[An example of a corrective introduction — George P. Landow]
A FEW days ago I came by chance upon an old number of an illustrated publication which made a rather brilliant start in London four or five years since, but died, I believe, not long after. It sprang up when there was a sudden rage in England for satirical portraits of eminent persons, and it really showed some skill and humor in this not very healthful or dignified department of art. This number of which I speak has a humorous cartoon called "Companions of the Bath," and representing a miscellaneous crowd of the celebrated men and women of the day enjoying a plunge in the waves at Havre, Dieppe, or some other French bathing-place. There are Gladstone and Disraeli; burly Alexandre Dumas and small, fragile Swinburne; Tennyson and Longfellow; Christine Nilsson and Adelina Piitti, the two latter looking very pretty in their tunics and caleçons. Most of the likenesses are good, and the attitudes are often characteristic and droll. Mr. Spurgeon flounders and puffs wildly in the waves; Gladstone cleaves his way sternly and earnestly; Mario floats with easy grace. One group at present attracts very special attention. It represents a big, heavy, gray-headed man, ungainly of appearance, whom a smaller personage, bald and neat, is pushing on a plank into the water. The smaller man is Dion Boucicault; the larger is Mr. Charles Reade. This was the time when Reade and Boucicault were working together in Foul Play. The insinuation of the artist evidently was that Boucieault, always ready for any plunge into the waves of sensationalism, had to give a push to his hesitating companion in order to impel him to the decisive "header."
The artist has been evidently unjust to Mr. Reade. Indeed, one can hardly help suspecting that there roust have been some little personal grievance which the pencil was employed to pay off, after the fashion threatened more than one by Hogarth. Mr. Reade is not an Adonis, but this attempt at his likeness is cruelly grotesque and extravagant. Charles Reade is a big, heavy, rugged, gray man; a sort of portlier Walt Whitman, but with closer-cut hair and beard; a Walt Whitman, let us say, put into training for the part of a stout British vestryman. He impresses you at once as a man of character, energy, and originality, although he is by no means the sort of person you would pick out as a typical romaneist [novelist]. But the artist who has delineated him in this cartoon, and who has dealt so fairly, albeit humorously, with Tennyson and Swinburne and Longfellow, must surely have had some spite against the author of Peg Woffington [192/193] when he depicted him is a sort of huge human gorilla. It is in fact for this reason only that I have thought it worth while to introduce an allusion to such a caricature. The caricature is in itself illustrative of my subject. It helps to introduce an inevitable allusion to a weakness of Mr. Charles Reade's which makes for him many enemies and satirists among minor authors, critics, and artists in London. To a wonderful energy and virility of genius and temperament Charles Reade adds a more than feminine susceptibility and impatience when criticism attempts to touch him. With a faith in his own capacity and an admiration for his own works such as never were surpassed in literary history, he can yet be rendered almost beside himself by a disparaging remark from the obscurest critic in the corner of the poorest provincial newspaper. There is no pen so feeble anywhere but it can sting Charles Reade into something like delirium. He replies to every attack, and he discovers a personal enemy in every critic. Therefore he is always in quarrels, always assailing this man and being assailed by that, and to the very utmost of his power trying to prevent the public from appreciating or even recognizing the wealth of genuine manhood, truth, and feeling, which is bestowed everywhere in the rugged ore of his strange and paradoxical character. I am not myself one of Mr. Reade's friends, or even acquaintances; but from those who are, and whom I know, I have always heard the one opinion of the sterling integrity, kindness, and trueheartedness of the man who so often runs counter to all principles of social amenity, and whose bursts of impulsive ill-humour have offended many who would fain have admired.
Last modified 3 February 2008