DICKENS (CHARLES) Autograph letter to John Forster, concerning the dedication of Pickwick Papers to Talfourd, [1837]
Lot 58
Sold for £1,125 (US$ 1,482) inc. premium

Lot Details
Autograph letter (first sheet only), to his intimate friend, agent and biographer, John Forster, chiding him for attempting to distract him from work ("...It is cruel of you to tempt me. I must be firm. Tomorrow morning I am bound to work, though God knows I should enjoy a ride, to an extent that you can scarcely imagine possible..."), and suggesting instead that he goes riding with Talfoud in the morning and that they then dine together ("...We will be quite alone, and make no preparation. Persuade him; tell him how much he would delight me; how delighted I should be to relax for a few hours; and how much better I should work tomorrow morning, if I had such a prospect before me..."); and holding out the ultimate threat – "Tell him in short that I will take no denial, and that if he doesn't come, I will state it in the Dedication and appeal to the Public"; and suggesting that he "walk round this way to-night" and tell him what he has done; promising that "If I have reached the point I want to arrive at", he will "steal out to Pulteney Street", 2 pages, on writing paper blind-stamped with a crown [?Bath paper], lightly stained and splitting at folds, 8vo, "Doughty Street./ Friday noon", [April or first week of May 1837]


  • A HITHERTO UNKNOWN LETTER BY DICKENS TO FORSTER, MAKING LIGHT OF HIS FORTHCOMING DEDICATION OF THE PICKWICK PAPERS TO THOMAS NOON TALFOURD: in the event of course, his tongue-in-cheek threat that, should Talfourd fail to turn up, he "will state it in the Dedication and appeal to the Public" came to nothing, and in the famous dedication he is addressed without admonition: 'To Mr Serjeant Talfourd, MP, Etc., Etc.,/ My Dear Sir,/ If I had not enjoyed the happiness of your private friendship, I should still have dedicated this work to you, as a slight and most inadequate acknowledgment of the inestimable services you are rendering to the literature of your country, and of the lasting benefits you will confer upon the authors of this and succeeding generations, by securing to them and their descendants a permanent interest in the copyright of their works... Beside such tributes, any avowal of feeling from me, on the question to which you have devoted the combined advantages of your eloquence, character, and genius, would be powerless indeed. Nevertheless, in thus publicly expressing my deep and grateful sense of your efforts in behalf of English literature, and of those who devote themselves to the most precarious of all pursuits, I do but imperfect justice to my own strong feelings on the subject, if I do no service to you'.

    Like many early Dickens letters, this is undated, except by day of the week. However it clearly predates the dedication to Pickwick (dated 27 September 1837), while the Doughty Street address and fact that it is not written on mourning paper indicates that it was written in April (when he moved to his new address) or the first week of May 1837 (Mary Hogarth dying on the 7th), and certainly before December 1838, when he left Doughty Street. This is confirmed by the handwriting, which closely resembles that of a letter to Beard, probably written on 12 April 1837, especially as regards the pot-hook 'M' of the salutation, which evolved into its more familiar form in February 1838, as well as such particulars as the manner of writing the 'I' pronoun, besides its overall appearance (see the discussion in the Pilgrim Edition of The Letters of Charles Dickens, vol. i., 1965, p, xxv, and illustration; where our letter is not printed). Dickens was at this time working on Pickwick, which was not to be finished until October, and was in addition hard at work on Oliver Twist, which he had begun in January 1837. So he was indeed, as he tells Forster, "bound to work".

    This letter derives from the Talfourd-Ely papers: for other Dickens letters from this source, see the sale in our Phillips rooms, 30 June 2000, and in our Bonhams rooms, 23 March 2004, as well as the following lot; so there is a possibility that it was given by Forster to Talfourd when passing on Dickens's jocund threat (indeed, it might have been Forster himself who removed the conjoint sheet).
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  1. Simon Roberts
    Specialist - Books, Maps, Manuscripts and Historical Photographs
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