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My Apprenticeship Vol. He submitted what was called "penny-a-line stuff" to his father's employer, the British Press: information about fires, accidents, or police reports missed by the regular reporters. Several years later, constrained by his work as a clerk in a law office, he set himself the difficult task of mastering shorthand so as to return to journalism in earnest. In , during his sixteenth year, he became a free-lance reporter in the London law courts. For several years he alternated reporting, exploring the London streets, and reading avidly at the British Museum.
In his twentieth year, Dickens secured a job as a parliamentary reporter for the Mirror of Parliament , founded by his uncle John Henry Barrow. He worked there from to The reputation he made for himself would be the envy of any aspiring journalist. A contemporary of Dickens, James Grant of the Morning Advertiser , claimed that Dickens "occupied the very highest rank, not merely for accuracy in reporting, but for marvelous quickness in transcript.
Dickens's observations of parliament during and after the heady days of the Reform Bill debates constituted the liberal education neither he nor his parents could afford to finance. It also committed him to reform while making him suspicious of many reformers. The only problem with the Mirror of Parliament was that it did not pay its staff members when parliament was not in session, which forced Dickens back to free-lance court reporting.
Thus when the liberal daily newspaper the Morning Chronicle was reorganized and expanded, Dickens jumped at the chance of becoming one of its regular staff members. His thoroughness and speed helped the Chronicle provide serious competition to its conservative rival the Times. The ambition that drove Dickens during these apprenticeship years, he later admitted to his friend and biographer John Forster, "excluded every other idea from my mind for four years, at a time of life when four years are equal to four times four. He later collected these pieces in two hardcover volumes titled Sketches by Boz , adding additional material and revising the originals.
Many of the sketches are in fact essays, possessing a colloquial immediacy that vividly captures the lower- and middle-class street life he observed firsthand. In them Dickens introduced many of the scenes and much of the subject matter that later appeared in his fiction. For example, the sketch "Gin-Shops," besides demonstrating Dickens's knowledge of the lower reaches of Victorian society, is an early instance of the reformer's anger at those who condemn the symptoms of poverty without addressing its causes: "Gin-drinking is a great vice in England, but wretchedness and dirt are greater; and until you improve the homes of the poor, or persuade a half-famished wretch not to seek relief in the temporary oblivion of his own misery, with the pittance which, divided among his family, would furnish a morsel of bread for each, gin-shops will increase in number and splendor.
The critic for the Morning Post said that the "graphic descriptions of 'Boz' invest all he describes with amazing fidelity. Of the many reassessments the best is Duane DeVries's Dickens's Apprentice Years: The Making of a Novelist , which shows how these short pieces allowed Dickens to develop the technical skill necessary to his later achievements. The origins of The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club , later known simply as The Pickwick Papers , suggest that Dickens the novelist is often difficult to separate from Dickens the journalist.
The success of Sketches by Boz brought Dickens to the attention of Edward Chapman and William Hall, booksellers and publishers of periodicals who had recently begun producing books. They proposed that Dickens provide a series of Boz-like sketches to accompany the illustrations of Robert Seymour, one of England's leading comic artists. Dickens would write and edit twenty monthly installments to be sold for one shilling apiece. As reported by biographer Edgar Johnson, Dickens's friends warned him that the shilling number was a "low, cheap form of publication" that would prevent him from rising to the rank of respectable writer, but to no avail.
Dickens began writing a few days after his twenty-fourth birthday, and before the end of March , he had written 24, words, enough for the first two installments. With the twenty-nine pounds he received in payment Dickens was able to marry Catherine Hogarth on 2 April, leaving on a short honeymoon before the first installment was published.
The first number of The Pickwick Papers sold only copies, but when the last number was printed in October the run was 40, In his preface to the first cheap edition of The Pickwick Papers , Dickens ironically recalled the warning of his friends, concluding: "how right my friends turned out to be, everybody now knows. Previously, serial publication of literature was restricted to cheap reprints of classics or ephemeral nonfiction turned out by poorly paid hack writers. Readers bought or checked out novels in three-volume hardback editions. Dickens's gamble wedded the serial appeal of journalism to the emotional engagement of fiction.
All of his subsequent novels were published in installments, and many other novelists adopted this mode. The Pickwick Papers turned Dickens from an obscure reporter into a celebrity, but it did not diminish his journalistic energy. While writing The Pickwick Papers , in fact, he found that he could occasionally blend his journalism into his fiction. In May, with only two installments of The Pickwick Papers in print, Dickens, using the pseudonym Timothy Sparks, wrote a pamphlet fiercely attacking a bill that would prohibit all work and recreation on Sundays.
The pamphlet, Sunday Under Three Heads: As It Is; As Sabbath Bills Would Make It; As It Might Be Made , argued that without this day of recreation and enjoyment, increasing numbers of poor would resort to the gin shops, just the result that "your saintly law-givers" are supposedly trying to avoid as they "lift up their hands to heaven, and exclaim for a law which shall convert the day intended for rest and cheerfulness, into one of universal gloom, bigotry, and persecution.
And on 22 June, on assignment for the Morning Chronicle , Dickens attended a divorce case in which Lord Melbourne was accused of adultery with the wife of the Hon. George Norton; some of this material found its way into the farcical trial of Bardell vs. Pickwick, which appeared in the July installment.
It is likely that the monthly praise Dickens received as Pickwick's adventures unfolded convinced him of the advantages of maintaining regular contact with his readers, as journalism allowed him to do. He did sever his connection with the Morning Chronicle in November , but he continued to submit articles and letters to newspapers for the remainder of his life.
He even agreed to become founding editor of a new radical paper, the Daily News , in January , but he was not suited for the role of daily-newspaper editor, and his tenure lasted a short seventeen issues. His editorial ambitions, however, were not confined to newspapers. January saw publication of the first issue of Bentley's Miscellany , a monthly collection of fiction, biographical notes, verses, and humor edited by Dickens and published by Richard Bentley. Oliver Twist , the first of Dickens's novels to be published as part of a magazine, was serialized in the Miscellany beginning with the second issue and published in three volumes by Bentley in The novel was partly inspired by Dickens's hatred of the New Poor Law, which he heard debated in Parliament and which he viewed as a subordination of the needs of the poor to institutional control and efficiency.
Oliver Twist was a huge success for both Dickens and Bentley, but financial and editorial disputes between the two men became increasingly bitter. In a move that foreshadowed subsequent dealings with his publishers, Dickens resigned his position at the magazine in February in a disagreement over editorial control. At the end of an otherwise judicious and moderate farewell address published in the March issue, Dickens told his readers that the magazine had "always been literally 'Bentley's Miscellany,' and never mine.
Conceived in the spirit of Addison's Spectator papers, Master Humphry's Clock began as a blend of sketches, essays, and tales but quickly faltered when readers discovered there was no engrossing novel by Dickens to hold their interest. Before the decline Dickens had discussed with Forster a short pathetic tale he would write for the magazine; when trouble arose he responded with a characteristic adaptability, turning the tale into a novel.
Thus was The Old Curiosity Shop produced, one of many cases of Dickens's journalism fostering his fiction. The Old Curiosity Shop brought the circulation of Master Humphry's Clock up to ,, and Chapman and Hall published the novel in two volumes in But after Barnaby Rudge 1 volume, had also appeared in its pages, Dickens arranged with Chapman and Hall to discontinue the magazine in November and return to publishing his novels in monthly parts.
For Dickens, editing or "conducting" as he later described it a magazine was a way of maintaining close contact with his audience, something he learned to value during the publication of The Pickwick Papers. When he decided to make his first trip to America, he used the preface to Master Humphry's Clock to announce his impending separation from his readers: "I have decided, in January next, to pay a visit to America.
The pleasure I anticipate from this realization of a wish I have long entertained Their itinerary was ambitious, taking them from the eastern seaboard to the southern slave states and west to St. The process whereby Dickens's infatuation with most things American turned to disillusionment is chronicled in a series of increasingly caustic letters he wrote home to friends and in books seven through thirteen of The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit published , in twenty parts. In much of American Notes for General Circulation , published in two volumes in October , Dickens replaces this vituperation with shrewd journalistic analyses of American institutions in light of their English counterparts: asylums, factories, prisons.
In his account of touring the Tombs, Dickens applies the mordant wit of the satirist to his description of an exchange he had with a prison guard. The guard had explained that the boy in one cramped cell had been locked up for "safe keeping" because he was a witness in the upcoming trial of his father. Dickens asked if this was not hard treatment for the witness, and the guard replied: "Well, it ain't a very rowdy life, and that's a fact!
The New York Herald reviewer called Dickens "that famous penny-a-liner," with "the most coarse, vulgar, imprudent, and superficial" mind, whose view of America was that of "a narrow-minded, conceited cockney. Twentieth-century opinion ranges from high praise for the book's social criticism to disappointment at its lack of "personality" in comparison with Dickens's other travel book, Pictures from Italy A richly detailed account of the response to American Notes for General Circulation is provided in Michael Slater's introduction to Dickens on America and the Americans , a collection that attests to the continuing appeal of Dickens's nonfiction.
Unlike the two travel books, most of Dickens's journalism in the s was strident and outspoken. On 25 June a fiery letter from Dickens appeared in the Morning Chronicle supporting Lord Ashley's Bill to bar women and girls from working in the mines. On 7 July he sent a circular letter that continued his criticisms of American publishers who pirated English books. In June he lashed out against the High Church movement in an unsigned piece for the Examiner , where some of his best reporting appeared in the late s, writing to its editor Albany Fonblanque about how misguided it was "to talk in these times of most untimely ignorance among the people, about what Priests shall wear and whither they shall turn when they say their prayers!
This attack was echoed in a 13 November letter to the Times on the evening of a public hanging.
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The article ends with a scathing indictment in the form of a characteristic peroration: "The cholera, or some unusually malignant form of typhus assimilating itself to that disease, broke out in Mr. Drouet's farm for children, because it was brutally conducted, vilely kept, preposterously inspected, dishonestly defended, a disgrace to a Christian community, and a stain upon a civilized land. Having broken with Chapman and Hall over their response to the poor sales of Martin Chuzzlewit , Dickens contracted with his new publishers, William Bradbury and Frederick Evans, to bring out the first issue of the two penny weekly on 30 March This time Dickens was half-owner, assuring him editorial control, and for eight years he directed Household Words with an unerring sense of what would succeed.
He also devoted extraordinary energies to every aspect of the magazine's production, from soliciting manuscripts to directing revisions to acting as a sort of silent collaborator on most of the articles. As Harry Stone has shown in his introduction to Dickens's Uncollected Writings from Household Words , Dickens made certain that every contribution to the magazine was consistent with his views.
Central to these views was a belief in the restorative power of the imagination.
Related The Imagination of Charles Dickens (RLE Dickens): Routledge Library Editions: Charles Dickens Volume 3
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