The most innovative of the 59 newspapers published in London in the late 19th century was the Pall Mall Gazette under the editorship of W. T. Stead, 1883-1889. While the Times maintained its dignity and special relationship with royalty and the aristocracy, the PMG circulation quickly rose to rival the Grande Dame with the its quick and incisive observations of life in London, Great Britain and the Empire. It was Stead who originated the now common practice of personal interviews of newsworthy personages, the first such interview being with General Charles “Chinese” Gordon and his observations on the conditions in Egypt and the threat to England of the rise of the Mahdi (The Enlightened One), shortly before Gordon left for Khartoum to confront the Mahdi. Stead also gained major attention with his crusade against child prostitution. The PMG is mentioned in the Homes story, ”The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle”, in H.G. Wells novel, The Time Machine, and in Stoker’s Dracula, as well as elsewhere.
Consequently, it was only natural for Stead to frequently feature articles detailing the exploits and interviews with the premier British thought reader, Stuart Charles Francis Cumberland. The full story of Cumberland’s career in described in my book, The Thought Reader Craze. (I have lectured on Cumberland and other thought readers at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, the Magic Circle in London and at the annual meeting of the Psychic Entertainers Association, and most recently at the Los Angeles Conference on the History of Magic.)
Cumberland is the protagonist as well in my book of historical fiction, Tales of a Thought Reader, now on Amazon. Tales is a collection of six short stories set in Cumberland’s early career, which also includes the story of his first encounter with a certain consulting detective.
My current novel in-progress, Jack and the Thought Reader, is set in the London of 1888-89, in which Cumberland must confront the terrifying phenomenon called Jack the Ripper.
During his career, Cumberland wrote a number of non-fiction books on his professional travels which led to his election as a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in 1887, along with a popular series of occult novels, one of which, The Vasty Deep, in two volumes, was reviewed in the Pall Mall Gazette by Oscar Wilde, who wrote unsigned book reviews for the PMG at that time for extra money.
(The complete Wilde review of The Vasty Deep, can be found as an appendix in my non-fiction work, The Thought Reader Craze, McFarland, 2013)
Here is the opening paragraph of Wilde’s review which is typical Wilde, and great fun:
A Thought Reader’s Novel
There is a great deal to be said in favour of reading a novel backwards. The last page is as a rule the most interesting, and when one begins with the catastrophe or the dénouement, one feels on pleasant terms of equality with the author. It is like going behind the scenes of a theatre. One is no longer taken in, and the hair-breadth escapes of the hero and the wild agonies of the heroine leave one absolutely unmoved. One knows the jealously guarded secret, and one can afford to smile at the quite unnecessary anxiety that the puppets of fiction always consider their duty to display. In the case of Mr. Stuart Cumberland’s novel, “The Vasty Deep” as he calls it, the last page is certainly thrilling, and makes us curious to know more …
Pall Mall Gazette
July 5, 1889