© 2017 by Weiner Nusim Foundation.

The Critical Writings of Charles Dickens:
A resource for scholars and Dickens lovers

The Rights of the Artist

Dickens’ concern with the rights of the artist – and that for him meant the rights of the author - is manifested many times in his letters, speeches, and articles. In general his approach is two-fold; he wants to ensure that the man of letters is treated with respect and receives social recognition. For Dickens that means the writer’s literary judgments are not questioned by publishers. At the same time, Dickens is not satisfied unless the writer is paid well in his own country and wherever in the world his works are published.

Dickens' concern with the rights of the author is manifested many times in his letters, speeches, and articles. In general his approach is two-fold; he wants to ensure that the man of letters is treated with respect and receives social recognition. For Dickens that means the writer's literary judgments are not questioned by publishers. At the same time, Dickens is not satisfied unless the writer receives financial remuneration as well.

At the beginning of his career, Dickens engaged in many battles with his editors and publishers, fighting for more money and resisting attempts to republish his works without his being paid for it. Consistent with this is his campaign for the institution of international copyright.

 

Sir John Easthope (1784-1865) was a politician, journalist, and publisher of Morning Chronicle where Dickens' Sketches by Boz were appearing. Read Letter

 

In 1837, Dickens published "Some Particulars Concerning a Lion" in Mudfog and Other Sketches.

 

The Letters of Charles Dickens: The Pilgrim Edition Volume 2: 1840-1841
Edited by Madeline House, Graham Storey
Oxford University Press, USA, 1969

Henry Colburn (unknown-1855) was an important magazine publisher and owner with whom Dickens had issue over several essays by the poet Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864). John Forster (1812-1876) was a man of letters, longtime friend, and literary advisor who became Dickens' biographer. Read Letter

 

The Letters of Charles Dickens: The Pilgrim Edition Volume 2: 1840-1841
Edited by Madeline House, Graham Storey
Oxford University Press, USA, 1969

George Cruikshank (1792-1878) was an artist, caricaturist, and illustrator of Dickens' Sketches by Boz and Oliver Twist and most of Bentley's Miscellany. His Omnibusappeared monthly from May 1841 to January 1842. The James Grant (1802-1879) sharply criticized in the letter was a journalist who had included a biography of Cruikshank in his Portraits of Public Characters, 1841. Cruikshank refuted some of Grant's statements and corrected others in "My Portrait," which appeared in the Omnibus. Read Letter

 

The Letters of Charles Dickens: The Pilgrim Edition Volume 2: 1840-1841
Edited by Madeline House, Graham Storey
Oxford University Press, USA, 1969

Thomas Mitton (1812-1878) was Dickens' close friend and solicitor. Mentioned in the letter are Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), novelist and symbol for Dickens of the wronged author, and Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer (1803-1873), who was a dramatist, statesman, and author of The Last Days of PompeiiPelham, and Reinzi. Frederick Marryatt (1792-1848) was a naval captain and novelist. In the second half of the letter Dickens refers to William Hall, a partner in the publishing firm Chapman and Hall where Edward Chapman (1804-1880) was the senior partner. The end of the letter is lost. Read Letter

 

In a speech given in Birmingham on January 6, 1853, Dickens spoke about the accessibility of literature. In the speech he mentions John Sandford (1801-1873), the Archdeacon of Coventry, and the painter Edward Matthew Ward (1816-1879). He also references the New Literary and Scientific Institution, by which he meant the Birmingham and Midland Institute.

 

On August 15, 1865, Dickens sent a letter to Forster about the Life of John Clare by Frederick Martin. For all his championing of the rights of the author, Dickens was indignant when an artist he considered minor was touted as a major figure.

 

At the Farewell Banquet before his second trip to America, Dickens gave a speechpraising the English people's appreciation of the arts, and explained that the American enthusiasm for his work was drawing him back to the New World.

Dickens scorned any artistic agreement where the author becomes independent from the bookseller. In a letter to Forster on November 10, 1866, he criticizes the idea of a system based on royalties.

Author's Right to Recognition

Dickens on Other Writers

The three articles which follow on Robert Burns, Leigh Hunt, and Walter Savage Landor are all memorial tributes to authors whose lives according to Dickens had greater significance than their works.

"Burns Viewed as a Hat-Peg," by Wilkie Collins contrasts to the actual poet what the image of Burns had become to various groups of people.

 

"Leigh Hunt. A Remonstrance," is Dickens' final tribute to the enduring charm of a writer whose less amusing side he satirized as Harold Skimpole in Bleak House.

 

"Landor's Life," by Dickens is a review of John Forster's biography of the poet. Dickens praises the work for its truthfulness in drawing the personality of the eccentric humanitarian whom he portrayed as Lawrence Boythorn in Bleak House.

 

The Nonesuch Dickens: The Letters of Charles Dickens, Volume III
Edited by Walter Dexter
The Nonesuch Press
Duckworth & Co, London, 2005

Dickens wrote to Collins about edits to the article "Burns Viewed as a Hat-Peg," seeking to make it less explicit. Wilkie Collins (1824-1889) was a novelist and playwright, close friend and associate of Dickens. He wrote The Woman in White, 1860, and The Moonstone, 1868. Read Letter

 

Robert Burns (1759-1796) was a farmer, excise officer, and popular Scottish poet. Wilkie Collins' article "Burns Viewed as a Hat-Peg" was published in HW on February 12, 1859.

 

James Henry Leigh Hunt (1784-1859) was a critic, poet, and essayist. Dickens published "Leigh Hunt: A Remonstrance" in AYR on December 24, 1859.

 

Dickens published a review of Forster's Walter Savage Landor: A Biography in AYR on July 24, 1864. On the last page, Dickens writes "the name of Walter Landor is associated with the present writer's, over the grave of a young officer," meaning his late son, Walter Landor Dickens (1841-1863).

Activities on Behalf of Authors

In 1847 Dickens organized an amateur theatrical group to present plays for the benefit of needy authors. The group's first performance was Everyman in His Humour. The following year the production was The Merry Wives of Windsor. In 1851 the play was Bulwer Lytton's Not So Bad As We Seem.

Dickens' efforts, combined with Bulwer Lytton's, to help impecunious members of their profession, led to the formation of the Guild of Literature and Art, as described in Dickens' article of that name in Household Words, May 10, 1851. The success of an earlier attempt to help men of letters is questioned by Henry Morley in HW, March 8, 1856, in "The Royal Literary Fund." In his criticisms of the Fund, Morley was repeating Dickens' often voiced sentiment, that the Fund supported the wrong people. Widows of prosperous writers received large stipends, while some needy living authors received insignificant sums.

 

On June 12, 1847, Dickens wrote to Dr. Hodgson, Principal of the Liverpool Institute, to ask for his assistance with managing the production of his group's plays.

 

Alexander Ireland (1810-1894) was owner of the Manchester Examiner who had published an essay on The Genius and Writings of Leigh Hunt in the paper. Dickens wrote him a letter about his theatrical pursuits on July 11, 1847, including a list of well known people who were involved. John Poole (1786-1872) was a dramatist. Douglas Jerrold (1803-1857) was a playwright, novelist, periodical editor, and close friend of Dickens. John Leech (1817-1864) was an artist and illustrator of Dickens' Christmas Books from 1843-1848. Frank Stone (1800-1859) was a painter and illustrator of The Haunted Man and First Cheap Editions of Nicholas Nickleby and Martin Chuzzlewit. Augustus Egg (1800-1859) was a painter and friend of Collins and Dickens. Henry Lewes (1817-1878) was a critic, novelist, and philosopher, as well as the companion of George Eliot. Dudley Costello (1803-1865) was a journalist. Mark Lemon (1809-1870) was a journalist, dramatist, and novelist, and founder of Punch. Thomas James Thompson (1812-1881) was a wealthy friend of Dickens.

 

Mary Victoria Cowden Clarke (1809-1898) was the wife of Charles Cowden Clarke, editor of Shakespeare's Characters. Dickens wrote her a letter on April 14, 1848, asking her to act in The Merry Wives of Windsor.

 

The Nonesuch Dickens: The Letters of Charles Dickens, Volume II
Edited by Walter Dexter
The Nonesuch Press
Duckworth & Co, London, 2005

Animal Magnetism is a farce that was performed with The Merry Wives of Windsor or Every Man in His Humour by Dickens' company. The term animal magnetism was used then to describe what we call hypnotism. Read Letter

 

William George Spencer Cavendish, Duke of Devonshire (1790-1858), provided Devonshire House for Court performances of Not So Bad As We Seem. In a letter to him dated March 4, 1851, Dickens asked for his help.

 

Sir Charles Beaumont Phipps (1801-1866) was an equerry to Queen Victoria and private secretary to Prince Albert. Dickens wrote to him on March 22, 1851, asking him to show the script of Not So Bad As We Seem to the royal couple.

 

Joseph Janion was a lawyer for John Knowles, proprietor of the Theater Royal in Manchester, who opposed Dickens' decision to perform Not So Bad As We Seem in Free-Trade Hall, an unlicensed theater in Manchester. Dickens wrote him a letter on January 31, 1852, some of which is found here; the complete text follows. Read Letter

 

The Mr. Talfourd mentioned in the second part of this notice was Thomas Noon Talfourd (1795-1854), a sergeant-at-law and dramatist. Read Letter

 

Bulwer Lytton presided as Chairman over the banquet to honor Macready on March 1, 1851. Dickens used his speech as an opportunity to publicize their joint project, The Guild of Literature and Art.

 

On May 10, 1851, Dickens published "The Guild of Literature and Art" in HW, hoping to spread awareness of his charity benefiting struggling writers.

 

Henry Morley (1822-1894), a writer and contributor to HW published the article "The Royal Literary Fund" on March 8, 1856. Though the article is attributed to Morley according to the HW Contributor's Book, K. J. Fielding in The Speeches of Charles Dickens, 1960, attributes the final two paragraphs and general revision to Dickens.

 

The Nonesuch Dickens: The Letters of Charles Dickens, Volume II
Edited by Walter Dexter
The Nonesuch Press
Duckworth & Co, London, 2005

Daniel Maclise (1806-1870) was a well-known painter and friend of Dickens. In a letter to Maclise about his theatrical pursuits, Dickens refers to his role of Richard Wardour, the principal character in The Frozen DeepRead Letter

International Copyright

Much of Dickens' concern with the rights of the author centered on international copyright. His interest dated from the beginning of his career when he was confronted with numerous domestic and foreign pirated editions of Sketches by Boz. He said in one of his early letters that if there had been international copyright, Scott would not have spent himself in writing frantically to repay his debts. His campaign to protect the rights of writers was intensified when he went to America early in 1842 and it cost him some popularity there. Nonetheless, he persisted in his demands for protection of authors until the end of his life.

 

Dickens gave a speech in Boston on February 1, 1842 where he campaigned for a copyright law that applied to both America and England.

 

When Dickens was in Hartford, Connecticut several days later, he gave another speechon the subject of international copyright, invoking the tragic story of Scott to drive his point home.

 

In a letter to Forster on February 24, 1842, Dickens vented his anger at how Americans received his speeches about international copyright. In the letter he mentions American writers who he feels are victims of the situation. Washington Irving (1783-1859) was a writer of imaginative histories and tales based on history. He was attached to the US Embassy in Madrid from 1826 and minister to Madrid from 1842-1846. William Hickling Prescott (1796-1855) was a historian, Charles Fenno Hoffman (1806-1884) was a novelist, poet, and editor, and William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878) was a poet. Fitzgreene Halleck (1790-1867) was a poet and clerk to John Jacob Astor while Richard Henry Dana (1815-1882) was an author and lawyer who wrote Two Years Before the Mast. Washington Allston (1779-1843) was an American painter. Mentioned towards the end of the letter is Henry Clay (1777-1852), former Secretary of State and unsuccessful Presidential candidate.

 

The Nonesuch Dickens: The Letters of Charles Dickens, Volume II
Edited by Walter Dexter
The Nonesuch Press
Duckworth & Co, London, 2005

Dickens wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Evening Post while in America, asking him to inform the American public about English opinions on copyright laws by publishing some letters prominent writers. He mentions Thomas Carlyle (1775-1881), the writer and critic. Read Letter

 

On May 1st, 1842, Dickens wrote to Henry Austin (1812-1862), the architect and civil engineer who had married Letitia, Dickens' younger sister, about his fight in America for international copyright.

 

On May 3, 1842, Dickens wrote to Forster bemoaning the pleasure that Americans took in reading pirated English books: "The raven hasn't more joy in eating a stolen piece of meat, than the American has in reading the English book which he gets for nothing."

 

Dickens published a circular about international copyright addressed "To British Authors and Journals" that appeared in the Examiner, The Morning Chronicle, the Athenaeum, the Literary Gazette, and other journals, in July 1842. In the piece he mentions James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851), the American novelist of the frontier who wrote The Last of the Mohicans, 1826, Prairie, 1827, and The Deerslayer, 1841.

 

In a letter to The Times on January 16, 1843, Dickens sought to correct the erroneous assumption written in that paper, that Dickens "went to America as a kind of Missionary in the cause of international copyright."

 

Dickens wrote to Charles Babbage (1782-1871), an inventor and mathematician, about his pessimistic view of the Cockspur Street Society, an idealistic group that Dickens believed could never make an impact on international copyright laws.

 

James Thomas Fields (1817-1881) was a publisher who entertained Dickens on his second American tour, 1867-1868. In October 1867, Dickens wrote to his American friend, disputing a false interview printed in the London Tribute.

 

On July 29, Dickens wrote to J.T. Serle (1798-1889), an actor and dramatist who founded the Dramatic Author's Society with Douglas Jerrold. Dickens' letter predicts that international copyright laws will not change "for a long time to come."

 

On May 14, 1870, Dickens wrote to Fields, Osgood and Co. about the copyright for The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The letter is partially included online, and can be found below in its entirety. Howard Malcolm Ticknor was a partner of James T. Fields in Ticknor, Field and Reed, publishers. Frederic Ouvry (1814-1881) was an antiquary and lawyer. Read Letter