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DICKENS, Charles.

Autograph letter signed.

1 September 1842 Stock Code: 137058
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A bitter Dickens reflects on his trip to America

Autograph letter signed from Charles Dickens to Thomas C. Grattan (1792-1864), Irish novelist and British consul in Boston, upon Dickens's return from his first trip to America, in total around 200 words in his hand. A bitter Dickens reflects upon his trip, generally seen as unsuccessful following controversies over copyright, and has come back to find that the only change in Britain is an increase in income tax. He is nonetheless friendly, asking to be commended to their mutual friend and to Grattan's family, commenting on the death of a well-known publisher, and wishing him well.

Dickens visited America on a six-month tour in 1842, partly as he had always admired the country, and also with the intent of publishing his observations, which were indeed published as American Notes for General Circulation in October 1842. Dickens landed in America in January 1842, welcomed by local dignitaries and cheering crowds, and was lined up with an itinerary including a visit to the White House, meetings with various literary and political figures, and numerous banquets. However, he soon found his literary stardom oppressive, being unable to keep up with the flood of correspondence and overwhelmed by the surge of admirers.

It was the issue of copyright which was the greatest blight on the trip. Throughout his publishing career, the lack of effective copyright was Dickens's bugbear. Even within Britain, where he was protected under British copyright law, Dickens found that from the publication of The Pickwick Papers onwards his novels were plagued by unauthorized stage adaptations, piracy, parodies, and "sequels". In America, which had no legal requirement to recognize British copyright or to pay royalties to authors, Dickens was most afflicted with piracy. Dickens's success in America had been as great as in Britain, and his novels - already in 1842 including Barnaby Rudge, The Old Curiosity Shop, Nicholas Nickleby, Oliver Twist, and The Pickwick Papers - had proved bestsellers in various pirated editions, for which Dickens had not received a penny. In his frustration, Dickens sought to use the trip to raise the issue, which he recounts to Grattan, "You will have seen that I have followed up the International copyright question". In two speeches, at public banquets in his honour on 1 February and 8 February, he criticized the lack of an international copyright agreement. The American reaction was instantly negative, with widespread condemnation in the newspapers, partly no doubt fed by publishers who had a vested interest in the continued absence of international copyright agreements, but also reflecting American outrage that their feted author had debased himself with the subject of money, especially at banquets meant for his honour.

The press attacks were often blatantly offensive, attacking his character and motives. However, it was one incident which particularly angered Dickens, albeit not surprising him, as he writes to Grattan: "They have forged a letter under my hand in the American papers - which does not surprise me in the least. Nothing but Honesty or common sense would startle me, from such a quarter." On 11 August 1842 (after Dickens had returned to Britain) the New York Tatler published a letter allegedly written by Dickens to the Morning Chronicle in July, full of contempt for his American hosts and for the hospitality he had received. This forgery, for Dickens, was emblematic of the contempt he was facing, further embittering him against the country. "Dickens's romantic dream of America as a pure, free, 'innocent' land, untrammelled by the corrupt institutions and the pernicious snobberies and class hatreds of the Old World, was rapidly turning sour, and he resolved to decline all future invitations of a public nature" (ODNB).

Notwithstanding Dickens's bitterness, his letter to Grattan is affable. Born in Dublin, Grattan was initially educated for the law, but turned instead to writing, publishing a few novels, and the travelogue Highways and Byways (1823). He took up residence as British consul in Boston in 1839, and would himself publish a book critical of America, Civilized America, in 1859. Dickens writes to Grattan "let me report that we are all well and happy, as I shall hope to hear you are". He writes concerning the recently deceased publisher Thomas Longman, who had died three days before Dickens's letter: "the older Longman is just dead. He fell from his horse, and never recovered. I have not heard to whom he has bequeathed his valuable collection of authors' skulls", the last line a sardonic comment on the large number of writers whom Longman published, including Coleridge, Southey, Wordsworth, and Scott. Dickens mentions the great English tenor John Braham - "If you should foregather, any of these odd days, with Braham, commend me to him heartily" - which may well be a pointed comment, as Braham had also made a largely unsuccessful trip through America from 1840 to 1842. Maintaining the friendly tone, Dickens asks that he also pass on the commendations "with all manner of remembrance from Mrs. Dickens to Mrs. Grattan - and to your sons and daughter". Though obviously happy to be back in Britain, Dickens's woes were added to upon finding that Robert Peel had instituted a tax on income over 150 a year. He reports back to Grattan: "everybody is cursing the Income Tax, except the men to whom it gives places - and that there is nothing else new in this Hemisphere".

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Folded bifolium (total leaf size 377 x 226 mm), one page of letter text, another of integral address (and note to send by the Great Western, the first regularly scheduled transatlantic steamship), verso blank, two British postmarks: "Ship Letter" and the cancellation stamp "New York Ship, Sept. 18", wax seal. Housed in a custom green half morocco folding box, green cloth sides, spine and front panel lettered in gilt, latter on green morocco ground.


General light toning. In very good condition.


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