by

R.E. Prindle

Substrata In George W.M. Reynolds’ The Mysteries of Old London

Having now read perhaps a majority of Reynolds’ works I think I have detected substrata that run through those works.  One substratum is not unique but appears in other writers such as W.H. Ainsworth and, perhaps even in Bulwer-Lytton and that substratum is a residue from at least the time of Queen Anne.  Anne’s time seems to be the dividing line between what went before in English history and what would succeed it, that is, a cosmic shift.

This substratum seems to be a strong sense of anarchy.  In Queen Anne’s time that streak of anarchy could be glaringly found in the career of the Duke of Wharton and his Mohocks. (Mohawks)  This wild American Indian streak shows up in Paris also in the Mohicans of Alexander Dumas’ time and the later Apaches.  Europeans rebelled against the strictures of civilization.  Echoes can be found in the African novels of Rider Haggard and even in the Jekyll and Hyde of Robert Louis Stevenson.

To provide a solid background I offer a quote from The Social Life of Queen Anne by John Ashton publishing in 1897 from original sources.  On p. 382 et seq.

Quote:

In every age and country young blood Is hot blood and in this reign it was particularly so.  The wild blood of the Cavaliers still danced in the veins of the beaus in Anne’s time and nightly frolics and broils were of frequent occurrence.  They had their predecessors in this work—as Sir Tope says in Shadwell’s play of “The Scowrers”:  Puh, that is nothing, why I knew the Hectors, and before them The Muns and the Titire Tus, they were brave fellows indeed, in their days a man could not go from Rose Tavern to the Piazza once, but he must venture his life twice.’  And Whackum in the same play, describes the days of the fraternity of Scowrers.  ‘Then how we scour’d the Market Place, overthrew the Butter Woman, despoiled the Pippin Merchants, wip’d out the Milk Scores, pull’d off the Doorknockers, dawb’d the Gilt Sign.’

In Anne’s reign these roysterers were called Mohocks—why I know not, except that it is sort of generic term for North American Indians.  In a later age this furore was termed Tom and Jerryism; but it had an intelligible  origin, from Pierce Egan’s Life In London or the Day and Night scenes of Jerry Hawthorn Esq. and His Elegant Friend Corinthian  Tom &c,’  It still exists although it has no special name.

Unquote.

So there you have a long tradition of anarchy, or major streak in the English character.  Perhaps it was this type of roysterer that left England to conquer the world.  It is this substratum in Reynolds and perhaps the writers of his time but seems to have toned down in the next generation.  The streak may reappear in the writings of Robert Louis Stevenson toward the end of the century, especially  in the novelette of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Stevenson himself was nurtured on the writings of the Penny Dreadful school if you read him with that background in mind an extra layer appears.  Of course in the middle fifties and Sixties England had the Mods and Rockers succeeded by the Punks. The Punks theme song was anarchy in the UK.

The leader of the Mohocks was the Duke Wharton.  Wharton was an especially vicious psychopath.  During the day he functioned as a political figure while at night he led his Mohocks in the tradition of the anarchic bands.  So in Jekyll and Hyde, Dr. Jekyll appears as a respectable person but at night he howls through the streets injuring or offending everyone he meets.  Stevenson then probably based Jekyll and Hyde on Wharton. Reynolds too, in his Mysteries of Old London: Days of Hogarth based his character that was based on himself, Jem Ruffles on Duke Wharton.  Like Wharton Ruffles has recreated a gang of ruffians who cruise the streets at night beating, stealing and ripping off door knockers.  Door knockers seem to have been a special thrill for them. As Wharton as a duke was able to protect his minions from justice so did Ruffles in one of his multiple personas.

A ruffler was a person who routinely disturbed the peace hence the name Ruffles, a guy who ruffles things.  Now, at the time Wharton flourished so did the first, perhaps, of the great criminal masterminds, the celebrated Johnathan Wild.  Wild was the subject of several  biographies including those of Daniel Defoe and Henry Fielding, the author of Tom Jones.

Wild organized all the thieves of London so that he was aware of every burglary and theft.  He established a reputation for being able to locate and retrieve stolen goods, for a fee of course, that was shared with his employees, so to speak, in other words, the thieves.  His method worked for some time; he passing himself off as respectable.  Needless to say he was finally detected and took his place at the Tuck Up Fair to dance on air.

His character recurs in several guises in Reynolds work, perhaps most notably as Old Death in the third series of The Mysteries of London.  George does his research presenting a good outline of how stolen goods were disposed of internationally, thus an international crime network.

As a young boy Reynolds in France learned of Wild’s French counterpart the famed Eugene Francois Vidocq.  Vidocq began his career as a serious criminal.  He was arrested on many charges spending a good deal of his time in prisons.  Tiring of this life he offered his services as a police informer and was accepted.  Amazingly from there he worked his way into being the chief of police.  As chief he filled Wild’s function of retrieving stolen goods.  His methods came under suspicion and he was relieved a rich man, which I rather suspect. He remained as the head of the Surete or Paris Police Force until 1832.  So the very young Reynolds would have been witness to Vidocq’s presence and aware of all the rumors surrounding him.  Reynolds’ detective of the Bow Street Runners was undoubtedly based on Vidocq as well, probably as Poe’s C.A. Dupin of The Murders In The Rue Morgue.

Yet he doesn’t refer to the Paris police much.  If Pickwick Abroad is any evidence he seems to have been under surveillance by the Gendarmerie which was an outfit separate from the police being some sort of National policing outfit.  I haven’t found a clear explanation of how the force functioned other than they evolved out of a medieval security force hence having a military structure.  Paul de Kock has them as a National police protecting highways in the Departments.

Other than some enigmatic comments in The Steam Packet the only evidence I have found to corroborate my opinion was Reynolds desire to see Brussels.  That city of Belgium was at the time an international refuge for criminals.  Reynold says in the Steam Packet that when he was a few miles from the Belgian border he looked longingly towards Brussels.  He gives no indication of what he was doing that far North in France.  That means he was quite a distance from Paris meaning he would have been absent from Paris for at least two to three weeks.

Something that seems clear to me is that it is almost certain that he was involved in fairly serious criminal activity, swindling in London forcing him to remove to France where he may very easily have had criminal associates in France.  Certain, if Dick Collins is correct, he had run ins with the police in Paris.

Further, if the Youthful Imposter was the point man in swindling the Jewish usurer in London the Jews, being an international brotherhood, it is quite possible that he was under surveillance by them waiting for vengeance.  That vengeance would have been achieved when Reynolds was led into a usury scheme and swindled of what he had swindled.  He was lured in 1835 into schemes that cleaned him of monetary resources and may have led to bankruptcy proceedings according to Dick Collins.  I have no evidence of who did it but if he was involved in usury there is every chance the Jews were involved.

In dire straits he very probably was ordered to leave France in 1836, thus the return to England.

An aside:  A very interesting ‘slip’, perhaps, occurs in Pickwick Abroad.  If one assumes that the lead character is an alter ego of Reynolds it will be noted that he is more familiar with the Gendarmes than with the Paris Police.  As a casual reader one equates the Gendarmes with the Paris Police.  This is not the case.  The Gendarmes are a National law enforcement agency whose jurisdiction is France rather than Paris.

The Gendarmes, the etymology of the word means Gens-d-armes, that is, Men At Arms.  The unit had a military organization derived from the Middle Ages.  One, then, has to question Reynolds familiarity with the Gendarmes.  He must have been a courier or something for organized crime units either French or international for the Gendarmes to have taken an interest in him..  Balzac and Paul Favel mention such organizations as highly developed .  A modern example would be John Lennon and the Beatles who were taken under the wing of the European mafia when they performed in Hamburg.  One then must question Reynolds’ familiarity with the Gendarmes, the Johnny Darmies.

It is interesting that as Pickwick Abroad opens Pickwick’s group is on the road to Paris.  In the diligence is Octavus Crashem, a hustler, gambler, crapshooter and cardsharp.  Collins opines that Reynolds was arrested in Calais for shooting shaved dice.  Crashem is cheating Winkle while in the one corner a man sits quietly watching and knowingly smiling.  That was Dupont a Gendarme.  No sooner does the group reach their hotel than Dupont and the police arrive to arrest Crashem as a debtor.  So, an interest in crime appears at the very beginning.

If, as he seems to have been inducted into crime at sixteen when he left Sandhurst, escaping to France to avoid arrest in England at the end of 1830 as seems to be the case, then, as an acknowledged criminal neophyte he might have been recruited by the rapidly developing international criminal organization.

The French crime writer (and remember Reynolds is very much a crime writer), Paul Favel records the doings of organized crime in his Black Coats series recently translated by Brian Stableford.  There are puzzling passages in Reynolds’ The Steam Packet in which he records being a few miles from the Belgian border looking longingly at the international crime resort, Brussels.   He mentions several towns along the route of the steam packet of which he is fairly familiar meaning he must have traveled while in France.  Many of the southern French locations he mentions seem to be familiar to him.

So, he may actually have traveled extensively in France while also gaining some firsthand knowledge of Italy.  Then in 1835-36 his affairs collapsed and his reason for returning to England may have been that he was asked to leave France.

I do not offer this interpretation, founded on circumstantial evidence, as fact, nevertheless it is a perspective of his undocumented puzzling career in France.  Something for which he had to be apologetic while seeking forgiveness for the errors of his youth.

One of Reynolds subtexts is the concept of forgiveness and redemption.  His characters are the most forgiving people you’d ever want to meet.  They are always ready to forgive the greatest crimes against them imaginable.  Reynolds seems to equate forgiveness with redemption.  To be forgiven is to be absolved.  This all leads back to The Days of Hogarth, The Mysteries of Old London and Jem Ruffles.

End of aside.

Days of Hogarth is a story of early transgressions with redemption and honorable amends.  It is, in fact, the story of Reynolds’ life as of 1847-’48 when it was written.  That was when he was putting the finishing touches to the Mysteries of London thus the two novels are complementary.

Just as Reynolds slips over the nineteen years from his entry into Sandhurst Military Academy and the wild success of Mysteries of London in 1844-’45 thus slipping the misery of those years, he is pleading for redemption and forgiveness along with a brand new beginning.  It is also a good explanation for beginning a story in 1926, the year he entered Sandhurst and skipping those offensive nineteen years to the beginning of his success, or a new life in other words.

That doesn’t mean that the adventures portrayed are literal, Reynolds is writing for an audience, but they portray the horror of those years metaphorically.  There is something symbolic about returning to the origins of Modern England formed in the reign of good Queen Anne merging into the Georgian period.  

One must remember that Reynolds was barely a grown boy becoming a young man when these adventures he’s recording occurred.  (Nobody can write about what isn’t in his mind.  Invention is very, very limited.) They originate when he is only twelve, take form when he is only sixteen and terminate in 1836 when he at twenty-two he has barely attained his majority.  When he began writing Mysteries of London he was only thirty years old, thirty-four when he finished all four series.  Only thirty-two when he finished the first two series which is about all  of Reynolds that most people, no matter how many, have read.  Those of us who have managed a couple dozen titles are few indeed.  I couldn’t have imagined that he wrote forty or more, and most of them are very hard to find.  The transition  from novice to fairly accomplished writer was quick indeed.  Perhaps more remarkable is that he was only 46 when he gave up novel writing, and then he lived for another nineteen years.

Empress Eugenie’s Boudoir seems to have been a recapitulation in which he brings forward a few stories from the past that, perhaps ignored when originally issued

 he doesn’t want ignored.  More especially his translation of Charles Paul de Kock’s novel Soeur Anne. That was a novel that was very influential for him and a good story. From Soeur Anne Reynolds lifts nearly intact the fleecing of DuBourg for the fleecing of Tupman.

To return to the Days of Hogarth,  Reynolds seems to have been enamored of Hogarth’s cartoons.  While they may have accurately portrayed the social system of Anne and George I they are lost on me.  I don’t have the patience to study them or the knowledge to accurately interpret as George apparently did.  The ‘ good old days of good Queen Anne’ must have been uproarious indeed.  But George is much more concerned with justifying his early conduct in a mythologized manner.

George’s main character, Jem Ruffles patterned after himself seems to be based on both the infamous Duke Wharton and Johnathan Wild.  Ruffles runs both a gang like Wharton’s Wild Boys and Wild’s control of the London underworld.  While fully involved in the underworld Ruggles is uneasy in his roles wishing to reform.  He gives up or closes out his Wharton side sending his Wild Boys out on their own.

George then introduces the president of the East India Company where he becomes the head of the Company’s press gangs.  This was an apparent step up from his criminal career because his crimes are  committed in the Company’s name.  According to the story the notion of press gangs was invented by the East India Company.  Unable to recruit enough personnel for the company, the Company hired men to snatch men off the streets to send to India.  Ruffles becomes the Captain of these crews.  Not too different really than his role as Duke Wharton.

I viewed this a little askance as I read it as Reynolds seemed to regard the kidnappings as legitimate work; but then this is also a historical novel and it is Reynolds story.  By the time Ruffles is employed by the East India Company Reynolds in Ruffles persona is halfway to his own redemption, he is legitimately employed in a questionable occupation.

As much as I know I’m reading fiction the proceedings and transitions are mind boggling.  True, this is fiction but it still has to be written by a human being and after all you can’t get out of a mind what isn’t it.  All fiction comes from the experience, knowledge  and mind set of the author.  More than anything one is impressed by the turmoil of Reynold’s life with its close association with crime.

The brutal years from twelve to twenty-one including the death of his father when he was eight and that of his mother when he was fifteen, left him an orphan.  His orphaning is a, if not the central fact of his life.  I can’t remember if he states that Ruffles was an orphan but mid-transition to legitimacy he becomes associated with the wife of the President of the East India Company who turns out to be his long lost mother.

Finally completing his transition to legitimacy, Ruffles is employed by the East India Company, going off to the sub-continent with his mother in tow.  Now, Days of Hogarth was written in 1847-48 when Reynolds’ career was taking off.  His four series of Mysteries of London was a roaring success.

In 1846 he had launched his magazine, The Reynolds’ Miscellany that was a roaring success for fifteen years until John Dicks began his own magazine Bow Bells and folded the Miscellany into it.  In ’48 Reynolds hired Dicks as his printer ensuring a runaway success until he sold out to Dicks in ’64 to devote himself to newspaper work.

His contract to write The Mysteries of London with George Stiff and George Vickers terminated with the last installment of Mysteries of London so, looking to the future, he was exuberant.

Then Jem Ruffles goes off to India working himself up into an outstanding administrator so, in real life, and in fiction Reynolds redeemed the early days of his youth.

If one notices George’s characters are the most forgiving people who may never have existed.  There is no egregious crime against themselves that they won’t forgive.  Reynolds believed than any criminal past could be redeemed by subsequent good behavior in later life.  That redemption required forgiveness on the part of society.  He was obviously hoping for forgiveness and redemption.  I don’t think he got it. For myself I find Days of Hogarth my sentimental favorite of his writings.

October 9, 2020

Sixth Note

George W. M. Reynolds

And The Saxe-Coburgs

by

R.E. Prindle

As the first two series of The Mysteries Of The Court Of London indicate George Reynolds had a problem with the Saxe-Coburgs especially the reign of the four Georges. The first series of Court dealt with George III and his pre-reign clandestine marriage to Hannah Lightfoot, continuing in the second series to George IV’s regency and his problems with a forced marriage to Princess Caroline.

Reynolds bid adieu to George IV as he left the Regency in 1920 to assume the throne at his father’ death.  George IV lived until 1830 when he was succeeded by his brother William IV.  He died in 1937 being succeeded by the daughter of his second next younger brother, Victoria.  Needless to say, her reign filled the remainder of the nineteenth century and a little over.  In 1840 Victoria married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

As a female and a beloved Queen she as a Saxe-Coburg was beyond the reach of Reynold’s scathing attacks.  However, Victoria’s beloved husband Albert wasn’t.  Reynolds contained himself until the fourth series of Court of London, writing in 1855 or ‘56 when he unleashed a scurrilous attack on Albert.

As we know, George Reynolds was an advocate of violent revolution.  While he had not actually been present at the 1830 violent revolution in France, he arrived in the French capital in its aftermath in very late 1830, what we might just as well call early 1831.  He thus witnessed first hand the aftermath of that revolution.  As he was a mere sixteen year old boy on his own he was enthralled.

The revolution of 1830 is only the second stage of the French Revolution of 1789.  The revolution would continue its struggle to the third stage, the 1848 European revolution, from there to the 1917 Communist Revolution in Russia.  That was the end of that cycle.  A shift in strategy then occurred.

George Reynolds as a member of the British revolutionary activity, belonged to the group called the Chartists in which he was very active in the 1848 revolution in England.  He was very disappointed at its failure.

Then came the reaction to the revolution as the governing powers cracked down on the revolutionists, perhaps unable to understand.  Even though working conditions were bad which the rulers recognized nevertheless from their perspective civilization had made astounding advances and they were right.  Perhaps not understanding the workers reaction to the magnificent achievements of the scientific, technological and industrial advances to that time, Prince Albert took a hand in organizing the Crystal Palace Exposition  of 1851, just three years after the failed revolution.

The Crystal Palace Expo which sought to calm revolutionary fervor by displaying all those advances to the public was the first of the great expos that continued to mid-twentieth century.  The greatest of all the expos by far was the fantastic  Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago.  The Chicago Expo had the greatest impact of any of the expos emulating that of 1851.  The like of the Chicago Expo has never come close to it again and now never will.

The Crystal Palace Expo which sought to calm the revolutionary fever undoubtedly did so while raising the ire of the revolutionists.  Witness the enraged George Reynolds attack of Prince Albert.  Its display of all the scientific, industrial and technological marvels, and remember this stuff was new and unseen before, showed the shape of things to come while giving confidence and hope. 

That confidence and hope was realized in 1893 at the very height of Euro-American self-confidence as the apex of all humanity and history.  Ironically the long downhill slide began at that moment.

George Reynolds was infuriated at the success of the Crystal Palace Expo for which he blamed Prince Albert.  He attacked through Albert’s Germanness and raged at all things German.  Albert’s own status was as the Prince of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha of Central Germany.  All this happened before the unification of Germany in 1866.  Germany and Central Europe served as matter for light opera as the imaginary country of Ruritania.  Germany then was a congeries of over a hundred small duchies and principalities..  While these States strove to maintain the hauteur of royalty they were too small and impoverished to attain any real dignity compared to the large States like England and France.  They were as fleas to England in George Reynolds’ mind. And Prince Albert represented that poverty sponging off England in George’s mind.

His ire reached a peak in the fourth series of the Court of London composed in 1855-56 as this series was about to terminate.  It might be worth while here to mention that the third and fourth series are not concerned with the Court at all.  The third series, titled The Crimes of Lady Saxondale is concerned with denigrating the aristocracy while the fourth devolves almost to the level of celebrating the common people.

George opens his attack on Prince Albert by vilifying the Germans.  He creates the German Principality of Maxe-Stolburg-Quotha which is about the size of Hyde Park. The name is an obvious parody of Albert’s Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.  He makes the Prince of Maxe-Stolburg-Quotha Prince Albert’s brother. 

Maxe-Stolburg-Quotha is an impoverished dukedom as compared with Great Britain.   Albert’s brother is continually visiting England to cadge handouts of a thousand pounds.  A ridiculously low figure compared to Reynolds’ characters tossing around thousands, tens of thousands and even a hundred thousand pounds.  The Duke brings his rag tag court with him.  George gives them ridiculous names like Raggidbak, Kadger, Frumplehausen and Gumbinnen.  They arrive in the most pitiful condition, dressed literally in rags while demanding to be treated as potentates.

Reynolds drops all pretense of story turning to straight invective, heaping crude scorn on all German States.  Writing in 1856 it would be a mere ten years before Bismarck united the German States, Duchies and Principalities into the first State of Europe.  They became an industrial competitor of Great Britain, and indeed rapidly surpassed England as an economic power setting up the prelude to WWI.  The laughable States known as the mythical Ruritania would soon disappear.

George scornfully says that this position as Duke of Maxe-Stolburg-Quotha would have been Albert’s position had not Victoria rescued him to give him his magnificent position.  This direct attack on Albert must have come to Victoria’s attention.  She would have deeply resented it placing George on the non-person list.

George had already offended the Army with his novel The Soldier’s Wife of 1952-53.  That book was deeply resented by the Army to the point of banning the book.  George’s reputation was already so bad that he wasn’t welcome in polite society.

A Review of the ‘Popular Authors’ Essay by Robert Lewis Stevenson

This essay has some pertinency to George W. M. Reynolds. The essay may be found in full by typing in Robert Louis Stevenson Popular Authors on the Internet.  I discuss merely the last paragraph.

Quote:

What kind of talent is necessary to please the mighty public?  That was my first question and was soon amended with the words “if any.”  J.F. Smith [no longer a house hold name] was a man of undeniable talent,  Errmyn [James Malcolm Rymer] and Hayward have a certain spark, and even in [Pierce] Egan the very tender might recognize the rudiments of a story of literary gift; but the case on the other side is quite conclusive; or the dull ruffian Reynolds, or Sylvanus Cobb, of whom perhaps I have only seen unfortunate examples—they seem to have the talents of a rabbit, and why anyone should read these is a thing that passes wonder.  A plain-spoken and possibly high-thinking critic might here perhaps return upon me with my own expressions.  And he would have missed the point.  For I and my fellows have no such popularity to be accounted for. The reputation of an upper class author is made for him at dinner-tables and nursed in newspaper paragraphs, and, when all is done, amounts to no great matter.  We call it popularity surely in a pleasant error.  A flippant writer in the Saturday Review, expressed a doubt if I had ever cherished one “genteel” illusion; in truth I never had many, but there was one- and I have lost it.  Once I took the literary member at his own esteem;  I behold him now like one of those gentlemen who read their own MS descriptive poetry aloud to wife and babes around the evening hearth; addressing a mere parlour coterie and quite unknown in the great world outside the villa windows.  At such pygmy reputation, Reynolds or COBB or Mrs. Southworth can afford to smile.  By spontaneous public vote, at a cry from the unorganic  masses these great ones of the dust were laureled.  For what?

Unquote.

While tracking down references to George Reynolds on the internet I came across this essay by Robert Louis Stevenson entitled Popular Authors with a couple mentions of Reynolds.  By Popular authors Stevenson doesn’t mean all authors; no, he means ‘Popular’ as in ‘Popular Mechanics’ or ‘Popular Science.’  Something dumbed down for the multitude.  He means ‘Popular Literature’.  Literature dumbed down for the masses; that is Penny Dreadfuls, Dime novels, Pulps. Literature with high tones eliminated.  Polite or literary fiction is for an elite crowd trying to avoid rubbing shoulders with vulgar reality.

The essay opened my eyes to Stevenson, whom I may confess, I have never liked, his novels that is.  Stevenson was born in 1850 thus becoming aware in 1862-63.  This time would have been the heyday of the Penny Dreadful writers, a large catalog by that time would have been available to him.  As he mentions no Gothic authors in his essay we may assume that if read a few they made no impression on him, but he immersed himself in the Penny Dreadfuls.

Stevenson’s most famous imitation of Penny Dreadfuls is his astonishingly successful Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a fundamental text for the psychology of the generations following.  The idea of the story is great but the execution of it a little less so.  The book is pretty nearly a mere outline.  Stevenson was sickly as a youth, bedridden in fact, so that he apparently spent his time reading ‘sensational’ fiction or Penny Dreadfuls and even stranger stuff.  When I learned this, Stevenson’s writing style fell into place, he’s an epigone of his masters.

There is a rather extended review of the origins of Jekyll and Hyde on the internet (https://.grunge.com/230634/the-bizarre-truth-of-dr-jekyll-and-mr-hyde/ that gives a detailed list of possible influences.

While not disparaging the list of influences, I think the author misses a very important one, that of Duke Wharton and his Mohocks (Mohawks).  One can mention another Queen Anne notable, Johnathan Wild although Hyde has no criminal network.  One imagines all youth of the time reveled in the stories of Wharton and Wild.  For my sensibilities the resemblance of Hyde to Wharton is striking.  Both men, the real Wharton and the fictional Hyde had respectable day jobs, but they really came out at night.

They both roamed the streets at night completely ignoring caution or disguise.  Wharton and his Mohocks even engaged in street battles with the Night Watch that they frequently outnumbered while being such hardened street fighters that they seldom lost and if any were captured Wharton had the influence to get them released.

So Hyde openly committed crimes arousing a crowd that pursued him to his lair.  While the movies that had him experimenting with weird chemicals to release his inner Satan, Stevenson’s Hyde like Wharton had been a rowdy in his youth and merely wished to experience those lost thrills again.  In a way Jekyll and Hyde could have been a companion volume to James Malcom Rymer’s (Errmyn) Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

As will be noted from Stevenson’s essay, he gives Reynolds the back of his hand calling him ‘the dull ruffian’ Reynolds’.  Stevenson may have thought Reynolds was a ‘ruffian’, probably correctly, but I can’t believe that he thought he was dull.  It is probable that he owed more to Reynolds than he cared to admit.

Even though the reputations of Rymer and Reynolds’  may have been eclipsed by WWI certainly the likes of J.F. Smith, and the Americans Sylvanus Cobb and Mrs. E.D.E.N. Southworth have fallen further from favor.  Oddly enough Cobb and Southworth were the top selling authors of the last half of the twentieth century in the US

Both were phenomenally prolific and popular.  Stevenson rightfully wondered how commonplace you have to be to find success.  Popularity involves finding a very large market and satisfying it.  Literary fiction quite often appeals to a small niche market. Stevenson falls between pulp and literary fiction and while he succeeded it was not to the extent of Reynolds whose sales really opened Stevenson’s eyes.

As it evolved, popular fiction in the twentieth century by writers like Mark Twain, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Sax Rohmer, Bram Stoker, even Mary Shelley and a host of others dominated book sales while literary fiction languished. One might also mention movies that on the screen translated literary fiction into the genres of the popular along with numerous sci-fi and horror writers too numerous to mention. Stevenson’s essay is worthwhile to consider.

Sixth Note

George W. M. Reynolds

And The Saxe-Coburgs

by

R.E. Prindle

As the first two series of The Mysteries Of The Court Of London indicate George Reynolds had a problem with the Saxe-Coburgs especially the reign of the four Georges. The first series of Court dealt with George III and his pre-reign clandestine marriage to Hannah Lightfoot, continuing in the second series to George IV’s regency and his problems with a forced marriage to Princess Caroline.

Reynolds bid adieu to George IV as he left the Regency in 1920 to assume the throne at his father’ death.  George IV lived until 1830 when he was succeeded by his brother William IV.  He died in 1937 being succeeded by the daughter of his second next younger brother, Victoria.  Needless to say, her reign filled the remainder of the nineteenth century and a little over.  In 1840 Victoria married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

As a female and a beloved Queen she as a Saxe-Coburg was beyond the reach of Reynold’s scathing attacks.  However, Victoria’s beloved husband Albert wasn’t.  Reynolds contained himself until the fourth series of Court of London, writing in 1855 or ‘56 when he unleashed a scurrilous attack on Albert.

As we know, George Reynolds was an advocate of violent revolution.  While he had not actually been present at the 1830 violent revolution in France, he arrived in the French capital in its aftermath in very late 1830, what we might just as well call early 1831.  He thus witnessed first hand the aftermath of that revolution.  As he was a mere sixteen year old boy on his own he was enthralled.

The revolution of 1830 is only the second stage of the French Revolution of 1789.  The revolution would continue its struggle to the third stage, the 1848 European revolution, from there to the 1917 Communist Revolution in Russia.  That was the end of that cycle.  A shift in strategy then occurred.

George Reynolds as a member of the British revolutionary activity, belonged to the group called the Chartists in which he was very active in the 1848 revolution in England.  He was very disappointed at its failure.

Then came the reaction to the revolution as the governing powers cracked down on the revolutionists, perhaps unable to understand.  Even though working conditions were bad which the rulers recognized nevertheless from their perspective civilization had made astounding advances and they were right.  Perhaps not understanding the workers reaction to the magnificent achievements of the scientific, technological and industrial advances to that time, Prince Albert took a hand in organizing the Crystal Palace Exposition  of 1851, just three years after the failed revolution.

The Crystal Palace Expo which sought to calm revolutionary fervor by displaying all those advances to the public was the first of the great expos that continued to mid-twentieth century.  The greatest of all the expos by far was the fantastic  Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago.  The Chicago Expo had the greatest impact of any of the expos emulating that of 1851.  The like of the Chicago Expo has never come close to it again and now never will.

The Crystal Palace Expo which sought to calm the revolutionary fever undoubtedly did so while raising the ire of the revolutionists.  Witness the enraged George Reynolds attack of Prince Albert.  Its display of all the scientific, industrial and technological marvels, and remember this stuff was new and unseen before, showed the shape of things to come while giving confidence and hope. 

That confidence and hope was realized in 1893 at the very height of Euro-American self-confidence as the apex of all humanity and history.  Ironically the long downhill slide began at that moment.

George Reynolds was infuriated at the success of the Crystal Palace Expo for which he blamed Prince Albert.  He attacked through Albert’s Germanness and raged at all things German.  Albert’s own status was as the Prince of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha of Central Germany.  All this happened before the unification of Germany in 1866.  Germany and Central Europe served as matter for light opera as the imaginary country of Ruritania.  Germany then was a congeries of over a hundred small duchies and principalities..  While these States strove to maintain the hauteur of royalty they were too small and impoverished to attain any real dignity compared to the large States like England and France.  They were as fleas to England in George Reynolds’ mind. And Prince Albert represented that poverty sponging off England in George’s mind.

His ire reached a peak in the fourth series of the Court of London composed in 1855-56 as this series was about to terminate.  It might be worth while here to mention that the third and fourth series are not concerned with the Court at all.  The third series, titled The Crimes of Lady Saxondale is concerned with denigrating the aristocracy while the fourth devolves almost to the level of celebrating the common people.

George opens his attack on Prince Albert by vilifying the Germans.  He creates the German Principality of Maxe-Stolburg-Quotha which is about the size of Hyde Park. The name is an obvious parody of Albert’s Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.  He makes the Prince of Maxe-Stolburg-Quotha Prince Albert’s brother. 

Maxe-Stolburg-Quotha is an impoverished dukedom as compared with Great Britain.   Albert’s brother is continually visiting England to cadge handouts of a thousand pounds.  A ridiculously low figure compared to Reynolds’ characters tossing around thousands, tens of thousands and even a hundred thousand pounds.  The Duke brings his rag tag court with him.  George gives them ridiculous names like Raggidbak, Kadger, Frumplehausen and Gumbinnen.  They arrive in the most pitiful condition, dressed literally in rags while demanding to be treated as potentates.

Reynolds drops all pretense of story turning to straight invective, heaping crude scorn on all German States.  Writing in 1856 it would be a mere ten years before Bismarck united the German States, Duchies and Principalities into the first State of Europe.  They became an industrial competitor of Great Britain, and indeed rapidly surpassed England as an economic power setting up the prelude to WWI.  The laughable States known as the mythical Ruritania would soon disappear.

George scornfully says that this position as Duke of Maxe-Stolburg-Quotha would have been Albert’s position had not Victoria rescued him to give him his magnificent position.  This direct attack on Albert must have come to Victoria’s attention.  She would have deeply resented it placing George on the non-person list.

George had already offended the Army with his novel The Soldier’s Wife of 1952-53.  That book was deeply resented by the Army to the point of banning the book.  George’s reputation was already so bad that he wasn’t welcome in polite society.

A Review of the ‘Popular Authors’ Essay by Robert Lewis Stevenson

This essay has some pertinency to George W. M. Reynolds. The essay may be found in full by typing in Robert Louis Stevenson Popular Authors on the Internet.  I discuss merely the last paragraph.

Quote:

What kind of talent is necessary to please the mighty public?  That was my first question and was soon amended with the words “if any.”  J.F. Smith [no longer a house hold name] was a man of undeniable talent,  Errmyn [James Malcolm Rymer] and Hayward have a certain spark, and even in [Pierce] Egan the very tender might recognize the rudiments of a story of literary gift; but the case on the other side is quite conclusive; or the dull ruffian Reynolds, or Sylvanus Cobb, of whom perhaps I have only seen unfortunate examples—they seem to have the talents of a rabbit, and why anyone should read these is a thing that passes wonder.  A plain-spoken and possibly high-thinking critic might here perhaps return upon me with my own expressions.  And he would have missed the point.  For I and my fellows have no such popularity to be accounted for. The reputation of an upper class author is made for him at dinner-tables and nursed in newspaper paragraphs, and, when all is done, amounts to no great matter.  We call it popularity surely in a pleasant error.  A flippant writer in the Saturday Review, expressed a doubt if I had ever cherished one “genteel” illusion; in truth I never had many, but there was one- and I have lost it.  Once I took the literary member at his own esteem;  I behold him now like one of those gentlemen who read their own MS descriptive poetry aloud to wife and babes around the evening hearth; addressing a mere parlour coterie and quite unknown in the great world outside the villa windows.  At such pygmy reputation, Reynolds or COBB or Mrs. Southworth can afford to smile.  By spontaneous public vote, at a cry from the unorganic  masses these great ones of the dust were laureled.  For what?

Unquote.

While tracking down references to George Reynolds on the internet I came across this essay by Robert Louis Stevenson entitled Popular Authors with a couple mentions of Reynolds.  By Popular authors Stevenson doesn’t mean all authors; no, he means ‘Popular’ as in ‘Popular Mechanics’ or ‘Popular Science.’  Something dumbed down for the multitude.  He means ‘Popular Literature’.  Literature dumbed down for the masses; that is Penny Dreadfuls, Dime novels, Pulps. Literature with high tones eliminated.  Polite or literary fiction is for an elite crowd trying to avoid rubbing shoulders with vulgar reality.

The essay opened my eyes to Stevenson, whom I may confess, I have never liked, his novels that is.  Stevenson was born in 1850 thus becoming aware in 1862-63.  This time would have been the heyday of the Penny Dreadful writers, a large catalog by that time would have been available to him.  As he mentions no Gothic authors in his essay we may assume that if read a few they made no impression on him, but he immersed himself in the Penny Dreadfuls.

Stevenson’s most famous imitation of Penny Dreadfuls is his astonishingly successful Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a fundamental text for the psychology of the generations following.  The idea of the story is great but the execution of it a little less so.  The book is pretty nearly a mere outline.  Stevenson was sickly as a youth, bedridden in fact, so that he apparently spent his time reading ‘sensational’ fiction or Penny Dreadfuls and even stranger stuff.  When I learned this, Stevenson’s writing style fell into place, he’s an epigone of his masters.

There is a rather extended review of the origins of Jekyll and Hyde on the internet (https://.grunge.com/230634/the-bizarre-truth-of-dr-jekyll-and-mr-hyde/ that gives a detailed list of possible influences.

While not disparaging the list of influences, I think the author misses a very important one, that of Duke Wharton and his Mohocks (Mohawks).  One can mention another Queen Anne notable, Johnathan Wild although Hyde has no criminal network.  One imagines all youth of the time reveled in the stories of Wharton and Wild.  For my sensibilities the resemblance of Hyde to Wharton is striking.  Both men, the real Wharton and the fictional Hyde had respectable day jobs, but they really came out at night.

They both roamed the streets at night completely ignoring caution or disguise.  Wharton and his Mohocks even engaged in street battles with the Night Watch that they frequently outnumbered while being such hardened street fighters that they seldom lost and if any were captured Wharton had the influence to get them released.

So Hyde openly committed crimes arousing a crowd that pursued him to his lair.  While the movies that had him experimenting with weird chemicals to release his inner Satan, Stevenson’s Hyde like Wharton had been a rowdy in his youth and merely wished to experience those lost thrills again.  In a way Jekyll and Hyde could have been a companion volume to James Malcom Rymer’s (Errmyn) Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

As will be noted from Stevenson’s essay, he gives Reynolds the back of his hand calling him ‘the dull ruffian’ Reynolds’.  Stevenson may have thought Reynolds was a ‘ruffian’, probably correctly, but I can’t believe that he thought he was dull.  It is probable that he owed more to Reynolds than he cared to admit.

Even though the reputations of Rymer and Reynolds’  may have been eclipsed by WWI certainly the likes of J.F. Smith, and the Americans Sylvanus Cobb and Mrs. E.D.E.N. Southworth have fallen further from favor.  Oddly enough Cobb and Southworth were the top selling authors of the last half of the twentieth century in the US

Both were phenomenally prolific and popular.  Stevenson rightfully wondered how commonplace you have to be to find success.  Popularity involves finding a very large market and satisfying it.  Literary fiction quite often appeals to a small niche market. Stevenson falls between pulp and literary fiction and while he succeeded it was not to the extent of Reynolds whose sales really opened Stevenson’s eyes.

As it evolved, popular fiction in the twentieth century by writers like Mark Twain, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Sax Rohmer, Bram Stoker, even Mary Shelley and a host of others dominated book sales while literary fiction languished. One might also mention movies that on the screen translated literary fiction into the genres of the popular along with numerous sci-fi and horror writers too numerous to mention. Stevenson’s essay is worthwhile to consider.