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- A SIMPLETON - 1/84 -
by Charles Reade
It has lately been objected to me, in studiously courteous terms of course, that I borrow from other books, and am a plagiarist. To this I reply that I borrow facts from every accessible source, and am not a plagiarist. The plagiarist is one who borrows from a homogeneous work: for such a man borrows not ideas only, but their treatment. He who borrows only from heterogeneous works is not a plagiarist. All fiction, worth a button, is founded on facts; and it does not matter one straw whether the facts are taken from personal experience, hearsay, or printed books; only those books must not be works of fiction.
Ask your common sense why a man writes better fiction at forty than he can at twenty. It is simply because he has gathered more facts from each of these three sources,--experience, hearsay, print.
To those who have science enough to appreciate the above distinction, I am very willing to admit that in all my tales I use a vast deal of heterogeneous material, which in a life of study I have gathered from men, journals, blue-books, histories, biographies, law reports, etc. And if I could, I would gladly specify all the various printed sources to which I am indebted. But my memory is not equal to such a feat. I can only say that I rarely write a novel without milking about two hundred heterogeneous cows into my pail, and that "A Simpleton" is no exception to my general method; that method is the true method, and the best, and if on that method I do not write prime novels, it is the fault of the man, and not of the method.
I give the following particulars as an illustration of my method:
In "A Simpleton," the whole business of the girl spitting blood, the surgeon ascribing it to the liver, the consultation, the final solution of the mystery, is a matter of personal experience accurately recorded. But the rest of the medical truths, both fact and argument, are all from medical books far too numerous to specify. This includes the strange fluctuations of memory in a man recovering his reason by degrees. The behavior of the doctor's first two patients I had from a surgeon's daughter in Pimlico. The servant-girl and her box; the purple-faced, pig-faced Beak and his justice, are personal experience. The business of house-renting, and the auction-room, is also personal experience.
In the nautical business I had the assistance of two practical seamen: my brother, William Barrington Reade, and Commander Charles Edward Reade, R.N.
In the South African business I gleaned from Mr. Day's recent handbooks; the old handbooks; Galton's "Vacation Tourist;" "Philip Mavor; or, Life among the Caffres;" "Fossor;" "Notes on the Cape of Good Hope," 1821; "Scenes and Occurrences in Albany and Caffre- land," 1827; Bowler's "South African Sketches;" "A Campaign in South Africa," Lucas; "Five Years in Caffre-land," Mrs. Ward; etc., etc., etc. But my principal obligation on this head is to Mr. Boyle, the author of some admirable letters to the Daily telegraph, which he afterwards reprinted in a delightful volume. Mr. Boyle has a painter's eye, and a writer's pen, and if the African scenes in "A Simpleton" please my readers, I hope they will go to the fountain-head, where they will find many more.
As to the plot and characters, they are invented.
The title, "A Simpleton," is not quite new. There is a French play called La Niaise. But La Niaise is in reality a woman of rare intelligence, who is taken for a simpleton by a lot of conceited fools, and the play runs on their blunders, and her unpretending wisdom. That is a very fine plot, which I recommend to our female novelists. My aim in these pages has been much humbler, and is, I hope, too clear to need explanation.
A young lady sat pricking a framed canvas in the drawing-room of Kent Villa, a mile from Gravesend; she was making, at a cost of time and tinted wool, a chair cover, admirably unfit to be sat upon--except by some severe artist, bent on obliterating discordant colors. To do her justice, her mind was not in her work; for she rustled softly with restlessness as she sat, and she rose three times in twenty minutes, and went to the window. Thence she looked down, over a trim flowery lawn, and long, sloping meadows, on to the silver Thames, alive with steamboats ploughing, white sails bellying, and great ships carrying to and fro the treasures of the globe. From this fair landscape and epitome of commerce she retired each time with listless disdain; she was waiting for somebody.
Yet she was one of those whom few men care to keep waiting. Rosa Lusignan was a dark but dazzling beauty, with coal-black hair, and glorious dark eyes, that seemed to beam with soul all day long; her eyebrows, black, straightish, and rather thick, would have been majestic and too severe, had the other features followed suit; but her black brows were succeeded by long silky lashes, a sweet oval face, two pouting lips studded with ivory, and an exquisite chin, as feeble as any man could desire in the partner of his bosom. Person--straight, elastic, and rather tall. Mind--nineteen. Accomplishments--numerous; a poor French scholar, a worse German, a worse English, an admirable dancer, an inaccurate musician, a good rider, a bad draughtswoman, a bad hairdresser, at the mercy of her maid; a hot theologian, knowing nothing, a sorry accountant, no housekeeper, no seamstress, a fair embroideress, a capital geographer, and no cook.
Collectively, viz., mind and body, the girl we kneel to.
This ornamental member of society now glanced at the clock once more, and then glided to the window for the fourth time. She peeped at the side a good while, with superfluous slyness or shyness, and presently she drew back, blushing crimson; then she peeped again, still more furtively; then retired softly to her frame, and, for the first time, set to work in earnest. As she plied her harpoon, smiling now, the large and vivid blush, that had suffused her face and throat, turned from carnation to rose, and melted away slowly, but perceptibly, and ever so sweetly; and somebody knocked at the street door.
The blow seemed to drive her deeper into her work. She leaned over it, graceful as a willow, and so absorbed, she could not even see the door of the room open and Dr. Staines come in.
All the better: her not perceiving that slight addition to her furniture gives me a moment to describe him.
A young man, five feet eleven inches high, very square shouldered and deep chested, but so symmetrical, and light in his movements, that his size hardly struck one at first. He was smooth shaved, all but a short, thick, auburn whisker; his hair was brown. His features no more then comely: the brow full, the eyes wide apart and deep-seated, the lips rather thin, but expressive, the chin solid and square. It was a face of power, and capable of harshness; but relieved by an eye of unusual color, between hazel and gray, and wonderfully tender. In complexion he could not compare with Rosa; his cheek was clear, but pale; for few young men had studied night and day so constantly. Though but twenty-eight years of age, he was literally a learned physician; deep in hospital practice; deep in books; especially deep in German science, too often neglected or skimmed by English physicians. He had delivered a course of lectures at a learned university with general applause.
As my reader has divined, Rosa was preparing the comedy of a cool reception; but looking up, she saw his pale cheek tinted with a lover's beautiful joy at the bare sight of her, and his soft eye so divine with love, that she had not the heart to chill him. She gave him her hand kindly, and smiled brightly on him instead of remonstrating. She lost nothing by it, for the very first thing he did was to excuse himself eagerly. "I am behind time: the fact is, just as I was mounting my horse, a poor man came to the gate to consult me. He had a terrible disorder I have sometimes succeeded in arresting--I attack the cause instead of the symptoms, which is the old practice--and so that detained me. You forgive me?"
"Of course. Poor man!--only you said you wanted to see papa, and he always goes out at two."
When she had been betrayed into saying this, she drew in suddenly, and blushed with a pretty consciousness.
"Then don't let me lose another minute," said the lover. "Have you prepared him for--for--what I am going to have the audacity to say?"
Rosa answered, with some hesitation, "I MUST have--a little. When I refused Colonel Bright--you need not devour my hand quite--he is forty."
Her sentence ended, and away went the original topic, and grammatical sequence along with it. Christopher Staines recaptured them both. "Yes, dear, when you refused Colonel Bright"--
"Well, papa was astonished; for everybody says the colonel is a most eligible match. Don't you hate that expression? I do. Eligible!"
Christopher made due haste, and recaptured her. "Yes, love, your papa said"--
"I don't think I will tell you. He asked me was there anybody else; and of course I said 'No.'"
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