- Also known as
primary name: Reade, Winwood
- individual; author/poet; English; Male
- Life dates
- From Oxford Dictionary of National Biography:
Reade, William Winwood (1838–1875), traveller, novelist, and controversialist, the eldest son of William Barrington Reade (1803–1881) and Elizabeth Reade (1810–1895) (daughter of Captain John Murray RN), of Ipsden House, Oxfordshire, was born at St Finan, near Crieff, Perthshire, on 26 December 1838. He was educated at Hyde House, Winchester, and for a brief period at Magdalen Hall, Oxford, although he left the university without a degree. His early attempts to master the art of fiction, in emulation of the literary success of his uncle Charles Reade, whom he adored, met with disappointment. Both Charlotte and Myra (1859) and Liberty Hall, Oxon (1860) received very poor reviews. His scepticism about established Christianity found romantic expression in The Veil of Isis, or, The Mysteries of the Druids, published in 1861. In the same year he embarked on a tour of west Africa, which resulted in the publication of Savage Africa (1863), a miscellany of observations on the people and wildlife of that region, in which he paid particular attention to arguments then current about the character of gorillas and the existence of cannibalism. This work was essentially that of a dilettante, a romantic tourist who represented himself as a flâneur rather than a man of science.
On his return to England, in 1863, Reade read papers on his travels to a range of scientific societies, notably the newly formed Anthropological Society, with which he was to be associated for the next few years. In 1865 he became embroiled in a controversy over his views on the futility of Christian missions and the necessity of polygamy in west Africa, during which the explorer Richard Burton came to his defence. Seeking to broaden his knowledge of science and medicine, he entered as a student at St Mary's Hospital, London, in 1865, and in 1866 volunteered his services at a cholera hospital in Southampton. During this period he also visited North America and contributed to several literary and scientific periodicals published there. His ambition to follow in the footsteps of more famous African travellers was realized in 1868 when, with the aid of the Royal Geographical Society and Andrew Swanzy, a British trader, he undertook a second journey to west Africa. His attempt to explore the Asante kingdom having failed, he was encouraged by Sir Arthur Kennedy, governor of the British West African settlements, to undertake a journey from Sierra Leone to the upper Niger, including a visit to the goldmines of Bouré, a region not previously visited by Europeans. The fruits of this journey were to form the material for a large part of The African Sketch Book, an extraordinary medley of romantic fiction, popular anthropology, and travel narrative, published in 1873. In the same year he returned for the last time to west Africa, as the Times correspondent on the Second Anglo-Asante war, a conflict also covered by Henry Morton Stanley and G. A. Henty.
Reade's lasting reputation as a writer rests not on his novels, nor on his travel writing, but on a single epic work, The Martyrdom of Man, first published in 1872. This book, which has been described as a 'bible for secularists', defies easy categorization. According to Reade, his original intention was to restore Africa to a central place in world history through a consideration of such themes as the role of Islam, the history of the slave trade, and the evolution of mankind—an ambition shared by subsequent writers such as W. E. B. Du Bois. The book which actually emerged is a somewhat romantic study in universal history, treating the evolution of civilizations in the Mediterranean and the Near East in terms of the impact of war, religion, liberty, and the intellect on human life. Reade's militant agnosticism is manifest in his provocative account of the role of science in the modern world, in which Christianity itself is dismissed as the product of a passing age of superstition. Such sentiments were too radical for the orthodox press, as well as for many of his friends and family. Yet, despite unfavourable reviews, the book was to sell extremely well, especially after the publication of a cheap edition by the Rationalist Press Association in 1924.
Reade's final work, The Outcast, a reputedly autobiographical novel, was completed shortly before his death, in the house of Humphry Sandwith, at Church Street, Wimbledon, on 24 April 1875. He was buried in St Mary's Church, Ipsden, where a window is dedicated to his memory and to that of his brother, Malcolm.
- Charlotte and Myra (1859)
Liberty Hall, Oxon (1860)
The Veil of Isis, or, The Mysteries of the Druids (1861)
Savage Africa (1863)
The African Sketch Book (1873)
The Martyrdom of Man (1872)
The Outcast (1875)