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AN AUTHOR AT HOME.
N an old-fashioned wooden chair, such as one occasionally
finds in the parlour of a village inn, or country house where the modern upholsterer has not been permitted to substitute his gimcracks for the substantial chattels of our ancestors-in the centre of a spacious apartment, half drawing-room, half library, surrounded by a heterogeneous collection of ormolu, rare old cabinets, modern paintings, and white-and-gold chairs, that look as if they belonged to some imperial residence-is seated as fine a specimen of an Englishman as one may expect to find in this fast and degenerate age. He is tall and proportionately stout. In the spring of his life he must have had the figure of an Apollo. Even now, although he is fast approaching “the sere and yellow leaf,” his appearance is noble and imposing. His head shows so great an amount of brain capacity that a practical anatomist, judging from its form and dome. like prominence, would be satisfied that the owner (although his name and fame might be unknown to him) was endowed with extraordinary mental powers. Add to this imperfect description a pleasant face fringed with a venerable beard, and you have the portrait of a man whom to know is to love.
As the door of his strange apartment is opened and a caller announced, this fine old English gentleman lays down his pen, pushes aside an enormous pile of papers, rises with courtly dignity, and, assuming a sweet smile that would set at ease the most nervous Miss that ever ate bread-and-butter, points to the softest chair he possesses, resumes his own hard seat, and patiently listens to his visitor's tale, be it of business, pleasure, or woe.
Who is this mild and benevolent old gentleman ? Is he an Evangelical bishop, an Exeter Hall orator, or the President of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals? No; he is—I
see in my mind's eye the incredulous smile of the reader -Charles Reade, Novelist and Dramatist ! Charles Reade! exclaims one who has felt his lash. A fine man ?-An ogre ! Pleasant-looking ?-Yes, as the Pantomime Blue-beard ! Sweet smiles ?-Malicious grins! All hope abandon, ye who enter his
lair ! Surrounded by works of art?—Blunderbusses, cutlasses, and pistols! Give you a soft seat?-A keg of gunpowder! Listen to your tales of woe?-Blow you to smithereens if you don't swear he is the greatest genius the world ever produced, compared with whom Homer and Shakespeare were intellectual pigmies-presumptuous gnatbrains !
Rail away, my little libellous anonymuncule. To you and creatures of your species he always will appear an ogre. He is made of different stuff from poor Keats, and the many gentle spirits whose genius has been nipped in the bud by "penny-a-liners and twopencea-liars.” The venom from your fangs will never kill Charles Reade. Through a long and active life he has been blessed with physical as well as mental vigour ; and although the efforts of his detractors have occasionally set up his bile a bit, he is none the worse for their attacks, and he has the satisfaction of knowing that his assailants have always come off second-best.
In this sketch, however, I do not intend to deal with his quarrels, his treatment of literary pirates, or his actions for libel. The scathing and humorous letters relating to the most unjustifiable attacks made upon this eminent writer will shortly be published in a collected form ; therefore it would be out of place here for me to do more than refer to those cases, as the public will soon have an opportunity of reading the original correspondence. My object is to give both the admirers and detractors of Charles Reade a glimpse of his private character, and to do the best I can to remove some of the erroneous but deep-rooted impressions which his pugnacity has created. Before I enumerate his virtues—and they are many—let us take a peep into his sanctum sanctorum. There, arranged upon strong deal shelves, are rows of guard-books, containing extracts from English, American, and French journals. These excerpta miscellanea are the collection of many years—nothing of importance has escaped the eye of this literary Argus. The newspaper cuttings are not pasted in the books in the usual careless manner, but properly classified under different headings. One set of books devoted to reports of curious police cases, under the heading of Curialia, or man as revealed in courts of law. Another filled with paragraphs about women, and labelled Femina Vera. Some volumes headed Humores Diei, or the humours of the day. Several ponderous tomes labelled Nigri Loci, containing reports of dark deeds perpetrated in prisons, lunatic asylums, workhouses, and orphan homes. In these volumes are to be found many heart-breaking stories of wretched prisoners done to death in county gaols. The crimes of men "drest in a little brief authority.” Reports of sane people shut up for years in private asylums. Conspiracies in which the chief actors were official tyrants and wicked relatives. Husbands who have consigned wives to lifelong captivity. Wives who have connived with authority to get rid of troublesome husbands, not because they were mad, but because they knew too much for their guilty partners. Heirs and heiresses shut up to make room for those who thought they had a better right to their property ; and accounts of villanous deeds practised upon poor creatures whose ininds were really deranged; how their bones were broken and their lives beaten out of them by ruffianly keepers. In this collection are the confessions of escaped nuns, revolting stories of immorality in religious institutions, and many accounts of cruelties practised upon defenceless children in so-called Orphan Homes. On another shelf are books containing reports of trade outrages and strikes, headed “The Dirty Oligarchy.” Several volumes of mining reports, details of colliery explosions, outrages at sea, and any quantity of official blue-books ! On the floor of the library are rows of giant folios, containing thousands of woodcuts, labelled Pictura Theatri and Pictura Novella. A number of yearly volumes of Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper, The Graphic, The Police News, English and American, all carefully indexed under Mr. Reade's favourite headings, and the most striking paragraphs marked with red or blue pencil. Every volume is indexed and classified, and in addition to the indices pasted in each folio, there are three quarto vellum-covered volumes, containing copies of the Floriligeal Indices, so that when the author wishes to find a subject he is not obliged to drag about the heavy annual volumes or the giant folios; he can find what he requires in the portable quarto, or Index ad Indices. In addition to this large collection of facts, there are about four hundred volumes of “La Bibliothèque Dramatique" -containing not fewer than four thousand French plays—and a few standard works of reference. As Mr. Reade once remarked to a friend, " This is a library of note-books.” In a small room adjoining the library are kept the MSS., music, and sketches of scenes of the author's dramas. When Mr. Reade writes a play, he does his work in a most systematic manner. His original MS. is handed to his secretary, who makes a careful copy. This is revised by the author, and a fresh copy is made, with instructions for prompter and stage manager.
Then the author has an interview with a first-class artist, and a set of sketches are made. These drawings are sent to the wood engraver or lithographer, for large posters or windowcards. Appropriate music is written by a competent musician, and several complete sets of the score are arranged. If the play is not printed, three or four prompt copies are made by the secretary, and the actors' parts are all written in a legible hand. When the piece is accepted, everything is in readiness as far as the author is concerned. Duplicates of MSS., band parts, models, and sketches of scenes are always kept in reserve, so that the piece can be played in several places at the same time. A few moments in Mr. Reade's sanctum are sufficient to give one an idea of his mind and system of working. He writes fiction, but he goes to one great inexhaustible fountain for his plots and characters. When he wants a subject for a novel or a play, he draws upon human nature. In the curious collection contained in those clumsy-looking guard books he can find facts stranger than any fiction that was ever conceived by the mind of man. His models are not wild creations of the imagination, but real men and women, who have lived, acted, and spoken as he has represented them in his powerfully written works. Take his “Never too Late to Mend” as an example. Fastidious critics have objected to the prison scenes, and have accused Mr. Reade of gross exaggeration; but the truth is, that worse crimes than the author was capable of conceiving have been committed in those places where the light of justice rarely if ever penetrates. The horrors of the dark cell and the cruelty of that modern wheel of Sisyphusthe crank—are no ideal creations. All that Mr. Reade so powerfully and graphically describes in “Never too Late to Mend” he tried himself. He literally put himself in the convict's place. He did his turn on the treadmill, he turned the crank, and submitted to incarceration in the dark cell, where the blackness was so dense that it appeared tangible, and where, the author said, “ he would have become a hopeless lunatic if he had been left one tenth part of the time allotted to prisoners who have been found guilty of the awful crime of speaking a word to a fellow captive.”
“Hard Cash,” too, is a story founded on substantial facts. The author has opened the gates of Bedlam to sane men when every
other resource has failed. “ Put Yourself in his Place" is another matterof-fact romance. The amount of labour the writing of that work entailed was enormous. The author visited the seat of the trades' disputes, and collected a heap of reliable data before he wrote a page of his book. The outrages therein described actually occurred. Such works as I have named cannot be too highly appreciated, nor their author too highly eulogised. They were written more in the interests of suffering humanity than with the idea of ultimate profit. Only genius can gather a pile of dry bones and impart to them such life as Charles Reade infuses into his every-day commonplace realities. Those who wish to form a correct estimate of this distinguished writer's love of fair play and justice, and of his abhorrence of tyranny and humbug, ought to refer to his literary labours. His spirit shines through his works. His noble characters, Mr. Eden, Lord Ipsden, Henry Little, etc., etc., are the reflections of his own nature. Happily, Charles Reade is not misunderstood by all his readers. It is that section of the public who do not search below the surface, or trouble to understand an author's mind, who fancy that he is a sort of literary ogre. The skimmers of literature fall into grievous errors and form the most absurd notions of a writer's character. I do not deny the fact that many teachers of morality fail to practise all they set down for others to follow, for history tells us that some of the purest writers have led disreputable lives; I admit that it is not always possible to judge an author by his works : but Mr. Reade is true to his precepts. His whole life has been spent in fighting against tyranny and oppression. His protection is not limited to the human race, but extends to the whole of the animal kingdom. He is opposed to vivisection, and refuses to recognise the right of man, even in the interests of science, to torture living creatures, be they ever so low in the classification.
About a year ago I kept a number of frogs, toads, and newts in my garden, not for anatomical or physiological purposes, but merely for the gratification of watching their habits and their mode of feeding and development. One day Mr. Reade called, and I asked him to look at a couple of curiously speckled Batrachians that had been brought from the garden in a perforated tin box. “Surely," said my visitor, "you are not going to keep those poor frogs in that dark box? Let them out. It is nothing short of cruelty to shut them up in that way instead of letting them enjoy their native ditch or pond.” I assured the champion of les grenouilles that the little amphibians were well looked after, and had, at the bottom of the garden, a miniature pond, the surface of which was covered with duckweed to imitate their original home; but Mr. Reade looked serious, and shook his head without uttering a word. I am asraid that he was not convinced of my desire to make the froggies comfortable, for when he paid me a visit a little later, and heard I was in the garden amusing myself with my miniature saurians and batrachians, he exclaimed to my wife, “I hope he isn't torturing those poor frogs!”
Hares and rabbits are his especial favourites. A few months ago he had a tame hare of which he was very fond. The animal used to skip about the lawn in front of his house in Uxbridge Road, and many an hour has the eminent novelist spent in watching the gambols of