- Lohrli Revisited:Newly Identified Contributors to Household Words
For the past two years I have been engaged in researching and writing up the results of a major find I made in 2015 – a complete marked set of All the Year Round (1859–68), permitting the identification of hundreds of previously anonymous contributors for the very first time. The book that I have been working on renders Ella Ann Oppenlander's partial 1984 guide to the magazine obsolete and will serve as a companion to Anne Lohrli's 1973 guide to Household Words and its contributors, a work which provided both inspiration and a model. The bulk of my labor has involved trying to piece together lost lives from the archives, often solely on the basis of a defective name token. As an example of the type of challenge I have been facing, I can cite a Mr Rolfe (so designated in the marginal annotation), author of a single article entitled "Engraved on steel." As over 1,700 Rolfes are recorded in the 1861 UK census data, that line of inquiry seemed doomed to fail. Several Rolfes are noted in the British Library catalogue as authors in the time-frame 1850–1900, but none with any obvious connection to fine-art engraving – the subject of the article. I believed I was looking for an engraver called Rolfe, but no such individual was forthcoming. It was only when I questioned the accuracy of the annotation and looked for similar names that I eventually found my quarry. The author of the piece was none other than Edwin Roffe (1825–91), who produced engravings of Dickens's parents and his wife, Catherine. Only after I had established that Roffe was almost certainly the author was I able to turn to the Pilgrim Letters and discover, as confirmation of my attribution, that there was a correspondence between Dickens and Roffe about that very article.
The point of the preceding anecdote is to indicate that much of my research has taken the form of literary detective work, following up leads and clues, with plenty of red herrings strewn by the way. I have unearthed over 100 contributors who, until now, have been totally unknown as authors, but many of whose lives, nonetheless, have provided fascinating insights [End Page 110] into Victorian social history. How, for example, did a 24-year old former Royal Navy officer become commander of the Tai-Ping fleet in battle against the Chinese imperial navy, or an actuary from the London suburbs become the inventor of a powerful explosive and gain a reputation in the United States as the last great alchemist? And, almost equally interesting, how did they come to be writing anonymously for Charles Dickens's popular weekly magazine? A large number of the published contributions in both Household Words and All the Year Round were selected by Dickens and Wills from the countless offerings speculatively sent to the magazine offices each week by aspiring authors. In the case of All the Year Round, roughly one third of the magazine's contents over a 10-year run was produced by just eight authors, another third by 30 or so regular writers, with the remaining third being the work of some 280 occasional contributors, roughly 160 of whom had just one item published.
Tracking down these less eminent Victorians has been a time-consuming but generally very pleasurable challenge, gradually whittling down the number of unknowns from well over 100 at the outset to just 40 at the last count. Those that remain unidentifiable include miscellaneous Browns, Blacks, Lees and Wilsons – names too common to permit any firm attribution – as well as some perplexing anomalies such as a Julian de Burgh who served in the French army and a Raphal das Haldan, an Indian who wrote about India in English. Thus far, despite wide-ranging searches, no individual bearing either of these (or similar) names in the relevant time-frame has come to light. Amongst the contributors I successfully ran to ground were several who had also had material published in Household Words, but whom Anne Lohrli had been unable to positively identify. From these I can cite...