HERE was a series of sketches, without the pretence to such interest as attends a well-constructed story; put forth in a form apparently ephemeral as its purpose; having none that seemed higher than to exhibit some studies of cockney manners with help from a comic artist; and after four or five parts had appeared, without newspaper notice or puffing, and itself not subserving in the public anything false or unworthy, it sprang into a popularity that each part carried higher and higher, until people at this time talked of nothing else, tradesmen recommended their goods by using its name, and its sale, outstripping at a bound that of all the most famous books of the century, had reached to an almost fabulous number. Of part one, the binder prepared four hundred; and of part fifteen, his order was for more than forty thousand. Every class, the high equally with the low, were attracted to it. The charm of its gaiety and good humour, its inexhaustible fun, its riotous overflow of animal spirits, its brightness and keenness of observation, and, above all, the incomparable ease of its many varieties of enjoyment, fascinated everybody. Judges on the bench and boys in the street, gravity and folly, the young and the old, those who were entering life and those who were quitting it alike found it to be irresistible.
`An archdeacon,' wrote Mr. Carlyle afterwards to me, `with his own venerable lips, repeated to me, the other night, a strange profane story: of a solemn clergyman who had been administering ghostly consolation to a sick person; having finished, satisfactorily as he thought, and got out of the room, he heard the sick person ejaculate: "Well, thank God, Pickwick will be out in ten days any way!" —"This is dreadful."'
John Forster, The Life of Charles Dickens (1872-4), ed. J. W. T. Ley (1928), pp. 90-91.
THE publishers of Pickwick soon found themselves involved in a net of annoyance from the ingenious spirits who managed to steal their market, while keeping just outside the reach of the law. The bookshops began to bristle with continuations of Pickwick , so ingeniously modelled on the original as to deceive at first sight all but the very elect. The clerks at 186 Strand had to meet perpetual inquiries as to whether The Posthumous Notes of the Pickwickian Club by one `Bos' were really the work of Mr. Dickens himself; and why there should be a Penny Pickwick in one shop, while the authentic publishers could only offer the work at twelve times that price for a number. As for dramatic copyright, it practically did not exist at all; and one stage perversion after another caused infinite annoyance to Dickens, and proportionate loss to his publishers. Perhaps the height of impudence in this regard was achieved by one William Moncrieff, who produced a play called Sam Weller at the Strand Theatre, in which Mrs. Bardell was represented as the wife of Jingle, and got herself imprisoned for bigamy. When Chapman & Hall protested against this particular outrage, Moncrieff coolly asked them to state on oath whether the sales of Pickwick had not increased since his play appeared. The trap was ingeniously set, for this was the moment when Pickwick was striding along from month to month, and it was scarcely possible for the publishers to prove to legal satisfaction that post hoc might not be propter hoc, though everyone concerned knew very well that it was not. So the matter had to be dropped, Dickens consoling himself with a shrug of the shoulders, and a sarcastic reference to `the little pot of filth' which had helped to put a few shillings into the vermin-eaten pockets of so miserable a creature'.
Aruthur Waugh, A Hundred Years of Publishing, being the Story of Chapman and Hall, Ltd. (1930), pp. 38-39.
Forster had pressed upon him the artistic necessity of this death, and Dickens agreed that it was the only possible ending, but as it began to be foreshadowed in the narrative he was `inundated with imploring letters recommending poor little Nell to mercy'. He suffered from it so intensely as to feel `the anguish unspeakable'. .
Dickens's readers were drowned in a wave of grief no less overwhelming than his own. When Macready, returning home from the theatre, saw the print of the child lying dead by the window with strips of holly on her breast, a dead chill ran through his blood. `I have never read printed words that gave me so much pain,' he noted in his diary. `I could not weep for some time. Sensations, sufferings have returned to me, that are terrible to awaken . . ' Daniel O'Connell, the Irish M.P., reading the book in a railway carriage, burst into tears,, groaned, `He should not have killed her', and despairingly threw the volume out of the train window. Thomas Carlyle, previously inclined to be a bit patronizing about Dickens, was utterly overcome. Waiting crowds at a New York pier shouted to an incoming vessel, `Is Little Nell dead?' . . .
Edgar Johnson, Charles Dickens: His Tragedy and Triumph (New York, 1952), i. 303-304.
THE end came; and, at the last moment when correction was possible, this note arrived.
`I suddenly remember that I have forgotten Diogenes. Will you put him in the last little chapter? After the word "favourite" in reference to Miss Tox, you can add, "except with Diogenes, who is growing old and wilful". Or, on the last page of all, after "and with them two children: boy and girl". (I quote from memory), you might say "and an old dog is generally in their company", or to that effect. Just what you think best'
John Forster, The Life of Charles Dickens (1872-4), ed. J. W. T. Ley (1928), p. 484.
A YOUNG poet, Mr. Laman Blanchard, sent Dickens a metrical contribution for Household Words, entitled `Orient Pearls at random strung'; but Dickens returned them with
`Dear Blanchard, too much string—Yours. C.D.'
Frederick Locker-Lampson, My Confidences (1896), pp. 326-327.
AN illustrious and very dear friend of mine,though he was a double-dyed grandfather—witnessing a troop of grandchildren playing round him at Gad's Hill—disliked the appellation so much that he forbade the little ones to use it.
`What do they keep calling you?' said I.
`They are obedient children,' replied Dickens. `Their infant lives would not be worth five minutes' purchase if they called me grandpa. My name is wenerables to them.'
As the word alternated between wenbull, winible, wenapple, etc. in the infantine chorus, I was obliged to ask for an interpretation.
W. P. Frith, My Autobiography and Reminiscences (1887), iii. 276-277.
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