Letters and Manuscripts of Charles Dickens

Scope and Content

Letters and manuscripts are inserted in an extra-illustrated copy of John Forster's The Life of Charles Dickens, second edition (London: Chapman & Hall, 1872), three volumes, enlarged to thirteen volumes in 1874. The volumes contain the following manuscripts:

  • (i) Thirty-five letters from Dickens to John Pritt Harley, George Hogarth, Frederick Dickens and others between 1836 and 1861. See below for more information.
  • (ii) A number of letters from various people to Mrs Dickens and Miss Helen Hogarth, and a miscellaneous collection of autograph letters and portraits of many persons mentioned in Forster's work.
  • (iii) A manuscript shorthand book, in the hand of Charles Dickens. 12 folios, 225 x 186 mm. In vol. i.
  • (iv) Manuscript of a review, in the hand of Dickens, of A letter to Lord Ashley, M.P., on the Mines and Collieries Bill, by C.W. Vane, Marquess of Londonderry. 8 ff., 225 x 187 mm. In vol. i.
  • (v) Manuscript, in the hand of Dickens, of the speech by Dickens at the Royal Academy dinner, on 30 April 1870. Two large sheets have been cut into four. In vol. xii.
  • (vi) Manuscript, in the hand of Albert Richard Smith, headed The Boy and the Mantle. A Theft from the Percy Reliques. 12 ff., 249 x 199 mm. In vol. vi.

The thirty-five letters from Dickens are itemised as follows:

  • (1) To J. P. [John Pritt] Harley, Esqre, Saint James’s Theatre, from Furnival’s Inn, [London]. Thursday evening. This refers to ‘Pickwick’, The Village Coquettes, and The Strange Gentleman.
  • (2) To the same [?], from Furnival’s Inn, [London]. Tuesday evening. A request to second the proposal of Dickens as a member of the Garrick Club.
  • (3) To the same from Furnival’s Inn, [London]. Friday evening. This refers to Mrs Braham.
  • (4) To Mrs Baron Wilson, from Doughty Street, [London]. Monday morning.
  • (5) To Harley, from Doughty Street, [London]. Saturday morning. This refers to a dinner with ‘George Cruikshank and his wife, and Burnett and his’n’.
  • (6) To Richard Bentley, Esquire, from Doughty Street, [London]. Friday morning.
  • (7) To Harley, from Doughty Street, [London]. Thursday morning, [7 February 1839].
  • (8) To Harley, from Elm Cottage, Petersham, near Richmond [upon Thames]. 28 June 1839. This refers to Maclise.
  • (9) To Leitch Ritchie, Esquire, from 1 Devonshire Terrace, York Gate, Regents Park, [London]. 27 April. This refers to the ‘Clock’ and Mrs Macrone’s benefit volume [The Picnic Papers].
  • (10) To Mrs Cornwell Baron Wilson, from 1 Devonshire Terrace, York Gate, [London]. 14 April 1840.
  • (11) To Thomas Mitton, Esquire, from Devonshire Terrace, [London]. Tuesday, 18 August.
  • (12) To —— from Devonshire Terrace, [London]. Monday night, 30 November 1840. This refers to the ‘Barnaby Notice’.
  • (13) To [Angus] Fletcher, from Devonshire Terrace, [London]. Thursday, 8 April 1841. This refers to his forthcoming journey to Edinburgh, Lord Jeffrey’s enthusiasm for The Old Curiosity Shop, and a new bust.
  • (14) To Frederick Dickens, Esquire, from Devonshire Terrace, [London]. 26 July 1842.
  • (15) To Mr Cooke, from Devonshire Terrace, [London]. Thursday evening, 15 December 1842.
  • (16) To Frederick [Dickens], from Devonshire Terrace, [London]. 2 May 1843.
  • (17) To Louis Roche, from Devonshire Terrace, [London]. Wednesday, 15 May 1844. This refers to his engagement by Dickens.
  • (18) To Frederick [Dickens], from Osnaburgh Terrace, [London]. 28 June 1844. This refers to Forster; also ‘I wish you would get me a bottle of dye for my unprecedented moustache, at the Baron’s in Regent Street, or some such good place’.
  • (19) To Frederick [Dickens], from Devonshire Terrace, [London]. Saturday. This refers to George Cattermole, who ‘plays Wellbred on a short notice’.
  • (20) To George Hogarth, Esquire, from Devonshire Terrace, [London]. 19 November 1845.
  • (21) To Charles Cochrane, Esquire, from Devonshire Terrace, [London]. Monday morning, 30 March 1846. This refers to ‘The Poor Man’s Guardian Society’.
  • (22) To Frederick [Dickens], from 48 Rue de Courcelles, Paris. Friday night, 12 February 1847. This refers to a difference of Frederick with a Mr Shaw. ‘All imperfect reconciliations are bad things.’
  • (23) To Frederick [Dickens], from Chester Place, [London]. Sunday.
  • (24) To Hogarth, from Devonshire Terrace, [London]. Sunday, 2 April 1848. This refers to ‘Dombey’.
  • (25) To Frederick [Dickens], from Broadstairs, [Kent]. Sunday, 24 September 1848.
  • (26) To Hogarth, from Devonshire Terrace, [London]. Friday, 15 December 1848. This refers to The Haunted Man.
  • (27) To Frederick [Dickens], from Broadstairs, [Kent]. Monday night, 21 October 1850. This refers to a proposal ‘to act at Sir Bulwer Lytton’s on Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday, the 18th, 19th & 20th November, and to meet there on Saturday the 16th for Rehearsal in his house’.
  • (28) To Jonathan Jones, Esquire, 39 Brunswick Square, London, from Great Malvem, [Worcestershire]. 22 March 1851. With envelope.
  • (29) To Hogarth, from Devonshire Terrace, [London]. Monday, 31 March 1851. This refers to the death of Dickens’s father.
  • (30) To Hogarth, from Tavistock House, [London]. 4 March 1852. This refers to Bleak House.
  • (31) To Richard Friend, from 10 Camden Crescent, Dover, [Kent]. 1 October 1852.
  • (32) To H. W. Pickersgill, Esquire, R.A., Stratford Place, [London], from Tavistock House, [London]. Thursday, 7 June 1855. Partly in another hand. With envelope.
  • (33) To Hogarth, from Tavistock House, [London]. Tuesday, 30 December 1856.
  • (34) To John Watkins, Esquire, from Gad’s Hill Place, Higham by Rochester, Kent. Saturday night, 28 September 1861.
  • (35) To Charles Mackay, Esquire, Morning Chronicle Office. Wednesday night.

Administrative / Biographical History

Charles John Huffam Dickens (1812-1870), novelist, was born on 7 February 1812 at Portsea, Portsmouth. He was educated at a nearby dame-school and later he was a pupil at a 'classical, mathematical, and commercial school' run by the Reverend William Giles. In 1824, when the family were committed to Marshalsea debtors' prison, Charles was employed at Warren's blacking factory at Hungerford Stairs just off the Strand. Later Dickens became a day boy at Wellington House Classical and Commercial Academy in the Hampstead Road. At the age of fifteen he began work as a solicitor's clerk, for Charles Molloy of Symond's Inn, and at Ellis and Blackmore of Raymond Buildings.

Dickens began his literary career as a journalist. In 1828, having taught himself Gurney's system of shorthand, he took a share of a box for freelance reporters in Doctors' Commons rented by Thomas Charlton. During 1830 or 1831 he began to get work on his uncle's paper, the Mirror of Parliament, and then in 1832 he was taken on to the regular staff of a new evening paper, the True Sun. He rapidly acquired a reputation as an outstanding parliamentary reporter and pursued at the same time an energetic social life.

In December 1833 Dickens's first published literary work A Dinner at Poplar Walk, appeared in the Monthly Magazine. Over the next year it was followed in the same periodical by several other stories in a similar vein, for the sixth of which Dickens first used the pseudonym Boz. In 1834 Dickens was appointed to the reporting staff of the leading whig newspaper, the Morning Chronicle. In 1837 he published the highly successful Pickwick Papers, the first of Bentley's Miscellany, edited by Boz and the first instalment of Oliver Twist. Dickens resigned the editorship of the Miscellany in 1839 and by 1840 Chapman and Hall were his sole publishers. In 1843 A Christmas Carol: in Prose was published by Chapman and Hall, with four hand-coloured illustrations by John Leech.

As well as a huge list of novels Dickens published autobiography, edited weekly periodicals including Household Words (1850-1859) and All Year Round (1859), wrote travel books and administered charitable organisations. He was a theatre enthusiast, wrote plays and performed before Queen Victoria in 1851. He spent much time abroad, lecturing against slavery in the United States and touring Italy with companions Augustus Egg and Wilkie Collins, a contemporary writer who inspired Dickens's final unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Charles Dickens died on 9 June 1870 at Gad's Hill Place near Rochester, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Source: Michael Slater, 'Dickens, Charles John Huffam (1812-1870)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press - http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/7599.

Access Information

The collection is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

Acquired by the John Rylands Library as part of Enriqueta Rylands's bequest, and accessioned in October 1910 (R23170).


Description compiled by Henry Sullivan and Jo Humpleby, project archivists, with reference to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article on Charles Dickens.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued in the Hand-List of the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1928-35 (English MS 725).

Custodial History

The extra-illustrated set of Forster's The Life of Charles Dickens was briefly described in The World on 10 July 1878, by a writer who had seen it in the bookshop of Francis Harvey, No. 4 St James's Street, London. (Harvey had sold the autograph manuscript of Dickens's A Christmas Carol in 1875.)

The Daily News, 22 February 1896, p. 6, reported on a sale at Sotheby's which included a 13-volume extra-illustrated set of Forster's The Life of Charles Dickens, which appears to correspond with the present set: it was bound in red morocco, 'inlaid and extended with nearly three hundred portraits, including thirty of Dickens himself, and forming quite an interesting gallery of eminent people, together with views of places visited, autograph letters, and manuscripts. This handsome monument to fame was the property of the late Mr. Kurtz of Liverpool [Andrew George Kurtz, chemist and art collector], and was now sold by order of his executor.' It was purchased for £252 by Mr [William] Brown of Edinburgh, bookseller.

No evidence has been found of how or when it was acquired by Enriqueta Rylands.

Related Material

The Elizabeth Gaskell Collection within the JRUL includes a corrected manuscript, in the hand of Dickens, of A Child's Dream of a Star (ref.: GB 133 Eng MS 726), and twenty-six letters from Dickens to Mrs Gaskell and a further three from Dickens to the Reverend William Gaskell (ref.: GB 133 Eng MS 729).


Moses Tyson, A review and other writings by Charles Dickens (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1934).