Reynolds, George William MacArthur (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 48
Reynolds, George William MacArthur

by James Ramsay MacDonald
1904 Errata appended.

REYNOLDS, GEORGE WILLIAM MacARTHUR (1814–1879), author and politician, eldest son of George Reynolds, post-captain in the navy, was born at Sandwich on 23 July 1814. After attending a school at Ashford, he entered the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, 12 Feb. 1828, but, a military career being little to his taste, he was withdrawn on 13 Sept. 1830. Subsequently he travelled on the continent and acquired a knowledge of continental—particularly French—life and literature, which afterwards had great influence upon him both as a politician and novelist. His natural bent was towards literature, and his first novel, ‘The Youthful Impostor,’ an effort in sensational fiction, was published in 1835. He paid his respects to his French masters by translations from Victor Hugo and others. His knowledge of French contemporary literature was wide, and his criticism of living French writers in his ‘Modern Literature of France’ (1839, 2 vols.) is a discriminating study.

About 1846 he became editor of the ‘London Journal,’ in which was published his ‘Mysteries of London,’ suggested by Eugene Sue's ‘Mysteries of Paris,’. On Saturday, 7 Nov. of the same year, the first number of a similar periodical, ‘Reynolds's Miscellany,’ appeared with a portrait of Reynolds as frontispiece. During the twenty-three years of its issue he wrote a succession of tales for it, and its popularity was maintained until pressure of other work compelled him to cease publishing it. From 1847 he issued a long succession of sensational novels in illustrated weekly numbers, which sold extensively (Bookseller, 2 July 1879).

Since 1840 he had interested himself in politics, and for some years had charge of the foreign intelligence department of the London ‘Dispatch.’ His work, which became one of the chief features of the paper, was conducted in full and outspoken sympathy with continental revolutionary movements. His attacks upon Louis-Philippe were particularly violent, and, as sentiments less pronounced were appearing in other columns, he severed his connection with the paper in 1847 or early in 1848. In the latter year he made his first appearance in public as a political leader. A meeting in Trafalgar Square was called for 6 March 1848 to demand the repeal of the income tax. The chartists decided to elicit from the gathering a vote in favour of the revolution in Paris; the government declared the meeting illegal, and the promoters advised the people to stay away. Nevertheless, the meeting was held, Reynolds was voted to the chair, and after he had spoken, the resolution was put and carried. Crowds escorted him down the Strand to his house in Wellington Street, from the balcony of which he addressed his riotous supporters. Reynolds thus definitely allied himself with the chartists, and was at once accepted as a leader. On 13 March he presided at a demonstration on Kennington Common to express sympathy with the French revolutionists; and in the national convention of chartists which met in the John Street Institution on 4 April he represented Derby. He took an active part in the deliberations, and on the second day of the sittings made a violent speech against further delay in bringing the issues between the government and the chartists to a crisis. He opposed the presentation of a national memorial to the queen, and moved that, in the event of the rejection of the petition by parliament, the convention as constituted should declare its sitting permanent and decree the charter to be the law of the land. Derby nominated him as its delegate for the national assembly which the convention decided should be called if parliament rejected the petition, but he declined election owing to pressure of literary work. He busily engaged in the arrangements for the great meeting on Kennington Common on 10 April, which proved a fiasco. During the next twelve months he strove to stem the chartist reaction, and at the end of 1849, when there was hope of further successful action, he was chosen to represent Tower Hamlets at the meeting of the metropolitan delegates. He presided at the inaugural meeting of J. Bronterre O'Brien's National Reform League, and addressed chartist meetings in the early spring of 1850 in the midlands and north of England, and in Scotland. In May he issued an address and threatened to contest Finsbury against the radical members, one of whom was T. S. Duncombe, but nothing followed. On the resignation of the chartist executive in 1850 to test the strength of Feargus O'Connor [q. v.] in the party, Reynolds stood for re-election as an opponent of O'Connor, and was elected at the top of the poll with 1805 votes. On 31 March 1851 he was present at the convention which assembled at the Parthenium Rooms, St. Martin's Lane, to promulgate a new chartist policy; but on 24 Sept. following he resigned his place on the executive, and at the same time withdrew from a parliamentary contest in Bradford to which he had pledged himself. His last connection with chartism was in 1856, when he was chairman of the Feargus O'Connor monument committee. His advice was generally in favour of extreme measures, and in the quarrels of the party he sided with O'Brien first against O'Connor and then against Ernest Jones [see O'Brien, James Bronterre].

His later years were almost exclusively devoted to journalism. He had started ‘Reynolds's Political Instructor,’ which during a short life circulated thirty thousand a week. But when he brought that periodical to a close in 1850, he started in its stead ‘Reynolds's Weekly Newspaper,’ of which the first number was published, at the price of 4d., on Sunday, 5 May 1850. The new paper at once became the mouthpiece of republican and advanced working-class opinion, and still maintains its reputation as an advocate of independent and extreme political views. To its production Reynolds devoted himself during the last twenty years of his life, and except through its columns did not appear much in public. He died at his residence in Woburn Square, London, 17 June 1879.

Most of his works appeared first as serials, and some have only been published recently as separate volumes. The most important are: 1. ‘The Youthful Impostor,’ 3 vols., London, 1835, afterwards republished as ‘The Parricide.’ 2. ‘Songs of Twilight,’ translated from Victor Hugo, 1836, London. 3. ‘Pickwick Abroad,’ 1839–55–63, London. 4. ‘Grace Darling,’ 1839, London. 5. ‘Modern Literature of France,’ 2 vols., 1839, London. 6. ‘Robert Macaire in England,’ 3 vols. 1839, London. 7. ‘Last Day of a Condemned Man,’ translated from Victor Hugo, 1840, London. 8. ‘Sister Anne,’ translated from C. P. de Kock, 1840, London. 9. ‘Alfred, or the Adventures of a French Gentleman,’ with portrait of the author, 1840, London. 10. ‘The Drunkard's Progress,’ 1841, London. 11. ‘Master Timothy's Bookcase,’ 1842, London. 12. ‘Sequel to Don Juan,’ 1843, London. 13. ‘French Self-Instructor,’ 1846, London. 14. ‘Mysteries of London,’ 2 series, 4 vols. each, 1846–1855, London. 15. ‘Practical Receipts,’ 1847, London. 16. ‘Faust, a Romance of the Secret Tribunals,’ 1847, London. 17. ‘Mysteries of the Court of London,’ 8 vols. 1850–6, London. 18. ‘Mary Price,’ a domestic drama, a play, 1850; published as a novel, 1852, London. 19. ‘Agnes,’ 2 vols. 1852, London. 20. ‘The Soldier's Wife,’ 1853, London. 21. ‘Rosa Lambert,’ 1854, London. 22. ‘Joseph Wilmot,’ 2 vols. 1854, London. 23. ‘Reynolds's Diagram of the Steam Engine, with popular description,’ 1854, London. 24. ‘The Loves of the Harem; a Tale of Constantinople,’ 1855, London. 25. ‘Ellen Percy,’ 1856, London. 26. ‘The Empress Eugénie's Boudoir,’ 1857, London. The following were published in Dick's Standard Novels series in 1844: 27. ‘The Necromancer.’ 28. ‘The Rye House Plot.’ 29. ‘The Seamstress, or the White Slave of England.’ 30. ‘The Bronze Statue.’ 31. ‘The Days of Hogarth.’ 32. ‘Mary Queen of Scots.’

[Reynolds's Miscellany, 10 Dec. 1859; Gammage's History of the Chartist Movement; Frost's Forty Years' Recollections; Bookseller, 3 July 1879; private information.]

J. R. M.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.233
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
43 ii 26-28 Reynolds, George W. M.: omit in which was published .... ‘Mysteries of Paris’
28f.e.  after 1879). insert His ‘Mysteries of London,’ suggested by Eugene Sue's ‘Mysteries of Paris,’ appeared in a long series of weekly penny numbers.