ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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Essays - Charles Reade

 

Buchanan wrote two reminiscences of Charles Reade, the first for the Pall Mall Gazette (16 April, 1884) under the title, ‘Personal Recollections of Charles Reade’, which was reprinted in A Look Round Literature in 1887. The second for the September, 1884 issue of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. The first piece did cause some hostile criticism in the Press, some of which I have included here. Charles Reade died on 11th April, 1884, and his obituary from The Era (published on 19th April) also carries a description of his funeral, which Buchanan attended.

 

From the Pall Mall Gazette - 16 April, 1884 -pp.1-2.

(Reprinted as ‘Charles Reade: A Souvenir’ in A Look Round Literature
(London: Ward and Downey, 1887 - pp.308-313).)

 

PERSONAL RECOLLECTIONS OF CHARLES READE.

BY MR. ROBERT BUCHANAN.

IT was in the summer of 1876 that I first made the acquaintance of Charles Reade, at a little dinner given by Mr. John Coleman, then manager of the Queen’s Theatre. The occasion was one especially interesting to me, as the great novelist (for great and in some respects unparalleled he will be found to be, when the time for his due appraisement comes) had expressed a desire to meet my sister-in-law, who, though still a very young girl in her teens, had risen into sudden distinction by the publication of the “Queen of Connaught”—a work attributed in several quarters to Mr. Reade himself. Pleasant beyond measure was that night’s meeting; pleasanter still the friendly intimacy which followed it, and lasted for years; for of all the many distinguished men that I have met, Charles Reade, when you knew him thoroughly, was one of the gentlest, sincerest, and most sympathetic. With the intellectual strength and bodily height of an Anak, he possessed the quiddity and animal spirits of Tom Thumb. He was learned, but wore his wisdom lightly, as became a true English gentleman of the old school. His manners had the stateliness of the last generation, such manners as I had known in the scholar Peacock, himself a prince of tale-tellers; and, to women especially, he had the grace and gallantry of the good old band of literary knights. Yet with all his courtly dignity he was as frank-hearted as a boy, and utterly without pretence. What struck me at once in him was his supreme veracity. Above all shams and pretences, he talked only of what he knew; and his knowledge, though limited in range, was large and memorable. At the period of our first acquaintance he was living at Albert Gate, with the bright and genial Mrs. Seymour as his devoted friend and housekeeper; and there, surrounded by his books of wonderful memoranda, he was ever happy to hold simple wassail with the few friends he loved. Gastronomically, his tastes were juvenile, and his table was generally heaped with sweets and fruits. A magnificent whist and chess player, he would condescend to spend whole evenings at the primitive game of “squales.” In these and all other respects, he was the least bookish, the least literary person that ever used a pen; indeed, if the truth must be told, his love for merely literary people was small, and he was consequently above all literary affectations. His keen insight went straight into a man’s real acquirements and real experience, apart from verbal or artistic clothing, and he was ever illustrating in practice the potent injunction of Goethe—

Greift nur hinein in’s volle Menschenleben!
Ein jeder lebt’s, nicht vielen ist’s bekannt,
Und wo ihr’s packt, da ist’s interessant!

His sympathy was for the living world, not for the world of mere ideas; and as his sympathy so was his religion—not a troubled, problem-haunted, querulous questioning of truths unrealized and unrealizable, but a simple, unpretending, humble, and faithful acquiescence in those divine laws which are written in the pages of Nature and on the human heart.
     He read few books, and abominated fine writing. I well remember his impatience when, taking up a novel of Ouida, and being pestered with a certain abominable iteration about “an Ariadne,” he sent the book flying across the room before he had reached the end of the first chapter. For the literature of pure imagination he cared little or nothing, perhaps not quite enough. Among the letters of his in my possession is one in which, referring to certain conversations we had had on the subject of poetry, he utters the following dicta, following them up with the charming playfulness which was his most pleasant characteristic:—
     “Even Tennyson, to my mind,” he says, “is only a prince of poetasters* (!). I think with the ancients, in whose view the Poetæ Majores were versifiers who could tell a great story in great verse and adorn it with great speeches and fine descriptions; and the Poetæ Minores were versifiers who could do all the rest just as well, but could not tell a great story. In short, I look on poetry as fiction with the music of words. But, divorced from fiction, I do not much value the verbal faculty, nor the verbal music. And I believe this is the popular instinct, too, and that a musical story-teller would achieve an incredible popularity. Reflechissez-y! Would have gone in for this myself long ago, but can only write doggerel. Example:—

You and Miss Jay
Hope to see my play:
     I hope so too.
Because—the day
You see my play,
     I shall see you!

Vive la poésie!—Yours ever very truly, READE.”

Here I may appropriately refer to his habit of signing with his surname only those letters which he reserved for intimate friends. In all his personal relations he was completely frank, charming, and gay-hearted. On the back of a photograph before me, taken at Margate, whither he had gone for the benefit of his health, he wrote as follows:—

     DEAR MISS JAY,—I enclose the benevolent Imbecile you say you require. It serves you right for not coming down to see me!—C. R.  All previous attempts were solidified vinegar. This is the reaction, no doubt!

     This was written not long before he encountered the great trouble of his later life, when the good and gracious friend who had made his home delightful to all who knew him was suddenly and cruelly taken away. “Seymour,” as he used to call her very often, possessed much of his own fine frankness of character, and knew and loved him to the last with beautiful friendship and devotion. From the blow of her loss he never quite rallied. His grief was pitiful to see, in so strong a man; but from that moment forward he turned his thoughts heavenward, accepting with noble simplicity and humility the full promise of the Christian faith. Fortunately, I think, for him, his intellect had never been speculative in the religious direction; he possessed the wisdom which to so many nowadays is foolishness, and was able, as an old man, to become as a little child.
     Any personal recollections of Charles Reade would be incomplete without some reference to his connection with the stage. From first to last he followed, with eager pertinacity, the will-o’-the-wisp of theatrical fame, descending into the arena to fight with wild beasts—among men who, neither in manhood nor in genius, had any right to be called his equals. Only in his latter days did he reap much pecuniary reward from the theatre, while to the very last he received scant respect from the ephemeral criticism of the day. But his love for the stage amounted to a passion, and more than once have I heard him say that he would rather earn five hundred pounds a year by writing plays than five thousand by writing novels. Unfortunately, he came upon a period when the dramatic art is without honour, and when the only standard of its success is commercial, and in his eagerness to meet halfway an uninstructed public—monstr’inform’ingenshorrendum—he had to call in the aid of the low comedian and the master carpenter. But if any reader would perceive how good work in this kind differs from bad, let him compare the literary workmanship of a play like “Never Too Late to Mend” or “The Wandering Heir” with any printed specimen of what is called in America the “nailed-up” drama, or set side by side with that by Charles Reade any other translation or adaptation of the French piece known as “The Courier of Lyons.” Even in his worst plays Charles Reade was a master of style.
     Far away from and above his achievements in the acting drama stand the works by which my dear and lamented friend first made his reputation. The time is not yet ripe for a fit judgment on these works; but I am quite certain that if a poll of living novelists were taken it would be found that a large majority of them recognize Charles Reade, as Walter Besant some time ago nobly and fearlessly recognized him, as their Master. Yet I read in your columns the other day that Trollope considered Reade “almost a genius,” and I am informed by the Observer that “to speak of the author of ‘Never Too Late to Mend’ and ‘Hard Cash’ as a man of genius would be an exaggeration.” “O sæclum insipiens et inficetum!” Trollope, whose art was the art of Count Smorltork plus the bathos of vestrydom, Trollope, who could write a book about the West Indies without putting into it one poetical thought or line, passes judgment on a literary giant and pronounces him a genius—“almost”! The Sunday newspaper, which would doubtless canonise the author of “John Inglesant,” measures this Colossus, and finds him of “a tall man’s height—no more”! Some of us, on the other hand, who are not to be daunted by bogus reputations, or to be awed by the idiocy of approven literary godhead, hold to our first faith that one man alone in our generation mastered the great craft of Homeric story-telling, and that this same man has created for us a type of womanhood which will live like flesh and blood when the heroines of Thackeray, Dickens, and George Eliot are relegated to the old curiosity shop of sawdust dolls. For my own part, I would rather have written “The Cloister and the Hearth” than half-a-dozen “Romolas,” and I would rather have been Charles Reade, great, neglected, and misunderstood in his generation, than the pretentious and pedagogic Talent which earned the tinsel crown of contemporary homage, to be speedily dethroned, and, in the good time that is coming for Genius, justly forgotten.

     * This remark must be taken cum grano salis, and only in reference to the argument which follows. Reade was a warm admirer of the poet Laureate.—R. B.

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The Edinburgh Evening News (21 April, 1884 - p.2)

OCCASIONAL NOTES.
BY A LONDON CORRESPONDENT

     Poor George Eliot! Scorned by Carlyle and Ruskin, reviled by the Athenæum for having injected pure literature with “jejune science,” accused by Mr Swinburne of manufacturing wax models, assured by another critic that she has “narrowly escaped” becoming as great a novelist as Jane Austin, she must now cower beneath the contempt of Mr Robert Buchanan, who bids her descend from the throne of fiction to make room for no less a personage than—Mr Charles Reade! “I would rather,” says Mr Buchanan, “have been Charles Reade, great, neglected, and misunderstood in his generation, than the pretentious and pedagogic Talent which earned the tinsel crown of contemporary homage, to be speedily dethroned, and, in the good time that is coming for Genius, justly forgotten.” It is well that George Eliot is no longer here to experience the agony of finding herself despised and rejected by so great a novelist, dramatist, poet and critic as Mr Buchanan. Fortunately she is cast out in good company, for Thackeray and Dickens share with her Mr Buchanan’s disapprobation. Mr Charles Reade, it appears, was the one man of our age who “mastered the great craft of Homeric story-telling,” and has created a type of womanhood which will live when “the heroines of Thackeray, Dickens, and George Eliot are relegated to the old curiosity shop of sawdust dolls.” It is hard to conceive a quainter bracketting than this of “the heroines of Dickens and George Eliot”—as who should say “the heroines of Buchanan and William Shakespeare.” Mr Buchanan, having first attacked and subsequently imitated Mr Swinburne in poetry, has apparently determined to try the Swinburnian manner in criticism, and has succeeded in reproducing the violence of expression without the redeeming insight. As he himself said the other day, it is well that bad taste is not a penal offence, otherwise he could scarcely escape a sentence of three years’ hard labour.

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The Stage (25 April, 1884 - p.13)

     The memoirs of recent dramatists so suddenly taken away from us have as a rule been singularly meagre and inaccurate. They have evidently not been written by those best acquainted with the daily life and habits of the men they profess to discuss. For instance, Mr. Robert Buchanan, who, on his own showing, had but the slightest acquaintance with Charles Reade, takes the trouble to contribute a memoir to The Pall Mall Gazette for the purpose of telling the public how Miss Harriett Jay was introduced to this kindly old gentleman, and of informing us that her novel, “The Queen of Connaught,” was attributed by someone to Charles Reade. It will probably pain the relatives of this good and affectionate gentleman very much to see all the little trivial details of private association hashed up for the sake of a misleading newspaper article. We want to hear more of Charles Reade than that he sent Miss Jay his photograph when he was at Margate, and dashed off some doggerel verses to show his contempt for poetry.
     On the last question of Charles Reade’s dislike for poetry, Mr. Buchanan is, unfortunately, but unintentionally, misinformed. Only a few months before his death Mr. Reade wrote to one of the best known composers of “poems for recitation” congratulating him on his success, urging him to work the new field with energy, and suggesting subjects for future treatment. “Men are too prone to think that poetry belongs to the past; but I cannot think so.” Thus wrote Charles Reade to a “poetaster,” and it certainly does not look as if he despised the application of metre to the stirring events of the day. On the contrary, he had the highest admiration for it. Amongst the good works done by the pen of Charles Reade, it has not been recorded how he saved the lives of the Stauntons and of Alice Rhodes, who were condemned to death by Mr. Justice Hawkins for their complicity in the Penge murders. A few hours after that terrible scene at midnight in the Central Criminal Court, when a husband and wife, two brothers, and a mistress of one of the brothers were condemned to death, a very powerful description of the scene occurred in the columns of The Daily Telegraph. This so affected Charles Reade, who had carefully followed the case, that he took the matter up, and, aided by the powerful pen of Mr. Edwin Arnold, succeeded in procuring freedom for Alice Rhodes and a life sentence of penal servitude for the Stauntons instead of execution. It was in this case that Mr. Edward Clarke, the barrister, so distinguished himself by his eloquent defence of Alice Rhodes.

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The Northern Warder and Bi-weekly Courier and Argus (29 April, 1884 - p.7)

     ROBERT BUCHANAN ON CHARLES READE.—Mr Robert Buchanan among his many quarrels, seems to have a galling disagreement with the English public. He has come forward to prove that Charles Reade was a genius, and finds it necessary to say that Reade’s characters “will live like flesh and blood when the heroines of Thackeray, Dickens, and George Eliot are relegated to the old curiosity shop of sawdust dolls.” This is surely a recklessly extravagant statement. Such greatness as Charles Reade possessed was independent of the greatness of others. It is not necessary that other reputations should perish in order that his may become the more sound. Mr Buchanan says that “there is a good time coming for genius,” when the present popular idols will be “justly forgotten.” Is this intended as a good word for himself? Mr Buchanan has had as many chances as most men, and has done some splendid work. If he is not now so popular as in days past, he should ask himself whether he is not more to blame for that fact than the readers of books. It is a great mistake for an author to affect to despise the public to which he appeals, the public having a very effective method of avenging such slights.—Echo.

Back to Essays.

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From Harper’s New Monthly Magazine - September, 1884 (Vol 69, Issue 412, pp. 600-606).

reade02

CHARLES READE.
From the painting bequeathed by Mr. Reade to Messrs. Harper and Brothers.

 

CHARLES READE:

A PERSONAL REMINISCENCE.

 

19 ALBERT GATE, Knightsbridge, London, is one of a row of old-fashioned houses facing southward across a cab- rank to the opening of Sloane Street, and northward to the ride in Hyde Park. It is rather a gloomy-looking dwelling, with a narrow slip of garden in front, and a longer and broader slip in the rear; but within it has cozy possibilities, and from the garden in the rear one can watch the long procession of fashion coming and going any afternoon during the season. Along the piece of wall beneath the front railing there used to run, painted in huge white letters, the curious inscription:

NABOTH’S VINEYARD,

the name given to the house (when its very existence was threatened by a bill surreptitiously smuggled into Parliament) by its owner, Charles Reade.
     Here for many years Charles Reade lived, studied, wrote, and entertained the few friends he loved. Dreary and mean as the place looked from without, it was pleasant enough inside, the pleasantest room of all being the big study, or literary workshop, in the rear, carpeted, and full of great mirrors reaching from floor to ceiling, in front of which were India- rubber trees in pots; adorned with two or three paintings (the most noticeable, at a cursory glance, one of a pierrot rescuing an infant from a fire), scarlet curtains, and pieces of marquetry; and opening through glass doors on the quiet back garden. At a large writing-table close to the fire-place and facing the window sat the famous novelist, with great books of memoranda at his feet, and by his side plated buckets brimming with correspondence. It was here, too, that he generally dined, or held high wassail on festive occasions; and light and cheery it was indeed when the curtains were drawn, and the innumerable wax candles, used in lieu of lamps or gas, were burning on every point of vantage. From this sanctum sanctorum went forth the copious correspondence, the fulminations against injustice, the epistolary diatribes, which made the name of Charles Reade a household word. The stranger, entering it in fear and trembling, and expecting perhaps to find a truculent and savage figure, was soon relieved on perceiving a loosely clad and mild-mannered elderly gentleman, with soft brown ox-like eyes, gray hair, and a placid smile, ever eager to help him if he had a grievance, and ready to advise him, in any case, with old-fashioned kindness and courtly grace. But if the new-comer were a friend, one of the initiated, the brown eyes would become beaming, the smile merry, and the gentle host would show himself as what he was in reality—a man with the great heart and simple tastes of a school-boy, ripe for any sport that was innocent and merry, and content “to fleet the time carelessly, as they did in the golden world.” He would refresh himself, too, like a school-boy, with cakes of all kinds, cocoa-nuts, and sweet confections manufactured by Duclos. “Charles,” his loving housekeeper would cry, “leave those sweets alone—you’ll make yourself ill.” “Quite right, Seymour,” he would reply, munching a bonbon with infinite relish; “take them away.” He had not even arrived at the point of culture, or indigestion, which desiderates dry champagne, but was quite a young lady in his appreciation of saccharine vintages. He abominated tobacco. His idea of an orgy was a feast of sugar-plums. His ideal of feminine perfection was a fresh young English girl. One of his favorites, known to him and others as “The Queen of Connaught,” complained to him on a certain occasion that the sun was spoiling her complexion. “Not at all, my dear,” he answered; “you look like a nice ripe pear.”
     As I think of him now, when the grave has just closed over him, and when he has done forever with all the misconceptions of the world, what lingers with me most is the picture of him in these simple and child-like moods. His sweetness of disposition, his kindly frankness, his love of all that is sunny and innocent in human nature, his utter absence of literary arrogance, were qualities peculiar to him, and unique in a generation of shams and pretenses. He had little or no interest in mere literature or merely literary people, but his fascination for all forms of genuine life, from the highest to the lowest, was deep and abiding. What he sought invariably to get out of a man was, not what he fancied or what he dreamed, but what he knew. Supremely veracious and sincere himself, he hated falsehood and insincerity in others, and that soft brown eye of his was lynx-like in detecting a prig or a bore. It was easy enough to tell when he was bored: he bottled himself up, so to speak, and presented a countenance of serene yet dogged vacuity; and I have known him to sit thus, to all intents and purposes dumb as a mole and deaf as a post, for a whole evening together. I am afraid I must add that this demeanor invariably thawed before a pretty face. Under that charm all his ice melted, and he showed himself as he was—delightful, a gray-haired boy.
     The occasion of our first meeting was peculiarly interesting to me. A near relation of mine, Miss Harriet Jay, then a very young girl in her teens, had published an anonymous novel, The Queen of Connaught, which had been attributed in many quarters to no less a person than Charles Reade himself. Far from resenting the blunder, and quick to perceive the fruit of genuine and unique experience, Charles Reade had evinced the greatest curiosity concerning the real author; and so it came about that an introduction took place at the rooms of a genial actor and manager, and a life-long friend of Reade’s, Mr. John Coleman. It was a merry meeting, the first of many, and from that time forth the young authoress and the famous author were close friends. A little later, when we proposed to dramatize The Queen of Connaught for the Olympic Theatre, Charles Reade informed us that he had once conceived the idea of doing it himself, and showed us, pasted in one of his enormous Indexes, a long review which he had cut from the Spectator, and indorsed in his own handwriting with these words, “Good for a play.” When our manuscript was ready, and accepted at the theatre, we took it down to “Naboth’s Vineyard” and read it to Naboth; and I well remember how, at a certain situation in the fourth act, he leaped to his feet, clapped his hands, and insisted on “toasting” that situation in a bumper of champagne. Nor was this all. When the rehearsals began he came down to the theatre more than once, and gave us the benefit of his advice and great experience, even to the extent of personally rehearsing a “terrific struggle” between the hero and the villain of the piece. The piece ran over a couple of months, and was succeeded by a drama of his own, The Scuttled Ship.
    
Something may be said here, not inappropriately, of his connection with the stage. Dramatic writing was his hobby; he loved it with all his heart and soul; and he loved it none the less because he was again and again defeated in his efforts to attain success. It was George Eliot’s ambition to be recognized as a poet; it was Charles Reade’s to triumph as a dramatist. In neither case was the wish completely granted. When the drama of Never too Late to Mend was first produced, it was a comparative failure, and it was only in after-years that it became successful, and repaid its author for the labor and anxiety bestowed upon it. When Reade essayed theatrical management for the purpose of bringing out his own pieces, he invariably lost large sums of money. His one great financial success came late in life, in Drink, a free adaptation of L’Assommoir; and so little was this success anticipated that a couple of days before the production, when I called upon him, he prophesied the dreariest of failures. “Yes, Charles,” echoed Mrs. Seymour, who was sitting by, “I wish to Heaven you had never touched the thing.” When the night of production came, his faithful friend and housekeeper was too unwell to be present. Before the curtain rose I met him in the theatre lobby. He was walking wearily, looking very worn and old, and when I wished his new venture “godspeed” he shook his head sadly. “Seymour is too ill to come. It is the only ‘first night’ of mine at which she has not been present; so I don’t look for good luck, and indeed I don’t much care.” Contrary to all expectations, Drink made an instantaneous popular success; but, alas! it brought little or no joy to its adapter, for the illness of his faithful adviser and companion was only the beginning of the end.
     The reader of Harper’s Magazine, though familiar with the name and works of Reade, may require to be reminded that lie lived and died a bachelor, and that the Mrs. Seymour of whom I have more than once spoken was his housekeeper for many years. When he began to write plays she was a popular actress, and thus they were brought together; and presently he went to reside with her, her husband (who was then living), and two other friends and lodgers. Gradually the little circle thinned; its members died off one by one, till Mrs. Seymour, a widow, was left to keep house for only one survivor, Charles Reade. Their relationship, from first to last, was one of pure and sacred friendship, and the world would be better, in my opinion, if such friendships were more common. Bright, intelligent, noble-minded, and generous to a fault, Laura Seymour deserved every word of the passionate eulogy which Charles Reade composed upon her death, and had engraved upon her tombstone. She was a little woman, bright-eyed, vivacious, and altogether charming. In all literary matters she was his first adviser and final court of appeal; but, like himself, she was very impulsive, and occasionally wrong-headed. She had the best and finest of all virtues—charity. Wherever there was poverty and suffering, her purse was as open as her heart. She loved dumb animals, dogs especially. In the pleasant days that are gone I used to drive down to Albert Gate a certain Pickwickian pony of mine, christened Jack. On his first appearance at the gate, nothing would content the good Seymour but that I should take him out of the trap, release him of his harness, and escort him through the house to the back garden. “Poor fellow!” she cried; “do bring him in, and let him graze on the lawn.” This would hardly have done, as Jack was a soft sybarite already, and too plump, moreover, to get through the lobby without accidents. Mrs. Seymour relieved her kind heart by sending him out some cakes and  bread, to which he was very partial; and ever after that day, when Jack pulled up at the Vineyard, be sure he had his treat of something nice, given by that kindly and gentle hand.
     In his personal habits Reade was exceedingly eccentric. For example, he had a mania for buying all sorts of flotsam and jetsam, with the idea that they might “come in useful.” On one occasion he purchased a stuffed horse’s head, thinking he might utilize it in one of his plays, and placed it in his lumber-room, where it soon became moth-eaten. On another, he invested in a large number of knives and forks, which he secreted away, thinking to produce them afterward triumphantly. “Seymour,” he explained to a confidant, “thinks of giving a party; so I’ve purchased this cutlery in case she may run short.” He was troubled with corns, and wore enormous boots. We found him one morning with a whole  waste-paper basket full of new boots, which lie had ordered wholesale, after a pattern that took his fancy. His gingham umbrella would have delighted Mrs. Gamp. Altogether, his whims and oddities were a constant care to Mrs. Seymour, who rallied him mercilessly about them. In his play of Jealousy, produced at the Olympic Theatre, there was a scene where one of the actresses, supposed to be a danseuse, had to hide behind a very high screen. “Do you think, my dear,” he said to the actress rehearsing the part, “you could show the agility of the danseuse by lifting your foot and letting foot and ankle pass in sight of the audience, close to the top of the screen?” but this bit of gymnastics was declined as simply impossible. “Then, my dear, we’ll have a false leg made, and at the proper moment you will work it, gracefully and rapidly, as I shall direct.” It is scarcely necessary to add that this realistic notion was not carried out.
     I am disposed to think that Mrs. Seymour’s influence had much to do in sweetening and softening the character of Charles Reade; that it was altogether a benign and beautiful influence, to which the world, however indirectly, owes much. A photograph of Reade, taken when he was about five-and-thirty, shows a sternness of outline and truculence of expression which afterward completely changed; it represents, indeed, a face of extraordinary power, but no gentleness. Another photograph in my possession, taken at Margate in 1878, pictures the same face, softened by the touch of time; the face of a “benevolent imbecile,” he himself playfully calls it in a brief note upon the back. I have no doubt whatever that his benevolence was greatly fostered by his warm-hearted companion; but be that as it may, he was, when I knew him, the gentlest of men—like our friend Boanerges, all fire and thunder in the pulpit, all kindliness and sweetness at his own fireside. The fact is, his style was a thorough-bred, and often ran away with him, or, when he sought to drive it mildly, kicked the subject to pieces. He was the Boythorn of literature, only the big speeches and terrible invectives were not spoken, but set down on paper. Yet he looked on human nature with the eye of a lover. He too had a passion for dumb animals. Not long before his death he filled the garden with tame hares. A noble deed stirred him like a trumpet; great as his hate for wrong-doing, was his compassion for suffering. Over and above all was his natural piety, which bound his days each to each as with a chain of gold.
     In these days of problem-guessing, when the simple religion of our fathers is put aside and labelled  “anthropomorphic,” when the mathematician is rampant, and the gigman ostentatiously spells God with a little “g,” it was refreshing to meet with a man who found the old-fashioned creed all-sufficing. Perhaps Charles Reade’s intellect was not speculative, perhaps it had exhausted all its speculation in the “Sturm und Drang” period of early youth; but whether or not, his latter mood was one of untroubled faith in an All-Wise and All-Merciful Father. He believed in science, as all sane men do, but he clung to religion, as all wise men must. He was not, until the very last, a church-goer, and he had no regard for dogmas, however domineering; but he was deeply and unobtrusively pious in his heart of hearts. Remembering what he was throughout all his days, I think that last epitaph of his, composed for his grave-stone when he already felt the finger of Death upon him, one of the most touching things that have ever been written by a strong man. It was as follows:

HERE LIE,
BY THE SIDE OF HIS BELOVED FRIEND
THE MORTAL REMAINS OF
CHARLES READE,
DRAMATIST, NOVELIST, AND JOURNALIST.

HIS LAST WORDS TO MANKIND
ARE ON THIS STONE.

     I hope for a resurrection, not from any power in nature, but from the will of the Lord God Omnipotent, who made nature and me. He created man out of nothing, which nature could not. He can restore man from the dust, which nature can not.
     And I hope for holiness and happiness in a future life, not for anything I have said or done in this body, but from the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ.
     He has promised his intercession to all who seek it, and he will not break his word: that intercession, once granted, can not be rejected: for he is God, and his merits infinite: a man’s sins are but human and finite.
     “Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out.” “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous; and he is the propitiation for our sins.”

It is doubtful if any other living man could have composed the above, clear and commonplace as it may sound; it has all the wisdom of supreme simplicity, all the science of perfect expression.
     Charles Reade’s literary life embraces a period of little more than thirty years. When we first met, in 1876, I was years younger than he had been when he published his first book. “I envy you, Buchanan,” he once said to me; “you might lie by and rest silent for ten long years, and still have a glorious time of work before you.” His conviction was that a literary man, especially a novelist, was scarcely ripe enough for important utterance before he reached the forties. I cited the cases of certain famous poets. “Oh, that is different,” he replied, with his sly smile; “poetry requires neither knowledge nor experience, you know—it is nonsense pure and simple.” Yet the great poets, he continued, were qualified by gray hairs: Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, had a long foreground of life for their masterpieces. Speaking generally, he shared Carlyle’s prejudice about verse-poetry. Of all the modern singers, Scott was his favorite, “because he could tell a great story.” Of course my friend’s poetical tastes were old-fashioned, and his canons in criticism not far in advance of those of Dr. Johnson, whom, by-the-way, he particularly admired. There is something to be said, however, even for his point of view. Modern verse-writers have alienated the public, because they have imitated the Eastern Spinning Dervish, lost in rapt contemplation of his own navel, or inner consciousness, forgetting life with all its endless humors, its pathos, and its infinite variety of theme.
     He was a great reader of novels, blue-books, and the newspapers. Of criticism he had the same opinion as George Henry Lewes, who once wrote: “The good effected by criticism is infinitesimal, the evil incalculable.” It was quite natural, therefore, that such a man should be the target for all sorts of attacks. The general idea of him is that he was morbidly sensitive in such matters. He was nothing of the kind; but he was pugnacious, and when roused, dearly loved to flourish the shillalah. Of course he did not always see the joke when his good name was filched away, his character maligned, and his patient work undervalued, as very often happened. Yet, like all strong fighting men, he was magnanimous. I know of one instance where the widow of a literary opponent—a man who had assaulted him very cruelly—reaped the full measure of his forgiveness, and his charity. He was, as we all know, litigious, less because of any infirmity of temper than because he was a brilliant lawyer and advocate, invariably successful in conducting his own cases. He was proud, and justly proud, of his power as a publicist and journalist, for on more than one occasion his pen had opened the prison door, and his voice appalled the soul of an unjust judge. The good he did in this way lives after him; the world is freer, justice is more alert, innocence feels safer, through the sunlight reflected back on our jurisprudence from the mirror of Charles Reade.
     The death of Mrs. Seymour, which took place not long after the production of Drink at the Princess’s Theatre, was a blow from which he never entirely rallied.. I was in Ireland at the time, and when I came to London the funeral was over, and Reade was alone in the desolate house. Never shall I forget his look as he sat, a broken man, at the writing-table, surrounded by likenesses, paintings and colored photographs, of his beloved friend. In all of them, however unfaithful to the original, he found something that suggested her loving face. He could talk of nothing, think of nothing, but her whom he had lost. His grief was pitiful to witness. In his desolation his godson, Mr. Liston, himself a man of scholarship and fine attainments, came to live with and comfort him, doing a thousand gracious things, working with him, reading with him, to help him in his great trouble. But it soon became clear that to reside permanently in the old house was to keep the wound green and open, and as speedily as possible he removed to Shepherd’s Bush, taking a small house next door to the one occupied by his brother. He still continued, however, to visit 19 Albert Gate for a few hours every day, though his most frequent pilgrimage was to the quiet churchyard at Willesden, where Laura Seymour was lying. He eased his overladen heart in constant charities done in her name; found out her pensioners, of whom there were many, and helped them for her sake. Whenever he gave a gift of money it was given “from Laura Seymour and Charles Reade.” She was with him in the spirit still, helping him as of old, and sanctifying his life. As time wore on he recovered a little of his old power of work, but his power of human enjoyment was gone forever. “I have done with this world,” he said. He lived to write another novel and to produce another play (written in collaboration with Mr. Henry Pettitt), but in both cases it was clear that the busy hand had lost its cunning. In the winter of 1883 he went to Cannes, where he finished his last novel, A Perilous Secret. With the hand of Death upon him, he struggled homeward, fluttered as far as Calais, where he rested, moribund, arrived finally at Shepherd’s Bush, wrecked in mind and body, and there, within a few days, painlessly passed away, in the seventieth year of his age.
     It was a dark, showery day in April last when they carried him to his last resting-place, beside his life-long  companion, in Willesden church-yard. Only a few mourners were gathered round the grave, but those few loved him, and were deeply moved. His only surviving brother, his godson Mr. Liston, his old friend John Coleman, with whom he had had many a dramatic experience, and Davenport Coleman, attached and faithful in death as in life, were among the number; there, too, was George Augustus Sala, who never wrote ungenerously of any man, and whose name is a synonym for good-fellowship and kindliness of heart. As we stood and listened to the beautiful burial service (old- fashioned, in the fashion of the loveliness that is stronger than death), and saw the flower-covered coffin lowered into the grave, the sun shone out in answer to the words of immortal promise, and the light sparkled on the trees, and the world brightened as for resurrection. “O grave, where is thy victory! O death, where is thy sting!” It was the last scene of a noble play, the end of a beautiful and honorable life. When we turned away and left him, we seemed to hear a voice crying, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant,” for truly he had earned his rest.
     In one of the most charming of his Roundabout Papers, which opens with a description of a London suburb very early in the morning, Thackeray took occasion to remark that his readers would no doubt wonder that he was awake at so early an hour. “The fact is,” he explained, “I have never been able to sleep since the Saturday Review said I was no gentleman.” This delicious piece of humor was vividly recalled to my mind by some of the obituary comments on the novelist just departed. He, good man, slept soundly enough, never again to be baited by the Bottoms of contemporary criticism, and it would have disturbed his equanimity little to have read, even during his lifetime, that he was neither a “gentleman” nor a “genius.” To us who knew him, who perceived both his gentleness and his genius, who mourned in him the last of a race of literary giants, and who believe that his name is written on the rock, and must endure, it was nevertheless somewhat painful to perceive that the stupidity which pursued him during his lifetime had little or no respect for his memory even while it was yet green;

“For o’er him, ere he scarce be cold,
Begin the scandal and the cry.”

The scandal of a slipshod criticism, the cry of all the purblind talents, which was summed up with painful directness in some verses contributed by Mr. William Archer to the Pall Mall Gazette—verses as remarkable, I am bound to say, for their old-fashioned literary power as for their obliquity of literary vision. In Mr. Archer’s estimate, or epitaph, Charles Reade was a genius manqué

“A Quixote full of fire misplaced,
A social savior run to waste. . . .
Unskilled to reach the root of things,
He spent his strength on bickerings;
In controversies small and great
Would dogmatize and fulminate,
Till ‘Hold, enough!’ the people cried,
Converted—to the other side!. . . .
For, gauge his merit as you will,
’Tis ‘manner makes the classic’ still,
And he who rests in silence here
Was but a copious pamphleteer.”

     Fortunately this sweeping censure trenches on matter of fact, and can so far be met by an appeal to popular experience. Is it true, then, that on all or any of the great topics handled by Charles Reade the public sided against him? or is it true, on the other hand, that he really did convert the public to his own side, and so redress innumerable wrongs? The answer may be given without hesitation. On the question of prison reform, of the lunacy laws, of copyright in plays and books, of criminal procedure, he appealed to the great English people, and invariably triumphed. But the works in which he made his immortal appeals are not pamphlets; they are masterpieces of realistic imagination. It is as true to say of him that he was only a “copious pamphleteer” as it was to say of Thackeray that he was no gentleman, of Dickens that he was only a cockney humorist, of Shelley that he was merely a transcendentalist, of Wordsworth that he had no    “form,” and of Shakespeare that he had no “style,” all which weighty assertions have been made within man’s memory by the criticism that is contemporary, or by the perversity which is “not for an age, but for all time.”
     To tell the truth, Charles Reade knew little of that art which is called “humoring one’s reputation,” and which in our England has enabled little men to sit in the great places, and mediocre men to reap the honors of ephemeral godhead. A little talent, a great deal of reticence, a spice of coterie glory, plus a large amount of public ignorance, soon constitute a bogus reputation, which resembles the bogus residences run up by speculative builders, where everything is perfectly finished to the eye, in admirable taste and temper, but where nothing, in the long-run, will stand wind and water. The “manners make the classic,” says Mr. Archer, and the manners decidedly make the bogus reputation. From the time of Ben Jonson to that of Pope, from the time of Pope to that of Samuel Johnson, from the time of Johnson to that of Crabbe and Gifford, your bogus reputation has flourished exceedingly for a little season, to slip down ultimately upon sandy foundations.
     But when all is said and done, the style is the man, and by it the man lives or dies. Because the style or manners of Charles Reade, projected into books, preserves for us one of the most lovable and love-compelling personalities of this or any time, we who knew the master can smile at the mistakes of the literary critic and the epitaph-writer, and safely leave the verdict to a near or remote posterity. For the rest, it is not my present office to criticise, or even to protest. I have merely set down, to the best of my ability, a few personal sketches of the man in his habit as he lived. I know him to have been good and great. A man of genius, a true servant of the public, a faithful friend, and a humble Christian, he leaves a precious memory, and works which the world will not willingly let die.

_____

 

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