Charles Dickens Manuscript Surfaces
by John G. Sayers
I was asked by an acquaintance to review a hoard of miscellaneous ephemera that they had been given by a downsizing friend. I discovered that there was a Charles Dickens First Edition apparently published in 1934!
The book itself wasn’t in my friend’s archive. But there was a six-panel single-sheet advertising foldover that promoted “THE LIFE OF OUR LORD – The hitherto unpublished work of CHARLES DICKENS”. All you had to do was send $1.75 per copy to John A. Lavender in Troy, NY.
Was this a 1930s scam? After all, it doesn’t take much research to find that Dickens died in 1870. The explanation in the flyer was plausible – Dickens had stated that the manuscript was not to be published during the life of his children. Still…Dickens was an author who published for his income. Why would he withhold this potential moneymaker?
I contacted the head of our local Dickens Fellowship, a global network of Charles Dickens enthusiasts and scholars. He had never heard of the book nor the ‘withheld manuscript’ story. Hmmm?
So I went online to abebooks.com, one of my go-to websites. Credible book dealers were offering copies of the 1934 book. One featured a copy with Dickens’s signature. This would have been a remarkable scientific feat, many decades after Dickens’ death, but there was a caveat that this was a pasted-in signature. Doubt was answered. In addition, very inexpensive reprints were on offer. I assume that no one would go to the trouble to reprint a book that was a fraud!
Then to my old friend Wikipedia for further enlightenment. It supported and expanded upon the manuscript, which Dickens had read to his family every Christmas after he wrote it. Reportedly the original manuscript is now in the Free Library of Philadelphia.
Contemporary technology makes it soooo easy to explore the information in ephemera. It should be obvious why I and my fellow collectors are excited about all the historical insights that can be gleaned from the ore in modest pieces of paper! Try it. You’ll love it!