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  • Thackeray's Contributions to the Times1
  • Gary Simons (bio)

Many editions of Thackeray's writings have been represented as his "Complete Works," yet all of these editions have either ignored or given meager representation to Thackeray's journalistic contributions to the Times. During portions of 1837-1840 Thackeray wrote as many as five contributions per month for the Times and considered his literary criticism for that paper a primary source of his livelihood.2 Despite the continued interest in other aspects of Thackeray's work, these early critical reviews remain relatively unexamined and unreprinted and their significance unexplored. One reason for this gap in Thackeray scholarship has been the difficulty of article identification and attribution: reviews in the Times were published anonymously, no master logs matching article to author have been found, and the articles themselves typically offer fewer clues for literary detectives than do Thackeray's works of satiric fiction. Thackeray himself never collected and republished his Times critical reviews. Only in 1888, some 25 years after Thackeray's death, did Charles Johnson first attribute a handful of Times critical reviews to Thackeray, and the currently most comprehensive academic edition of Thackeray's works, the 1908 Oxford Thackeray, includes just a half dozen of Thackeray's Times critical articles.3

A second factor that may explain this anomaly is the commonly held assumption that these now rarely read reviews are of little literary merit. Yet when the twentieth-century Thackeray scholar Gordon Ray identified and reprinted 33 of Thackeray's 1844-1846 literary critical reviews from another London paper, the Morning Chronicle, he (Ray) found "critical journalism of a high order" and "an ability to make a wide variety of topics humanly interesting, . . . a penetrating insight into character, an ability to present in a few phrases the whole ambiance of a subject, a fine irony playing over the incongruities of life, a keen eye for [End Page 332] the devastating anecdote, and a felicity in quotation."4 Surely some of Thackeray's reviews in the Times might offer, even if in lesser degree, these same virtues. Additionally, of course, a fuller understanding of Thackeray's critical articles for the Times could provide new insights into Thackeray's development as an author by revealing what he read, how he expressed himself, and how he saw the world during his formative years as a journalist.

In contradistinction to Ray's Morning Chronicle study, no one has yet similarly identified and brought into focus Thackeray's earlier contributions to the Times. Indeed, the last systematic effort to explore that body of work appears to have been Gulliver's 1934 Thackeray's Literary Apprenticeship, and that difficult-to-acquire book apparently has not always been fully appreciated by more recent Thackeray scholars. Thus, in an effort to provide as current and as comprehensive an understanding as possible, this paper: (1) begins with an overview of the 1837-1840 Times and of Thackeray's work for that paper; (2) summarizes and reassesses Gulliver's contributions; (3) critiques some prior attributions of Times articles to Thackeray and clarifies earlier statements in the literature; (4) utilizes records of financial payments from the Times to Thackeray to confirm some prior attributions and to identify several previously unattributed Thackeray articles; (5) proposes a small number of additional article attributions based on what appear to be compelling comparisons to known Thackeray articles and other internal evidence, and presents arguments for the likely existence of additional unattributed Thackeray articles in the Times; and (6) puts forward in summary a fuller (although certainly not complete) listing of Thackeray's contributions to the Times than has heretofore been realized.

I Thackeray and the Times

During the years 1837-1840 the Times was published six days a week as a six-column broad-sheet, typically in four- or eight-page editions. From July 1837 through December 1840 the Times published roughly 250 literary review articles (excluding advertisements, announcements, articles consisting entirely of extracts, or articles taken from other publications), an average of roughly six per month. Although all kinds of books were reviewed, most reviewed works were either novels, travel books, histories, biographies, or religiously-oriented. Individual articles ranged in size from...


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