Charles Reade was an English dramatist and novelist.
Charles Reade was born June 8, 1814 and died April 11, 1884.
He is claimed to have owned the larges collection of old violins.
He devoted much time to the study of violin construction, and as his sons put it, acquired ‘as keen a scent for the habitat of a rare violin, as the truffle dog for fungus beneath the roots of trees.’
He gathered much of this accurate knowledge from one Henri, a player and a maker to boot, resident in Soho, with whom he engaged in experiments in varnish, and in the business of importing fiddles from abroad for the English dealers.
Frequent visits to Paris, in the latter connection, resulted sometimes in profit, and at other times in financial catastrophe; but they succeeded in bringing to England some of the finest specimens of Cremona instruments that were known at the time.
They were in Paris, buying a stock of thirty fiddles, when the Revolution of 1848 broke out, and Henri threw aside fiddle dealing and joined the revolutionists. He was shot before his friend’s eyes at the first barricade, and Charles Reade escaped with difficulty, leaving the fiddles behind.
Thee were found stored away in a cellar after the Revolution, and eventually reached Reade, who records that he sold one of them for more than he paid for the whole lot.
At the time of the Special Loan Exhibition of Musical Instruments held at the South Kensington Museum in 1872, Reade wrote a series of letters upon Cremona fiddles in the Pall Mall Gazette, in which he propounded the theory that the ‘Lost Cremona Varnish’ was a spirit varnish laid over an oil varnish.
Coming as it did from so noted a connoisseur, there were many who accepted the theory as the solution of the question.
These letters were privately reprinted by G. J. M. Muntz, under the title A Lost Art Revived: Cremona Violins and Varnish (Gloucester, 1873), and again in the volume entitled Readiana (Chatto & Windus, 1882).
In later life Charles Reade abandoned fiddles and fiddle trading, but we find traces of his infatuation in his writings.
The adventurous careers of John Frederick Lott, the violin maker, is told by him, somewhat romantically, in his novel Jack of all Trades; whilst interesting matter concerning the violin comes into Christie Johnstone, and his collection of tales entitles Cream.