I knew Charles Reade in England far back in "the days that are no more,"
and dined with him at the Garrick Club on the evening before I left
London for New York in 1860, when he gave me parting words of good
advice and asked me to write to him often. Then he added, "I am very
sorry you are going away, my dear boy; but perhaps you are doing a good
thing for yourself in getting out of this God-forsaken country. If I
were twenty years younger, and enjoyed the sea as you do, I might go
with you; but, if travel puts vitality into some men and kills others, I
should be one of the killed. What is one man's food is another's
He was my senior by more than twenty years, and no man that I have known
well was more calculated to inspire love and respect among his friends.
To know him personally, after only knowing him through his writings and
his tilts with those with whom he had "a crow to pick," was a
revelation. He had the reputation of being always "spoiling for a
fight," and the most touchy, crusty, and aggressive author of his time,
surpassing in this respect even Walter Savage Landor. But, though his
trenchant pen was sometimes made to do almost savage work, it was
generally in the chivalric exposure of some abuse or in the effort to
redress some grievous wrong. Then indeed he was fired with righteous
indignation. The cause had to be a just one, however, before he did
battle in its behalf, for no bold champion of the right ever had more
sterling honesty and sincerity in his character, or more common sense
and less quixotism.
His placid and genial manner and amiable characteristics in his
every-day home-life presented a striking contrast to his irritability
and indignation under a sense of injury; for whenever he considered
himself wronged or insulted his wrath boiled up with the suddenness of a
squall at sea. He resented a slight, real or imaginary, with unusual
outspokenness and vigor, and said, "I never forgive an injury or an
insult." But in this he may have done himself injustice. Generally, he
was one of the most sympathetic and even lovable of men, and his pure
and resolute manhood appeared in its truest light to those who knew him
While genial in disposition, he could not be called either mirthful or
jovial, and so could neither easily turn any unpleasant incident off
with a joke or be turned off by one. He needed a little more of the
easy-going good humor and freedom from anxiety that fat men are
popularly supposed to possess to break the force of collisions with the
world. Had he been more of an actor and less of a student in the drama
of life, he would have been less sensitive.
His conscientiousness and honesty of purpose were really admirable; and
rather than break a contract or disappoint any one to whom he had made a
promise he would subject himself to any amount of inconvenience. For
example, he would, whenever necessary, retire to Oxford and write
against time in order to have his manuscript ready for the printer when
wanted. Much, too, as he disliked burning the midnight oil or any kind
of night-work, and the strain that artificial light imposed upon his
eyes, he would write late in his rooms, or read up on subjects he was
writing about in the reading-room in the Radcliffe Library building till
it closed at ten p.m. He had, it will be seen, a high sense of duty, and
"business before pleasure" was a precept he never neglected.
In personal appearance Charles Reade, without being handsome, was
strongly built and fine-looking. He was about six feet in height,
well proportioned, and without any noticeable
physical peculiarity. His head was well set on his shoulders, and,
though not unusually small, might have been a trifle larger without
marring the symmetry of his figure.
His features were not massive, but prominent, strong, and regular, and
his large, keen, grayish-brown eyes were the windows of his mind,
through which he looked out upon the world with an expressive, eager,
and inquiring gaze, and through which those who conversed with him could
almost read his thoughts before he uttered them. He had a good broad
forehead, well-arched eyebrows, and straight, dark-brown hair, parted at
the side, which, like his entirely unshaven beard, he wore short until
late in life. In his dress and manner he was rather négligé than
precise, and he bestowed little thought on his personal appearance or
what Mrs. Grundy might say. Taking him all in all, the champion of James
Lambert looked the lion-hearted hero that he was.
In his personal habits and tastes he was always simple, quiet, regular,
and he was strictly temperate. He had no liking for dissipation of any
kind. He found his pleasure in his work, as all true workers in the
pursuit for which they are best fitted always do. The proper care he
took of himself accounted in part for his well-developed muscular system
and his good health until within a few years of his death,
notwithstanding his studious and sedentary life.
Among literary men he had few intimates, and he was not connected with
any clique of authors or journalists. He thought this was one reason why
the London reviewers—whom he once styled "those asses the
critics"—were so unfriendly toward him. He was not of their set, and
some of them regarded him as a sort of literary Ishmael, who had his
hand raised against all his contemporaries, a quarrelsome and
cantankerous although very able man, and therefore to be ignored or sat
down upon whenever possible. He once said, "I don't know a man on the
press who would do me a favor. The press is a great engine, of course,
but its influence is vastly overrated. It has the credit of leading
public opinion, when it only follows it; and look at the
rag-tag-and-bobtail that contribute to it. Even the London 'Times' only
lives for a day. My books have made their way in spite of the press."
Speaking of publishers, he said, "They want all the fat, and they all
lie about their sales. Unless you have somebody in the press-room to
watch, it is almost impossible to find out how many copies of a book
they print. Then there is a detestable fashion about publishers. I had
to fight a very hard battle to get the public to take a novel published
by Trübner, simply because he was not known as a novel-publisher; but I
was determined not to let Bentley or any of his kidney have all the fat
Trübner, I may mention, published for him on commission, and under this
arrangement he manufactured his own books and assumed all risks.
In the sense of humor and quick perception of the ludicrous he was
somewhat deficient, and he was too passionately in earnest and too
matter-of-fact about everything ever to attempt a joke, practical or
otherwise. Life to him was always a serious drama, calling for tireless
vigilance; and he watched all the details of its gradual unfolding with
constant anxiety and care, in so far as it concerned himself.
His love for the glamour of the stage led him often to the theatre; but
whenever he saw anything "murdered" there, especially one of his own
plays, it incensed him, and sometimes almost to fury. He loved
music,—not, as he said, the bray of trumpets and the squeak of fiddles,
but melody; and occasionally, seated at a piano, he sang, in a voice
sweet and low and full of pathos, some tender English ditty.
Charles Reade had a real talent for hard work, not that occasional
exclusive devotion to it during the throes of composition to which
Balzac gave himself up night and day to an extent that utterly isolated
him from the world for the time being, but steady, systematic, willing
labor,—a labor, I might say, of love, for he never begrudged it,—which
began every morning, when nothing special interfered with it, after a
nine-o'clock breakfast and continued until late in the afternoon. He was
too practical and methodical to work by fits and starts. Generally he
laid down his pen soon after four p.m.; but often he continued writing
till it was time to dress for dinner, which he took either at home or at
the Garrick Club, as the spirit moved him, except when he dined out,
which was not very often,—for, although he was most genial and social
in a quiet way among his intimates, he had no fondness for general
society or large dinner-parties. Yet his town residence, at No. 6 Bolton
Row, was not only at the West End, but in Mayfair, the best part of it;
and, although a bachelor to the end of his days, he kept house. He
afterwards resided at No. 6 Curzon Street, also in Mayfair, and then
took a house at No. 2 Albert Terrace, Knightsbridge, but gave it up not
long before his death, which occurred in Blomfield Terrace, Shepherd's
Bush, a London suburb.
"This capacity, this zest of yours for steady work," I once remarked to
him, "almost equals Sir Walter Scott's. With your encyclopædic,
classified, and indexed note-books and scrap-books, you are one of the
wonders of literature."
"Well," he replied, "these are the tools of my trade, and the time and
labor I spend on them are well invested." Then he went on to say of
literary composition, "Genius without labor, we all know, will not keep
the pot boiling. But I doubt whether one may not put too much labor into
his work as well as too little, and spend too much time in polishing.
Rough vigor often hits the nail better than the most studied and
polished sentences. It doesn't do to write above the heads or the tastes
of the people. I make it a rule to put a little good and a little bad
into every page I write, and in that way I am likely to suit the taste
of the average reader. The average reader is no fool, neither is he an
embodiment of all the knowledge, wit, and wisdom in the world."
He valued success as a dramatic author more highly than as a novelist,
and was always yearning for some great triumph on the stage. In this
respect he was like Bulwer Lytton, who once said to me, "I think more of
my poems and 'The Lady of Lyons' and 'Richelieu' than of all my novels,
from 'Pelham' to 'What will he do with it?'" (which was the last he had
then written). "A poet's fame is lasting, a novelist's is comparatively
ephemeral." Moved by a similar sentiment, Reade once said, "The most
famous name in English literature and all literature is a dramatist's;
and what pygmies Fielding and Smollett, and all the modern novelists,
from Dickens, the head and front of them, down to that milk-and-water
specimen of mediocrity, Anthony Trollope, seem beside him!"
He had little taste for poetry, because of his strong preference for
prose as a vehicle of thought and expression. He, however, greatly
admired Byron, Shelley, and Scott, and paid a passing compliment to
Swinburne, except as to the too fiery amatory ardor of his first poems;
but he considered Tennyson, with all his polish, little better than a
versifier, and said his plays of "Dora" and "The Cup" would have been
"nice enough as spectacles without words." For those great masters of
prose fiction and dramatic art, Victor Hugo and Dumas père, he had
unbounded admiration, and of the former in particular he always spoke
with enthusiasm as the literary giant of his age, and to him,
notwithstanding his extravagances, assigned the first place among
literary Frenchmen. Dumas he ranked second, except as a dramatist; and
here he believed him to be without a superior among his contemporaries.
For several years after I came to New York Charles Reade and I kept up a
close friendly correspondence, and he sent me proof-sheets of "The
Cloister and the Hearth" in advance of its publication in England, so
that the American
reprint of the work might appear simultaneously
therewith, which it did through my arrangements with Rudd & Carleton. He
also sent me two of his own plays,—"Nobs and Snobs" and "It is Never
Too Late to Mend," drawn from his novel of that name,—in the hope that
the managers of some of the American theatres would produce them; but,
notwithstanding their author's fame, their own superior merit, and my
personal efforts, the expectation was disappointed, owing, as Mr. Reade
said, to their preferring to steal rather than to buy plays,—a charge
only too well sustained by the facts. Another play, written by a friend
of his, that he sent me, met with a like reception.
The first letter I received from Charles Reade after my arrival in New
York ran thus:
"6 Bolton Row, Mayfair, July 14 .
"Dear Cornwallis,—I was much pleased to hear from you, and to find you
were one of the editors of the 'New York Herald.' A young man of talent
like you ought to succeed, when so many muffs roll in one clover-field
all their days.
"Not to be behindhand in co-operating with your fortunes, I called on
Trübner at once about your Japanese letters....
"If you will be my prime minister and battle the sharps for me over
there, I shall be very glad. I am much obliged by your advice and
friendly information. Pray continue to keep me au fait.
"My forthcoming work, 'The Eighth Commandment,' is a treatise. It is
partly autobiographical. You shall have a copy....
"I should take it very kindly of you if you would buy for me any copies
(I don't care if the collection should grow to a bushel of them, or a
sack) of any American papers containing characteristic
matter,—melodramas, trials, anything spicy and more fully reported than
in the 'Weekly Tribune,' which I take in. Don't be afraid to lay out
money for me in this way, which I will duly repay; only please write on
the margin what the paper contains that is curious. You see I am not
very modest in making use of you. You do the same with me. You will find
I shall not forget you.
"Yours, very sincerely,
In a letter dated February 8, 1861, he wrote me, "Your London publishers
sent me a copy of your narrative of your tour with the Prince of Wales"
("Royalty in the New World, or The Prince of Wales in America"), "which
I have read with much pleasure....
"I have on hand just now one or two transactions which require so much
intelligence, firmness, and friendly feeling to bring them to a
successful issue that, as far as I am concerned, I would naturally much
rather profit by your kind offer than risk matters so delicate in busy,
careless, and uninventive hands. I will, therefore, take you at your
word, and make you my plenipotentiary.
"I produced some time ago a short story, called 'A Good Fight,' in 'Once
a Week.' I am now building on the basis of that short tale a large and
very important mediæval novel in three volumes" ("The Cloister and the
Hearth"), "full of incident, character, and research. Naturally, I do
not like to take nothing for manuscript for, say, seven hundred pages at
least of fresh and good matter. But here pinches the shoe.... Please not
to show this to any publisher, but only the enclosed, with which you can
take the field as my plenipotentiary. I think this affair will tax your
generalship. I shall be grateful in proportion as you can steer my bark
safe through the shoals. Shall be glad to have a line from you by
return, and will send a part of the sheets out in a fortnight. I think
you may speak with confidence of this work as likely to produce some
sensation in England."
In July he wrote, "You had better agree with them" (Rudd & Carleton)
"for twenty per cent., and let me take care of you, or I foresee you
will get nothing for your trouble. I only want fifteen for myself, and a
true return of
the copies sold. That is where we poor authors are
done. Will you look to that? I have placed five pounds to your
credit,—this with the double object of enabling you to buy me an
American scrap-book or two (no poetry, for God's sake!) of
newspaper-cuttings, and also to reimburse a number of little expenses
you have been at for me and too liberal to mention."
On September 12, 1861, he wrote, "I send you herewith the first
instalment of early sheets of my new novel. The title is 'The Cloister
and the Hearth.' I am ashamed to say the work will contain fifteen
hundred of these pages. If you are out of it, I will take fifteen per
cent.; if you are in it, twelve. But I look to you to secure a genuine
return, for that is the difficulty with these publishers. There is
considerable competition among publishers here to have the book, and I
am only hanging back to get you out the sheets. Now you know the number
of pages (for the work is written), it would be advisable to set up
On September 26, 1861, he wrote, "As we shall certainly come out next
week, I shall be in considerable anxiety until I hear from you that all
the instalments sent by me have safely arrived and are in type. To
secure despatch, I have sent them all by post, and, owing to the
greediness of the United States government, it has cost me five pounds.
I do not for a moment suppose the work will sell well during the civil
war; but it is none the less important to occupy the shops with it, and
then perhaps on the return of peace and the fine arts it will not be
pirated away from us. I hope I have been sufficiently explicit to make
you master of this book's destiny."
On October 18, 1861, he wrote, "We have now been out a fortnight, and,
as it is my greatest success, we are gone coons if you are not out by
A week later his uneasiness had been allayed by a letter from me
announcing the publication of the work in New York, and he wrote, "I
think you have done very well, considering the complicated difficulties
you have had to contend against in this particular transaction. The
work is quite the rage here, I assure you. We sold the first edition (a
thousand) at one pound eleven shillings and sixpence in one fortnight
from date of publication, and have already orders for over two hundred
of the second at same price, which we are now printing.
"I will this day place in S. Low's hands for you the manuscript of 'Nobs
and Snobs,' a successful play of mine, luckily unpublished. Treat with a
New York manager or a Boston manager for this on these terms. Sell them
the sole use of it in one city only for ten dollars per night of
representation, the play not to be locked up or shelved, but to return
to you at the conclusion of the run."
Then follows a "sketch of agreement" to be made with managers; for in
all business-matters he was extremely particular, and sometimes
needlessly anxious about trifles.
In the same letter he went on to remark, "I say ten dollars as being
enough and not a halfpenny too much. It is all I ask. If you can get
fifteen dollars on these terms, pocket the balance. But never sell the
provincial right to a New York manager. It is worth a great deal more
than the New York right, properly worked. It is no use showing it to
Laura Keene. I spoke to her in England about it.
"With many thanks for your zeal and intelligence, and hoping that we may
contrive, somehow or other, one day or other to make a hit together, I
am yours, etc."
On November 19, 1861, he wrote, "Now for your book. Trübner is
fair-dealing, but powerless as a publisher. All the pushing is done by
me. I have had a long and hard fight to get the public here to buy a
novel published by him, and could hardly recommend another to go through
it. If done on commission and by Trübner, I could take it under my wing
in the advertisements.
"Next week I expect to plead the great case of Reade v. Conquest"
(manager of the Grecian Theatre, London)
"in the Court of Common Pleas.
If I win, I shall bring out my drama 'Never Too Late to Mend' and send
it out to you to deal with. Please collect Yankee critiques (on 'The
Cloister and the Hearth') for me; the more the better."
On November 1, 1861, he wrote, "I send you 'Saunders & Otley's Monthly,'
containing an elaborate review of 'The Cloister,' etc. I don't know the
writer, but he seems to be no fool. I do hope, my dear fellow, you will
watch the printers closely, and so get me some money, for I am weighed
down by law-expenses,—Reade v. Bentley, Reade v. Lacy, Reade v.
Conquest,—all in defence of my own. And don't trust the play above
twenty-four hours out of your own hand. Theatricals are awful liars and
thieves. I co-operate by writing to Ticknors and H—— not to pirate you
if they wish to remain on business terms with me. Second edition all but
gone; third goes to press Monday. Everybody says it is my best book."
On the next day he wrote, "I am a careful man, and counted every page I
sent you, and sealed and posted them with my own hand. I am quite
satisfied with the agreement with Rudd & Carleton, if there is to be no
false printer's return. The only thing that makes me a little uneasy is
your apparent confidence that they could not cheat us out of twenty
thousand dollars by this means if extraordinary vigilance were not used.
They can, and will, with as little remorse as a Newgate thief would,
unless singular precautions are used. If I was there I would have a
secret agent in the printing-house to note each order, its date and
amount, in writing. The plates being yours, you have, in fact, a legal
right to inspect the printer's books. But this is valueless. The printer
would cook his books to please the publisher. You can have no conception
of the villany done under all these sharing agreements. But forewarned
forearmed. Think of some way of baffling this invariable fraud. Ask a
knowing printer some way. Do anything but underrate the danger.
"The importance of the work not being the least foreseen, I believe
Rudd & Carleton have 'The Cloister' all to themselves.... Every American
who has seen Ticknors' returns assures me they are false, and
ridiculously so. It goes against my heart to believe it, but everybody
is seldom wrong. My opinion is they will all make a false return if they
can. Verbum sap. And now, my dear boy, let me thank you for all the
trouble you have taken in this complicated affair, and assure you that
if I am anxious for a just return it is partly in order that I may be in
a position to take care of you. For I am sure if I don't nobody else
"'Nobs and Snobs,' a play, has gone out in Low's parcel. If the managers
will be quick, you can make this copyright by not calling it 'Honor
before Titles'" (the sub-title under which it had been copyrighted in
England). "Then, to bind the thing together, I write a different
conclusion to the second act, and send it you enclosed. It is hasty, but
it will do; and if you can get Jem Wallack to play Pierre, he will do
wonders with the change from drunkenness to sobriety and then to
incipient madness. The only stage directions required will occur at once
to you. Drop should fall on Pierre with a ghastly look, like a man
turned to stone, between the two females. I now close, wishing us both
success in this attempt to open new veins of ore. I have other plays in
manuscript, and one in progress."
On November 9 he wrote under a misapprehension of the terms of an
agreement about which I had written to him, and evinced his usual
anxiety and impatience when anything seemed to go wrong. If, said he,
this and that happens, "Rudd & Carleton can swindle us out of every
dollar. I confess this stipulation terrifies me. If you have not done
so, for God's sake draw a written agreement in these terms. I shall pass
a period of great anxiety until I hear from you. But, for heaven's sake,
a written agreement, or you will never get one halfpenny. These fears
seem ungracious, after all the trouble you have taken. But it is a most
and not to be remained in a day or an hour. Draw
on Rudd & Carleton as soon as ever you can."
On the 9th of December following he had heard from me again, and found
he was mistaken. He wrote, "I am in receipt of your last, which is very
encouraging. You were quite right to do as you did. Give Rudd & Carleton
no loop-hole. They will soon owe us a good round sum, and will writhe
like Proteus to escape paying it."
On January 17, 1862, he wrote, "It puts me in some little doubt whether
to take your book 'Pilgrims of Fashion' to Trübner or Low. Low will sell
more copies if he tries, but he will charge more percentage, and I shall
not be able to creep you in among my own advertisements. However, you
give me discretion, and I shall look to your advantage as well as I can.
To-day I had to argue the great case of Reade v. Conquest. I argued it
in person. Judgment is deferred. The court raised no grave objections to
my reasoning, but many to the conclusions of defendant's counsel: so it
looks pretty well.
"As to 'Nobs and Snobs,' I know the theatrical managers: they will not
deal except with thieves, if they can help it. Keep it ten years, if
necessary, till some theatre will play it. You will find that all those
reasons they have given you will disappear the moment it is played in
England, and then the game will be to steal it. Copyright it in your
name and mine, if a manuscript can be so protected, and I will enter it
here in my name and yours.
"Considering the terrible financial crisis impending over the United
States, I feel sad misgivings as to my poor 'Cloister.' It would indeed
be a relief if the next mail would bring me a remittance,—not out of
your pocket, but by way of discount from the publishers. I am much
burdened with lawsuits and the outlay, without immediate return, of
publishing four editions" (of "The Cloister and the Hearth"). "Will you
think of this, and try them, if not done already? Many thanks for the
scrap-book and for making one. Mind and classify yours. You will never
regret it. Dickens and Thackeray both offer liberally to me for a serial
story." (Dickens then edited "All the Year Bound," and Thackeray "The
On January 27, 1862, he wrote, "The theatrical managers are all liars
and thieves. The reason they decline my play is, they hope to get it by
stealing it. They will play it fast enough the moment it has been
brought out here and they can get it without paying a shilling for it.
Your only plan is to let them know it shall never come into their hands
In a letter undated, but written in the same month, he wrote, "My next
story" ("Very Hard Cash"). "This is a matter of considerable importance.
It is to come out first in 'All the Year Round,' and, foreseeing a
difficulty in America, I have protected myself in that country by a
stringent clause. The English publishers bind themselves to furnish me
very early sheets and not to furnish them to any other person but my
agent. This and another clause enable me to offer the consecutive early
sheets to a paper or periodical, and the complete work in advance on
that to a book-publisher. I am quite content with three hundred pounds
for the periodical, but ask five per cent. on the book. It will be a
three-volume novel,—a story of the day, with love, money, fighting,
manoeuvring, medicine, religion, adventures by sea and land, and some
extraordinary revelations of fact clothed in the garb of fiction. In
short, unless I deceive myself, it will make a stir. Please to settle
this one way or other, and let me know. I wrote to this effect to
Messrs. Harper. Will you be kind enough to place this before them? If
they consent, you can conclude with them at once."
Messrs. Harper Brothers had always dealt very generously and courteously
toward Mr. Reade, and they were offered "The Cloister and the Hearth" in
the first instance, but did not feel willing to pay as high a royalty as
Messrs. Rudd & Carleton did, in the then depressed condition of the
book-trade and in view of their having previously published and
for "A Good Fight," and hence the agreement made with the latter firm.
They evinced a spirit of kind forbearance in refraining from printing a
rival edition of the work, and Mr. Reade remained on very friendly terms
with them to the end of his days.
On February 13, 1862, he wrote from Magdalen College, Oxford, "I have
defeated Conquest, and am just concluding the greatest drama I ever
wrote,—viz., my own version of 'Never Too Late to Mend.' I will send
you out a copy in manuscript, and hold back for publication. But I fear
you will find that no amount of general reputation or particular merit
of the composition offered will ever open the door of a Yankee theatre
to a dramatic inventor. The managers are 'fences,' or receivers of
stolen goods. They would rather steal and lose money than buy and make
it. However, we will give the blackguards a trial."
On March 22, 1862, he wrote, "Only yesterday I wrote to you in
considerable alarm and anxiety. This anxiety has been happily removed by
the arrival of your letter enclosing a draft for the amount and Rudd &
Carleton's account up to date. I think you showed great judgment in the
middle course you have taken by accepting their figures on account.
All that remains now is to suspect them and to watch them and get what
evidence is attainable. The printers are better than the binders for
that, if accessible. But I know by experience the heads of the
printing-house will league with the publisher to hoodwink the author. I
have little doubt they have sold more than appear on the account."
On March 7, 1862, he wrote, "Many thanks, my dear fellow, for your zeal;
rely on it, I will not be backward in pushing your interests here, and
we will have a success or two together on both sides of the Atlantic. I
mean soon to have a publishing organ completely devoted to my views, and
then, if you will look out sharp for the best American books and serial
stories, I think we could put a good deal of money into your hands in
return for judgment, expedition, and zeal."
On March 28, 1862, he wrote, "You are advertised with me this week in
the 'Saturday' and 'London' Reviews. Next week you will be in the
'Athenæum,' 'Times,' 'Post,' and other dailies. The cross-column
advertisements in 'Athenæum' cost thirty shillings, 'Literary Gazette'
fifteen shillings, and so on. You will see at once this could not have
been done except by junction. I propose to bind in maroon cloth, like
'The Cloister:' it looks very handsome. I congratulate you on being a
publicist. Political disturbances are bad for books, but journals thrive
on them. Do not give up the search for scrap-books, especially
He wrote me on April 2, 1862, "This will probably reach you before my
great original drama 'It is Never Too Late to Mend,' which has gone by a
slower conveyance. When you receive, please take it to Miss Kean" (Laura
Keene), "and with it the enclosed page. You will tell her that, as this
is by far the most important drama I have ever written, and entirely
original, I wish her to have the refusal, and, if she will not do it
herself, I hope she will advise you how to place it. Here in England we
are at the dead-lock. The provincial theatres and the second-class
theatres are pestering me daily for it. But I will not allow it to be
produced except at a first-class theatre. I have wrested it by four
actions in law and equity from the hands of pirates, and now they shall
smart for pirating me. At the present time, therefore, any American
manager who may have the sense and honesty to treat with me will be
quite secure from the competition of English copies. I have licked old
Conquest, and the lawyers are now fighting tooth and nail over the
costs. The judges gave me one hundred and sixty pounds damages, but, as
I lost the demurrer with costs, the balance will doubtless be small.
But, if the pecuniary result is small, the victory over the pirates and
the venal part of the press is great."
He wrote on May 30, 1862, "As for writing a short story on the spur, it
is a thing I never could do in my life. My
success in literature is
owing to my throwing my whole soul into the one thing I am doing. And at
present I am over head and ears in the story for Dickens" ("Very Hard
Cash"). "Write to me often. The grand mistake of friends at a distance
is not corresponding frequently enough. Thus the threads of business are
broken, as well as the silken threads of sentiment. Thanks about the
drama" ("It is Never Too Late to Mend"). "I have but faint hopes. It is
the best thing I ever wrote of any kind, and therefore I fear no manager
will ever have brains to take it."
On June 20, 1862, he wrote of his forthcoming story, "Between ourselves,
the story" ("Very Hard Cash") "will be worth as many thousands as I have
asked hundreds. I suppose they think I am an idiot, or else that I have
no idea of the value of my works in the United States. I put 6 Bolton
Row" (the usual address on his letters) "because that is the safest
address for you to write to; but in reality I have been for the last
month, and still am, buried in Oxford, working hard upon the story. My
advice to you is to enter into no literary speculations during this
frightful war. Upon its conclusion, by working in concert, we might do
something considerable together."
On August 5, 1862, he wrote from Magdalen College, where he was to
remain until the 1st of October, "I shall be truly thankful if you
postpone your venture till peace is re-established. I am quite sure that
a new weekly started now would inevitably fail. You could not print the
war as Leslie and Harper do, and who cares for the still small voice of
literature and fiction amongst the braying of trumpets and the roll of
drums? Do the right thing at the right time, my boy: that is how hits
are made. If you will postpone till a convenient season, I will work
with you and will hold myself free of all engagements in order to do so.
I am myself accumulating subjects with a similar view, and we might do
something more than a serial story, though a serial story must always be
the mainspring of success."
He wrote on September 6, 1862, "I am glad you have varied your project
by purchasing an established monthly" ("The Knickerbocker Magazine")
"instead of starting a new weekly. I will form no new engagements nor
promise early sheets without first consulting you. I will look out for
you, and as soon as my large story is completed will try if I cannot do
something for you myself."
On the 29th of June, 1863, he wrote, "I am much pleased with your
'Knickerbocker Magazine,' and cannot too much admire your energy and
versatility. Take notice, I recommended you Miss Braddon's works while
they were to be had for a song. 'Lost and Saved,' by Mrs. Norton, will
make you a good deal of money if you venture boldly on it and publish
it. It is out-and-out the best new thing, and rather American. If you
hear of any scrap-books containing copious extracts from American
papers, I am open to purchase at a fair price, especially if the
extracts are miscellaneous and dated, and, above all, if classified. I
shall, also be grateful if you will tell me whether there is not a
journal that reports trials, and send me a specimen. Command me whenever
you think I can be of an atom of use to you."
Charles Reade's letters were always highly characteristic of him. In
these he mentally photographed himself, for he always wrote with candid
unreserve, whether to friend or foe, and he liked to talk with the pen.
Both by nature and education he was fitted for a quiet, studious,
scholarly life, and with pen and paper and books he was always at home.
He liked, too, at intervals the cloister-like life he led at Magdalen
College. With nothing to disturb him in his studies and his work, with
glimpses of bright green turf and umbrageous recesses and gray old
buildings with oriel windows that were there before England saw the Wars
of the Roses, his environment was picturesque, and his bursar's cap and
gown became him well, yet seemed to remove him still further from the
busy world and suggest some ecclesiastical figure of the
century. He was a D.C.L., and known as Dr. Reade in the college, just as
if he had never written a novel or a play and had been untrumpeted by
There, in his rooms on "Staircase No. 2," with "Dr. Reade" over the
door, he labored con amore. Indeed, he was amid more congenial
surroundings and more truly in his element in the atmosphere of the
ancient university than in London or anywhere else. By both nature and
habit he was more fitted to enjoy the cloister than the hearth, although
he by no means undervalued the pleasures of society and domestic life.
The children of his brain—his own works—seemed to be the only ones he
cared for; and, loving and feeling proud of his literary family, he was
mentally satisfied. Yet no man was a keener observer of home-life, and
his portraiture of women and analysis of female character, although
unvarying as to types, were singularly true and penetrating. His
Fellowship was the principal cause of his never marrying, the next most
important one being that he was always wedded to his pen; and
literature, like law, is a jealous mistress. He had some idea of this
kind when he said, "An author married is an author marred,"—an
adaptation from Shakespeare, who was ungallant enough to say, "A young
man married is a man that's marred." But a good and suitable wife would
have given éclat to his social life.
His splendid courage and the manliness of his character always commanded
admiration, and his hatred of injustice and wrong, cant and hypocrisy,
was in harmony with the nobility and passionate earnestness of his
nature. He was the friend of the workingman, the poor, and the
oppressed; and he exposed the abuses of jails and lunatic-asylums and
trades-unions, and much besides, in the interest of humanity and as a
disinterested philanthropist. He fought, too, the battles of his
fellow-authors on the copyright questions with the same tremendous
energy that he displayed in his struggles for practical reform in other
directions; and as a practical reformer through his novels he, like
Dickens, accomplished a great deal of good. When moved by strong
impulses in this direction, he seemed indeed to write with a quivering
pen, dipped not in ink, but in fire and gall and blood, and to imbue
what he wrote with his own vital force and magnetic spirit.
Measuring his literary stature at a glance, it must, however, be
admitted that, notwithstanding his high average of excellence, he was a
very uneven writer, and hence between his worst and his best work there
is a wide distance in point of merit. But the best of his writings as
well deserves immortality as anything ever penned in fiction. Although
inferior to them in some respects, he was superior in epigrammatic
descriptive power to the most famous of his English and French
contemporaries, and particularly in his descriptions of what he had
never seen or experienced, but only read about. Take, for instance, his
Australian scenes in "It is Never Too Late to Mend," where the effect of
the song of the English skylark in the gold-diggings is told with
touching brevity and pathos. Yet all his information concerning
Australia had been gained by reading newspaper correspondence and books
on that country. He made no secret of this, and said in substance, as
frankly as he spoke of his scrap-books, "I read these to save me from
the usual trick of describing a bit of England and calling it the
antipodes." He could infuse life into the dry figures of a blue-book;
but in the mere portraiture of ordinary conventional society manners,
free from the sway of strong passions and emotions, he did not greatly
excel writers of far inferior ability. He had the graphic simplicity and
realism of De Foe in describing places he had never seen; and as the
historian of a country or a period in which he felt interested he would
have been unusually brilliant, for he was an adept in picturesque
condensation, and knew how to improve upon his originals and use them
without copying a word. He was a master of vigorous English.