Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Literature of the Lower Orders

“To such of our readers as have toiled through Eugene Sue's dullest and most popular work “The Mysteries of Paris”, “The Mysteries of London”, now lying before us, will be sufficiently explained. If it be possible to conceive of anything more miserable, murderous, immoral and reprehensible than the succession of scenes which constitute that darling of the Parisian boulevards -- that grosser conception will give an idea of what the mysteries of the modern Babylon are like.” -- Daily News 1847

In late Regency and early Victorian times writers freely slandered each other in the press, often saying horrendous (and hilarious) things that led to duels or public horse-whippings. By the time of our story those rowdy times were gone and there is no record that G. W. M. Reynolds, author of Mysteries of London and Pickwick in France, ever came to blows with his traducers at Bradbury & Evans, or for that matter Charles Dickens.

The Daily News was established in London on 21 January 1846 and the price was dropped to a penny in 1868. An anonymous author (William Hepworth Dixon) made a ’vile, ruffianly and cowardly’ attack on G. W. M. Reynold’s publications (“apparently the productions of husband and wife”) and his wife, Suzanna Reynolds, author of “Gretna Green,” in the Daily News, on 2 November 1847 in one of a series of articles entitled “The Literature of the Lower Orders.” Almost the whole of the article painted a devastating word picture of corruption, depravity and chaos.

They (Reynolds’s publications) act more directly and openly upon the worst passions stimulating them to precocious and unnatural activity, and exercise an unsettling and disturbing power over the moral consciousness of the reader. The former deal principally with the criminal -- the latter in the licentious and the blasphemous… we denounce the impurity, but we cannot soil our pages with it -- not even as a warning.

Mention of Reynolds’s wife was a bad mistake, Reynolds flew to her defense, and the News quickly printed a retraction. The following was Reynolds defense of Cheap Literature (I have added breaks not in the original for easier digestion):

Reynolds’s Miscellany No. 57. Volume III. Saturday, December 4th, 1847.

Notices to Correspondents.

The “Daily News.”-

This wretched print cuts as pleasant a figure in undertaking the office of Moralist, as a sweep would present were he to set himself up as a lecturer on personal cleanliness. But we will explain the reason wherefore Messrs. Bradbury and Evans, the proprietors of the Daily News, have directed their literary scrub to pen the articles entitled “The Literature of the Lower Orders.” The motive was purely a trade one.

Bradbury and Evans are the proprietors of numerous works, which, being very dear, do not sell; and they therefore vent their spite on the cheap and successful rivals. First there is Douglas Jerrold’s Shilling Magazine, which used to have a good circulation when enriched with the writings of the talented gentleman whose name sanctions its issue, but which has dwindled down into a losing concern since the strength of that eminent author has been applied elsewhere.

Then there is Charles Dickens’s Dombey and Son -- a clever work whose only defect is that it will not sell well. Next we have Mr. Thackeray’s Vanity Fair -- a publication of extraordinary talent and great originality, but each Number of which falls almost still-born from the press. Fourthly there is A’Beckett’s Comic History of England -- the most contemptible trash on which paper and print were ever wasted, and which has been pronounced by every reviewer to be a miserable failure.

Fifthly Bradbury and Evans have Punch, which is going down as rapidly as possible. Sixthly they have the Daily News, which is notoriously an awful abortion; and seventhly they have the Express, which could not live a second were it not a mere evening issue and ekeing-out of the articles already published in its morning precursor. All the publications just enumerated are in a most sickly and unsatisfactory state; and Bradbury and Evans finding that they can obtain a good sale for nothing, vent their malignity and spite on the cheaper rivals that do enjoy a good sale. But in denominating cheap works “The Literature of the Lower Orders,” Bradbury and Evans put a gross, vile, and base insult upon the Industrious Classes of these realms.

They wantonly throw dirt in the face of the honest artizan, and working man of every class and description. They moreover propagate an infamous falsehood when they represent such periodicals as The Miscellany, the London Journal, and the Family Herald to be read only by the lower orders; for they circulate widely amongst the middle class, and the Volumes obtain a sale in the richest sphere. And now let us see whether the proprietors of the Daily News - those particular gentlemen who direct their penny-a-liner to decry Cheap Literature,-- let us see whether they have not in their own employ any one who has himself dabbled in the same class of writing?

In Mr. Bunn’s “Word With Punch” we find it stated that Mr. Gilbert Abbott a’ Beckett, one of the writers for Punch, and the author of the Comic History of England, went through the insolvent’s court in 1834, and described himself in his schedule as follows:-

“Gilbert Abbott a’ Beckett, formerly of Hyde Street, Bloomsbury, Middlesex, gentleman ! afterwards and late of Staples Inn, Holburn, Middlesex, proprietor and editor of certain periodicals called the Figaro in London, and the Wag, having an office for The Wag at Temple Bar, Fleet Street, London; and also lately proprietor of The Evangelical Penny Magazine, Dibdin’s Penny Trumpet, The Thief, Poor Richard’s Journal, and the People’s Penny Pictures; in co-partnership with Thomas Littleton Holt, of Edmonton, having an office for the publication thereof at 194, strand, Middlesex. Also formerly on my own account proprietor of the periodicals called The Terrific Penny Magazine, The Ghost, The Lover, The Gallery Of Terrors, The Figaro Monthly Newspaper, The Figaro Cantatrice Gallery; and lately lessee of the Fitzroy Theatre, Fitzroy Street, Tottenham Court Road, Middlesex !!!”-- Here is enough of the Blood-and-Murder Literature, heaven knows! -- and how admirably does that extract from the schedule shadow forth the versatility of Mr. A’Beckett’s genius, when it proclaims him to have been the proprietor of the Evangelical Penny Magazine, and of the Gallery Of Terrors! There was Religion for the Millions on one hand -- and Murder for the Millions on the other!

How happens it that a gentleman who plunged so deeply in penny horrors and halfpenny terrors some years ago, should now be so intimately connected with these pious, moral, sanctimonious printers who entertain such an abhorrence of the respectable Cheap Literature of the present day? Ah! Bradbury and Evans - it was a fine attempt to play the Mawworm and the Cantwell on your part;- but you are unmasked - and the trade feeling exhibiting its cloven foot, the selfishness and hypocrisy which dictated the articles in your Daily News (such news indeed as it contains!) are laid bare to the public gaze.

Note:- The ‘Bunn’s “Word With Punch”’ mentioned above was designed for Bunn by George Augustus Sala to resemble Punch magazine’s design. Bunn, a theatrical promoter, was tired of being attacked in print by Punch, and the tactic seemed to work. Sala however, became persona non grata at the Punch offices for many years.

In Reynolds’s Miscellany, Vol III. No. 59 Saturday, December 18, 1847, Reynolds had a further crack at the Daily News and this time issued a physical threat to the Author:

The “Daily News” and the “Express”-- We have received innumerable letters congratulating us upon our success in “bringing to book” the sneaking, paltry fellow who dared to pen a lying attack on the character of “Gretna Green;” and we are delighted as well as grateful, to find that our cause has been taken up by the public in the warmest and kindest manner. It is quite clear that the silly fool who wrote the attack in the contemptible threepenny parodies upon a newspaper thought he was performing a brave as well as a safe act in wantonly, malignantly and spitefully assailing the reputation of a lady; but he has received a rebuff which he will not easily forget. We know who he is; and should he ever dare to show his face in the Miscellany office, he will find his way into the street much more quickly than he entered it.

That he has injured the two abortions which were made the vehicles of his ruffianism, cannot be said; because they really have nothing about them to injure, -- neither reputation, influence, circulation or respectability. They are useful in one way only: namely at the butter-shops; -- and it is really very kind of the proprietors to provide the persons keeping those shops with so much waste paper at such a cheap rate. A daily journal at threepence, if it be conducted in a manner calculated to place it in competition with the fivepenny newspapers cannot possibly pay its expenses. There are correspondents to maintain in all the principal European capitals, and in the colonies; and good writers at home can only be procured on liberal terms of payment. Then the outlay in procuring the best and latest intelligence from the provinces is great. Does the Daily News afford the slightest internal evidence that it incurs in its management any such expenses as those just glanced at?

Its Foreign Intelligence is absolutely worthless: its Leaders are the most mawkish twaddle ever penned; - and its miserable size renders it necessary to give the most meagre reports of even the most interesting and important occurrences. A slight alteration in a joke published some time ago by the Times, will afford an illustration of the general impression relative to the morning threepenny abortion: A gentleman enters a coffee-room, and says, “Waiter, to-day’s Daily News!” “We haven’t to-days News, sir,” is the reply: “but here’s yesterday’s Times, which is much better.”

The fact is that the “Daily News” was a mistake from the beginning. There was no room for it, even if it were given away, unless it were managed as well as the Times; and between the two there is as great a difference in value as between a farthing and a guinea. That the News has proved a most awful failure, its known history indicates. Else why was it tinkered about in a most disreputable manner? Why was every “artful dodge” tried to force a circulation? First it was fivepence: then twopence-halfpenny; and lastly threepence! Do these experiments indicate success? And unless a newspaper be deemed successful, it loses all the prestige of authority. It can have no influence, unless it seem to have taken hold upon the public; and heaven knows that the News has taken hold upon nothing save its owner’s purse.

Stick to your Punch Messrs. Bradbury and Evans; and do not aim at being newspaper proprietors. You have not the spirit, nor the intelligence, nor the weight to make a newspaper go down - otherwise than to perdition. Your utter ignorance of how a newspaper property can be created, was proved by entrusting Mr. Dilk of that obscure affair, the Athenaeum with the management of the News;- and your total want of discrimination was shown by getting that person’s son to “do the morality” for you. No -- no: you are not fit for newspaper proprietors. Get rid of the News as soon as you can, by all means. In any case, keep clear of calumniatary attacks: or, if your precious scribe must assail somebody, bid him be careful whom he selects for his onslaught in future. As for ourselves, and so far as any malignity against us must be concerned, we shall only now say to the contemptible hireling scrub, in the words of Sir William Draper to Junius: -- “Cease, viper : thou bitest against a file !”

Nor was this the end of it -- Charles Dickens, probably still smarting from Reynolds’s appropriation of his creations for the story “Pickwick in France,” which ran serially in the Monthly Magazine during 1839, gave him a slap in his ‘preliminary words’ to the inaugural issue of “Household Words” (30 March 1850):

“Some tillers of the field into which we now come, have been before us, and some are here whose high usefulness we readily acknowledge, and whose company it is an honour to join. But, there are others here -- Bastards of the Mountain, draggled fringe on the Red Cap, Panders to the basest passions of the lowest natures -- whose existence is a national reproach. And these, we should consider it our highest service to displace.”

The first issue of Reynolds’s Weekly Newspaper dated from 5 May 1850 and almost a year later, 8 June 1851, launched a vicious attack on “That lickspittle hanger-on to the skirts of Aristocracy’s robe --“Charles Dickens Esq.” -- originally a dinnerless penny-a-liner on the Morning Chronicle…” The attack was made against a “desperate onslaught upon the Chartist Programme, in a trumpery monthly print which he edits… this wretched sycophant of Aristocracy -- this vulgar flatterer of the precious hereditary peerage -- is impudent enough to consider himself the people’s friend!”

“Of course Mr. Dickens, while denouncing with virulent bitterness and hateful malignity the Chartist Programme, levels his filthy abuse against G. W. M. Reynolds and his writings. Immaculate Mr. Dickens! who dramatized his own novel of Oliver Twist and was compelled to endure the ignominy of seeing the Lord Chamberlain prohibit the performance of the piece on the English stage as one calculated to debase, corrupt, and demoralize the people! But this is not all.

The writer of Oliver Twist -- the creator of the characters Fagan and Bill Sykes -- the author of a drama prohibited by the Lord Chamberlain as vicious and immoral, went some time ago to a dissenting chapel in or near Portland-street, and requested permission to address the audience.

At first the deacons were going to hand him over to the custody of a policeman for disturbing the congregation; but the minister, on ascertaining what his object was, suffered him to proceed. Accordingly Mr. Dickens, in a canting, whining, sniveling tone besought permission to be admitted into the “blessed flock” assembling at that chapel; promising that he would be found “a savoury vessel” and so forth. The request was granted; and thereupon he knelt down and took the sacrament with the rest of the congregation.

Yet this same Mr. Dickens mercilessly ridiculed all dissenting ministers in the character of Stiggins in the Pickwick Papers. Relative to his politics, we must not forget to observe that he was sworn in as a special constable on the 10th of April, and went swaggering about the vicinage of the Regent’s-park with the staff in his hand, while he knew perfectly well that the Chartists were over at Kensington -- five miles distant! But enough for the present concerning this impertinent upstart. Let him dangle at the heels of Lord John Russell and enact the fawning sycophant in the saloons of Belgravia, where he nevertheless must feel himself as much at home as a pig in a drawing-room.

If he had undertaken to meet the Chartist Programme with argument, we should have been spared the necessity of passing these strictures upon him: but inasmuch as in the natural vulgarity of his disposition, and following the example of his aristocratic patrons, he has chosen to have recourse to invective, ridicule and abuse, we have thought it right to unmask the imposter and show the public what sort of character he really is.”

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Here in the US we're only now achieving this exalted level of discourse (though Murdoch's crew is working tirelessly). I rather sympathize with Reynolds as the original injured party. However it's amusing to see him tear into Dickens and "Vanity Fair," both of which are now regarded as Classic Literature. Too bad they never tried to shove "Mysteries of London" on us in junior high; I might have been more interested in reading it.