A Christmas Carol (Dickens, 1843 facsimile)/Introduction
ARE you running a corner in 'Christmas Carols?" a friend inquired the other evening, as he stood facing my book-shelves, looking at a little cluster of books in brown cloth jackets. "No, not exactly," I answered, "but that book has been a favorite for a lifetime; indeed, with the exception of the manuscript, which is safely locked up in the Pierpont Morgan Library, I admit to having a very pretty 'run' of 'Carols,' including a presentation copy, with an inscription reading, 'Thomas Beard, from his old friend Charles Dickens.' "
The manuscript of the "Carol," so rewritten, interlined, and corrected as to be almost illegible, except to one accustomed to Dickens's handwriting, is far from being Mr. Morgan's chief literary possession; but it is an ornament to any collection, and Miss Greene, who showed it to me not long ago, told me that it is one of the items that almost all visitors wish to see.
Contrasting small things with great, I have in my own Dickens collection the original drawing by John Leech of "The Last of the Spirits," which I was lucky enough to pick up in a New York bookshop a few years ago, and I am still seeking the original drawing of Mr. Fezziwig's Ball. It must be in existence somewhere; who has it? It is the gayest little picture in all the world, and fairly exudes Christmas cheer. Who would not love to dance a Sir Roger de Coverly with Mrs. Fezziwig, her face one vast substantial smile?
We hear much of the world being shaken from centre to circumference by this or that evil influence; influences for good are not so dramatic in their operation, but they are of greater duration, and among them Dickens's "Christmas Carol" ranks high. It is the best book of its kind in the world. I am confirmed in this opinion by Dickens's friend, Lord Jeffrey, who said that it had done more good than all the pulpits in Christendom. Thackeray referred to it as a national benefit, and with the passage of time the English-speaking world has grown to look upon it as an international blessing.
The first edition of this famous book appeared a few days before Christmas, 1843, and six thousand copies were sold the first day. It appeared when the vogue for "colored plate" books was at its height; but from the figures given by Forster, Dickens's biographer, it would seem that no care had been taken by the publishers to discover what the cost of manufacture would be before the selling price was fixed. No expense was spared to make it a beautiful little book. It was daintily printed, and tastefully bound in cloth, with gilt edges, and Leech had supplied drawings for four full-page engraved illustrations which were subsequently exquisitely colored by hand, and in addition there were four small woodcuts from the same artist. But when the financial returns came in, Dickens was terribly disappointed. He had been led to expect that he would receive a thousand pounds, whereas there was a profit of but two hundred and thirty. However, the second and third editions brought the profits up to over seven hundred and twenty-odd pounds, and countless other editions followed, so that in the end the profits were considerable; but it was Dickens's first and last experience with "colored plates."
John C. Eckel, the accepted authority on first editions of Dickens, says that the "Carol" has just enough "bibliographical twists" to make it interesting. An ardent collector could master them in ten minutes. The title-page of the first issue of the first edition should be printed in red and blue; the date must be 1843; and Stave I, on page one, should have the numeral "1," and not be spelled out, "one," as it was in the second issue. Moreover, the "end-papers," that is to say, the papers pasted down inside the covers, should be of a Paris green color and not a pale lemon yellow. I bought such a copy thirty years ago for thirty shillings, and sold it a few years later, when I was hard up, for fifteen dollars; such a copy is now worth thirty pounds if in fine condition, whereas a copy lacking these points is worth only a few dollars.
A few, a very few copies were issued with the title-page in red and green, with the lemon end-papers, and "Stave I," bearing the date 1844. These were evidently trial pages, and the green border was abandoned in favor of a border printed in blue. On account of their great scarcity, these red-and-green "Carols" are much more costly—I forget what I paid for mine. Charles Sessler, the Philadelphia bookseller, who specializes in Dickens, tells me that $450 would not be high for a really fine copy. Charles Plumptre Johnson, in his "Hints to Dickens Collectors," says, "I have in my possession a copy, absolutely uncut, which I believe to be the first copy printed and sent to the binder for his guidance." Oh, joy! Oh, joy!
Not everyone can read the book as it ought to be read, as I have frequently read it, on Christmas Eve in London; but it is a book which should be read, if not in an early edition, at least in such a format as, reader, the one you hold in your hand. I have always resented this book being got up in modern fashion, however beautifully illustrated, printed, and bound; nor should it be read in a large volume out of a "set," or expensively bound in leather. No, as my friend Dr. Johnson has said, "a book that can be held easily in the hand and carried to the fireside is the most useful after all," and this is especially true of the "Carol," which is a fireside book, if there ever was one. Originally it sold for five shillings, but this was almost eighty years ago, and shillings went further in those days than dollars do to-day. I have no idea what the price of this book will be, but whatever it is, buy it: buy two copies of it, one to give away and one to read, as the season rolls around. And when you come to know it, by heart almost, so that it begins to sing the moment you turn its pages, you will come to love the music of this Carol, and in the spirit of Christmas will exclaim, with Tiny Tim: "God Bless Us, Every One."
A. Edward Newton.
Daylesford, Penna., September 2, 1920.