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In Honor of Charles Dickens’s Birthday

Upon turning sixteen, eighteen, and twenty-one years old, most people find that a celebration is in order. Therefore, in honor of his 199th birthday (a number infinitely more impressive than any of those listed above), I would like to dedicate this blog post entirely to works concerning the incomparable author Charles Dickens. As the Smithsonian American Art/National Portrait Gallery Library (AA/PG), where I am working, deals mainly in art-related items, I was a bit concerned that works on Dickens would be rather hard to come by. Fortunately, I was entirely wrong. In fact, in the main stacks, I found enough books both by and about Dickens that I needed to make two trips to carry them all!

Books by Charles Dickens

One of these books that I find to be particularly interesting is called Pictures from Dickens with Readings. It is not about Dickens himself; instead, it contains excerpts from his works and their accompanying illustrations. The notation “To Agnes from Mama, Christmas 1898,” beautifully written just inside the book’s front cover, indicates that this particular book has had a long, eventful past. Even so, it is in good condition, and the twelve color illustrations inside are none the worse for wear. A book perhaps particularly suited to the celebration of Dickens’ birthday is titled Convivial Dickens: the Drinks of Dickens and his Times. This book comes complete with recipes and illustrations, including this one of Dickens’s “Pint Pot” in the back cover. The book Dickens in Cartoon and Caricature, published in 1924, contains many different artists’ depictions of Dickens. English Illustration: “The Sixties” 1857-70 is a beautiful old book that discusses artists who illustrated Dickens’ original works.

Cruel though it may seem to make a fellow work on his birthday, Dickens doesn’t get to finish this post without having to author a few of these books entirely on his own. As it happens, this library has three complete works written by the famous author himself. The first (and oldest) of these books is called Sketches by Boz. The library’s copy was published in Philadelphia in 1839. Though it is missing a few pages, the book is in remarkably good shape, considering its age. Two of Dickens’s works are stored in the AA/PG Library’s rare book section. American Notes is a little green book that was published in 1863. It contains Dickens’ description of his time spent in America and his opinions concerning that land and its citizens. In the preface to this particular edition, Dickens writes,

“Prejudiced, I never have been, otherwise than in favour of the United States … . I have many friends in America, and feel a great interest in the country. To represent me as viewing it with ill-nature, animosity, or partisanship, is merely to do a very foolish thing, which is always a very easy one: and which I have disregarded for eight years, and could disregard for eighty more.”

This picture, found on page seven of the book Dickens on America & the Americans, depicts Dickens setting sail on the USS Britannia, bound for America. American Notes begins with Dickens’ departure on that ship. The picture below shows the cover of American Notes. It apparently wasn’t terribly valuable at the time, as it is called a “cheap edition.” The other book by Dickens in this library’s rare books section is a copy of Bleak House that was published in 1854.


Charles Dickens, American Notes, 1863

Having viewed all of those books, it is time to prepare yourself. There is now only one year left before Dickens’s grand bicentennial arrives! With that in mind, fix a drink from a recipe in Convivial Dickens, cozy up with your favorite pint pot and a good copy of Bleak House, and start thinking about what you will do to join the celebration on February 7, 2012!

—Alexandra Machita, AA/PG intern

Images from Smithsonian Libraries, AA/PG flickr set.


All of the books mentioned above can be found in the AA/PG Library:

Pictures from Dickens with Readings, Call # NC978 .D54 1895 Convivial Dickens by Edward Hewett and W.F. Axton, Call # CT275 .D52H5

Dickens in Cartoon and Caricature, compiled by William Glyde Wilkins, Call # N7628 .D54W6

English Illustration: “The Sixties” 1857-70 by Gleeson White, Call # NC978 .W584 1906 Sketches by Boz: Illustrative of Every-day Life and Every-day People by Charles Dickens, Call # N40.1 .C953xD54 1839

American Notes for General Circulation by Charles Dickens, Call # CT275 .D52A1 1863

Dickens on America & the Americans, ed. Michael Slater, Call # PR4553 .S58 1978X Bleak House by Charles Dickens, Call # PR4556 .A1 1854


Related Items also found in the AA/PG Library:

Dickens and His Illustrators by Frederic G. Kitton, Call # q NC978 .K62

The Dickens House Museum, Call # PR4584 .D53 1990z

The Loving Ballad of Lord Bateman, illustrated by George Cruikshank, Call # N40.1 .C953yL9 1870 (in the rare books collection)

The Illustrator and the Book in England from 1790 to 1914 by Gordon N. Ray, Call # q NC978 .R37X


One Comment

  1. Stefanie

    I love Charles Dickens! I remember reading a novel of his, Great Expectations, in college. In our discussions my professor mentioned that Dickens was equivalent to what we call a celebrity, like a movie star. I think it goes to show how little most people care about books and reading. The only person who I think had reached that fame level would J.K Rowling who wrote the Harry Potter series.

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