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Our Mutual Friend: Description of Manuscript and Working Notes

The working notes to Our Mutual Friend are collected with the manuscript of the novel in the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York (MA 1202-03). The pages of the manuscript are now unbound (described in the catalog as “(ca. 471 p.), unbound; 22.7 cm”) and each page is protected by a Mylar sheath. They are collected in two blue cloth boxes. The catalog describes the item as follows: “The manuscript as sent to the printer with innumerable cancellations and corrections. Manuscript is dated September 2nd, 1865 on final page. Text of the novel is preceded by: a list (10 p.) of chapter headings with parallel columns of Dickens’ notes for the same, and by a blank page with Dickens’ signature, dated Thursday Fourth January, 1866. The upper part of this blank leaf, evidently containing the name of a friend to whom the manuscript was given, has been cut away.”

The number plans for installments 1-10 are included before the manuscript to the corresponding numbers in the first box, while the number plans for installments 11-20 (9 in total, since 19-20 was a double number) are presented in the second box before the continued manuscript for those numbers. The finding aid notes that the manuscript was originally “bound in 2 vols. in ¾ brown morocco.” They were unbound and protected as part of a manuscript preservation process between 1978 and 1981.


From England to New York: Provenance of the Manuscript and Working Notes

Excerpt from E.S. Dallas’s review of Our Mutual Friend in The Times, November 29, 1865. Click on image to view full article.

The manuscript was originally presented by Dickens to critic Eneas Sweetland Dallas after his favorable review of the novel in the The Times (November 29, 1865), in which Dallas wrote that the story was “very ingenious, and the plot is put together with an elaboration which we scarcely expect to find in a novel published in parts” (6). The flyleaf of the manuscript is dated Thursday, Janaury 4th, 1866 and signed by Dickens, though the top portion of this blank leaf, which would likely have contained the name of the person to which the manuscript was dedicated, has been cut away. According to Jon Michael Varese’s notes on the manuscript: “From this we surmise that Dickens presented the bound manuscript to Dallas two months after the publication of the last number (November 1865). Interestingly, the top portion of the flyleaf is torn away. Some have speculated that Dickens may have originally intended the manuscript for Forster (who was the recipient of most of Dickens’s other manuscripts), but upon deciding to give it to Dallas, tore away the original inscription with Forster’s name.”

The manuscript made its way across the Atlantic at some point in the 1870s and was acquired by George W. Childs of Philadelphia in 1874. George William Childs (1829-94) was a publisher, the proprietor of the Public Ledger in Philadelphia with Anthony J. Drexel, and a friend of Dickens’s (with whom he regularly corresponded).

In her article for Scribner’s Monthly in August 1874, Kate Field writes about the acquisition of the manuscript by George W. Childs of Philadelphia: “Mr. George W. Childs, of Philadelphia, is a fortunate man” (472).

As Sean Grass notes in his Charles Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend: A Publishing History, “Provenance information does not indicate how the manuscript passed from its initial owner, Dallas, to Mr. George W. Childs of Philadelphia” (165). One possible route of ownership is described by Frederic George Kitton in his 1897 The Novels of Charles Dickens: “The original MS. of ‘Our Mutual Friend’ has found a resting-place in America, whither so many Dickens treasures have departed… Dickens presented the manuscript to Mr. Dallas, who disposed of it shortly after the author’s death to Mr. J.C. Hotten, a London publisher, at whose demise in 1874 it became the property of Mr. Welford, of Scribner’s, and was through him sold to the late Mr. George Washington Childs, of Philadelphia, for £250. The sheets are mounted, and the whole bound up in two large quarto volumes… The South Kensington authorities, desiring to complete their collection of Dickens manuscripts, offered the late Mr. Childs the sum of £1,200 for that of ‘Our Mutual Friend’; but the offer was courteously refused. Respecting this interesting relic of the famous novelist, Mrs. Childs writes: ‘The final destination of ‘Our Mutual Friend’ is with Mr. Childs’s collection of MSS. At the Drexel Institute, Philadelphia.”

An article in The American on July 23, 1887 puts the amount offered by the Kensington Museum to Childs for the manuscript at $6,000 (221).

The manuscript was purchased by the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York from the Drexel Institute during the October 17-18, 1944 Institute sale for $17,000.


“Microscopic Chirography”: An 1874 Description of the Manuscript Pages

Kate Field’s article, reproduced in full below, offers the earliest description of the manuscript and its working notes. “[A]s I study it,” she writes. “I become more and more impressed by Dickens’s wonderfully systematic way of working out his ideas.”

Kate Field, a New York journalist, had attended Dickens’s readings and corresponded with him; in January 1868 Dickens wrote to her to thank her for a basket of flowers she had sent to him: “But I must avow that nothing in the pretty basket of flowers was quite so interesting to me as a certain bright fresh face I have seen at my Readings, which I am told you may see too when you look in the glass” (). She gave lectures on Dickens in the US and London (Letters 12, 1n3).

The manuscript pages now appear to be off-white, but Field describes the original manuscript as written on “thick blue note-paper with blue ink.” She notes that “[t]owards the end of Volume First, there is one bit of manuscript in black ink” (472). “All the rest is in blue ink, but not always of the best,” Field continues, “and the fineness and closeness of the writing are enough to render the most amiable of experienced printers temporarily insane. There is no lover of Dickens so ardent as to willingly read a page through, nor would the most mercenary peruse both volumes for less than their weight in gold. Added to a microscopic chirography is erasure after erasure, such as, I am told, cannot be found in his earlier manuscripts, marking either great care or less fluency of thought. Descriptions undergo most correction, and so deftly does Dickens cancel himself, that I defy the greatest expert to decipher what the author does not wish to have read.”

“Most interesting are the nine notes preceding the novel in each volume. Dickens takes the world into his confidence, opening the door of his workshop, and a curious, well-regulated shop it is. After thinking out his plot and characters Dickens puts down on the right hand side of his page the chapters with dramatis personae; on the left he tells himself what he shall do, or asks himself questions about the ding, which he answers affirmatively or negatively, either at the time or after” (473).

Kate Field, “‘Our Mutual Friend’ In Manuscript.” Scribner’s Monthly 8.4 (August 1874): 472-75. Cornel University Library, Making of America Digital Collection.

Works Cited

“Authors and Publishers.” The American: A National Journal July 23, 1887, 221-222.

Catalog Entry: “Our Mutual Friend Autograph Manuscript.” CORSAIR Online Catalog, The Morgan Library and Museum. http://corsair.themorgan.org/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?BBID=127030

[Dallas, E.S. ]“Our Mutual Friend.” The Times 29 November 1865, 6. The Times Archive. See full page of The Times review hereSee transcript of review here on the Our Mutual Friend Scholarly Pages.

Dickens, Charles. The Letters of Charles Dickens 12 (1868-1970), edited by Graham Storey. Oxford: Clarendon, 2002.

Falcone, Alissa. “Poe, Dickens and Drexel: The Epic Story of the University’s Former Literary Collection.” Drexel Now June 16, 2016. http://drexel.edu/now/archive/2016/June/Poe-Dickens-Drexel/

Field, Kate. “’Our Mutual Friend’ in Manuscript.” Scribner’s Monthly 8.4 (August 1874): 472-75. Cornel University Library, Making of America Digital Collection.

Kitton, Frederic George. The Novels of Charles Dickens: A Bibliography and Sketch. London: Elliot Stock, 1897.

Grass, Sean. Charles Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend: A Publishing History. Aldershot and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2014.

Literary and Historical Autograph, Manuscripts and Letters. Drexel Institute of Technology. New York: Parke-Bernet, 1944.

Varese, Jon Michael. “Dickens’s Manuscript and Number Plans for Our Mutual Friend.” The Dickens Project, University of California, Santa Cruz. http://omf.ucsc.edu/publication/manuscript-and-number-plans/index.html