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.
  • (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.

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' 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.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

Acquired by the John Rylands Library as part of Mrs Rylands's bequest.


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 copy was briefly described in The World on 10 July 1878, and was then in the bookshop of Francis Harvey, No. 4 St James' Street, London.

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).