Frank Wild Reed (1874-1953) was a busy Whangarei pharmacist who never visited France and seldom ventured south to Auckland. Yet he amassed the greatest collection of books and manuscripts relating to the French playwright and novelist Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870) outside of France. It contains about 3350 volumes, including some 2000 sheets in Dumas’ hand-writing and dozens of French, Belgian and English first editions.
Part of a book-loving family, the older brother of Dunedin publisher A. H. Reed, Frank Reed was an avid reader from early boyhood. His enthusiasm for Dumas’ works began at age twelve, a few months before his family emigrated to New Zealand from Hayes, Middlesex, when he read a translation of the 1849 novel Le collier de la Reine (The Queen's necklace) in a cheap Routledge Railway edition. At first Dumas was just one of a number of nineteenth-century fiction writers that he admired, but he became more single-minded in his book-collecting after the 1902 Dumas centennial brought a wider range of material to light.
Reed made most of his purchases from London booksellers. Howard and Dorothy Knott, a father-and-daughter team based in Belgravia, who were, by their own admission, ‘dotty about Dumas’, proved especially valuable in tracking down rare and elusive items. Reed corresponded with them for thirty-five years. He also had a voluminous correspondence with Robert Singleton Garnett, the leading translator of Dumas into English. Although Reed and Garnett never met, they developed a warm accord through their letters. When Garnett died in 1932, he left his entire Dumas collection to Reed.
Reed taught himself French and translated all of Dumas’ plays and some poems and lesser-known prose works. His typescript translations amount, in total, to about 20,000 pages. They were accomplished late at night after Reed had put in twelve-hour shifts at his pharmacy. He worked even longer hours at the shop on Saturdays and he was an unfailingly regular church-goer on Sundays. Though Dumas was Reed's passion, the time available for reading, translating, collecting and corresponding was always strictly rationed.
Reed arranged for his collection to come to the Library after his death. Shown here are an undated letter from Dumas to his publisher Baudry discussing corrections to be made to Le trois mousquetaires, the first French edition of this internationally famous novel (1844) and a photograph of the author taken about 1867. One of the most succinct summaries of Dumas’ appeal can be found in another manuscript letter in the Reed collection, dated 15 April 1872 and sent by the great French novelist and poet Victor Hugo to Dumas’ son. Hugo writes (in Reed's translation): ‘Alexandre Dumas seduces, fascinates, interests, amuses, teaches. From all his work, in such multiplicity, so varied, so vivid, so charming, so powerful, springs a kind of light which is France's very own...’
Related resources: Rare books collection.