Open main menu

Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 47.djvu/363

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.


torical novel in the language. According to Mr. Swinburne, ‘a story better conceived, better constructed, or better related, it would be difficult to find anywhere.’

Shortly after the completion of this masterpiece Reade designed a sequel to his comparatively trivial tale ‘Love me little, love me long.’ Entitling it ‘Very Hard Cash,’ he contributed it serially to ‘All the Year Round,’ for whose editor, Charles Dickens, he had unbounded admiration. Although the circulation of the periodical decreased while the story was in progress in its pages, it achieved, on its separate publication as ‘Hard Cash’ in 1863 (3 vols. 8vo), a well-merited popularity. It is an enthralling record of hairbreadth escapes on sea and land, concluding with revelations of the iniquities of private lunatic asylums, and somewhat extravagant strictures on the medical profession. Descriptions of the university boat-race in the first chapter, of a fire at a madhouse, and of a trial at law are prominent features of the narrative.

His next novel, ‘Griffith Gaunt, or Jealousy,’ was written in 1865 as a serial story for the newly launched ‘Argosy,’ a magazine which was founded and edited by Mrs. Henry Wood [q. v.] The appearance of this novel in 1866 (3 vols. 8vo; 5th edit. 1868), for which Reade received 1,500l., marked the culminating point in his career. He had then paid off his debts, saved money, and earned fame. But the story, which in intensity of interest and pathos deserves a place next to ‘The Cloister and the Hearth,’ was violently attacked by the critics as demoralising, and the novelist retaliated by denouncing his assailants as the ‘prurient prudes.’ To a hostile notice in an American paper, the ‘Round Table,’ on 13 Oct. 1866, Reade replied with warmth in a letter to the ‘New York Times,’ and, in accordance with a threat there launched against his detractor, took legal proceedings against the publisher of the ‘Round Table,’ with the result that an American jury awarded him damages to the amount of six cents (March 1869). Meanwhile, ‘Griffith Gaunt,’ dramatised by Augustin Daly, was produced at the New York Theatre in November 1866; a popular parody, called ‘Liffith Lank,’ by Charles H. Webb, was simultaneously published in New York. Reade subsequently dramatised the work as ‘Kate Peyton's Lovers,’ for performance at the Queen's Theatre on 1 Oct. 1875, and this was revived as ‘Jealousy’ at the Olympic, in four acts, on 22 April 1878.

In 1867 Reade returned to dramatic work, and produced a theatrical version of Tennyson's ‘Dora’ at the Adelphi on 1 June 1867. In his ‘greatly daring’ romance, ‘Foul Play’ (3 vols., 1869), Reade found a congenial collaborator in Dion Boucicault. Part of the scene passes among the convicts in Australia and on an uninhabited tropical island in the Pacific, which is realistically represented, but much of the machinery of the extravagant plot is unreal and mechanical. The publishers paid Reade 2,000l. for ‘Foul Play.’ Its popularity led Mr. Burnand to send to ‘Punch’ a highly comic skit, entitled ‘Chicken Hazard.’ The tale was twice dramatised, first, without much success, in 1868 by the collaborators, in six acts, for the Holborn Theatre, and afterwards, in 1877, by Reade alone, for the Olympic, under the title of ‘The Scuttled Ship,’ in five acts.

‘Put Yourself in his Place’ ran as a serial story through the ‘Cornhill Magazine’ in 1869–70. It was an impressive denunciation of that organised terrorism of trades unions known as ‘rattening,’ which especially infected Sheffield (called in the novel Hillborough). It is in many respects tedious, but it contains a singularly effective description of the bursting of a reservoir. Before the separate publication of the work in 1870 (3 vols.) Reade prepared a dramatic version, which was entitled ‘Free Labour,’ and was produced in May 1870. Mr. Henry Neville proved an effective impersonator of the hero, Henry Little. ‘A Terrible Temptation, a story of the day,’ Reade's next work of fiction, he contributed as a serial to ‘Cassell's Magazine,’ and published in 1871 (3 vols.) In Rolfe, the man of letters, the author described himself. ‘A Terrible Temptation’ was reviled by the reviewers, as demoralising, more fiercely even than ‘Griffith Gaunt,’ and the American press denounced it as ‘carrion literature.’ His later novels, in which the defects of his methods and style were more conspicuous than their merits, were: ‘A Simpleton,’ first contributed to ‘London Society’ (3 vols.), 1873; ‘The Wandering Heir,’ a tale suggested by the Tichborne trial, which formed the Christmas number of the ‘Graphic’ for 1872, and achieved a circulation of upwards of half a million, being subsequently dramatised; and ‘A Woman Hater’ (3 vols.), 1877, in which he depicted the insanitary conditions of village life at ‘Hill Stoke,’ the disguised name of Stoke Row, a hamlet on his brother's estate of Ipsden. He also contributed in later life to the ‘Pall Mall Gazette,’ and other newspapers, articles on a variety of topics which proved the versatility of his interests. He zealously advocated ‘ambidexterity.’ Some of these articles he collected in a volume called