George W.M. Reynolds’ Pickwick Abroad Considered

January 3, 2023

George W. M. Reynold’s Pickwick Abroad

Reconsidered

by

R.E. Prindle

The art of reading is more intensive than one would expect.  To be a good reader is a refined skill.  The end result of the endeavor is to get the author to speak directly to yourself; hold a one way conversation, as it were, one great long monologue.  That is a marvelous experience when it is achieved. 

The first author I read that drew me into his existence was a French author, the Duke de Roquelaure of 1630 or so when Louis IV was king.  I was reading in translation of course, so we have to give some credit there.  But the reading was a marvelous experience.  I believed every word he wrote even if only half of what he claimed was true.  Some years later I discovered George W.M. Reynolds.

The writing of George Reynolds intrigued me in his expert use of language and its excellent word placement.  As I read I noticed little tricks that drew me into his intellect and personality, but my appreciation was a little bit low compared to how my appreciation has developed.  Now, having read some books twice and parts of these three or four times an imagined Reynolds has formed a personality in my mind.

His great works, Mysteries of London and Mysteries of the Court of London dominate the horizon.

Strangely a title I slighted at my first reading  is coming to invest my mind.  That would be Reynold’s continuation of Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers titled Pickwick Abroad.  I’m quite familiar with the Arthurian Saga in which many authors contribute to the development of the legends over a period of two or three hundred years.  Continuations abounded as writers explored the possibilities.  But, by the nineteenth century, appropriating the characters and world of Dickens’ Pickwick seemed like plagiarism at least.  Presently in the twenty-first century developing genre characters such as Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes or Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan are taken for granted under the name of pastiches, but buying the right to do so from the copyright holder if any is required.

Reynolds involvement with The Pickwick Paper was not just an expedient appropriation for the nonce but a career long involvement  as was his mental association with Dickens himself.

Dicken’s Pickwick Papers was published as a book in 1837 after serialization and it was a phenomenon not seen since Pierce Egans’ Tom and Jerry sensation of the 1820s.

Reynolds had been in France since 1830 but after having been swindled of his money in 1836 he decided to return to England.  Rather humiliated I should think.  He informed his wife of four years, Susannah, apparently a wonderful woman, that he had lost his money.  He told her his only recourse was to write.  He couldn’t do that in France because although he could speak the language he was not familiar enough with the rules of grammar to write the language hence he had to return to England where he knew the written word.

Susannah offered no objections so they sailed for the home of Pickwick in 1836 just as that gentleman was entering public notice through the pen of Charles Dickens.

Reynolds was only 22 years old at the time; sixteen, a mere boy, when he left England.  In six years, critical years of his youth, he lived a lifetime.  Imagine a boy of sixteen moving to a foreign country on his own knowing no one, having to learn the language, yet being able to shoulder his way through to a form of success.  He came empty handed and left with a secure founding in publishing, editing and journalism in which occupations he was brilliant.  E.F. Bleiler says of him in his preface to Reynolds’Wagner the Wehr Wolf:

Quote:  Among his associates at Calais was Beau Brummell.  Was it from Brummell that he acquired the almost pathological hatred that he later displayed for the Prince Regent?   Some of Reynold’s time may have been spent in high living, but his basic seriousness and organization emerged even at this early date.  He studied the sciences intensively.  He was also a close student of French culture, and by the time he returned to England was a confirmed Francophile, a good political analyst, and almost certainly the Englishman  with the largest knowledge of French letters.

Unquote.

Thus, coming back to England with a maturity far beyond his years and with a literary reputation of some sort, he was immediately hired to be editor of Monthly Magazine then on the skids, as it had once been a premier magazine.  Reynolds quickly turned it around mainly using his own writings, remember he is only 22 years old, a veteran of six hard years experience in France. 

Pickwick had become the sensation of the moment on a par with Pierce Egans’ earlier Tom and Jerry of the 1820s.  As in 1820 when Tom and Jerry imitators sprang from the woodwork, other writers were already taking advantage of the Pickwick rage when Reynolds began his own continuation or pastiche based on his French sojourn titled Pickwick Abroad.  That novel must have been running concurrently with Dickens novel for some of the later installments. Pickwick Abroad was published in book form in 1839, Pickwick in 1837.

The appearance of Pickwick Abroad found an audience. According to E.F Bleiler who wrote the first essay on Reynolds’ life, certainly in the twentieth century, in the Dover edition of Wagner The Wehr Wolf, Pickwick Abroad was a near best seller, hence a success.  Here let me note that Pickwick Abroad was issued twice in1839 so it might easily have been a best seller.  The first, perhaps official edition was published by Tegg, perhaps under the supervision of Reynolds while the second was published from the parts by       .  So the two ‘firsts’ were in competition with each other.

.E.F. Bleiler.

A little discursion here, well a long one..  I have just discovered that Bleiler wrote what may be the very first effort as a biography of Reynolds and that a good one.  E.F.Bleiler was a bibliophile supreme, blessed with great intelligence, deeply versed in English literature of early and middle nineteenth century.  He was also a long-time editor and vice president of the US publisher Dover books.  Dover books is a US publisher, founded in 1941, publishing out of copywrite titles very cheaply. Their eye covered the whole of literature from the occult to literary fiction and many other genres.  It was a treasure chest for readers.  Dover knew what was significant.

In 1975 Bleiler rescued G.W.M. Reynolds from oblivion by publishing a copy of Wagner the Were-Wolf billed as a Victorian Gothic Classic of the Supernatural.  I imagine Bleiler used the words Gothic and Supernatural to stir up attention by mentioning two genres that had current appeal.  The Dover reader may be construed as somewhat, or more than somewhat, bookish.  Wonderful titles.

In the Wagner the Wehr Wolf, which is soft cover, magazine size, he included a fairly extensive biography of Reynolds.  Bleiler was enamored of Reynolds and appears to have collected and read the entire corpus.  Bleiler given his profession and position was in a unique place to discover facts that were, I presume, never before revealed nor was there any need for them to be revealed, no market.  He perhaps gleaned his facts from reading the novels or had sources that have disappeared.   In the quote  above Bleiler states authoritatively that Reynolds associated closely with Beau Brummell from whom he developed his disgust with George IV as Prince Regent.  It is true that Reynolds admire Brummell in reputation, imitating him in dress, and he does say that he had something to do with Brummell in Calais, the French port town, but unless Bleiler was using information that is no longer available one has to question it.  Of course Reynolds did have a violent hatred of George IV that astonishes the reader and it is possible, as Brummell was accessible in Calais that he did furnish Reynolds with stories.  If Reynolds tales of George IV have any validity they must have come from somewhere.

It is at this point I wish to augment the above with Reynolds portrayal of George in the first series of Court Of London. The firsts series takes place in 1795 when George III was king. Reynolds introduces two characters, Tim Meagles and Lady Lade who have the same relationship to George IV that the Beau had.  The Beau had a very intimate relationship with the Regent, having the run of Carlton House, the Regent’s residence in London, much as Tim Meagles does.  Meagles has a love named Lady Lade.  Lade was a real person who lived an unladylike life.  She died in 1825.  Reynolds has her wearing men’s clothes and sporting about like a man. 

While the source for Meagles is clear the only model for Lady Lade I can think of is Susannah Reynolds, thus associating Meagles also with himself.   Susannah gets scant notice by scholars and what I have to say can only be inferred.  Helen Reddy of ‘I Am Woman Hear Me Roar’ fame couldn’t hold a candle to Susannah.  I am convinced that she was an aide to Reynolds in his writing and in his life both inside and outside the household.  He may have written his installments in seven hours but they are too perfect in the remembrance of characters and incidents.

Now, in addition to her duties running the family and household Susannah also wrote novels, and these weren’t short either. I have found only one title, Gretna Green, a useless OCR reprint that is about seven hundred large pages long, three columns a page.   The pages are too chopped up to get no more than a couple pages at a time to read.  Susannah was a real rattler, her husband on steroids, near hysterical, and sexually liberated enough in her writing so that she was criticized as a shameless woman to which Reynolds was obliged to object.

I conjecture that she served as an amanuensis for her husband keeping track of names and sequencing, while he and she discussed the course of the stories between his writing sessions, so that installments were organized, perhaps outlined, so that Reynolds could sit and write without pauses.

In 1854 with her health failing Reynolds removed her from London to the resort town of Margate installing her into a nice house and situation for the remainder of her days that ended in 1858.  It is noticeable that Reynolds production dropped off rapidly after her death quickly dwindling to nothing.  It would seem that her assistance partially enabled his tremendous prolificity.  If so, they made a terrific team.

Whether such a relationship can be proven or not, it had to be.  In any event Susannah was a treasure that he couldn’t have done without.  When she died in 1858 Reynolds abandoned Margate to return to London.

.E.F. Blieler (Cont.)

Blieler also had a cultivated mind so that he could also sympathize with the character of Reynolds.  One might say that Reynolds spoke to him.

Here is a short passage in which he discusses Reynolds association with the Temperence Society.

Quote:

  Reynolds opened the first issue of the Teetotaler with an installment of his novel, The Drunkard’s Tale, the theme of which the reader can easily guess.  He also filled the periodical with sensational fiction showing the evils of alcohol, very competent essays, scientific articles, good book reviews, and temperance news.  The magazine was capably handled.  High points of its short life were Noctes Pickwickianae, a series of conversations between Mr. Pickwick and Sam Weller about temperance, and a novel, Pickwick Married, in which Mr. Pickwick is finally trapped.  Reynold’s emphasis on Pickwick is not surprising, since he had already written a near bestseller.

Unquote.

This near, I almost said, obsession with Pickwick makes it seem like Reynolds was walking around in Dickens’ shoes, either an abdication of his own personality or a deep obsession.  His novel The Steam Packet is a variation on Pickwick Papers.  His 1841 book Master Timothy’s Bookcase was a direct lift from Dickens’ own Master Humphreys Clock.  Exact same format but totally different style.  Both Pickwick Abroad and Timothy take place in France ending with a return to England.

Truly Dicken’s was justified in raging about ‘that guy’ who was nearly his double.  This is much stranger than merely writing a continuation of Pickwick.  Reynolds wouldn’t abandon Dickens until he began Mysteries of London, if he did then, and stepped out of Dickens’ shoes into those of the French writer Eugene Sue who wrote The Mysteries of Paris.

This might be the place to comment on Reynolds’ strange career with Pickwick Papers.  PP gave Reynolds the framework to begin writing seriously. Consider it this way, PP was the loom on which Reynolds was able to weave his continuation.  It is remarkable that Reynolds republished the volume just after he finished with The Mysteries of the Court of London thus bracketing both of his Mysteries.  This edition was published by Henry Lea om 1857. He only had three further years as a novelist left, then after he closed his career in 1864 he published the final edition of Pickwick Abroad by Henry Bohn, thus bracketing his entire corpus between the first and last editions of Pickwick Abroad.  It would seem that the spirit of Pickwick informed his entire corpus in some way.

Reynolds not only walked in Dickens shoes but he also wore his hat and coat.  A very strange relationship

Blieler doesn’t say where he got his information but he states positively that:

Quote:

George William MacArthur Reynolds (1814—79) came of a prominent, wealthy family, being the oldest son of Captain George Reynolds, flag officer in the Royal Navy, recipient of knighthood and orders from both the King and foreign powers.  Capt. Reynolds died before G.W.M.R’s majority, leaving his son some 12,000 pounds and a guardianship.  To follow family traditions, young George was sent to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, where he stayed for about two and a half years.  But Sandhurst and G.W.M.R. did not agree and in 1830 he was released.

Unquote.

Note Bleiler’s mention of the guardianship.  That is an important detail.  The guardian was his father’s best friend, Duncan McArthur,  The McArthur of Reynolds’ third name.  That’s accurate in the general sense but Bleiler’s facts disagree with what is currently believed.  Today his father is defined as a post-Captain rather than a flag, or line, officer and relatively impoverished.  At the same time current research is that he commanded flag ships and captured several prizes while being stationed on the Isle of Guernsey.  If the Captain captured a few ships, since the reward was a percentage of their value, and the Captain’s percentage was the largest, I see no reason for the Reynolds’s not to be well off and 12,000 pounds left to his son not unreasonable.  It would be nice to  be able to collate Blieler’s sources with current ones.

Bleiler has unrestrained admiration for Reynolds the man and writer.  He understands him.  He says:

Quote:

Yet besides being a vast cosmos of human sensation, The Mysteries of London is many other things.  In a sense it is education for the masses, and it is also propaganda.  Reynolds may spend  a couple of pages explaining quite accurately how dice can be controlled; how beer is adulterated; how rotten meat is disguised and sold to the poor at high prices; exactly how a grave robber works (very differently and more systematically than Baron Frankenstein’s servitors;)  what percentage of prostitutes  comes from various occupational groups; how wealth is distributed in the British Isles; how the various slums are geographically constituted ; how fake auctions work; how prisons fail to train inmates for life outside; and a host of other topics that may well have been very important to the Londoner with a low income, who had to live with his guard up.

Unquote.

Precisely the stuff that makes Reynolds worthwhile to me along with his magnificent descriptions of the varieties of female breasts.  Also, let me point out that Reynolds was deeply impressed with Victor Hugo’s title Notre Dame.  That book is also a biography of Notre Dame and the church is the central figure in the novel.  Reynolds, I believe, using that as his example, uses the great city of London in the same way.

I agree with Bleiler who thought that with a small adjustment to his intellect Reynolds could have had as significant a political career as, say, Benjamin Disraeli. 

Bleiler was a long time Dover vice-president.  He gives no indication of the sources of his research while being inaccurate in a few details but as a VP and editor at Dover he would have been in position to locate details.  As a first effort at biography though, it is not bad.  For those who are unfamiliar with Dover Publications it has always been a sensational publisher since its founding in 1941.  They had an astounding eye for interesting neglected literature, among other genres, as publishing a Reynolds novel in 1975, that the first published Reynolds novel in the previous sixty years, with Bleiler writing an extended essay on Reynolds life, reintroducing him to the public so to speak.

If Pickwick Abroad was a near best seller as Bleiler says then it must have been running neck to neck with the Pickwick Papers of Dickens.  Not only was Dickens furious with Reynolds he must have been tearing his hair out.

I had no idea that Pickwick Abroad did that well, but that would explain its reissue in 1857 by next publisher, Henry Lea.  There may also have been other editions but that remains to be learned.  One is to assume that the Lea edition sold out.

The last edition we know about is that of 1864 published by Henry G. Bohn. As that edition has been easy to find either Bohn over estimated demand or its time was past.  Then the book sold over a period of twenty five years, not bad.

Dicken’s Pickwick Papers began slow and was almost dropped but then Dickens added the comical character Sam Weller and the serial took off becoming the sensation of the day.  Dickens put a period to the Pickwick character ending the book with no idea of a sequel.  The character of Samuel Pickwick and his club was too attractive to drop.

Reynolds who always needed a matrix to base his own novels on, apparently on reading several installments of Dickens lighted up with a sequel almost completed in mind.  He could turn his French adventures to good use and so Pickwick Abroad formed almost spontaneously in his mind.

Many writers tried to cash in by purloining  Dickens’ characters as well as Reynolds.  The rest failed but Reynolds hit the main vein while having abundant talent to exploit it.  Correctly named Pickwick Abroad, a perfect logical extension of The Pickwick Papers.  His novel may very well have been perceived as a sequel to the Papers by readers. Many might not even have noticed that the author’s name had been changed from Dickens to Reynolds.

In any event Reynolds thought he had hooked a whale.  He began his novel while editing Monthly Magazine.  He even imitated Dickens by planning the work for twenty parts issued monthly. That was a steady income for a period of nearly two years followed by becoming a near best seller.  At twenty-two Reynolds seemed to be off on a good start.  The book when issued at 628 page was not a triple decker but a single volume, but in leather.  But, as I have just learned, 12/28/22, the book had two first editions.  I now have four different editions of Pickwick Abroad.  The new addition is from the publisher Tegg that Bleiler mentions while also being published in 1839. It has apparently been reset in new type.  On the title page of mu copy of the alternate first someone has written in pencil ‘First Edition, bound from monthly parts.’  The public then had a choice of first editions.  The situation must have been somewhat confusing.  Not only to the public but Reynolds himself.  Obviously further research is needed and other printings or editions may yet be found.

Reynolds writes different justifications for his pastiche in his different editions.   In the parts edition he includes endorsements from reviewers that while looking askance at the pastiche applaud the book as the work of a talented author who has written an amusing work.

In the Lea edition of 1857 he says this:

Quote:

The immortal “Boz” has done so much to render the public familiar with the characters and adventures of some of the most remarkable men of the present day—viz., Mr. Pickwick and his followers—that it is only with extreme diffidence a new historian has ventured to continue the lives of those extraordinary individuals.  But short and to the purpose be the introduction to these Memoirs.

Unquote.

In the 1864 Bohn edition Reynolds repeats a variation on the comments of the reviewers.  How many editions there were has yet to be established.  To justify the costs of the four edition I’ve mentioned the book must have been not only a near best seller but a bona fide best seller.

Swayed by the audacity of Reynolds’ appropriation of Dickens’ work I was somewhat dismissive of Pickwick Abroad yet attracted by the difference in approach to the subject matter. Another writer, I believe it was Thomas Carlyle in his Past And Present said that Dickens wrote like a boy while Tobias Smollett wrote like a man.  I think the difference between Dickens and Reynolds is much the same.  There is a seriousness in Reynolds that Dickens lacks.  But Dickens has the  sentimentalism that both Smollett and Reynolds lack that attracts a more enduring audience as Dickens continues to sell while Smollett and Reynolds don’t

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