Note #11: George W. M. Reynolds and George Stiff

January 15, 2022

Note #11

George W. M. Reynolds And George Stiff


R.E. Prindle

When I first suggested that Reynolds’ inspiration for The Mysteries of London was a commission by George Stiff who published The London magazine I thought I was making a mere speculation.  I can now confirm that speculation to be fact.

At the end of the fourth series Stiff posts an ad for the coming fifth series to be written by Thomas Miller to be subtitled Lights and Shadows of London Life.

The ad quoted in full following:


The Proprietor of ‘Mysteries of London’ having at present, his opportunity of carrying out his original design –viz. that of presenting the public with faithful and unexaggerated sketches of every class of society forming the “world of London” has determined on submitting  to his readers a new series of “Mysteries of London” and which will be from the pen of a writer of the eminent reputation.


[A list of Miller’s titles]

The new series will be entitled “Mysteries of London, or Lights and Shadows of London Life.”


Sriff’s ad says a great deal.  First off, he calls the readers his, rather than Reynolds.  A cardinal mistake.  Then he wears the mask ‘Proprietor’ rather  then announcing himself as George Stiff, the proprietor.  Then he quietly castigates Reynolds for perverting his original design of a genteel survey of London along the lines, one supposes, of Charles Wright, Henry Mayhew or even, Charles Dickens.  Instead of a polite portrayal of ‘every class’ he got a writer who pretty much dealt realistically with the criminal class and sordid stories.  It seems pretty clear that his and Reynolds’ relationship was rather stormy as he considered Reynolds’ work ‘unfaithful and exaggerated.’ 

Thus he is offering ‘his’ readers a new story from the pen of ‘a ‘writer of the most eminent reputation.’  Thus, he implies that Reynold’s was a disreputable writer with a terrible reputation, one with which he didn’t care to be associated.

Stiff then, owns the title Mysteries of London and Reynolds was writing for him on hire hence unentitled to the copyright.  Reynolds wrote his masterpiece for five pounds a week payable on delivery of his copy every Friday night.  While Reynolds undoubtedly did read Eugene Sue’s Mysteries of Paris perhaps basing his version of London on it, he only began on Stiff’s employment of him as is evident from the wobbly beginning.

It appears that no matter how successful, and Reynold’s work was, and he was very successful, Stiff detested it as too racy; he desired something respectable along the lines of Dickens’ Household Words.  As with most ‘proprietor’s he thought that now that he had a successful proprietor which, he, after all, suggested to ‘his’ writer he could dispense  with the disreputable Renolds, also a violent revolutionist and probably under surveillance with the Secret Police who, may indeed have questioned him.

If Reynolds submissions were expurgated, who expurgated them?  Why Stiff himself.    One would like to see the racy passages eliminated by the Editor to see how they matched up today’s ieas.  That meant that there were many unpleasant encounters when Reynolds checked each issue to see the editing.  Reynolds was apparently too true to life.

Stiff suffered I imagine when his more polite friends bothered him with questions like:  Why are you publishing this pornography?  One might note that Susannah Reynolds, George’s wife, published her novel, Gretna Green, which was denounced as pornography and she no lady.  George became quite indignant at these attacks on is wife.  I have only a current OCR edition of the novel and that is unreadable due to printing errors of magnitude.

One gathers from the last sentence that Stiff was saying goodbye to Reynolds and good riddance.

George had made up his mind to leave Stiff at the completion of Series IV in 1848 having already begun publishing his own magazine, Reynolds’ Miscellany in 1846. If Stiff believed Reynolds was a pornographic disreputable writer one can’t blame him for discontinuing his services however he did give up a winner who was to begin The Mysteries of the Court of London but then he would have, at least, had to make Reynolds his partner.  Each went their way.

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