- Dickens Donates a Piece of Pickwick
Fewer than fifty of perhaps about one thousand five hundred slips of paper that constituted the manuscript of The Pickwick Papers are known to survive. The locations of most of these remnants are well known, but relatively durable and generally accessible sources of facsimiles are available for less than a half.1 And quite why these particular slips came to be saved in the first place is, in some cases, not very clear.2
Among the preserved pieces are five consecutive slips from chapter 39 of the novel. They became part of the collection of the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia in 1954, when it was established as a testamentary gift by the eminent rare book seller and collector Dr A. S. W. Rosenbach and his brother.3 This essay records a previously uncollected message from Dickens in which he donated these five slips in 1840 to a charitable cause, and so contributed to their survival. It additionally contains facsimiles of the slips and collates information about the current locations of all the known surviving slips, and about sources, where they exist, of their facsimiles.
The acquisition at an auction at Sotheby’s in London on 17 December 1928 of five pages of Pickwick by an agent of Dr. Rosenbach was widely noted in [End Page 23] the British and international press. Because the story had local interest, a provincial newspaper, the Yorkshire Post, provided some detail:
It was a great surprise […] when Dr. Rosenbach paid £7,500 for a mere fragment of the “Pickwick” manuscript – five small quarto pages containing the description of Arabella Allen’s midnight meeting in the garden with Mr. Pickwick and Mr. Winkle.
This was easily a record for any piece of Dickens manuscript. […] It was the property of Mr. G. C. Whiteley, Old Felixstowe, Suffolk, and was formerly owned by his grandfather, John Marvel Whiteley, of Halifax, to whom this precious scrap of manuscript was presented by Dickens himself.4
An editorial in the Dickensian added that the elder Whiteley had been a reporter on the Yorkshire newspaper the Bradford Observer (Anon. Dickensian 1929). Thereafter, no further reference to an interaction between Dickens and a “John Marvel Whiteley” has been made in any biographical account of the novelist, nor is it mentioned in his collected correspondence. Inspection of another, earlier Yorkshire newspaper, however, reveals the background to Whiteley’s interaction with Dickens.
On 30 July 1870 the Leeds Mercury carried the following story:
A PORTION OF THE MANUSCRIPT OF “PICKWICK” AT BRADFORD. – A gentleman who has been connected with the Bradford press for the last quarter of a century has in his possession five slips of the original manuscript of “Pickwick,” in excellent preservation. The MS. was sent, along with an autograph note from Mr. Dickens, which establishes its authenticity, for the purpose of being shown at an exhibition at Halifax in the year 1840. The note is dated “May 10th, 1840,” is addressed from “1, Devonshire-terrace, York-gate, Regent’s Park,” and Mr. Dickens writes, “I have never given away any old published MS., considering that it will have a greater interest one of these days for my own family than it can ever possess for others; but your request in behalf of the Halifax Institution set me looking over a box of fragments, and from its contents I have selected the enclosed original and only draught of a portion of a chapter of Pickwick, to which the Association is heartily welcome.” The signature is written in the bold hand, with the flourishes underneath, for which the [End Page 24] deceased author was celebrated. The MS. is a portion of the 39th chapter of Pickwick, where “Mr. Samuel Weller, being entrusted with a mission of love, proceeds to execute it; with what success will hereafter appear.” The MS. begins with the paragraph, “The coach was punctual,” and ends at the point where Mr. Pickwick, having mounted Weller’s back, looks over the wall, and discovers Arabella, the object of Mr. Winkle’s love, in the garden. It is the intention of the owner of these interesting relics to have them framed...