Part VI: Time Traveling With R.E. Prindle

G.W.M. Reynolds: Building A Publishing Empire

by

R.E. Prindle

 

George W.M. Reynolds is an interesting story, almost epic actually. No biography is currently extant. His history must be patched together by certain fragmentary sketches and assembled based on those autobiographical details from his novels in addition to fragmentary researches and solid facts that provide hints to interpret the novels.

As to parentage: His father was George Reynolds, a naval officer during the Napoleonic wars. His dates: 1762-1822. During those Napoleonic wars in 1802 he was commissioned a Captain and given command of the Tribune, a 36 gun frigate with which he was able to capture what researcher Dick Collins says, were several prizes. The proceeds from those prizes were distributed in shares to the officers and crew. Collins gives no idea of the richness of those prizes but we must presume that he received, possibly, ten to twenty thousand pounds overall and possibly more. This is important as when his son assumed his inheritance in 1830 it is possible that he received twelve thousand pounds. Thus, it would likely have come from the proceeds of these prizes.

Prize money would have been in addition to his wages and whatever emoluments that might have amounted to three hundred pounds or more per annum. If Reynolds’ father had invested his prize money and lived on other earnings it would make his having twelve thousand pounds not unreasonable. This is important because the size of GWM’s inheritance is disputed. Dick Collins, for instance, seeks to diminish it to near nothing. Guy Dicks places it at seven thousand. Without any other assurance than the prizes I accept the figure of twelve thousand, if for no other reason than Reynolds was too affluent in France than for there being little or no inheritance.

On his mother’s side, Caroline Frances Dowers, 1789-1830, her father was a Purser Dowers, Purser is his Christian name, who was the commandant of the Royal Naval Hospital in Walmer, Kent. Caroline and George were married in 1813. George W.M. was born a year later in Sandwich, Kent but that location doesn’t figure in his writings while Walmer and Deal, two neighboring towns where Dowers and his guardian Duncan McArthur lived, have prominent places as well as Canterbury with a nod to Ashford.

GWM had a brother, Edward, born in 1816 with whom he was associated through life, serving with the publishing company George created. Shortly after in 1816 his father was stationed on the island of Guernsey where GWM spent the next six years. Guernsey will figure in his novels. It was probably there, next to France, speaking a French dialect that his affection for France arose.

In 1822, the family returned to Kent in Canterbury where his father died soon after. His mother at that time was thirty-three, a young and probably attractive woman. She was appointed guardian of her sons. As a backup guardian a great friend of her husband’s, the surgeon Duncan McArthur of Walmer, 1772-1850 accepted the responsibility on her death in March of 1830 at the very young age of forty-two. Thus, Reynolds was an orphan at fifteen. His being an orphan is important in his writings. George was eight years old when his father died, and fifteen when his mother passed. Excluding his two years of infancy his life had been divided evenly between Guernsey and Kent. Orphaned at eight when is father died and then left parentless after another eight years his childhood must have had a profound effect on his psychology.

In 1828 he had been placed in the Sandhurst Military Academy in Berkshire. Neither Sandhurst nor Berkshire have a prominent place in his novels. His total experience in Kent then takes place from 1822 to 1828 and those years were apparently the most formative years of his life for which he appears to have had a great affection. He was sent to school at Ashford, Kent, a relatively large town equidistant from Canterbury and Walmer-Deal. Whatever happened in Walmer-Deal then happened between 1822 and 1828 but left an indelible impression on him.

In those years George must have associated in Walmer with Duncan McArthur and possibly his grand-father Purser Dowers. George is fixated on these years and these towns plus Canterbury. Walmer especially is connected to his character of the Resurrection Man, Anthony Tidkins, in the First Series of The Mysteries of London. At that time body stealers from graveyards, known as resurrection men were supplying corpses to physicians for dissection in the advancement of science. Dick Collins speculates that Duncan McArthur, a surgeon, bought bodies. In the novel Tony Tidkins was born in Walmer and supplied bodies to ‘the surgeon of Walmer.’ Thus, Duncan McArthur.

This is quite possible if not probable. Reynolds seems quite familiar with doctors and their scientific experiments. The Mysteries of London were written in two series. For some reason Collins thinks that the Second Series was never written but it is readily available today. It comes in two volumes totaling sixteen hundred pages. It doesn’t appear to be well known. However in Volume III, that is, First Series, Vols. I and II and Second Series, Vols. III and IV, Reynolds describes some offices of ‘the foremost surgeon in England’, a Dr. Lascelles that he leased from a cadaverous, hideous criminal Benjamin Bones, also known as Old Death. Old Death was not a resurrection man but looks like he had been resurrected.

There are many alter-egos of Reynolds in the Mysteries and one in Vol. III is the highwayman, Thomas Rainford or Tom Rain as he was known. He is in Old Death’s crummy old house in which Dr. Lascelles, the foremost doctor in England rents rooms. Rainford enters these rooms to find pickled body parts, lifelike casts of human heads and such. Lascelles is a phrenologist in interest. One, then, is led to ask, did Dr. Duncan McArthur also have such a collection and was an eight to fourteen year old G.W.M. Reynolds introduced into such a gruesome environment by his guardian. Where else could he have witnessed such scenes and attributed them to Walmer. The influence in the novels is extensive.

At fourteen then he was entered into the military academy. What happened between he and his guardian after the mother died while he was a few months short of sixteen isn’t clear. It is hard to believe that Reynolds with his literary bent wasn’t restless in a military environment while being exposed at fourteen to that, to me, repulsive environment was negative. It was probably there that he had his first experiences with gambling and drinking.

He wrangled his way out of Sandhurst in September of 1830. One imagines that McArthur and Dowers resisted this but as military men they probably thought they had to give the young fellow his head. He demanded his inheritance then and there which he must have received but with great reluctance. Whether his brother also had an inheritance isn’t clear but as his brother joined George in France he may have brought a fresh supply of money.

As important as 1822-28 were to Reynolds development, the years in France from 1831-36 were equally important. There is no clear account of what happened in those years, only what may be gleaned from his writings and some facts Dick Collins has collected.

What is clear is that the most significant occurrence was that Reynolds was illuminated almost upon landing in France. Reynolds says that he became a Liberal at Sandhurst, by which he means, that among the sons of the aristocracy as an inferior he developed a deep resentment for that faction of society. In France his illumination codified that resentment into a program.

Illumination may be a new concept to many readers but the term and concept arose from the dissolution of the Medieval Order and the rise of the scientific consciousness promoted by astronomers and alchemists. It became apparent to many that the old order was no longer suited to emerging social exigencies as condensed into the 1789 Revolutionary slogan Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. Its key components were the elimination of monarchy, the aristocracy, that is the privileges of birth, and the rejection of established religion and priestcraft and certain sexual revisions.

In its evolution in the sixteenth century it took the form of the Rosicrucian Order and Rosicrucianism remained the backbone of Illumination down probably to the present. The Illuminati sect of Rosicrucianism appropriated the word. Thus Reynolds appears to have been initiated into the Rosicrucian Order. At least, in his novel the Wehrwolf he has his hero Wagner leave the Island of the Lotus Eaters in his novel to go to Sicily in which the venerable head of the Rosicrucian Order existed as a 164 year old man with whom he had a long interview, or, as I read it, he was initiated or illuminated. This chicanery was common during the eighteenth century and the formation of Freemasonry that incorporates all these legends.

Most famous in the Revolutionary days were Cagliostro, otherwise Joseph Balsamo and the Count de St. Germain, alchemists and magicians. Alexander Dumas has a wonderful interpretation of the career of Cagliostro in his novel Joseph Balsamo. You may be sure Reynolds read it. Of course, such men as these were not what they claimed to be but society was credulous and many took them at their word. After all, with that great European legend or myth of the Wandering Jew sightings of him were common as there were many Jewish poseurs. They wandered and announced themselves and were credited as such. Cagliostro and St. Germain were actually a significant part of the Revolution.

Another impostor of sorts was Adam Weishaupt who appropriated illuminism to form the Illuminati. That group is now passed off as legendary for whatever reasons the Left has, but they did exist and were a key part of the Revolution as Jacobins. Nobody denies the Jacobins.

One must remember that the revolutionary and Napoleonic years were from 1789 to 1815 and Reynolds was born in 1814. He was an ardent follower of Napoleon considering him the greatest man of history. Joseph Balsamo (Cagliostro) and the Comte de St. Germain were still living legends while Reynolds was in Paris. Dumas was writing amazing stories about Cagliostro and the Revolutionary period concurrently with Reynolds’ novels. The French writers he would have been familiar with in the 1830s were all imbrued with the events of 1789-1815. This period was one of most breathtaking events in the history of Europe.

More or less as an aside these first fifty years of the nineteenth century were the formative years from which the succeeding two hundred years have evolved. A work still treasured by the cognoscenti was published in 1841, Charles Mackay’s Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds containing long essays on John Law and the Mississippi Bubble as well as that amazing phenomenon The South Sea Bubble. W.H. Ainsworth wrote a wonderful novel describing the South Sea Bubble. I don’t think there’s any doubt that Reynolds’ read it as he has numerous examples of bubble companies and frauds in his pages. In the early nineteenth century the Frenchman Gustave Le Bon would add his magnificent psychological study the Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind that Freud would incorporate into his Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego thus forming the basis of mind control today.

In addition the Regency Period and Reign of George IV were part of his living memories. When he arrived in France very late in 1830, the year George IV died, really 1831 the Revolution of 1830 had just taken place in July 1830- the July Revolution- that removed Charles X and placed Louis Phillipe on the throne. Almost from enthronement the Revolution of 1848 was being planned and a mere eighteen years later took place ending the monarchy in France permanently. Reynolds himself was working toward 1848 probably from the day his shoes hit French soil.

Reynolds was an enthusiastic supporter of the July Revolution and cheered wildly at the displacement of the aristocracy. In his estimation it placed the French high above the English who retained both monarch and aristocracy. He despised the English nobility. That attitude would have been a common one of course but, I believe it likely that Reynolds humiliating experiences at Sandhurst cemented that hatred in his mind.

Sandhurst would have been full of the sons of the aristocracy who would have demeaned mere commoners. Nor would he have had the money to keep up with them.

What drove him to France isn’t clear but those five years were to be the most influential of his life. Reconstructing those five years is not easy although some key events can be dated.

A sixteen year old striking out on his own in a foreign country with inadequate language skills is daring while if he had what to a sixteen year old was an enormous sum of twelve thousand pounds in his pockets sharpers and sponges would have spotted him immediately.

There is a passage in Vol. II of The Mysteries Of The Court Of London that might explain his situation. A sixteen year old orphan girl, the beauteous Carmilla, actually Rose Foster has been cleaned out of her inheritance by sharpers.

Another home! Alas! Alas! ‘tis much more easily said that done; and the orphan felt that it was so, and her heart, as it were, came up into her throat as she reflected that the only true home which she had ever enjoyed had been swallowed up in the grave of her parents.

O God! robbery is bad, forger is vile, rape is atrocious, and murder is abhorrent; but to ill-treat an orphan, to be merciless toward the poor being from whom death has borne away the fond mother and the doting father, never to send them back again, oh, this is abhorrent also, and the wretch who has no pity for the orphan is capable of robbery and forgery and rape and murder.

There is a cri de couer, a hysterical wringing of hands. We can’t reconstruct exactly what happened after Reynolds’ beloved mother died orphaning him completely. What his relationship with his new guardian was we don’t know, but, just as Carmilla was easy prey for the criminals who took advantage of her youth and innocence, it is more than likely that something similar happened to Reynolds in France.

Thus it cannot be accidental that his account of his first adventures in France should have been recreated in his continuation of Dicken’s Pickwick Papers, Pickwick Abroad. It is a novel full of sharpers and spongers preying on Pickwick who may have been a variant of the prosperous Reynolds. This novel is an interesting account of English ex-pats in Paris.

In the post-Napoleonic years there was such an influx of English people into Paris for extended stays that the Meurice Hotel was created to accommodate them by creating as English an atmosphere in France as possible. It would be almost the same as the Jewish and Italian colonies in New York City c. 1900. It is in the atmosphere of the Meurice that Reynolds places his version of Mr. Pickwick for the duration of that famous character’s stay in France.

It is there that Pickwick is surrounded by sharpers and sponges and plain thieves. One wonders how Reynolds saw himself in that mélange. Perhaps with his twelve thousand pounds he is Mr. Pickwick himself though certainly not as a sponge although one gathers the impression that Reynolds was somewhat addicted to sharp practices. Perhaps his first year or two were spent Pickwick fashion. Quite high living for a sixteen year old. Remember though as Mortimer from Master Timothy’s Bookcase returns to England Mortimer philosophizes whether a young man can be a Man of the World. Perhaps that can be interpreted that he had tried and failed in France.

In these five years in France of rapid intellectual development at no time could he have let the grass grow under his feet. He obviously worked in a vast amount of reading. One should keep in mind that in 1839 in England he compiled a book, The Modern Literature Of France, a book of excerpts with prefaces. It is certain that he read and was deeply influenced by Victor Hugo’s Notre Dame De Paris, or the Hunchback of Notre Dame in common parlance. The book was published in the year of his arrival in 1831. He carried the memory of its pages in mind from that time forward. He read the Marquis de Sades’ Justine, and Juliette, and the Philosophy of the Boudoir and was deeply influenced by those books. His rather racy sexual descriptions probably derive therefrom. He praises the apparently horror novelist, Frederic Soulie (not translated into English yet) while making use of his techniques in his own novels.

Paris must have been wildly active while he was resident. Survivors of the 1789 revolution would have been sixty or seventy years old, filled with stories. Reynolds endorsed the crimes of the French Revolution. The Bohemia immortalized by Henry Burger in his 1859 novel would have been in rapid development thus combining the political, art and literary scenes. Balzac, Sue and Dumas as well as lesser light were all writing in the shadow of the Revolution and Napoleonic years. That Reynolds showed interest in the art scene is evidenced by his chapter in Mysteries of the Court of London. Thus his brain was swarming with images and innumerable scenes copped from the French novelists.

Connected to all would have been the process of illumination, the formation of Reynold’s Weltanschauung and his uniting with the Zeitgeist. I have been unable to identify a reference to the Freemasons but the mystic cult of Rosicrucianism seems to have attracted his attention, hence illumination. Reynolds was a very prominent Liberal, touting Liberalism, hence illumination constantly. A Liberalism almost current with that of the twenty-first century. He was true blue.

After three years in France he made his first novel attempt: The Youthful Impostor. I haven’t read that as yet but the title perhaps indicates his feelings about himself. He was probably premature in taking on the trappings of The Man of the World that he so much wanted to be.

He began a bookstore at about this time while attempting to found an Anglo-French newspaper. One can only conclude that they were unsuccessful and left France a year later as a bankrupt. But not before he married Susannah Frances Pierson at the British Embassy. In Volume IV of the Mysteries of London Charles Hatfield and Perdita Hardinge were married at the British Embassy in November. Was this a reenactment of his and Susannah’s marriage? As he seems a little gushy about the event his and Susannah’s marriage at the Embassy must have made a significant impression on him.

In 1836 his French adventure ended as he went broke, returning to England with wife and new son in tow. He was only twenty-two and had lived a lifetime or two in France. The years from 1837-44 seems to have been a period of struggling to re-orient himself. After all having been under the impression that he was rich in 1831 to have gone smash in 1836 and then having to find a way to wealth again must have taken some courage. During 1842-44 he seems to have realized that his early efforts were getting him nowhere so was searching for a new direction. 1844-48 is an expression of that reorientation that ended in the Revolution of 1848 and the elimination of the French monarchy at last.

Even though only twenty-two in 1836 it would seem that some interest in his abilities adhered to him from his French journalistic activities because on his return he found ready employment as the editor of the Monthly Magazine then tottering, and which he revived.

The English loved to sojourn in Paris. In the brief period of peace in 1802 as Venetia Murray records in her An Elegant Madness when the English rushed to France. Then after the final defeat of Napoleon in 1815 the love affair with France recovered. Indeed, much to Reynolds’ chagrin the English offered Louis Philippe sanctuary in England after 1848. As mentioned the Meurice Hotel was established to cater to English tastes.

As magazine editor in Paris Reynolds published Thackeray’s first appearance in print so it is probable the he had established some sort of reputation that was honored on his return. Reynolds then began publication of Pickwick Abroad in the Monthly’s pages. While usually considered a plagiarism Reynolds’ explains his position clearly:

The founder of the ‘Pickwick club’ which now exists no longer had violated the promise he had sometime since made to himself and voluntarily deviated from that tranquil mode of life it was his intention to adopt when his first biographer, ‘Boz’ took leave of him.

So, as Reynolds apparently saw it, if the first biographer abandon’s a biography a second biographer may legitimately write a continuation. Remember that the club no longer existed so it was Mr. Pickwick himself. A fine line perhaps but Pickwick Abroad is not about the club. Indeed, the grand epic of the Greeks was written by several hands of which Homer’s was just one. There were several continuations written for Chretien De Troye’s Grail story. Not everyone agreed with the notion but Pickwick Abroad was a success giving Reynolds a literary reputation, of sorts, in England.

None of the following six efforts leading to 1842 created much of a fuss. During that time, however, Reynold’s was exploring all of the highways and byways of London and he may have devoted much of his time during his two missing years to that endeavor as well as doing extensive reading. He was certainly well read and aware of scientific, technological and societal developments. It seems clear to me that he had read the psychological literature of his time and knew how to apply it accurately. He apparently visited many insane asylums in both France and England as the interiors of the various asylums seem to be accurately portrayed. He was aware of Dr. Pinel who liberalized the handling of the insane in France. All of this interest in matters combined with his illumination gives an extraordinary depth to his writing making the most of intense experiences giving them almost a visual reality.

While writing Vol IV of the Second Series, the Revolution of 1848 occurred about 40% of the way through in February of that year. Reynolds broke off his narrative to celebrate the event and encourage the Chartists to do the same in England. As he was in the process of writing about his heroine, Laura Mortimer, he has her begin her course in illumination as taught by her music teacher beginning with the Marseillaise and some poems by Victor Hugo. Hugo was a monster influence on Reynolds. Cross fertilization was apparently widespread.

Reynolds, once again taking inspiration from Dickens for the last volume of his early period, Master Timothy’s Bookcase, he then remained unpublished from 42-44. Looking again to France, Reynolds read the early installments of the great Eugene Sue’s Mysteries of Paris. Receiving this inspiration his thoughts fell into place and he began to write the magnificent First Series of The Mysteries Of London.

At this point I wish to cautiously introduce a work that appeared simultaneously with Reynolds and Sue, Paul Feval’s own version of The Mysteries of London. While virtually unknown in the US today Feval was a magnificent crime writer inking the stories of the Black Coats. Being aFrenchman his take on haunts that both he and Reynolds were aware are yet quite different but equally as terrifying as Reynold’s.

The First Series of Mysteries of London quickly set Reynold’s on his feet and he was in a position to look forward to building a publishing empire and regaining the dreams of his youth.

The First Series ended in 1846 and it was that year that he established his weekly newspaper the Reynolds Miscellany. The First Series had been stunningly successful, selling in the tens of thousands per week so that perhaps giddy with success he thought his name so familiar and respected the magazine would sell by itself. On the other hand, it was a dream coming true. The first issue began with his novel Wagner The Wehrwolf. The story itself may have been patterned on the success of James Rymer’s Varney the Vampire of recent issue. If so, the story worked, the magazine was a success and continued to large sales for several years before being folded into John Dick’s Bow Bells.

At this time, 1846-48, Reynolds was also getting increasingly involved in the politics that led up to the February Revolution and the Trafalgar demonstration of that April. This shows in his erratic writing of the Second Series. While having high points such as story of Perdita Hardinge the Second Series is a low point in his production. In getting involved in the Miscellany and the Revolution it is clear that he was taking on too much.

A sea change took place in his career when he formed an alliance with the printer John Dicks in 1847. Dicks would remain his printer for the rest of his career being made a full partner in 1854.

Make no mistake, Reynolds great success depended on his relationship with Dicks. Without a relationship such as this, carrying much of the burden, great success is impossible.

He was now able to free himself from his association with Stiff and Vickers who published The Mysteries of London. They appear to have regarded Reynolds’ writing as for hire and kept the copyrights as theirs. This departure does not appear to have been amicable. Stiff tried to undermine the Reynold’s Miscellany while Reynold’s believed that his 1848 bankruptcy was engineered by Stiff in spite. Nevertheless the groundwork for a remarkable publishing empire was being laid.

Nearly all the information on Dicks I take from his grandson Guy Dicks’ and his book The John Dicks Press, self-published in 2005 and reprinted in 2016.

As an amusing aside if you google Guy Dicks what comes up is a series of articles on men’s penises. Guy Dicks doesn’t get a mention.

Guy’s grandfather John was born four years after Reynolds in 1818. He served a fairly long apprenticeship with specialty publishers before joining Reynolds. His most interesting was with the Chinese dictionary compiler Robert Morrison. He came to Reynolds as an expert printer and innovative publisher. He and Reynolds were on the same wavelength although I don’t know whether Dicks was illuminated or not.

Although Dicks was an employee of Reynolds until 1864 when he was made a partner in that year the two men worked working even more expanded the empire. In addition to Reynolds’ novels and the Reynolds Miscellany they created the Reynolds News paper that survived for well over a hundred years. As their business grew and as technological innovations improved publishing methods the firm kept up, changing with the innovations adding huge steam presses that turned out thousands of impressions an hour.

Between the two of them they tried to be model employers much in the style of the twentieth centuries Henry Ford.

Those developments were in the future, in 1846-7 it is clear that Reynolds was writing weekly installments in a rush while trying to establish a publishing empire of his own. His mental energy must have been enormous and his ability to organize his time phenomenal. Let us never forget that he had a wife and large and growing family.

While the Second Series, especially Volume IV, suffers from all this activity, in 1847 he wrote a complete novel of several thousand words titled Faust: A Romance of the Secret Tribunals that is well plotted and tightly written. It also displays a fair amount of historical knowledge and research. This must have been in the second half of 1847 as in 1846-47 he was turning out Wagner the Wehrwolf which is interesting and exciting but a lower quality than Faust. At the same he was writing these three novels there are reference in the Second Series indicating that he was organizing his thoughts to begin the phenomenal Mysteries of the Court of London.

His mental capacity was phenomenal, his mind was so compartmentalized that he could be working on four separate extensive novels while editing the Reynolds Miscellany during 1846 and part of 1847. His wife Susannah must have been managing the family finances while bringing up a troop of noisy children, and also, it might be added attempting novels also. Her novel Gretna Green appeared at this time.

He began his magnum opus, The Mysteries of the Court of London in 1848 and from then on, he was on solid ground with Dicks backing him up in the founding and development of his publishing empire.

While the humiliations Reynolds suffered as a sixteen year old striking out on his own had been extremely painful to him providing wretched memories, with the rise of his empire he redeemed those years and mistakes. When he died he left an estate of nearly thirty thousand pounds thus putting him up in the class of those aristocrats he despised so much. Alls well that ends well, eh George

Pt. III

Time Traveling With R.E. Prindle

GWMReynolds

Sources:

Reynolds, G.W.M: The Necromancer, forward by Dick Collins, Valancourt Press

http://www.victorianlondon.org/mysteries/mysteries-00-introduction.htm

 

When it comes to time traveling the Gothic and Romantic periods are my favorites. The study of origins is my favorite. One is astonished in Reading Reynolds and Dickens how little things have changed, the same personality types with all the same dodges, the same terms, the same ideas just dressed differently from the twenty-first century. Of course in this early stage of current developments, manners and methods were really crude, now they’ve become merely rude. Much of the change experienced in the present is only because of introduction of technological innovations. All of the innovations seem to be regressive in social effects. Superficial perhaps. By the time of the Industrial Revolution, blindsided by the coming of the railroads and their attendant infra-structure, society was totally mentally and also physically disorganized and had to adjust as rapidly as possible even as further developments crowded time swiftly along. It took decades to realize the nature of electricity which made its appearance at this time. Photography which captured the images of the time.

George Stephens knew not what he had done when he put steam engines on the rails. The joint stock company essentially arose from the railroads, giving birth to vast new streams of financial criminality. Steamships and the Marconi telegraph drew North America closer together and expanded opportunity.

Reynolds and Dickens certainly seized the new financial crimes as important elements of their stories. Dicken laments the displacement of the stage coach and its social structure as a whole major part of English civilization melted away as the snows of yesteryear.

The period of the Regency Bucks of the Romantic period and the new Men of the World or Man About Town captured Reynolds imagination. His Mysteries of the Court of London captures the spirt of the Regency Buck while the Mysteries of London chronicles the adventures of the Man of the World or the Man About Town. Although written in reverse order he apparently considered his two masterpieces as one unit. And what a magnificent achievement.

When he began Mysteries of London in 1844, he was only a young thirty, ending the story when thirty-four. During that period mind and skill developed exponentially, so as he began Mysteries of the Court of London, which would take eight years to write he moved into the years of his peak powers. Well were they exhibited. Court of London is amazing. Those eight years were astonishing years.

Thus, in these twelve volumes (of my editions) Reynolds seems to have captured the dark side of England. While apparently a true representation there were many others who wrote from a different viewpoint. One of the finest was R.S. Surtees (Richard Smith) who wrote great sporting novels centered on his hero Jorrocks and fox hunting. Surtee’s novels too are accurate portrayals of the Regency Buck but of rural England and not London. George Borrow’s curious novels, especially The Bible In Spain, are interesting although mostly concerned with the gypsies in England. The great Romanticists Byron and Shelley and their interpreter Thomas Love Peacock. Who can possibly ignore the great recorder of Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackery. The amazing career of the inventor of the historical novel, Walter Scott. Scott in his magnificent effusion literary skill influenced a couple of generation at least to 1850 both in England and the Continent. Both Sue and Dumas acknowledged their debt to the great Walter Scott. There were other Penny Dreadful writers, perhaps more narrow in scope, such as James Malcolm Rymer and his two great works Varney The Vampire and Sweeney Todd, William Harrison Ainsworth, Bulyer Lytton, a major influence of Reynolds and others. There is literary wealth to equal the gold mines of the Witwatersrand, too precious to be forgotten.

While famous in his time Reynolds’ fame was of a disreputable kind. He himself was disreputable and he wrote Penny Dreadfuls.

Victorian scholar Lee Jackson writes of general opinion of Penny Dreadfuls. He quotes a James Greenwood from his 1869 complaint against the literature, The Seven Curses of London.

Quote:

Is it because it stands to reason that all such coarse and vulgar trash finds its level amongst the coarse and vulgar, and could gain no footing above its own elevation? It may stand to reason, but unfortunately it is the unreasonable fact that this same pen poison finds customers at heights above its natural low and foul waterline almost inconceivable. How otherwise is it accountable that at least a quarter of million of these penny numbers are sold weekly? How is it that in quiet suburban neighbourhoods far removed from the stews of London, and the pernicious atmosphere they engender; in serene and peaceful semi-country towns where genteel boarding schools flourish, there may almost invariably be found some small shopkeeper who accommodatingly receives consignments of “Blue-skin,” and the “Mysteries of London,” and unobtrusively supplies his well-dressed little customer with these full-flavoured articles? Granted, my dear sir, that your young jack, or my twelve years old Robert… and so on.

Unquote.

Undoubtedly young Bob and Jack received an eyeful and a magnificent addition to their education.

So these Penny Dreadfuls, like the Dime novels of slightly later US, the comic books beginning in the 1930s, sci-fi movies and stories in the fifties and horror of all horrors, the Rock and Roll explosion that was seen as soul destroying missiles to be suppressed. Along the scale of decades the nineteen fifties are overlooked for the exciting years they were.

Were Penny Dreadfuls soul destroying? Well, a little over a hundred years later society degenerated from Mysteries of London to the totally soul destroying Tales From The Crypt comic books. A definite downward spiral there. But, how is it that the soul destroying Mysteries of London passed from vulgar filth to valuable literary virtue?

In point of fact, even as fiction, the Mysteries is accurate reportage of conditions in London of the time. Reynolds might have been of questionable morality himself, Mysteries reads as though he had personally experienced the incidents (literary skill perhaps,).   His portrayals are of what he considered ‘men of the world.’ Indeed, he desperately wanted to be known as ‘a man of the world.’ And that ‘man of the world’ seems to be a ‘gentlemanly’, or at least an aspirant to gentlelimaness, criminal. George Montague Greenwood schemes to separate rich men from their money by devious financial schemes. And he and his kind are successful. Was Reynolds one of these schemers? Certainly his knowledge of their ways would indicate that he associated with them. Amongst the Chartists, a political group, with which he was involved, he earned a reputation for promoting financial schemes for which he was rejected. Was his mind not then conditioned to such schemes? It would seem that he used false bankruptcies to advance his own financial affairs.

Reynolds very likely paraded the ‘Man of the World’ notion in his life or because it was so prominent in his novels that Dickens, who certainly bore Reynolds no goodwill, with justice, may very likely have been referring to him in this passage from The Old Curiosity Shop:

Quote:

‘He, he!’ simpered Brass, who in his deep debasement really seemed to have changed sexes with his sister, and to have made over to her any spark of manliness he might have possessed. ‘You think so, Sarah, you think so perhaps; but you would have acted quite differently, my good fellow. You will not have forgotten that it was a maxim of Foxey—our revered father, gentlemen—Always suspect everyone. That’s the maxim to go through life with.’–…

With deference to the latter opinion of Mr. Brass, and more particularly to the authority of his Great Ancestor, it may be doubted with humility whether the leveling principle laid down to the latter gentleman, and acted on by his descendant, is always a prudent one, or attended by practice with the desired results. This beyond question a bold and presumptuous doubt, in as much as many distinguished characters called men of the world, longheaded customers, knowing dogs, shrewd fellows, and their like have made, and do daily make, this axiom their star and compass. Still the doubt may be greatly insinuated. And in illustration it may be observed that if Mr. Brass, not being over-suspicious, had without prying and listening, had not been in such a might hurry to anticipate her (which he would not have been, but for his distrust and jealously.) he would probably have found himself much better off in the end. That it will always happen that these men of the world, who go through it in armor, defend themselves from quite as much good as evil, to say nothing of the inconvenience and absurdity of mounting guard with a microscope at all times, and of wearing a coat of mail on the most innocent occasions.

Unquote.

I would not consider the lawyer Brass of Dickens’ story a man of the world nor as I perceive Reynolds using the term. So long as one retires from the world to some extent that rescues oneself from many of the hazards of the world, but as nearly everyone must move about in the world I would prefer a very close attention, and if that attention slopped over into paranoia so be it, to who is doing what.

Reynolds very brilliantly portrays the hazards of fixtures and forces that may be operating to one’s detriment in the background. Indeed, if Richard Markham had been more of a man of the world and less naïve he would have avoided the snares that landed him in prison. Thus Reynolds’ trusting characters are always being blindsided.

Sometimes one’s projected villainies that are foiled save one from a greater danger. Reynolds very cleverly does this in the case of George Montague and Eliza Sydney. Eliza has been unwittingly mired into a scheme by her mentor, Mr. Stephens. Stephens has employed George Montague, alias of Eugene Markham, to bear false witness in the situation. A day or so before its realization Montague and Eliza who have become close, Eliza in love with him, during a horrid storm later at night, offers Montague a room to save him walking home as cabs are no longer available. Gorgeous woman of the swelling ivory orbs, Montague works himself into a fever entering her room with evil intent. Eliza awakens, is horrified at the thought of what Montague was contemplating and breaks relations off completely then and there. She is not a woman of the world.

This means he can no longer serve as Stephens accomplice. Stephens replaces him with the shifty lawyer, Mac Chizzle. Meanwhile, the police who had a spy system reviewing the mail working from a Black Room in which they open letters have opened and read a letter by Stephens detailing the scheme and the date of execution. The authorities are alerted. Stephens, Mac Chizzle and Sydney are arrested as Stephens would have been if he had maintained strict morality and not thought to rape Eliza. Thus his evil intents saved him from being caught in the police snare.

An excellent detail that shows off Reynolds’ brilliance and is something that the more basic Dickens could never have conceived and executed.

Ramifications from this incident in the first hundred pages will be continued throughout twenty-four hundred additional pages.

So, we have a huge record of virtue and vice as outlined in Part II of Time Travel. Add the concern with virtue and vice to that of the concept of man of the world and you have the core of Reynolds’ concerns. Now, how did Reynolds learn all the details that make his work interesting. After all he was now only thirty years old and seems to have the experience and knowledge of a much more mature man. He gives us at least a partial answer in this passage from his Mysteries.

Eugene Markham alias George Montague now becomes Greenwood, the moniker, George Montague having been worn out and no longer useful. Greenwood wishes to employ the criminal Tom the Cracksman, or burglar, for a crime. They are negotiating:

Quote:

“What the natur’ of the service?” demanded the Cracksman, darting a keen and penetrating glance at Greenwood.

“A highway robbery,” cooly answered this individual.

“Well, that’s plain enow,” said the Cracksman. “But first tell me how you came to know of me, and where I was to be seen because how can I tell but what this is all a plant of yours to get me in trouble?”

“I will answer you candidly and fairly. A few years ago, when I first entered into London life, I determined to make myself acquainted with all the ways of the metropolis, high or low, virtuous or vicious. I disguised myself on several occasions in very mean clothes, and visited all the flash houses and patter cribs- amongst others, the boozing ken in Great Saffron Hill. There you were pointed out to me; and your skill, your audacity, and your extraordinary luck in eluding the police, were vouched by the landlord of the place in no measured terms…”

“…the landlord’s a fool to talk so free; how did he know you wasn’t a trap in disguise?”

“Because I told him that my object was merely to see life in all its shapes and I was then so very young I could scarcely have been considered dangerous. However, I have occasionally indulged in such rambles, even today…”

Unquote.

Now, looking freely at what is known of Reynolds’ history, his father being a naval Captain, he was stationed on the British island of Guernsey next to France until Reynolds was eight, then was moved to Canterbury in Kent where he attended a school in its proximity. Then at fourteen in 1828 he was placed at the military academy at Sandhurst, which according to his scenario he left to flee to France at the age of sixteen in 1830. Perhaps this has something to do with so many of his heroines being sixteen. You have to pay attention to his very precise dates in his stories. Most of the biographical details I’m using come from the two Dick Collins’ articles noted under the title of the this essay.

Collins disputes the 12,000 pound inheritance of 1830 but I find it difficult to believe that a sixteen year old kid would have attempted to be an ex-pat in France without a sixpence in his pocket. Perhaps from his early experience in Guernsey he could handle the French language. I doubt if French was on the curriculum of Sandhurst. Collins points out that during the Napoleonic wars Reynold’s father captained a frigate and took several prizes. The proceeds from the prizes were parceled out in shares to officers and crew. It is not unlikely that the captain’s share might have added up to twenty thousand pounds, or more, to Capt. Reynolds’ estate, which have escaped Collins’ attention. Certainly the Reynolds family was not living hand to mouth. Reynold’s says specifically that he received the inheritance from his father. I have no difficulty believing that his father left his son twelve thousand pounds. His mother died in March of 1830 when he was fifteen thus he would have come under the jurisdiction of his active guardian Duncan McArthur. So McArthur would have been in charge of the family finances. He would have had to pay Reynolds way from those funds. It appears probable that Reynolds got into some kind of trouble at Sandhurst, possibly inducted into a gambling crowd, so that he left Sandhurst, removed by his friends, so the phrase has it. That happened in July of 1830 just as the revolution in France occurred. Now adrift with no direction it seems likely that he would have petitioned McArthur for his inheritance and with it leave for France where he stayed for six or seven years until his money was gone. He was probably a prey to the sharpers he depicts so well while learning their ways. Of course, the above may be just one solution to the Mysteries of G.W.M Reynolds.

At any rate as Reynolds returned to England in 1837 at the young age of twenty-three he had no familiarity with the metropolis having formerly lived in Kent at Canterbury which is why the area figures so prominently in his stories. Twenty-three is one of ages, along with sixteen, that recur frequently in his writings. So, beginning in 1837 at the age of twenty-three Reynolds began familiarizing himself with London high and low, East End and West End. A great and daunting adventure.

Now, Reynolds had met and married his wife Susannah Pierson in Paris. She was English but Collins can find few details about her except that Reynolds met her in prison, whatever that means, either as a visitor or an inmate. She may also have been married before at fourteen making her Reynolds her second husband at the age of either late sixteen or early seventeen. That occurred in in 1835 when Reynolds was twenty-one. The marriage was one of those made in heaven as they were happily married until she died.

A sixteen year old showing up in France with twelve thousand pounds must have attracted every sharper, or man of the world, in Paris, thus Reynolds’ education began. He knows whereof he speaks.

This learning curve must have been painful and arduous requiring a strong mind to survive and overcome. If he had twelve thousand pounds when he arrived in France he left without any. Twelve thousand pounds was a lot of money to go through in six years. He, therefore, arrived in England without any of the ready. He had to find his way out of the hole, what with a wife and offspring arriving frequently.

How autobiographical is the Mysteries? I think highly but it requires a lot of imagination and interpretation, and then you can’t be certain. It would appear that the two brothers Eugene and Richard Markham represent the two halves of a split personality. Richard is the naïve young sport who left England for France and came back as a variation of Eugene, this also plays into the de Sadian dichotomy of Justine and Juliette, virtue and vice. Thus viewing each half separately one arrives at the whole.

In the story Richard survives while Eugene/GeorgeMontague/Greenwood is killed off by an aggrieved victim. Thus virtue triumphs over vice reversing de Sade’s reverse understanding of life. That was in 1848. Does that mean that Reynolds lived the rest of his life in Richard’s shoes? Not as late as 1850 it doesn’t. According to his Chartist friends he was still full of questionable financial schemes.

Those schemes may very well have resembled the schemes of his characters and possible his alter ego Montague/Greenwood. If so, his alter ego was a much more successful schemer than he was. According to Dick Collins, who seems knowledgeable, but never gives the sources of his information, Reynolds was arrested in France and imprisoned in France for playing with loaded dice in Calais. The man certainly outlined the tricks of doctoring dice in the Mysteries, even with illustrations. Collins says that he met Susannah Pierson in prison in France. Whether that means that a very young Susannah was a visitor or a prisoner Collins doesn’t make clear. If she had been convicted of some malfeasance, then both she and Reynolds were partners in skirting the law.

Collins even makes a not implausible accusation that Reynolds was arrested for stealing jewels in order to pay his bill at Long’s Hotel in Bond Street. Reynolds’ has long passages that take place in Long’s Hotel in his novel Grace Darling or The Heroine of Fern Islands. His character Slapman Twill may have been his alter ego in this incident. At any rate Mr. Twill is arrested at Long’s restaurant for non-payment of bills and goes to King’s Bench prison much as Collins says Reynolds did.

And then Reynolds files for bankruptcy three times apparently having learned to take advantage of bankruptcy laws. He has the proprietor of the Dark House public house gloat that the bankruptcy laws were great as he had filed and was doing very nicely.

Thus as Reynolds roamed the lower and higher reaches of society he definitely lived in the lower until later in life. Even then he was probably not accepted in society because of his prison time as Richard Markham has a very difficult time living down his prison stay even though he was a dupe and innocent of the charges. Collins has him living in the lowest area of London, the Borough, at one time as well as other terrible locations.

One imagines Reynolds prowling the streets of these poverty stricken areas examining each and every side street until he became thoroughly familiar with the streets. This is especially evident in the Courts of London which can be very terrifying. Streets, buildings and inhabitants, Reynolds knew them all. He provides an accurate portrait of all aspects of London as it then existed.

I would like to close part III with an aside, that of the great plan of Reynolds’ novels, because all the novels seem to have a resemblance to Balzac’s Human Comedy. I am just sketchy here as I familiarize myself with Reynolds’ vast corpus. Reynold’s himself said the Mysteries of London and Court of London were one vast story. If so, then it appears that rather than two parts of the continuum there are three written out of order. Mysteries of London is actually Part three and it was written first. Mysteries of the Court of London is the second part written after both the first and last parts. Reynolds undertook to write The Mysteries of Old London or Days of Hogarth which portrays mid-eighteenth century London previous to the birth of George IV in the last two years of Mysteries of London.

The Court of London chronicles the doings of George IV during the Regency when Reynolds appears to have hated him for whatever reason. George IV died in 1830 just as Mysteries of London begins. Reynolds who was sixteen with George IV died then had actual memories of him as king.

So, between the three novels, Old London while not as long as the other two is not that short either, we have one long semi-historical novel of a hundred some years. Mysteries of London and Court of London are said to contain four and a half million words with perhaps a hundred-fifty to two hundred thousand for Old London so unraveling the mind of Reynolds which I believe is a worthy pursuit is a mighty project especially with all the side novels of further explication thrown in.

I doubt if I will be equal to the task but I hope my analysis is not an unworthy effort.

 

Part IV of Time Traveling with R.E. Prindle follows in which I will examine primarily the early novels Alfred de Rosann and Grace Darling and perhaps Master Timothy’s Bookcase