George W. M. Reynolds: The Rich And The Poor

May 24, 2021

George W.M. Reynolds:  The Rich And The Poor: Time Traveling With R.E. Prindle


R.E. Prindle

One/ And as all things come from the One, from the meditation of the One, so all things are born of the One by adaptation./  Its father is the sun, its mother is the moon;  The wind carries it in its belly; its nurse is the Earth./  It is the father of all wonders of the whole world.  It’s power is perfect when it is transformed into earth./  Separate the Earth from the Fire into the subtle from the gross, cautiously and judicially./  It ascends from Earth to Heaven and then returns back to Earth, so that it receives the power of the upper and the lower./  Thus you will possess the brightness of the whole world, and all the darkness will flee you./  This is the force of all forces, for it overcomes all that is subtle and penetrates solid things./  Thus was the world created./  From this wonderful adaptations are effected, and the means are given here./  And Hermes Trismegistus is my name, because I possess the three parts of the wisdom of the whole world. 

The Hermetic Museum, Alchemy And

Mysticism:  Alexander Roob, Taschen


All that is solid melts into air:  Karl Marx

There is something ineffable about George Reynolds that feeds deep reservoirs of longing and understanding.  Whether we know it or not it moves in contact with the One.  He examines life on many levels in a sympathetic manner without condensation but with unsparing accuracy.  One of his favorite themes is the contrast between the Rich and the Poor.

Julius Braunthal. more Left and less sympathetic, writing a hundred year on starkly posits the problem in his 1943 volume Need Germany Survive, a Jew writing from England about the ‘poor’ reflects 1940s England p.174.


It is clear that the problem of poverty is not primarily a problem of the distribution of wealth.  But gross inequality of poverty and income is in itself an intolerable challenge to the principle of equality from which the spirit of democracy arises.  From the Distribution of National Capital (1924-30) we learn that of the people of Britain aged twenty-five and over, between 76 and 79 per cent each owned 110 pounds of wealth or less—i.e.  altogether 3-6 percent of our national capital –that 15-17 per cent, each owning property valued between 100 pounds and 1000 pounds had collectively 10-11 per cent of the national capital; and that the rest, a tiny group of people, each of whom was worth 100,000 pounds or more owned no less than23 per cent of the national capital.


While Reynolds was a Chartist hence of the Left he was not a Marxian Communist as was Braunthal.   From Braunthal’s title Need Germany Survive you can see that he was a brutal genocidal maniac.  One is shocked.  However we are talking of the Rich and Poor not World War II memoirs.

What the Communists miss is that wealth is not a limited unit that needs sharing, wealth increases or decreases through economic activity.  Hence, the Rich and the Poor are fluid classifications. The Rich may become Poor, and the Poor, that is economically disadvantaged may become rich but not if they are poor in spirit.  One must have inner resources and they can only be obtained by cultivation.

And in this Reynolds, who was never abjectly poor, but might easily have been, had to struggle to succeed.  And succeed he did while laboring against the grain of English politics.  He was not poor in spirit.

He depicts the sliding fortunes of the Rich and the Poor very well.  He shows the various methods, legal and illegal, of the attempt to rise and evade the horrors of poverty.  His depictions of the destitute are made with devastating accuracy.  He depicts some of the most horrific criminals futilely trying to escape poverty by illegal means.

He himself used his mind and pen so capably that he became well to do if not rich and he enjoyed his wealth.  His politics prevent what might be called a rise in society.  While he could afford excellent living quarters if not extravagantly luxurious; he had a large family, nevertheless a sign of above average prosperity.  But, he was never admitted into the great houses of the aristocracy which was only natural as he excoriated them relentlessly.

Thus, in his early years he lived among the disadvantaged so that he might study them closely as they were the grist for his mill.  His later novels move away from the worst scenes into a more affluent milieu.

In volume 3 of the Mysteries of the Court of London, the story of Lady Saxondale, he does limn the life of the aristocracy in a limited manner but as Lady Saxondale becomes enmeshed with the criminal world through the bizarre criminal Chiffin the Cannibal, he manages to show how the upper world and the lower world often intermeshed.

One has only to think of Jem Ruffles of the Mysteries of Old London- Days of Hogarth.  Ruffles was based on the person of the Duke  Wharton of the days of the first George who succeeded the good Queen Anne.  The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were wild and wooly.  The population of London increased much faster than the ability to police it.  The night belonged to gangs like Wharton’s.  Wharton in the daytime was a prominent politician, his Jekyll side in which he could offer protection to his hooligans, himself being above the law so to speak..

At night he transformed into his Hyde side and led his troops into battle against the Night Watch, the only keepers of order after dark.  You may compare Wharton and his Mohocks, that was their title, with George Soros and his Antifa of the twenty-first century.

This wild disorder was the The Days Of Hogarth.  Ruffles representing the same period while not a politician or aristocrat, just like Reynolds, had his gang of hooligans he led into the night.  At some point he decides his rough and rowdy days are over, dissolves his gang and begins his reformation.  Something like Reynolds in 1848.

Reynolds began his life allied with criminals, in fictional form Arnold and his people.  In his early novel first written at eighteen about the previous two years after he left Sandhurst Military Academy, he rather naively tells the whole story.  The story changed a great deal when he rewrote it as The Parricide in 1847.  It is easy to see his developing thought processes.  I am going to hazard an analysis.  It will be culled from his writings that are very autobiographical.  The central novels forming the analysis will be Days of Hogarth, The Steam Packet, The Youthful Impostor (read criminal), and The Mysteries of London.

In the rhird mentioned novel that is clearly autobiographical I will replace the fictional character with Reynolds.  Therefore I believe that on the return from an excursion to London to Hounslow Barracks Reynolds was held up by two highwaymen while a third, possibly training the two, Arnold in the story, watched from a way off.  Arnold is the criminal mastermind; something about the fifteen year old Reynolds appeals to him as being useful.  He slips forward then and offers Reynolds a criminal proposition that Reynolds readily accepted.

To place Reynolds in his real life situation.  He has found the military life not for him.  He was completely orphaned a few months earlier leaving him with a guardian, who he will be stuck with until he is twenty-one, that he hates or will learn to hate.  Alone and unprotected he is looking at a very bleak future.  Arnold offers him a way out that he can hardly refuse.  So, he becomes a criminal.  A swindler.  Not too different from George Montague Greenwood, one of his alter egos in The Mysteries of London.  So, in Greenwood Reynolds is describing a character that he knows well.

He must have quit the Academy.  This scenario would explain why.  He then enters the criminal world accepting the role.  Once associated with the underworld it is not so easy to extricate yourself so that it seems  very likely that from that point to 1848 when the path was cleared to  reenter straight society Reynolds had a loose relationship with the criminal world.  Half and half perhaps.

In 1848 he finished the fourth volume of The Mysteries of London combined with the beginning of success in writing and self-publishing gave him confidence to go completely straight.  But, he had to undergo a bankruptcy trial fostered by his old publisher, George Vickers.  Days of Hogarth was written in 1848 so the careers of Ruffes and Reynolds coincide. 

Now, what made Reynolds so willing to accept Arnold’s offer if he did. 

Reynolds’ father, who died in 1822 when the boy was eight, appointed his old friend Duncan McArthur as Reynolds’ guardian.  Both the father and the guardian were military men.  In the Steam Packet Reynolds mentions that as the Captain of a ship the Captain is as tyrannical as he wished.  This attitude probably carried over into family life and was undoubtedly shared by McArthur, an ex-naval surgeon.  It was he that placed the late twelve year old Reynolds in Sandhurst.  Separated from his mother, traumatic enough at twelve, she died in 1830 a few short years later.  Reynolds probably didn’t see much of her during his three years in Sandhurst so her death would be a severe jolt.  At that point he and his brother Edward, two years younger, inherited from both parents, the amount has not been determined, while Duncan McArthur became the executor of the wills.

Thus in the Steam Packet Reynolds complains that his guardian would never tell him how much money there was to inherit or in what form.  So, for five years from 16 to 21 Reynolds would have been penniless.  He was trapped.

McArthur while Reynolds was at the Academy kept him on short rations so that he could not participate in the social life of cadets from wealthier families.  When Reynolds left the Academy McArthur cut him off completely so that Reynolds, his alter ego assuming the lead role in the Steam Packet, complains how he literally hated McArther because of what was actually McArthur’s dishonesty.  We don’t know whether he ever released the inheritance or not.  I rather think not.

Now, Reynolds hated McArthur and that shows up, I believe in his Mysteries of London.  I have to thank Dick Collins for this lead from his bio reface to The Necromancer.  Duncan McArthur was a physician in the Kentish town of Walmer having retired as a Navy physician but then practicing in Walmer.  Doctors play prominent roles in Reynolds writing and they always buy corpses for anatomical research.  Dick Collins speculates that McArthur was one of those doctors.  He also speculates that a very young Reynolds was taken on one expedition to open a grave.  These grave robbers were called Resurrection Men, i.e. raising the dead.  The greatest of Reynolds fictional criminals is the Resurrection Man, Anthony Tidkins, of the first series of Mysteries of London.  Reynolds in one of his alter egos, the good guy Richard Markham, has an inordinate hatred of Tidkins which isn’t explained in the text.  He makes every effort to bring Tidkins to justice.  At one point he and the police corner Tidkins in his house, which so that it is certain in the police mind that they have their man, but Tidkins had mined the house with gunpowder and blows it up.  Richard and police assume that he has killed himself but not so, Tidkins escaped through a subterranean passage.  Interestingly he leaves his aged mother behind in the explosion.

What I suggest here is that Reynolds conflated McArthur with the Resurrection Man expressing all his hatred by transferring it from the doctor who purchased bodies to the Resurrection Man who provided them.  Tidkins will survive to the end of the book so that on one thread then is the death of Tidkins or in other words, McArthur.  This interpretation is certainly plausible.

Now, let us return to the Mysteries of Old London or Days of Hogarth.  The latter title appears to be an attempt to drum up consumer interest while honoring Hogarth who was a major influence on Reynolds and the writers and illustrators of his time.  Or, perhaps, there’s something deeper that I’m missing.  Maybe Wharton and the Hell Fire, Do What Thou Wilt, Clubs that came into existence at this time were the equivalent of the Wild West of America for the young readers of Reynolds’s time.

Hogarth was recording a certain society of his time in a sort of graphic novel to use 21st Century terms.  Things were wide open, maybe even something like  Prohibition in the twentieth century US.  The Roaring Twenties.  Anarchy on a stick.  The Hell Fire Clubs were sexually violent so it was necessary to be clandestine.  The Hell Fire Clubs were based on Rabelais’ dictum in his Gargantua And Pantagruel, Do What Thou Wilt.  Anarchic affairs.  The stream of anarchy runs all through English history.  The Libertine culture set the code from 1720 on.

Reynolds does not appear to have been an anarchist although he was in favor of violent revolution as in 1789, 1830 and 1848.  He does reject the anarchy of the Duke of Wharton, disbands his gang of desperados and goes straight.  Now, the book was written in 1848, a critical year in Reynolds’ life.  George obviously regretted his youthful criminal career and, at the very  least, sharp practices. 

By 1848 he could see how he was going to prosper enough to make his fortune.  Thus he and his alter ego Ruffles decide to go straight.  After Ruffles had shucked his criminal connections he found a job with the East India Company, rounding out that aspect of English and European history that Reynolds was interpreting as a sideline. 

The Governor of the East India Company may have been founded on the great Clive of India, the famous Governor who organized the direction of the company.

At the time the Company was impressing men for soldiers and sailors off the streets of London for service in India.  The other source of recruits was the impoverished Irish who took to the Queen’s uniform as their only viable way to survive unless they emigrated to the US.

Now, get this, after having given up a criminal career Ruffles becomes the Captain of a Press Gang for the company.  What would have been a crime as a private citizen, kidnapping, became permissible in the employ of the East India Company.  Through Ruffles Reynolds lauds the practice as it showed how Clive could get the job done.  One wonders if Ruffles snags his old mates to put them out of the way.  Another way to get the job done.

Ruffles was an orphan as many of Reynolds characters are and as he was himself.  Both parents were dead by the time he was fifteen while he himself was confined in the military.  One imagines that Reynolds reviewed his situation and thought:  There must be some way out of here.  Perhaps Arnold was his ticket to leave as an only option and then a few months later when the scheme exploded, off to exile in France.

Strangely enough Ruffles too leaves England.  But off to India instead of France.  Now, as it turns out, Clive’s wife was Ruffles long lost mother.  A stretcher I know but plausible in the story.  So, a real Resurrection Man, Reynolds reconnects with his mother.  Remember he essentially became an orphan at twelve when he was placed in Sandhurst which could serve as an orphanage while he would have seen his mother only very occasionally if at all thereafter.  Imagine the effect on him when he was told his mother was dead.

At this point in Days of Hogarth as he and his mother leave to join Clive in India where he becomes a great success just as Reynolds was hoping success lay before him.  Ruffles’ mother dies seeing her son a success.  In real life Reynolds is saying that he would have made his mother proud of him.  Clive dies and Ruffles becomes the Governor of the East India Company.

So, in 1848 Reynolds was born again.  By 1851 he was able to leave smoky London moving to Herne Bay on the Kentish seashore  and a very nice house to become, as it were, a gentleman.  Thus he passed from poor in wealth, though never poor in spirit.  He knew both ends of the mix, the Rich and the Poor.  He could write realistically of what he knew.

He must have taken long walks through the various poverty stricken neighborhoods of London to become familiar with the streets, haunts and lay outs.  After 1844 and the beginning of his fame he may have had a ticket to pass through neighborhoods as desperate as the Mint and Saint Giles as an honorary member.  Perhaps he could enter thoroughly criminal haunts and remain unmolested, even honored, as he wrote rather sympathetically about the plight of the poor and the criminals themselves.  Perhaps certain criminals recognized portraits of themselves. 

Unlike Dickens and Mayhew who describe others from the outside, and Mayhew says that he was frequently harassed because of his articles which, after all, were written to amuse the upper classes.  Reynolds was sympathetic to the desperate plight of the women.  He was not maudlin, he knew that women had their negative qualities also.  In England and France novelists were all sympathetic  to the horrors women had to endure at the hands of men.  One of the most heartbreaking stories I’ve read concerning the plight of women was Eugene Sue’s Matilda, or the Misfortunes of Virtue, apparently based on the Marquis de Sades’ novel Justine.  I cringed all the way through to the most heartbreaking of endings.  Sue is unsparing.

Is it any wonder that the Salpetriere of Paris, an insane asylum for women  was filled with women who had been brutally mistreated beyond endurance.  To read accounts of Jean Martin Charcot’s treatments of female patients is horrifying.  As Reynolds lived to 1879 it is quite possible he visited Charcot at the Salpetriere as many qualified English tourists did.  Insanity also fills many a page of the corpus.  I rather imagine the streets of the period were filled with the mad, deranged and insane.  When they closed the asylums in the US many mad people whose madness was dulled with drugs roamed the streets.

Reynolds manages to bring to life the people of his times.

Significantly George changes direction somewhat in and after 1848 when he begins his epic tale of George IV in Mysteries of the Court of London.  Two tales actually, his 1795 marriage to Caroline  and then his assumption of the Regency.

 In Mysteries of London George split his personality in two to explain his two sides to himself with his audience in mind.  With the two Markham brothers Eugene and Richard he explores the two sides of his personality, side one that of the sharpster, Man of the World George Montague Greenwood, the criminal who seeks to become rich by any means necessary, and the Good Boy, the virtuous Richard.  Richard, like De Sade’s Justine tries to live the virtuous life, is fleeced by his brother’s associates, spends a couple years in prison although innocent and generally has to tough it out until the wheel of fortune turns in his favor and his succeeding life turns into a fairy tale.

Running concurrently  throughout the story is Reynolds dark shadow the Resurrection Man Anthony Tidkins cum Duncan McArthur.  Following Richard’s attempt to capture Tidkins as related when Tidkins blew his house up, Tidkins captures Richard.  Richard manages to escape and as he reaches the night shrouded street he begins to run.  He runs top speed for several hours through the darkness of his psychological fixation.  After hours of running he takes a break.  Asking a Watchman who observes him he asks where he is.  The Watchman says:  Why, you’re in Walmer.  The Walmer district of London.  But, in fleeing his past in Walmer he finds himself where he began so to speak.  Nothing has been resolved.

For long stretches the Resurrection Man is the central character.  As an evil memory from his childhood Reynolds tries repeatedly to kill it, eliminate it from his mind but fails until the end.  As Tidkins is associated with his guardian Duncan McArthur’s probable habit as a physician of buying corpses from Tidkins’ father and is thought to have participated in at least one raising ,and this would have been before the lad had turned thirteen, he merged the person of Duncan McArthur whom the hated into the character of Tidkin’s who was a criminal being the victim of circumstances that turned him into a bad man.  Thus Reynolds kills two birds with one stone.

Dick Collins, writing in the preface to The Necromancer, says that there is a lot of autobiography in Reynolds’ work, and, verily, I believe it is true.  Reynolds melds experience and reading into a seamless whole.

His alter ego Greenwood/Eugene gives Reynolds a chance to explore the man on the make who associates with Men On The Town and the Men of the World.  These two are significant categories of his novels.  George considered himself a Man of the World.  Thus he presents a plethora of roles- Rakes, Dandies, criminals of various stripes, suckers, the poor and downtrodden, women in all their manifestations.  Women thrown unprotected on the world where they become courtesans, frails and lost women sinking from high class to totally depraved.  He breathlessly mentions the expose memoirs of Harriet Wilson one of the most famous courtesans of the time, recently published.

If the reader injects him- or herself into the story the novel is really quite terrifying.

Tough districts like The Holy Land, otherwise known as St. Giles, are presented in gory detail.  His hero’s night spent in the gypsy house in the Holy Land might easily give the reader bad dreams.

I’m sure that from twelve in Sandhurst to his return from France in 1836 was a harrowing and searing experience for George, a nightmare from which there seemed no end for George, although he made the most of it using the experiences to make his fortune.

Thus in 1848 he finished that phase of his life and moved on to record his vision of the aristocracy and middle classes.  The poverty class is still prominent but not the core of the novels.  Of course he still has his arch criminals and very shady ladies and men but generally speaking he’s dealing with people of means.

Before I wrap this essay up let me comment on the end of the Resurrection Man at the end of the story.  Earlier another criminal Cranky Jem had been betrayed by Tidkins, took the rap of a crime and was transported to the notorious Norfolk prison Island of Australia.  Jem escaped and returned to London.  As he is another alter Ego of Reynolds he realizes that he had been seduced into crime, much as Reynolds, realizes his error and goes straight.  He earns his living by making toy ships in bottles.  Interesting career, is that the same as writing novels? 

He wants vengeance and tracks Tidkins, who has had some amazing adventures, down and disposes him without shedding blood.

A final note:  George Vickers the publisher of the four series of The Mysteries of Paris, drove Reynolds into the bankruptcy court in 1848.  One wonders why.  May I suggest that it was because he was losing his meal ticket.  Vickers not only published The Mysteries but he also published Reynolds book of 1847, Faust, of which I have an original copy.  It is probable that, although I haven’t seen the original, that Vickers also published Reynolds’  earlier book, Wagner The Wehr Wolf, therefore he was losing a potential fortune for which he sued Reynolds in spite.  Possibly he sought to retain him  In vain, as George had his own printer, John Dicks, and a bag full of novels. His independent career was launched.

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