See 1842 America Through Charles Dickens' Eyes
See 1842 America Through Charles Dickens’ Eyes

See 1842 America Through Charles Dickens’ Eyes

Larry Holzwarth - January 14, 2020

See 1842 America Through Charles Dickens’ Eyes
Dickens was critical of American politics and government in 1842. Wikimedia

23. Dickens criticized American democracy as well

Besides his hearty criticism of the American habit of chewing tobacco so prevalent in Washington, Dickens blasted the government ensconced in the city. To the Englishman, Washington exhibited “Despicable trickery at elections; under-handed tamperings with public officers; and cowardly attacks upon opponents, with scurrilous newspapers for shields, and hired pens for daggers”. The New York Courier and Enquirer responded, “Mr. Dickens is a young man who knows nothing of this world, of society, or of government” in an editorial which referred to the writer’s earlier work as a reporter in disparaging terms.

The newspaper later wrote another article, in which it mentioned that Dickens had spent, “more than half his life” living in the slums of London. Dickens had spent most of his youth in abject poverty, the fact that he had lifted himself out of it through his talent as a writer was conveniently ignored. Despite the negative press and the howls of outrage, his subsequent novels sold well in the United States. Dickens’ next novel, Martin Chuzzlewit, contained sections which satirized the United States, and appeared in serialization in late 1842. It too sold well on both sides of the Atlantic.

See 1842 America Through Charles Dickens’ Eyes
A Christmas Carol became one of the most popular parts of America’s celebration of Christmas. British Library

24. Dickens returned to America in 1867, to widespread acclaim

Between 1842 and 1867, Charles Dickens published his greatest works, including A Tale of Two Cities, the largely autobiographical David Copperfield, and the popular Christmas tale, A Christmas Carol. He followed the latter with other Christmas stories, though they remain less well known in America, while A Christmas Carol became an integral part of the American celebration of the Christmas holiday. In autumn 1867, he returned to America for a reading tour, stopping at several cities to read from his works, including A Christmas Carol. He selected Boston as his first stop and was warmly received there.

Dickens planned to visit as far west as Chicago and St. Louis on his reading tour, but ill health and the winter weather limited his tour to the northeastern states. Mark Twain attended one lecture, and in his review commented, “I was a good deal disappointed in Mr. Dickens reading”. Twain found the author was “…a little Englishy in his speech”. Twain’s review was one of the few which expressed disappointment, the majority of American newspapers reported on his performances with praise. Dickens returned to England in the spring of 1868. At a farewell dinner in New York’s famed Delmonico’s Restaurant, he promised to never again speak badly of the United States.

See 1842 America Through Charles Dickens’ Eyes
Mark Twain was dismissive of Dickens during his 1867 reading tour of the American northeast. Wikimedia

25. Dickens left America with a small fortune, evading federal taxes

Dickens’ second and final American tour was a financial windfall for the aging author, allowing him to recoup some of the money lost due to the lack of copyright protection. His 76 public readings of his works earned nearly $230,000, equivalent to about $4 million today. In 1861, the federal government enacted the first income tax in the United States, which was still in effect. Dickens escaped to London before federal revenue officials could levy a tax on his earnings, his fortune intact.

In many ways, Dickens had the last laugh in his relationship with the United States, though in his lifetime he did not earn a dime in royalties from America. During his 1867-68 tour he noted and commented on the many positive changes he found in the country. By the time he returned to England he was again widely acclaimed in all of the English-speaking countries, and he is an annual presence in the United States every December to this day.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“American Notes”. Charles Dickens

“Victorian Serial Novels”. Article, University of Victoria Libraries. Online

“Charles Dickens and the Lowell Mills”. Courtney Carroll, The Worcester Journal. Fall, 2014

“Charles Dickens in Hartford”. Staff, The Hartford Courant. February 18, 1992

“When Boz Came to Town: Remembering Charles Dickens’s first visit to New York”. Douglas Muzzio, City-Journal Magazine. August, 2018

Charles Dickens thought Philadelphia was kinda boring”. Johnny Goodtimes, Philadelphia Magazine. February 7, 2012

“Mr. Dickens Goes to Washington”. Danny Heitman, Washington Examiner. December 12, 2018

“A Dickens of a time”. Harry Kollatz, Richmond Magazine. March 28, 2011. Online

“Pennsylvania’s Transportation System: the Canals”. Pennsylvania State Archives. Online

Even if it’s as big as a mountain”. Article, Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site. National Park Service. Online

“Steamboats”. Article, Ohio History Central. Online

“Four Months with Charles Dickens”. G. W. Putnam, The Atlantic. November, 1870. Online

“Street-roaming cattle, Dickens’ impressions and renowned architecture”. Kelly Moffitt, St. Louis Public Radio. January 5, 2016. Online

“1823 – First American Macadam Road”. Article, Curbstone Presents the American Road. Online

“Wyandots in Ohio”. C. A. Buser, Wyandotte Nation. Online

“The Shaker way”. June Sprigg, The New York Times. November 2, 1975

“When Charles Dickens Fell Out With America”. Simon Watts, BBC News Magazine. February 14, 2012. Online

“Charles Dickens at the Parker House”. Article, Walking Boston. Online

“Charles Dickens Travels in America”. The Charles Dickens Page. Online