Charles Dickens: The Story of his Life.

With illustrations and facsimiles.

London: John Camden Hotten, 1870 Stock Code: 136324
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Extensively annotated association copy

Fascinating copy of the first edition of the first posthumous biography of Dickens, signed on the title page and annotated throughout by Dickens's associate, the English journalist Edmund Ollier (1826-1886).

Ollier was a scion of a literary family of some consequence in the course of 19th-century English literature. His father Charles Ollier (1788-1859) was the publisher of most of Percy Shelley's works, alongside publishing John Keats's Poems in 1817, and editing literary journals with contributions from numerous literary figures of the day. He came to know and correspond with Dickens Edmund too was steeped in literary culture, taking pride in his connection to significant figures; in the memoir which he wrote for the 1867 edition of Lamb's Essays of Elia, he made sure to remark that he "beheld Lamb with infantine eyes" and "sat in the lap of poor Mary Lamb" (p. vi). While still a boy, Edmund's father worked as a literary adviser to the publishers Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley, and through them Edmund met many of the authors they associated with, and he built a circle of correspondents including Richard Henry Horne and Charles and Mary Cowden Clarke.

From 1844 onwards Edmund Ollier published numerous poems, stories, and articles in various magazines, and it was through this activity that he became familiar with Dickens. Ollier contributed 15 prose pieces and 34 poems to Dickens's journal Household Words from 1853 to 1857. Dickens himself took note of the aspiring writer; in 1852 he wrote of Ollier being "an excellent and true young poet" (published in the letters from Dickens included in Charles and Mary Cowden Clarke's Recollections of Writers, second edition 1878, p. 331)

Ollier consequently approached the present biography with many years of acquaintance with Dickens, in both a professional and personal capacity, although they cannot be seen as having a close friendship. The biography was hardly first-class. Taverner's Life of Charles Dickens appeared within just a fortnight of Dickens's death, the first posthumous biography of Dickens, and showing the marks of a hastily compiled life published to meet the public's renewed interest in the author following his demise. The publisher John Camden Hotten (1832-1873), who can be credited as the co-author with Taverner even if he did not list himself as such, was a remarkable and somewhat disreputable character, "frantically busy as a bookseller, publisher, journalist, author, controversialist, and general textual entrepreneur. His range of publishing interests was wide, and included comic books (such as W. S. Gilbert's Bab Ballads, 1868), 'How to' books on conjuring tricks (1871) and stamp collecting (1864), collections of political speeches (Bright's, 1869, Disraeli's, 1870), and dictionaries" but also included "books on phallic worship (1869) and aphrodisiacs (1869); he had a particular line in flagellation literature, which ranged from A History of the Rod (1870) to a collection of mostly eighteenth-century flagellation pamphlets under the general title of Library Illustrative of Social Progress (1873)" (ODNB). Often these editions were unauthorized, taking advantage of the lack of copyright agreement between the UK and the US, and he was successfully sued by Tennyson in 1862 over the publication of certain poems which Tennyson had sought to suppress. This biography of Dickens, although not particularly salacious, certainly bears the marks of a rushed job, with Hotten seeing a gap appear in the market and seeking to fill it as quickly as he could.

Ollier read and annotated the biography as an informed reader based on his own experiences with Dickens, and his personal acquaintance with many of the individuals named. He is evidently exasperated by some of the shortcomings of the biography, and is quick to make corrections, both textual (for example altering the names of journals and individuals), but also writing in his own insights. He corrects the biography on the prices of magazines, the amount of time Dickens spent as editor of the political paper the Daily News, whether Dickens invested in the same publication, and changes the identity of the illustrator of a Tale of Two Cities from Marcus Stone to Hablot R. Browne. He alters the date of a sunstroke which Dickens suffered from 1864 to 1865, soon after the Staplehurst rail crash, an event which impacted Dickens deeply. He comments on Douglas William Jerrold's views of executions "he was dead against Tyburn, but thought that, if there were to be executions at all, they did the guarantee of publicity" (p. 193).

One comment is especially notable: "I recollect my father used to say that Dickens originally intended to make only a short story of "Oliver Twist", but he (my father) recommended him to give it the usual three-volume dimensions. My father was at that time engaged at the publisher Richard Bentley's" (p. 69). This incident is mentioned in none of the standard biographies of Dickens, and would be of great consequence if the recollection was accurate.

Ollier seems to have been aggrieved that he was not given a greater role in the story. Slipping into the third person, he writes on page 362 "is there never a word to be said for E.O. i.e. Edmund Ollier, after all his brilliant & varied contributions in prose & verse?" Ollier then backtracks after finding a reference to himself, writing underneath in square brackets "I cry you mercy, Mr. Hotten. When I wrote the above, I had not seen the illusion at p. 196". In the mentioned page, Ollier is listed with other "talented writers" who contributed to Household Words. Ollier is in fact also mentioned another time, where a letter from Dickens to Ollier is quoted, and in which Ollier has inserted the date of the letter (p. 333). This use of the third person, and his address to Hotten personally, certainly implies that Ollier intended for his comments to be read by the publisher. This, coupled with his frequent use of proofing marks in the text, perhaps indicate that Ollier was marking up the book with the intent that it would be used by Hotten as an amended form of the text for future editions. If so, nothing came of it, as later editions of the book retained the original text and incorporated neither his corrections nor his comments.

The book was subsequently rebound in the early 20th-century (possibly by a binder without recognition of the importance of Ollier) and abundantly extra-illustrated with over sixty inserted plates of portraits of Dickens's characters and his circle, facsimiles, and views of the important buildings, reflecting the taste of the age for grangerization, and altogether presenting as a handsome volume externally and internally.

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Octavo (187 x 124 mm). Early 20th-century calf with straight-grain pattern by Morrell, red and brown morocco labels, spine gilt to compartments, triple gilt fillet to covers, gilt floral turn-ins, light blue endpapers, top edge gilt, others untrimmed.


Vignettes in text; extra-illustrated with portrait frontispiece, 52 portraits, 11 views, and 5 facsimiles.


Joints slightly splitting, front hinge repaired, short closed tear at head of p. 239, a few other minor peripheral nicks and chips. A very good copy.


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