It must be added that his English essay was original, and this also helped him; but had it not been for the other great piece of luck he would, in Oxford phrase, have been “completely gulfed.” As it was, however, he was placed as highly as the young men who were afterward known as Cardinal Newman and Sir Robert Lowe (Lord Sherbrooke).
At the age of twenty-one, Reade obtained a fellowship, which entitled him to an income so long as he remained unmarried. It is necessary to consider the significance of this when we look at his subsequent career. The fellowship at Magdalen was worth, at the outset, about twelve hundred dollars annually, and it gave him possession of a suite of rooms free of any charge. He likewise secured a Vinerian fellowship in law, to which was attached an income of four hundred dollars. As time went on, the value of the first fellowship increased until it was worth twenty-five hundred dollars. Therefore, as with many Oxford men of his time, Charles Reade, who had no other fortune, was placed in this position—if he refrained from marrying, he had a home and a moderate income for life, without any duties whatsoever. If he married, he must give up his income and his comfortable apartments, and go out into the world and struggle for existence.
There was the further temptation that the possession of his fellowship did not even necessitate his living at Oxford. He might spend his time in London, or even outside of England, knowing that his chambers at Magdalen were kept in order for him, as a resting-place to which he might return whenever he chose.
Reade remained a while at Oxford, studying books and men— especially the latter. He was a great favorite with the undergraduates, though less so with the dons. He loved the boat-races on the river; he was a prodigious cricket-player, and one of the best bowlers of his time. He utterly refused to put on any of the academic dignity which his associates affected. He wore loud clothes. His flaring scarfs were viewed as being almost scandalous, very much as Longfellow’s parti-colored waistcoats were regarded when he first came to Harvard as a professor.
Charles Reade pushed originality to eccentricity. He had a passion for violins, and ran himself into debt because he bought so many and such good ones. Once, when visiting his father’s house at Ipsden, he shocked the punctilious old gentleman by dancing on the dining-table to the accompaniment of a fiddle, which he scraped delightedly. Dancing, indeed, was another of his diversions, and, in spite of the fact that he was a fellow of Magdalen and a D.C.L. of Oxford, he was always ready to caper and to display the new steps.
In the course of time, he went up to London; and at once plunged into the seething tide of the metropolis. He made friends far and wide, and in every class and station—among authors and politicians, bishops and bargees, artists and musicians. Charles Reade learned much from all of them, and all of them were fond of him.