If you live in northeast Massachusetts, southern Maine, or southeast New Hampshire and consider yourself a book lover, give yourself a day to explore the “book barn” at Drake Farm on Route 1 in North Hampton, New Hampshire. The farm dates back to the founding of the town in 1705, and the barn itself to 1830. Since 1995, its fifteen rooms have housed a collection of thousands upon thousands of used books--modern and antiquarian, collectible and ephemeral, fiction and nonfiction--in nearly every conceivable category. In addition to the vast, reasonably-priced stock, you’ll enjoy the ambience provided by the large antique railroad-station wood stove that warms the building, the extremely friendly and implausibly informative owner (that’s him at the table stacked high with recent acquisitions, listening to NPR), and the rustic New England farm atmosphere (the barn is patrolled by 5 friendly cats and in the backyard live 2 sage old donkeys... “They’re the brain trust here,” the owner acknowledges, “We’re run by a couple of wise asses.”)
I had the occasion to spend this past weekend in Portsmouth, a town my partner and I have always loved as an escape destination for a few days. While the community has two theatres, many restaurants, and numerous shops and boutiques, the last decade has seen a steady departure of bookstores from the town as commercial rents have risen to unreasonable rates. This trip, I left downtown and went around to a few neighboring towns to see what they had to offer. On the advice of a friend and fellow-bibliophile, I stopped by Drake Farm Books. I meant to spend about an hour of my day there and maybe pick up one or two books. Four hours later, I ended up leaving with several great finds.
This week’s book is one of those finds, and I’m indebted to the owner of the store for giving me some of the details as to its history. Some of what follows is courtesy of him and some is from my own research.
The book is the first American edition of Charles Dickens’s The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby. The title page reminds the reader that Dickens had initially published works under the name of “Boz” (his regular pseudonym) and was also the author of Sketches of Every-Day Life (1836), The Pickwick Papers (1836), and Oliver Twist (1837-9). This edition of Nickleby includes black and white steel-print engravings by J. Yeager after the original illustrations by “Phiz” (the pseudonym of Hablot Browne) that accompanied the narrative’s original publication in serial form (as 19 monthly periodical installments between March 1838 and September 1839). The book was published in late 1839 in Philadelphia by the highly productive firm of Lea & Blanchard (“successors to Carey & Co.”), and was printed by T. K and P. G. Collins at 1 Lodge Alley in the city.
Nickleby was Dickens’s third true novel (not counting the collected stories of the Sketches as a novel) and demonstrates a masterly blending of comic (particularly his deft characterization of theatre folk...it is no coincidence that Dickens dedicated the book to his friend the famed actor-manager William Charles Macready) with the darkly serious (notably the depictions of the harsh mistreatment of children in nineteenth century English boarding schools). Not counting the serial format of the original publication (which would be counted as the true “first edition”) the first book publication of the novel was in octavo format by Chapman & Hall of London in 1839. Since then it has appeared in over 780 editions (including various permutations as audio books, translations, and in 2002 as a major motion picture); it was so popular when it first came out that even before Dickens had published the final installment, an adaptation for the stage, written by Edward Stirling, was being performed at the Royal Adelphi Theatre.
Rather than explicate the plot of Dickens’s masterpiece (David Perdue sums it up on his Charles Dickens website, along with providing lots of other great information and links on the novel), I’m going to focus here on this particular edition and copy.
Tracing the publication history of a popular, serialized Victorian novel is a bit like trying to organize the grains of sand on a beach according to their circumference. The popularity of Dickens in America resulted in a highly profitable, highly illegal trade in smuggled copies of the serial installments, stuffed into steamer trunks and shipped across the Atlantic usually to the port of Philadelphia. The speed with which these pirates worked is suggested by the fact that Lea & Blanchard had their unauthorized edition out for retail less than a month after the final serial installment of the book appeared in London in September 1839. The inaccuracy with which these pirates worked is suggested, likewise, by the publishers’ need to frequently re-release subsequent printings of the edition to correct the text and add missing material (most distinctly, a rare engraving of Dickens himself meant to be appear in the preliminaries of the book...the absence of which is a tangible metaphor for the author’s lack of presence in this illegal publication process).
To add to the mayhem, two other American publishers had been releasing unauthorized editions of the Nickleby installments in this country between 1838 and 1839 (as had Lea & Blanchard); to fill gaps in the early illegal editions, an unscrupulous printer would have no compunction about literally removing a gathering of text from one of these pirated installments and binding it into their pirated book. It may be an exaggeration to claim that there are thus as many “issues” of these early editions as there are extant copies of the editions, but it’s not far off from the truth. (In 1842 Dickens made the first of two visits to the United States and Canada; he took the opportunity afforded by his celebrity to speak openly and often about two of his great causes: abolition and, not surprisingly, the enforcement of international copyright laws.)
My copy is bound in brown morocco leathered boards with marbled paper on both front and back, with the exception of the corners and the spine. Unfortunately, the spine is coming apart at the top and bottom (a side-effect, no doubt, of being pulled from shelves improperly for most of its life); the gilded stamp title portion of the spine is still present, though detached. The front board is detached, the rear board is very loose on its hinge. This binding is not the original (which was a green cloth binding); the punch-marks for the original binding can be seen throughout the book in the gutter. The pages measure 15.5cm x 23.5cm and were printed in tall quarto format; the gatherings are interrupted by the insertion of 37 illustrated plates on a heavier stock paper (the book was intended to be issued with 39 but two in my copy were omitted by the printer). As was customary at this time, the printer provided signatures on only occasional gatherings. The distinct differences in paper between the different gatherings suggest the piecemeal or hasty nature of the book’s assembly.
The contents of the book include three blank flyleaves at the front and back, along with pastedowns. Following the forward blanks are the following preliminaries ([i]-viii): the title page with printer’s imprint on verso; the dedication, with the list of plates on the verso; the preface; and the table of contents. The book’s contents begin on p. 13 and run through p. 404 (but see below). The list of plates includes a telling typographic error that reveals this copy to be an early-state uncorrected printing (the caption for the illustration on p. 317 includes the phrase “smale-clothes” where it should read “small-clothes”; it is correct on the plate itself).
Perhaps the most intriguing oddity about this book is the insertion of three chapters from one of the illicit periodical publications of the novel. In the table of contents, chapters XLVI-XLVIII are listed as beginning on pp. 293, 299, and 307 respectively (10 leaves in total), but the book itself skips from p. 292 to p. 449 at the start of Chapter XLVI and from there runs through p. 480 (18 leaves); subsequently, Chapter XLIX then recommences with p. 313 (the insertion starts in the middle of gathering 2M; the book recommences with 2P). The inserted pages are palpably different from the rest of the book: the text is set in single-column rather than double, the font is moderately larger, the running titles are different on both verso and recto of each page, and the paper is visibly different (cheaper and slightly smaller). In the lower margin, inner corner of the recto of the first inserted leaf appears the marker “No. XV-57”. This
references the issue number of the serial publication (number 15 appeared in May 1839 in London and likely by early June in the United States) and the gathering of the leaves within the issue (subsequent markers appear on every fourth page up through 60, indicating a printing in quarto format). The inserted pages include two illustrations from the serial publication; these are identifiably different from the book’s illustrations because they are not reproductions by J. Yeager and because they are labelled with page references that correspond to the inserted pages and not the original book (the illustrations are included, one with a slightly different title, in the list of plates, but they reference here the book’s pagination and not the serial’s).
The book has been well read in its time, with several pages folded or torn slightly and with foxing throughout. Perhaps the most egregious page damage was done to the conjugate leaves of pp. 187-190; these are removed from the binding, but have been pinned back in by an enterprising owner (hole marks suggest that more than one pin had been used at various times). Another hefty pin holds together the upper inner corner of pp. 195-204 (though these pages are bound in properly).
In addition, at least two different readers have made pencil markings in the book. The more modern hand has noted places where bibliographic or typographic features of the book provide evidence of its edition, state, and issue (including pointing out the absence of the 2 missing plates and the substitution of the 3 inserted chapters), usually by placing a small “x” in the margin alongside the variant. This hand is different from that of Elias [last name illegible], of Boston, who has made tick marks at fairly regular intervals throughout the book (perhaps to help him find his place after putting the book down; if so, he seems to have read about one page at a time). Elias has also written occasional one or two word notes alongside some passages, usually in a handwriting decipherable only by Elias himself and he has marked occasional phrases or passages that seem to have caught his fancy (usually aphorisms, particularly poetic lines, or memorable quips). In many places a pencil has marked a line along a long passage; whether this was done by Elias or the more recent textual sleuth is unknowable.
The preface closes with sentiments that provide a unique view of how the author intended his readers to feel upon encountering his narrative in book form rather than in periodical publication. Given the unauthorized nature of this particular copy, it seems only appropriate to give Mr. Dickens the final word here in defense of his work:
It only now remains for the writer of these passages, with that feeling of regret with which we leave almost any pursuit that has for a long time occupied us and engaged our thoughts, and which is naturally augmented in such a case as this, when that pursuit has been surrounded by all that could animate and cheer him on, — it only now remains for him, before abandoning task, to bid his readers farewell.
“The author of a periodical performance,” says Mackenzie, “has indeed a claim to the attention and regard of his readers, more interesting than that of any other writer. Other writers submit their sentiments to their readers, with the reserve and circumspection of him who has had time to prepare for a public appearance. He who has followed Horace’s rule, of keeping his book nine years in his study, must have withdrawn many an idea which in the warmth of composition he had conceived, and altered many an expression which in the hurry of writing he had set down. But the periodical essayist commits to his readers the feelings of the day, in the language which those feelings have prompted. As he has delivered himself with the freedom of intimacy and the cordiality of friendship, he will naturally look for the indulgence which those relations may claim ; and when he bids his readers adieu, will hope, as well as feel, the regrets of an acquaintance, and the tenderness of a friend.”
With such feelings and such hopes the periodical essayist, the Author of these pages, now lays them before his readers in a completed form, flattering himself, like the writer just quoted, that on the first of next month they may miss his company at the accustomed time as something which used to be expected with pleasure ; and think of the papers which on that day of so many past months they have read, as the correspondence of one who wished their happiness, and contributed to their amusement.