Academic journal article Dickens Quarterly

All the Year Round, Volume II 29 October 1859-7 April 1860 Nos. 27-50

Academic journal article Dickens Quarterly

All the Year Round, Volume II 29 October 1859-7 April 1860 Nos. 27-50

Article excerpt

Background

As All the Year Round entered its second semester of publication in November 1859, Dickens was back in regular attendance at the All the Year Round Office in Wellington Street, following a successful tour of fourteen public readings in the provinces. Nine further reading engagements were scheduled for December and for the spring of 1860, all in London's St. Martin's Hall, but this left plenty of time for concentrating on magazine business and the plans for the journal's first Extra Christmas Number. Dickens's health had improved since the heat of the summer and the stress that composing instalments of A Tale of Two Cities against the clock had brought on; the novel was now readying for publication as a single volume, with five weekly instalments left to run. On 10 November, Dickens dined out with G. H. Lewes and George Eliot, impressing the latter as "a man one can thoroughly enjoy talking to--there is a strain of real seriousness along with his keenness and humour." "We had a delightful talk about all sorts of things," Lewes recorded, for his part. (2)

A few days before Christmas, Dickens took the chair at the London Tavern at the annual dinner to celebrate the founding in 1845 of schools for the children of commercial travelers who had been orphaned or left in want. "[N]othing less than your note," he wrote to George Moore, the Schools' Treasurer, after initially declining the society's invitation, "would have induced me to undertake a chairmanship" (Letters 9: 146-47). It was his first speech in over twelve months, this being the longest gap between public appearances of this kind since 1849. As he had done in his toast at the Commercial Travellers' Schools' dinner in December 1854, when the Crimean "War was raging, Dickens began by proposing the health of the army and navy, but added on this occasion "the Volunteers," for, he declared, "the plain meaning of the Rifle movement was but the revival of the old brave spirit of our forefathers, and a proof that all who had a stake in the country [...] were ready if occasion required to fight and die in its defence." (22 December 1859; Speeches 289) Numerous articles in All the Year Round during the ongoing half-year bear testament to this sense of national interest in and patriotic support for the Volunteer Movement (see below, under "Current Affairs"). Dickens's principal toast was also notable for its reminiscences of a night spent amongst commercial travelers at a "hotel in Leeds where he happened to be staying about seven weeks before" (he had stayed at the George Hotel, Bradford on 20 October, on his provincial Readings tour), and of trying to get material for his speech by "look[ing] through the advertisement pages of Bradshaw," the railway timetable, or considering "whether anything could be done with the word Travellers." (Speeches 290) The trains of thought emerging here bear close comparison with the opening he would write about a fortnight later for his first essay in All the Year Round under the guise of the "Uncommercial Traveller" (see below under "Other Series and Short Fiction"). As a group of school children were present at the dinner, Dickens also introduced a vein of storybook adventuring into his speech, figuring himself as the hero of a fairytale, and the school buildings at Pinner in Middlesex (Moore and he had apparently toured them the previous day)--as a "great castle of a bright red colour" visited in the company of "a friendly giant--a commercial giant" (Speeches 291). In letters to confidantes, Dickens was accustomed to use simplifying fairytale imagery of his own private affairs, but perhaps less self-consciously and appropriately than here. (3)

The speech was received with great warmth by the company, and John Bellew, minister of a parish church in well-to-do St. John's Wood, hailed the Chairman hyperbolically as "the man who had done more than any who had ever lived to advance the cause of humanity, and one who had been specially appointed to break down with a sledge-hammer the anointed iniquity of high places. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.