Note #7, George W.M. Reynolds, John Dicks and Politics

April 10, 2021

Note #7:

George W.M. Reynolds, John Dicks And Politics


R.E. Prindle

What I find amazing in my study of George W.M. Reynolds is that for a writer who was supposed to be the best selling author of the nineteenth century so little of his work can be found.  Endless copies of obscure nineteenth century English authors can be found on Ebay,  yet virtually nothing in earlier editions of Reynolds.  If you search John Dicks, early copies of other writers are occasionally available.  But, no Reynolds.

True, Pickwick Abroad was recently available but those fairly numerous copies have now disappeared. Bought up.  Even then the available edition was the 1864 reprint issued after Reynolds had stopped publishing new novels.  It also was not published by Dicks.  A little mystery there, perhaps?

Why did Reynolds not have Dicks publish it?  When George stopped writing there seemed to be a split between he and his printer John Dicks.  There have been questions asked about how politically aligned Reynolds and Dicks were.  I have as yet no settled opinion but I am beginning to think that they were worlds apart.

There can be little doubt that a man of Reynolds revolutionary mentality who not only had literary talent but great business ability with a superb printer for a lieutenant was a threat to the government of England.  It is impossible that he was not under close surveillance.  Reynolds quite frankly was a revolutionary while Dicks wasn’t.

Dicks had an unusual background, quite interesting really, but much more sedate, even scholarly, and conventional.  He probably saw Reynolds as his main chance, took it and was rewarded with great success.  If he wasn’t the originator of cheap reprints of literature he was still an innovator.

The crux of the problem in Dicks’ mind was the Reynolds’ magazine, The Reynolds Miscellany.  The Miscellany was a very successful publication although seen as quite violent in its political advocacy.  There had to be close public scrutiny.  This would have offended Dicks.

As a solution to the problem Dicks created a competing magazine he called Bow Bells following the format of the Miscellany but reversing its direction.  Having established Bow Bells he then persuaded Reynolds to fold the Miscellany into Bow Bells thus the Miscellany disappeared and Bow Bells went on to be a multi-decade success. I have a couple bound annual issues for the eighties.  Pretty lame stuff, but it made Dicks life more comfortable.

About 1860 Reynolds had exhausted his fund of stories.  Probably about 1856 and the termination of the fourth series of The Mysteries Of The Court Of London he began to dry up.  While his writing is still quite good in his later novels after ’56 the fire is gone.  His Empress Eugenie’s Boudoir is a mere summing up.  Perhaps the 1864 Pickwick Abroad rounded it off.

About this time either Reynolds chose to completely walk away from his novelistic career or Dicks persuaded him to sell out or forced him out.  Dicks took the company while Reynolds sold him all his copyrights and walked away.  To me, an author may burn out completely and stop writing but as the best selling author in England to sell his copyrights and walk away is incomprehensible.

Dicks had been making it harder to sell for Reynolds as he kept reducing the type size down to nearly diamond point making the books very uncomfortable to read.  The last printing in the 1880s is so small, although clear, that it is hardly worth the struggle.  That could have been a way of forcing Reynolds out.

At that point then Dicks published nearly the whole catalog of Harrison Ainsworth.  Perhaps when he signed on with Reynolds he thought that he would be another Ainsworth.  By the late seventies Ainsworth was struggling with his new works barely selling but Dicks undertook to publish one of them along with the earlier catalog.  The impression I have is that Dicks was disgusted by Reynolds’ writing.

George lived on until 1879 in a comfortable state, having amassed his fortune of 20,000 pounds, although his last few years were plagued by disease.

Dicks lived a little longer, turned his business over to his family and headed South to the Riviera to live out his last couple years

I rather suspect that the 1850s became increasingly difficult as the government found ways to turn the screws of the revolutionary writer.  Even then Athe 1880s were a far cry from Reynolds’ hey day of the 40s and 50s. It was a new England after 1860 while the mind of George was locked into the Romantic Period.  After 1859 the talk was all Evolution as Darwin published.  Time was creeping in like a tidal wave.  The ocean just swells and rises almost inperceptibly  and sweeps all before it.  The times changed, George didn’t.

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