Dickens, Charles. Sketches of Young Gentlemen and Young Couples with Sketches of Young Ladies by Edward Caswall

By Brattin, Joel J. | Dickens Quarterly, December 2012 | Go to article overview

Dickens, Charles. Sketches of Young Gentlemen and Young Couples with Sketches of Young Ladies by Edward Caswall


Brattin, Joel J., Dickens Quarterly


Dickens, Charles. Sketches of Young Gentlemen and Young Couples with Sketches of Young Ladies by Edward Caswall. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2012. Pp. xxvi + 221. 9.99 [pounds sterling] or $18.95.

This hardbound volume contains three books dating from 1837-1840. First is Edward Caswall's Sketches of Young Ladies, originally published under the pseudonym "Quiz" in July 1837. Following its success, a young Charles Dickens wrote Sketches of Young Gentlemen, published anonymously in early 1838. Two years later, on February 10, 1840, Dickens offered (again anonymously) Sketches of Young Couples. All three books were printed in duodecimo by Chapman and Hall; all three were illustrated by Hablot K. Browne, under his popular nom de crayon "Phiz." In the last 170 years or so, few Dickensians and even fewer members of the general reading public have perused these sketches, but they are interesting and amusing, and this inexpensive collection, edited by Paul Schlicke, is likely to win these agreeable works new readers.

Paul Schlicke's introduction sets the books in their historical context, especially in terms of Dickens's early career. He offers biographical background on Caswall, lays out the publication history of all three texts (noting that the publication of Sketches of Young Couples was timed to coincide precisely with the marriage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert), and points out how relatively little these books have been studied. He notes some topical allusions, and quotes from contemporary notices, including one highly favorable review in the Examiner that was "almost certainly" written by Dickens's friend and biographer John Forster (xvii). Schlicke also offers some cogent criticism, noting that Dickens offers "the marvelously lively imaginative details which constitute the hallmark of his characterization," and that "the figures are individuated even as they stand for representative types" (xvi). His comments on Browne's illustrative work are also welcome. Schlicke makes a rare error when he describes the woman on the wrapper of Sketches of Young Couples who impales a wedding ring on a lance as positioned in the "lower-right" corner of the image (xxiv), rather than the lower left, but no reader will be misled.

The sketches themselves are amusing, Caswall's and Dickens's alike. Dickens's are better, as one might expect, but the three books, linked by Phiz's eighteen prints, are all enjoyable.

Caswall refers to Dickens in his sketch of "The Literary Young Lady": she enthusiastically gushes "Then there's the Pickwick for this month. ... Dear delightful Mr. Pickwick, how I love him!" (27). Caswall pays tribute to Hablot K. Browne, too, in his comments about the "The Clever Young Lady," who, he says, creates "the most ludicrous illustrations done with her own pen, as well as Phiz himself" (62). And "Phiz," too, contributes to the circle of mutual admiration: in the lower left corner of the illustration for "The Evangelical Young Lady" (Fig. 1), we find a tiny figure in a fishing boat reminiscent of the one in which Robert Seymour depicted Mr. Pickwick dozing, on the green wrappers of the serial installments of The Pickwick Papers. This figure is of distinctively Pickwickian proportions (Fig. 2).

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]

Caswall's text is sometimes allusive. Most readers will not need glosses for Isaac Walton, Lady Macbeth, or Machiavelli, but might like them for Rollin, Silvio Pellico, and Captain Ross. Unfortunately, there are no historical annotations for these or any other allusions.

Dickens's two books include allusions to Dr. Johnson, to Harriet Martineau, and to Swift, as well as to Morison's Pills; in his sketch of "The Theatrical Young Gentleman," he mentions Buckstone, Yates, Mathews, Harley, and Braham, as well as the Garrick Club. Though perhaps most of Dickens's readers in 1840 would know about "The Edgware Road Murderer," executed in 1837 for murdering and dismembering his wife, many twentyfirst-century readers will find Dickens's allusion to "Mr. …

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