Friday, November 10, 2006

Charles Stevens

John Adcock's Oliver Oyl blog has included some fine material about Charles Stevens in the last couple of days. Stevens is another of those fascinating, elusive characters who worked for the penny dreadfuls of the 1860s and 1870s, whose work has been long forgotten, although he was the founding editor, although only for nine issues, of one of the most popular story papers of the Victorian era, Boys of England, and penned that magazine's opening tale, a lurid shocker entitled 'Alone in the Pirate's Lair' (1866; later reprinted as Jack Rushton, after the hero of the story).

What little I've been able to dig out is more a list of titles than anything. He was born in Marylebone, London, in around 1839. He was probably one of the best writers for boys of his time, penning such popular serials as 'Wild Charley, the Link Boy of Old London' (for Boys of England) 'Caradoc the Briton', 'Jack Brand', 'The Raven’s Plume' and 'The Huguenot Captain; or, The Massacre of St. Bartholemew' (all in Young Gentlemen of Britain, 1868-69), 'The Master of the Lion', 'Dick Whittington, Thrice Lord Mayor of London', 'King Harry the Fifth; or, The Conquest of France' and 'Paul Jones, the Rover' (The Young Briton, 1870), 'Rapier Jack; or, The Bullfighter of Madrid' and 'Spartacus; or, The Revolt of the Gladiators' (both in Sons of Britannia, 1870), 'Valeria, or the Christian Martyr' (Young Ladies of Great Britain, 1870), 'True Blue', 'Zasco, the Corsair; or, The Lord of the Golden Island', 'King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table', and 'Paul Adair; or, The Prince of the Pearl Divers' (The Gentleman’s Journal, 1870-73), 'Rupert the Rover' (The Rover’s Log, 1872), 'Caractacus, Champion of the Arena' (The Boy’s Standard, 1876) and 'Comrades in Arms' (The Boys’ Herald, 1877). Other stories included the penny partwork Roving Jack (for NPC, 1866), 'The Mate of the Stormy Petrol', 'The Three Merry Mids', 'Mark Rushton', etc. His stories were still being reprinted in the 1890s (e.g. 'Caradoc the Briton' in Pals, 1895).

Stevens failed to match his success as a writer with his ambitions as a publisher. He was the publisher of The Empire which was launched on March 16, 1867, writing a number of the serials including 'The Little Columbine. A Tale of High and Low Life in London' which was illustrated by Phiz, and 'Lady Cassandra's Vow; or, The Painter's Ward'. Although Stevens' name disappeared after only 8 issues, it is possible that he remained on the paper until it folded on January 4, 1868, amalgamated with the first number of Penny Magazine of Novels, Romances and Tales of Adventure. Shortly after, in April 1868, Stevens launched Boys' Book of Romance which failed the following September after only 24 issues, notable only for attracting some excellent artwork by John Proctor, Mat. Morgan and R. Wagner. He was also, briefly, the editor of The Young Briton (1870), published by George Emmett.

Stevens is said to have later worked on the staff at Henderson's for a time, and despite his success as a writer will probably be best remembered for his discovery and encouragement of the young Edwin Harcourt Burrage, who recalled him as "the quaint Charley Stevens with his somewhat wooly hair and wild eyes."

He was married to Edwin Brett’s cousin, Elizabeth (born in Harpenden, Herts., in c.1838). In 1871 the two lived at 6 Wellington Road, Lambeth. In 1881 they lived at 3 Beacondale Road, Lambeth, Surrey. By 1891, Elizabeth was working as a housekeeper in Southend and Stevens was listed as a visiting “journalist, author”.

Plays based on Stevens' novels Roving Jack (1866) and Wild Charlie (1867) were performed at the Brittania.

What became of wild-eyed Charley Stevens? I can't find any trace of him or his wife in the 1901 census and I have no way of confirming his death without spending an awful lot on death certificates. If I were to take a guess from looking through the death records online, I'd say a likely suspect is the Charles Stevens who died in Pancras in 1897, aged 58, although records online are incomplete and not always reliable.

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