Sunday, August 28, 2011

Penny Pickwick

A recent bargain book purchase was a copy of The Post-Humourous Notes of the Pickwickian Club, an early Dickens plagiarism by Thomas Peckett Prest and published by Edward Lloyd. Two volumes bound in one in the complete 112 parts that were published in weekly penny issues in 1837-39, for a mere 12 pounds from an online seller. Presumably they thought it was an early edition of the Pickwick Papers and not worth much.

Here is part of an early article on penny part fiction that mentions the Penny Pickwick and some of Lloyd's other publications.

NOVELS IN PENNY NUMBERS (The Saturday Review, 18 September 1862)

Jacob Tonson is said to have had the attics of a house in Little Britain in habited by a colony of authors whose services he could call into requisition when he chose. Three of these “famous pens” slept under one rug, while one suit served their purposes when stirring abroad; and from these attics, as from an arsenal, Tonson drew forth the arms which disturbed the Ministry, or set the hearts of the nation a flutter. Since those days, the position of the recognised author has amazingly improved, but we doubt whether the race of hack authors is not greatly degenerated. Originally recruited almost solely from the ranks of wandering scholars who had spent some years at one of the Universities, who had been ushers or classical masters at schools, and who possessed, therefore, a very considerable amount of learning, our cheap authors have by degrees dwindled down to those who never saw the inside of an Eton grammar, and whose ignorance of foreign literature is only equalled by their ignorance of their own. Hence perpetual carelessness and blundering in the most ordinary sentences – hence bombast and obscurities, and a general want of style and poverty of English, pitiable enough to contemplate. Doctor Johnson, indeed, said that “every newspaper was now written in a good style,” but it was after a long training in the school of Addison, Swift, Dryden, Pope, and of the Doctor himself. All these masters are now felt to be out of place, and the spasmodic, the turgid, the quaint, or the silly style, each taken from its most popular exponent, serves the purpose. But, although the scholarship survives, the race survives. “Time was that when the brains were out the men would die,” but that time has long passed away, and a man without brains is as lively as ever. Bad, too, as Jacob Tonson undoubtedly was, we have in these days fallen upon a worse set of publishers. There was an assumption of learning at least in the books that came from “Curll’s lewd press or Tonson’s rubric post,” but are clean abandoned now by the “classic muse” in the presses from which we are about to quote. Certainly we do not desire that quotations should lie all about an article like the top dressing on a field, or, to quote Mr Sneer in the Critic, “like lumps of marl in a barren ground, encumbering what it is not in their power to fertilize;” but we do wish to feel the presence of scholarship, and to meet, at least occasionally, with a thought.

Fifty or even seventy years ago, the issue of works of fiction, as well as of religion and history, in periodical parts, was very well known. The sale was no doubt circumscribed because of the weight of material; but the country bookseller, by the aid of the slow wagon, helped the London publisher to dispose of his wares, just as now, when both are aided by the railways. But these effusions, to which a temporary vitality had been given by the success of the novels of Mrs. Radcliff and the Minerva Press school, soon died out. Of what kind they were, it is hardly worth while to inquire. Mrs Aphra Behn had set her mark upon their predecessors, the crop of which was rank, filthy and lascivious. Mrs Behn’s plays were not of the cleanest.

The stage, how loosely does Astoa tread,
Who fairly puts all characters to bed –

Says Pope, and their titles may sometimes tell us what we may expect from their contents. But, as Lady Wortley Montagu, Sir Walter Scott’s grandmother, and other ladies will witness, bad as they were, they used to be read aloud in a circle of young ladies, and apparently relished and remembered. Hence, no doubt, the lingering prejudice and hatred against works of fiction – feelings which are slowly dying out, but are yet in some families in full force. Their badness and ingrained viciousness soon called for their banishment, and in a short time young people were ashamed to be seen reading them. “Here, my dear Lucy,” cries Lydia Languish, “hide these books. Quick, quick; fling Peregrine Pickle under the toilet, throw Roderick Random into the closet, put the Innocent Adultery into The Whole Duty of Man, thrust Lord Aimworth under the sofa, and there, put The Man of Feeling into your pocket.” Containing such fruit, it was no wonder that a circulating library was stigmatized as an “evergreen tree of diabolical knowledge,” or that novels and their authors were both hated and despised. The blood and thunder romances, and the haunted castle school which Horace Walpole introduced, drove away these; and the advent of Sir Walter Scott brought the historical novel into fashion, and redeemed the whole series of fiction, but also seems entirely to have stamped out the novels in numbers, which the followers of the Della Cruscan school still indulged in. Consequently, when Mr Dickens first began to publish the Pickwick Papers in monthly parts, it was regarded as a novelty – an experiment, indeed; and the fact that novels had been issued in that form years ago, seemed to have been quite forgotten.

If the upper classes of society had become tired of the Minerva Press school, it is evident that there were lower strata into which ghosts, murders, and vampires could yet penetrate. About twenty years ago, Mr Edward Lloyd, of Salisbury Square, the proprietor of a paper afterwards edited by Douglas Jerrold, marking the success of Dickens’ shilling numbers, flooded the town with a succession of penny-number novels, especially adapted for the working classes. There was Ela, the Outcast; Ada the Betrayed, or the Murder at the Old Smithy; Varney the Vampire, or the Feast of Blood; The Old Ferry House; and The String of Pearls, a blood-thirsty novel, the principal character of which, a barber of Fleet Street, contrives to cut the throats of his customers and turn them down a trap-door, whence they issue in the shape of mutton pies of great savouriness and celebrity. Of course, with these horrors – some of them described with a rough power by a more celebrated author, who tried his ‘prentice hand on them – there was a regular flood of Jack Shephards, Blueskins, Jonathon Wilds, Claude Duvals, and pirates and robbers without number. The game, indeed, seems begun with a Penny Pickwick, of course a rank copy of Boz’s celebrated work, and issued at the same time. This, the publishers of Mr. Dickens, we believe, tried to stop by an injunction; but as the grossness of the copy was perfectly apparent, as no one could doubt that the issue was at least colourably different, since one came out monthly, price one shilling, and the other weekly at one penny, the sages of the law held that the piracy did not interfere with the original work, and it was not suppressed. At any rate, it ran on till its attractions ceased, or its readers got tired of the issue, when the tale was wound up in a moderately thick volume.

1 comment:

  1. I did some research on The Penny Pickwick, and its publisher Edward Lloyd, some time ago, for my forthcoming novel Death and Mr Pickwick, which explores the origins and afterlife of The Pickwick Papers. Unfortunately, I had to cut out most of my material relating to Lloyd in the final version of the manuscript - but I did leave in a line in which the son of The Pickwick Papers’ first illustrator, Robert Seymour, remarks, bitterly, on how the Seymour family had made no money from Pickwick’s success, while Lloyd used his Penny Pickwick plagiarism to build a publishing empire, and eventually became a press baron. Lloyd published the first British newspaper to sell a million copies. (Further info about my novel can be found at
    Best wishes
    Stephen Jarvis