Charles Dickens

Madeline House and Graham Storey (eds), The British Academy/The Pilgrim Edition of the Letters of Charles Dickens, Vol. 2: 1840–1841

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To CHARLES SELBY,3 20 JULY 1841

Text from N, I, 339.

Private.

1 Devonshire Terrace | July the Twentieth 1841

My Dear Sir,

Your letter of I don't know what date, but not a very recent one, has been following me over Scotland. It was forwarded with others from town, and did not reach me until I was coming home within these few days.

It would be ridiculous for me to deny that I am always most intensely mortified and very much aggravated by having my stories anticipated in their course;4 and that I think the state of the law which permits such pg 333things, is disgraceful to England.1 At the same time, I am so far from blaming you in the matter, that if I could give you a patent for dramatizing my productions I would gladly do so; inasmuch as if they must be done at all, I would rather have them done by gentlemanly hands, and by those who really desire to act fairly and honorably as I am sure you do.

Mrs. Dickens will be glad if you can let her have a private box tonight; and I hear so much of Miss Fortescue,2 that I shall endeavor to accompany her. If this should not find you at the Theatre, will you do me the favor to leave such instructions with the doorkeeper as will insure us a quiet and quick reception?

  • Believe me always | Faithfully yours
  •                     [Charles Dickens]

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Notes

Editor’s Note
3 Charles Selby (?1802–63; DNB), character-actor and writer and adapter of numerous plays, mostly burlettas and farces. In 1841 published Maximums and Speciments of William Muggins, illustrated by Onwhyn, written throughout in cockney in the spirit of his earlier farce, The Unfinished Gentleman (1834).
Editor’s Note
4 Selby and Charles Melville had dramatized Barnaby when only half the story had appeared. Sub-titled "A Domestic Drama", the play contained neither Riots nor any kind of historical action, but concentrated on the "mystery" plot (which it rather spoilt, as a mystery, by making it clear to the audience that the "Stranger" was Rudge and the murderer). It had run at the English Opera House since 28 June, Selby playing Mr Chester and his wife Mrs Rudge. The Examiner (3 July) regretted that Selby had "flown in the face of Mr Dickens' own earnest and well warranted protest against all piratical doings of that kind", but, "with this reservation", praised it as "the best imagined, best executed, and, in some few characters, the best acted adaptation, we can remember to have seen." Other versions before completion of the novel were C. Z. Barnett's at Sadler's Wells (9 Aug) and Stirling's at the Strand (14 Aug). On 20 Dec Frederick Yates put on a new version (perhaps also by Stirling) at the Adelphi, which included the Riots: the Spectator (25 Dec) found its "mob scenes not well managed", but liked the "No-Popery hornpipe" by Tappertit and his "Brother Bulldogs".
Editor’s Note
1 The right of dramatization was not included under English copyright law until the Copyright Act of 1911.
Editor’s Note
2 E.g. from Maclise and Macready: see To Maclise, 12 July and fns. According to Forster, CD had been only "more or less satisfied" with such performances as Yates's Quilp and Mantalini, and Mrs Keeley's Smike, but on Julia Fortescue's Barnaby he always dwelt "with a thorough liking" (F, iv, iii, 321). In his letter to CD of 16 July, Maclise commented on the other characters in Selby's production: "Miggs excellent— Hugh like a big headed Smithy as he is in a Pantomime, but devilish wild hoarse, and grotesque to perfection—Willet the worst of all, no attempt at his [here a sketch of a rotund, open-mouthed Willet] —and Joe a rotten snob. Varden Tappertit and Dolly so so" (MS Huntington).
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