Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 15.djvu/27

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Dickens
Dickens
21

incapable of envying her success. This was about April 1824.

The family circumstances improved. The elder Dickens had received a legacy which helped to clear off his debts; he had a pension, and after some time he obtained employment as reporter to the ‘Morning Chronicle.’ About 1824 Dickens was sent to a school kept by a Mr. Jones in the Hampstead Road, and called the Wellington House Academy. His health improved. His school-fellows remembered him as a handsome lad, overflowing with animal spirits, writing stories, getting up little theatrical performances, and fond of harmless practical jokes, but not distinguishing himself as a scholar. After two years at this school, Dickens went to another kept by a Mr. Dawson in Henrietta Street, Brunswick Square. He then became clerk in the office of Mr. Molloy in New Square, Lincoln’s Inn, and soon afterwards (from May 1827 to November 1828) clerk in the office of Mr. Edward Blackmore, attorney, of Gray’s Inn. His salary with Mr. Blackmore rose from 13s. 6d. to 15s. a week. Dickens’s energy had only been stimulated by the hardships through which he had passed. He was determined to force his way upwards. He endeavoured to supplement his scanty education by reading at the British Museum, and he studied shorthand writing in the fashion described in ‘David Copperfield.’ Copperfield’s youthful passion for Dora reflects a passion of the same kind in Dickens’s own career, which, though hopeless, stimulated his ambition. He became remarkably expert in shorthand, and after two years’ reporting in the Doctors’ Commons and other courts, he entered the gallery of the House of Commons as reporter to the ‘True Sun.’ He was spokesman for the reporters in a successful strike. For two sessions he reported for the ‘Mirror of Parliament,’ started by a maternal uncle, and in the session of 1835 became reporter for the ‘Morning Chronicle.’ While still reporting at Doctors’ Commons he had thoughts of becoming an actor. He made an application to George Hartley [q. v.], manager at Covent Garden, which seems to have only missed acceptance by an accident, and took great pains to practice the art. He finally abandoned this scheme on obtaining his appointment on the ‘Morning Chronicle’ (Forster, ii. 179). His powers were rapidly developed by the requirements of his occupation. He was, as he says (Letters, i. 438), ‘the best and most rapid reporter ever known.’ He had to hurry to and from country meetings, by coach and post-chaise, encountering all the adventures incident to travelling in the days before railroads, making arrangements for forwarding reports, and attracting the notice of his employers by his skill, resource, and energy. John Black [q. v.], the editor, became a warm friend, and was, he says, his ‘first hearty out-and-out appreciator.’

He soon began to write in the periodicals. The appearance of his first article, ‘A Dinner at Poplar Walk’ (reprinted as ‘Mr. Minns and his Cousin’), in the ‘Monthly Magazine’ for December 1833, filled him with exultation. Nine others followed till February 1835. The paper in August 1834 first bore the signature ‘Boz.’ It was the pet name of his youngest brother, Augustus, called ‘Moses,’ after the boy in the ‘Vicar of Wakefield’ which was corrupted into Boses and Boz. An ‘Evening Chronicle,’ as an appendix to the ‘Morning Chronicle,’ was started in 1835 under the management of George Hogarth, formerly a friend of Scott. The ‘Monthly Magazine’ was unable to pay for the sketches, and Dickens now offered to continue his sketches in the new venture. His offer was accepted, and his salary raised from five to seven guineas a week. In the spring of 1836 the collected papers were published as ‘Sketches by Boz,’ with illustrations by Cruikshank, the copyright being bought for 150ɭ. by a publisher named Macrone. On 2 April 1836 Dickens married Catherine, eldest daughter of Hogarth, his colleague on the ‘Morning Chronicle.’ He had just begun the ‘Pickwick Papers.’ ‘The Sketches,’ in which it is now easy to see the indications of future success, had attracted some notice in their original form. Albany Fonblanque had warmly praised them, and publishers heard of the young writer. Messrs. Chapman & Hall, then beginning business, had published a book called ‘The Squib Annual’ in November 1835, with illustrations by Seymour. Seymour was anxious to produce a series of ‘cockney sporting plates.’ Chapman & Hall thought that it might answer to publish such a series in monthly parts accompanied by letterpress. Hall applied to Dickens, suggesting the invention of a Nimrod Club, the members of which should get into comic difficulties suitable for Seymour’s illustrations. Dickens, wishing for a freer hand, and having no special knowledge of sport, substituted the less restricted scheme of the Pickwick Club, and wrote the first number, for which Seymour drew the illustrations. The first two or three numbers excited less attention than the collected ‘Sketches,’ which had just appeared. Seymour killed himself before the appearance of the second number. Robert William Buss [q. v.] illustrated the third number. Thackeray, then an unknown