Anecdote: Charles Dickens

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THE publishers of Pickwick soon found themselves involved in a net of annoyance from the ingenious spirits who managed to steal their market, while keeping just outside the reach of the law. The bookshops began to bristle with continuations of Pickwick , so ingeniously modelled on the original as to deceive at first sight all but the very elect. The clerks at 186 Strand had to meet perpetual inquiries as to whether The Posthumous Notes of the Pickwickian Club by one `Bos’ were really the work of Mr. Dickens himself; and why there should be a Penny Pickwick in one shop, while the authentic publishers could only offer the work at twelve times that price for a number. As for dramatic copyright, it practically did not exist at all; and one stage perversion after another caused infinite annoyance to Dickens, and proportionate loss to his publishers. Perhaps the height of impudence in this regard was achieved by one William Moncrieff, who produced a play called Sam Weller at the Strand Theatre, in which Mrs. Bardell was represented as the wife of Jingle, and got herself imprisoned for bigamy. When Chapman & Hall protested against this particular outrage, Moncrieff coolly asked them to state on oath whether the sales of Pickwick had not increased since his play appeared. The trap was ingeniously set, for this was the moment when Pickwick was striding along from month to month, and it was scarcely possible for the publishers to prove to legal satisfaction that post hoc might not be propter hoc, though everyone concerned knew very well that it was not. So the matter had to be dropped, Dickens consoling himself with a shrug of the shoulders, and a sarcastic reference to `the little pot of filth’ which had helped to put a few shillings into the vermin-eaten pockets of so miserable a creature’.