early eighteenth century just after the reign of Queen Anne and the beginning of the four Georges. More particularly does it involve the beginnings of the Hell Fire Clubs of the next hundred years from 1720-21. George specifically mentions that this story begins in 1721 and deals with the period of the historical Duke of Wharton and his Mohocks who terrorized the after dark streets of London during the period. Reynolds character Jem Ruffles certainly represents aspects of the Duke of Wharton as well, probably, of the arch criminal Johnathan Wild.

One of the studies of Charles Wright is of the locality of Spitalfields which was associated with weaving, silk weaving to be specific. The association began with the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 by order of Louis XIV by which the Huguenot sect was expelled. The Huguenots were Protestants who had evolved out of the Albigensian faiths of Provence and who were nearly exterminated in the thirteenth century. The Huguenots evolved from the earlier belief systems of the Albigensians and were in direct conflict with the Catholic Church. They were harder to deal with than the Albigensians and were constantly at war with Northern government of France. In the fifteenth century under Charles IX a truce was made with the Huguenots and their being invited to Paris to celebrate. This was a ruse and trick of Charles and the Huguenots were set upon by the Catholics and murdered in the celebrated St. Bartholomew’s Massacre. The remnant remained in their stronghold in Gascony in the South of France ruled by Henri of Bearn. Charles was murdered and replaced by his brother Henri III. At Henri III”s death he was succeed by Henri of Bearn, the Huguenot, who became Henri IV. He negotiated the Ediict of Nantes giving his Huguenots the protection of the crown. A little under a hundred years later the Edict was revoked by Louis XIV resulting in the displacement of their silk weaving industry to Spitalfields in London.

This history of the Huguenots was covered by Alexander Dumas in his novels of the Valois kings of France written in the mid forties that Reynolds would have read. Thus the mention of the Huguenots and Spitalfields in the quote from Old London. Reynolds repeatedly gives brief accounts of the various London districts such as Spitalfields following the Wright method of uniting the past and the present. Since his info is so similar to that of Wright one of his key readings must have been Charles Wright’s London.

Of course, Reynolds tramped the streets of all those districts he mentions and probably talked to old timers who may have remembered far back. As Wright lived to the 1870s one wonders whether Reynolds and he had any talks.

In the ending of the Oxford edition of the first two series of Court of London Reynolds says that he has tired of writing about George IV and chose not to follow him into his reign as monarch. He says he has other projects to follow. If those projects were Lady Saxondale and the Ashtons then he probably did hire other writers to compose the text according to his plan. Otherwise where the latter two series came from is a total mystery. The Mysteries of the Oxford Edition need clearing up.

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