William Hall was born in 1800. Little is known of his early life but in 1830 he joined forces with Edward Chapman (1804–1880) to establish a bookselling and publishing business housed at 186 Strand, London . According to Robert L. Patten: "By 1835 they were expanding into illustrated fiction and magazines issued weekly or monthly; such periodicity encouraged customers to return to the shop on a regular basis and recycled the firm's capital often."
In 1835Chapman and Hall published Squib Annual of Poetry, Politics, and Personalities by Robert Seymour, who was considered "the most varied and the most prolific" caricaturist of his day. The following year, Seymour suggested to William Hall, that he should publish in shilling monthly parts a record of the exploits of a group of Cockney sportsman. Hall approached Charles Whitehead to provide the words. He had just been appointed as editor of the Library of Fiction and was to busy to take up the offer. Whitehead suggested he should approach Charles Dickens, the author of the highly successful, Sketches by Boz , to become the writer on the project.
Hall offered Dickens £14 for each monthly episode and added that the fee might rise if the series did well. John R. Harvey, the author of Victorian Novelists and their Illustrators (1970), has argued: "Dickens, however, had no intention of writing up anyone else's pictures. When the Seymour plan was put to him, he insisted that he should write his own story and Seymour should illustrate that." Dickens already had an idea for a comic character, Samuel Pickwick, a rich, retired businessman with a taste for good food and a tendency to drink too much. He was based on Moses Pickwick, a coach proprietor from Bath, a man whose coaches he used while working as a journalist. The first number of The Pickwick Papers appeared in March 1836. It came in green wrappers, with 32 pages of print material and 4 engravings, and priced at one shilling.
On the 18th April Charles Dickens had a meeting with Robert Seymour. According to Peter Ackroyd: "Dickens asserted his proprietor rights over their venture by suggesting that Seymour alter one of his illustrations - a task which Seymour, no doubt against his wishes, carried out... Two days later, Seymour went into the summer-house of his garden in Islington, set up his gun with a string on its trigger, and shot himself through the head. He was, like many illustrators, a melancholy and some ways thwarted man. It has been suggested that Dickens's request to change the illustration was one of the causes of his suicide, but this is most unlikely. Seymour was used to the imperatives of professional life, and it seems that it was essentially anxiety and overwork which eventually killed him."
Dickens suggested to William Hall that Hablot Knight Browne should be the new illustrator. As his biographer, Robert L. Patten, has pointed out: "Dickens recommended Browne for the position. Though the author was an exacting taskmaster, Browne supplied everything Dickens needed in an illustrator. He was a skilled and rapid designer, co-operative, witty, and self-effacing." John R. Harvey has argued: "Hablot Knight Browne, was younger than Dickens, little-known, and pliable; and the collaboration was harmonious and happy."
After Dickens's introduced the character of Sam Weller, in the fourth episode of The Pickwick Papers, sales increased dramatically. Weller, the main character's valet, has been described as "a compound of wit, simplicity, quaint humour, and fidelity, who may be regarded as an embodiment of London low life in its most agreeable and entertaining form." Dickens told Hall: "If I were to live a hundred years, and write three novels in each, I should never be so proud of any of them, as I am of Pickwick."
The illustrations by Browne were also helping to sell Dickens work. It was the etchings which were displayed in the windows of booksellers. Henry Vizetelly, later recorded in his autobiography, Glances Back Through Seventy Years (1893): "Pickwick was then (in 1836) appearing in its green monthly numbers, and no sooner was a new number published than needy admirers flattened their noses against the bookseller's windows, eager to secure a good look at the etchings, and peruse every line of the letterpress that might be exposed to view, frequently reading it aloud to applauding bystanders."
In May 1837 The Pickwick Papers sold over 20,000 copies. William Hall was so pleased he sent Dickens a cheque for £500, as a bonus above the usual payment. By the end of the series it was selling over 40,000 copies a month. Dickens received £2,000 for his efforts, whereas Chapman and Hall made about £14,000 from the venture. Dickens's great friend, John Forster, now became the publisher's literary adviser .
In January 1838 Charles Dickens began work on his third novel, Nicholas Nickleby. Like Oliver Twist it was to be a propagandist novel. Dickens later recalled that the main purpose of the work was to expose "the monstrous neglect of education in England, and the disregard of it by the State, as a means of forming good or bad citizens, and miserable or happy men." Dickens had become disillusioned with Richard Bentley and he decided that this novel would be published by Chapman and Hall. The first episode was published in April 1838. Over 50,000 copies were sold in the first few days.
Nicholas Nickleby was published in one volume in October 1839. Dickens decided he would take a rest from novel writing and agreed a contract with William Hall, to edit a weekly magazine, Master Humphrey's Clock . Hall agreed to pay him £50 for each issue, plus half the profits. Dickens planned to commission work from other writers and to contribute short stories and occasional essays himself. The magazine was to be sold in America and Europe and Dickens expected to make something like £5,000 a year from the venture.
The magazine sold 70,000 copies when it was published for the first time in April, 1840. However, customers were disappointed by the fact that Dickens only contributed the occasional article and sales fell dramatically. Dickens wrote to a friend that "day and night the alarum is in my ears, warning me that I must not run down... I am more bound down by this Humphrey than I have ever been yet - Nickleby was nothing to it, nor Pickwick, nor Oliver - it demands my constant attention and obliges me to exert all the self-denial I possess."
Dickens decided he had to be the sole contributor and that he had to produce a full-length serial like The Pickwick Papers , Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby for the journal to be a success. He decided to develop a short-story, The Old Curiosity Shop , that appeared in an early edition, into a serial. It was not long before the whole of Master Humphrey's Clock was taken up by the story. The magazine now had a circulation of 100,000. Dickens later explained: "In writing the book I had it always in my fancy to surround the lonely figure of the child (Nell) with grotesque and wild, but not impossible companions, and to gather about her innocent face and pure intentions associates as strange and uncongenial as the grim objects that are about her bed when her history is first foreshadowed."
The story, illustrated by Hablot Knight Browne, tells of Nell Trent, a small and delicate child of "angelic purity of character and sweetness of disposition" who lives alone with her grandfather, an old man, who is the proprietor of the Old Curiosity Shop. In an attempt to provide for Little Nell he becomes a gambler. He loses heavily and borrows money from Daniel Quilp, a rich dwarf, pledging his shop and stock as security for the debt. His luck does not change and he loses his home and business.
Little Nell now takes charge and persuades her grandfather to lead him away from London and the temptation of the gaming tables. While they are wandering the country they meet Mr Marton, a kind-hearted schoolmaster. He is travelling by foot to a distant village, where he has been appointed as a teacher of the local school. After hearing their story, Marton invites Nell and her grandfather to accompany him, promising to help them find work in the village. He manages to do this and they are giving a pleasant home and employment connected to the parish church.
After the publication of The Old Curiosity Shop , the critic, R. Shelton MacKenzie suggested that: "Little Nell, who is thought of by readers rather as a real than a fictitious personage... She is an idyllic impossibility... She is only too perfect - and her death is worthy of her life. Many a tear has been drawn forth by her imaginary adventures." Another critic writing at this time, Blanchard Jerrold, argued: "The art with which Charles Dickens managed men and women were nearly all emotional. As in all his books, he drew at will the tears of his readers... There was something feminine in the quality that led him to the right verdict, the appropriate word, the core of the heart of the question in hand... The head that governed the richly-stored heart was wise, prompt, and alert at the same time."
Dickens attended Hall's wedding in 1840. According to his biographer he spent many "pleasant, playful evenings" at their house in Norwood. Dickens also arranged for his friends such as Thomas Carlyle to be published by Chapman and Hall. More importantly, John Forster, became literary advisor to the company. He also edited the Foreign Quarterly Review after the firm bought it late in 1841.
On 13th February 1841, the first episode of Dickens's next novel, Barnaby Rudge , was published in Master Humphrey's Clock . It was his first attempt at writing an historical novel. The story opens in 1775 and comes to its climax with a vivid description of the Gordon Riots. On 2nd July, 1780, Lord George Gordon, a retired navy lieutenant, who was strongly opposed to proposals for Catholic Emancipation, led a crowd of 50,000 people to the House of Commons to present a petition for the repeal of the 1778 Roman Catholic Relief Act, that had removed certain disabilities. This demonstration turned into a riot and for the next five days many Catholic chapels and private houses were destroyed. Other buildings attacked and damaged included the Bank of England, King's Bench Prison, Newgate Prison and Fleet Prison. It is estimated that over £180,000 worth of property was destroyed during the riots.
Hall employed Hablot Knight Browne and George Cattermole to provide the illustrations. Browne produced about 59 illustrations, mainly of characters, whereas Cattermole's 19 drawings were usually of settings. Jane Rabb Cohen, the author of Dickens and His Principal Illustrators (1980) has argued: "At the story's climax, Dickens really let his imagination go in describing the orgiastic riots, Browne readily caught his spirit. His designs, with their tumultuous crowds yet individualized participants, fully embodied the violent excitement of the prose."
John Forster claimed that the last section of the book deserved the highest praise: "There are few things more masterly in his books. From the first low mutterings of the storm to its last terrible explosion, the frantic outbreak of popular ignorance and rage is depicted with unabated power. The aimlessness of idle mischief by which the ranks of the rioters are swelled at the beginning; the recklessness induced by the monstrous impunity allowed to the early excesses; the sudden spread of drunken guilt into every haunt of poverty, ignorance, or mischief in the wicked old city, where such rich materials of crime lie festering."
Charles Dickens hoped that it would become as popular as the historical novels of Sir Walter Scott. The Dickens's scholar, Andrew Sanders, has argued: "With Barnaby Rudge Dickens laid serious claim to be the heir of the most popular novelist of the generation before his own: Sir Walter Scott. Despite the slow beginning, which establishes character, the historical situation, and the idea of mental and moral dysfunction, Dickens's narrative first flickers and then blazes with something akin to the fire with which the rioters devastate London."
The public did not like the story and sales of Master Humphrey's Clock fell dramatically after the publication of the first episode. Dickens, who was now the father of four children, had increased his spending on his family. One of his dinner guests in April 1841 remarked that it was "rather too sumptuous a dinner for a man with a family, and only beginning to be rich".
In August 1841 Dickens and his personal agent, John Forster , had a meeting with William Hall about the disappointing sales of Master Humphrey's Clock . It was agreed that the journal would be closed down when Barnaby Rudge came to an end. However, Dickens promised Chapman and Hall that they could publish his next novel, Martin Chuzzlewit . The terms of the agreement were very generous with Dickens being paid for each monthly installment, would receive three quarters of the profit and retain half the copyright.
Charles Dickens was extremely popular in America. The New York Herald Tribune explained why he was liked: "His mind is American - his soul is republican - his heart is democratic." Despite the high sales of his novels, Dickens did not receive any payment for his work as the country did not abide by international copyright rules. He decided to travel to America in order to put his case for copyright reform.
Chapman and Hall offered to help fund the trip. It was agreed they would pay him £150 a month and that when he returned they would publish the book on the visit, American Notes. Dickens would then receive £200 for each monthly installment. At first, Catherine refused to go to America with her husband. Dickens told William Hall: "I can't persuade Mrs. Dickens to go, and leave the children at home; or let me go alone." According to Lillian Nayder, the author of The Other Dickens: A Life of Catherine Hogarth (2011), their friend, the actor, William Macready , persuaded her "that she owed her first duty to her husband and that she could and must leave the children behind."
American Notes for General Circulation was published by Chapman and Hall on 19th October, 1842. Thomas Babington Macaulay, who considered Dickens a genius, refused to review it for The Edinburgh Review, because "I cannot praise it... What is meant to be easy and sprightly is vulgar and flippant... what is meant to be fine is a great deal too fine for me, as in the description of the fall of Niagara." The book received mixed reviews but sold fairly well and made Dickens £1,000 in royalties.
Charles Dickens agreed with William Hall that his next book would be Martin Chuzzlewit. The first episode appeared in January, 1843. It was illustrated by Hablot Knight Browne and dedicated to his friend, Angela Burdett-Coutts. Dickens wrote that: "My main object in this story was to exhibit in a variety of aspects the commonest of all the vices; to show how selfishness propagates itself, and to what a grim giant it may grow from small beginnings." The story tells of Martin Chuzzlewit, who is being raised by his rich grandfather and namesake. Martin senior has also adopted Mary Graham, with the hope that she will look after him in the later stages of his life. This plan is damaged by Martin junior falling in love with Mary. When Martin senior discovers the couple intend to marry, he disinherits his grandson.
Martin Chuzzlewit did not have the same appeal as The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby and The Old Curiosity Shop , that eventually reached sales of 100,000 each month. After a good start, sales fell to below 20,000. Dickens was surprised by the reaction of the public and told John Forster that he felt it to be "in a hundred points immeasurably the best of my stories". He added: "I feel my power now, more than I ever did... I have greater confidence in myself than I ever had." He went on to blame the critics ("knaves and idiots") for the poor sales. One of the problems was that the country was enduring an economic recession and people did not have the money to buy fiction.
In an attempt to improve interest in the story Dickens decided to send Martin Chuzzlewit with his friend, Mark Tapely, to America. Dickens claimed that the American portion of the book "is in no other respect a caricature than it is an exhibition, for the most part, of the ludicrous side of the American character". Aware that the book provided a highly critical view of the country, he added: "As I have never, in writing fiction, had any disposition to soften what is ridiculous or wrong at home, I hope (and believe) that the good-humoured people of the United States are not generally disposed to quarrel with me for carrying the same usage abroad."
Claire Tomalin has claimed that Dickens had another reason for setting part of the story in America: "When he came to write the American chapters of Martin Chuzzlewit, he was avenging himself on everything he disliked about the way he had been treated, and pointing out, with savage humour, what he hated about America: corrupt newspapers, violence, slavery, spitting, boastfulness and self-righteousness, obsession with business and money, greedy, graceless eating, hypocrisy about supposed equality, the crude lionizing of visitors. He mocked their newspaper editors, their learned women and their congressmen... and parodied the over-blown rhetoric of their speech and writing."
Martin Chuzzlewit's visit to America did not increase sales. A clause in his agreement with Chapman and Hall allowed the publishers to cut the payments from £200 to £150 for each installment, if sales of Martin Chuzzlewit were not enough to repay the advance he had received. Dickens was furious when he heard the news that his income was to be reduced. He told John Forster that he felt as if he had been "rubbed in the tenderest part of my eyelids with bay-salt".
Dickens, who was overdrawn at the bank, decided he would have to come up with an idea for making some money. In October 1843 he decided to produce a short book for Christmas. The book was to be called A Christmas Carol. He later recalled: My purpose was, in a whimsical kind of masque, which the good humour of the season justified, to awaken some loving and forbearing thoughts, never out of season in a Christian land." George Cruikshank, introduced him to John Leech, who agreed to do the illustrations for the book.
Charles Dickens told his friend, Cornelius Conway Felton, that he had composed the story in his head, weeping and laughing as he walked about "the black streets of London, fifteen and twenty miles, many a night when all the sober folks had gone to bed". Andrew Sanders has suggested that "A Christmas Carol reiterates and reinforces the moral and healthy societies, like sound family relationships, are based on mutual responsibility and mutual responsiveness."
Claire Tomalin , the author of Dickens: A Life (2011) has argued that in writing the novel Dickens can be compared to other social reformers such as Friedrich Engels and Thomas Carlyle: "Carlyle, Engels and Dickens were all fired with anger and horror at the indifference of the rich to the fate of the poor, who had almost no access to education, no care in sickness, saw their young children set to work for ruthless factory owners and could consider themselves lucky if they were only half starved."
Dickens asked Chapman and Hall to publish the book on commission, as a separate venture, and he insisted on fine, coloured binding and endpapers, and gold lettering on the front and spine; and that it should cost only five shillings. It was published in an edition of 6,000 copies on 19th December, 1843. It was sold out within a few days and because of the high cost of production Dickens only made £137 from the venture. A second edition was quickly produced. However, the publishers, Lee and Haddock, produced a pirated version that sold for only twopence. Dickens sued the company and although he won his case they declared themselves bankrupt and Dickens had to pay £700 in costs and law charges.
In America the book became his biggest seller, eventually selling over a million copies, however, because he did not have a contract with the publishers, he did not receive any royalties. Dickens had hoped to make a £1,000 from A Christmas Carol but even by the end of 1844 the book had earned only £726.
Charles Dickens decided to end his relationship with Chapman and Hall . The author of Dickens: A Life (2011) has pointed out: "If Dickens is to be believed, each publisher started well and then turned into a villain; but the truth is that, while they were businessmen and drove hard bargains, Dickens was often demonstrably in the wrong in his dealings with them. He realized that selling copyrights had been a mistake: he was understandably aggrieved to think that all his hard work was making them rich while he was sweating and struggling, and he began to think of publishers as men who made profits from his work and failed to reward him as they should. Chapman & Hall kept on good terms with him largely by topping up what they had initially agreed with frequent extra payments."
William Hall fell ill suddenly and died at the firm's office at 186 Strand, London, on Sunday, 7th March 1847, aged forty-six. Dickens, having ascertained from Chapman that his presence at the funeral would be acceptable, attended the burial at Highgate cemetery.
If Dickens is to be believed, each publisher started well and then turned into a villain; but the truth is that, while they were businessmen and drove hard bargains, Dickens was often demonstrably in the wrong in his dealings with them. He realized that selling copyrights had been a mistake: he was understandably aggrieved to think that all his hard work was making them rich while he was sweating and struggling, and he began to think of publishers as men who made profits from his work and failed to reward him as they should. Chapman & Hall kept on good terms with him largely by topping up what they had initially agreed with frequent extra payments.