John Macrone was born in the Isle of Man in 1809. He arrived in London in 1830 and soon afterwards he joined a small publishers owned by James Cochrane. Described as "handsome and intelligent" he borrowed £500 from an older woman, the aunt of George Augustus Sala, he promised to marry and in September 1834 he left Cochrane and started his own firm at 3 St James's Square. His first book, a six-volume edition of John Milton, was illustrated by J. M. W. Turner. As his biographer, Robert L. Patten, pointed out: "As a publisher Macrone began by emulating Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley, extravagantly advertising republications of standard works and new or reissued three-volume novels."
Macrone deserted the woman who supplied the original capital of the business, and she died as a spinster a few years later. In January 1835, Macrone married an American, Eliza Adeline Bordwine. Their first child, Frederick, was born on 20th October 1835, but he died less than a month later. A second son, William John Bordwine Macrone, was born on 30th September 1836.
Macrone achieved considerable success by publishing, Rookwood, a novel by William Harrison Ainsworth that was illustrated by George Cruikshank. Ainsworth introduced Macrone to Charles Dickens. Macrone suggested reprinting his stories and sketches that had appeared in the Morning Chronicle and The Evening Chronicle . Macrone offered Dickens £100 for the copyright of these stories. Dickens accepted the proposal as it would provide an extra income just before his proposed marriage to Catherine Hogarth.
Macrone promised to persuade Cruikshank to provide the illustrations for the book. Peter Ackroyd has argued in Dickens (1990) that Cruikshank was not an easy man to work with: "It was something of a coup for Macrone to enlist the services of this illustrator, George Cruikshank, in the cause of a young author of only modest fame. To have his name on the title page was, if not a guarantee of success, at least a provident hedge against failure... He was already very well known as a caricaturist and illustrator of books - he was in some ways a difficult man, with powerful perceptions but equally powerful opinions. He could be truculent and assertive, even though this self-assertive manner often gave way, in his famous drinking bouts, to one of drunken clowning and gaiety."
In his introduction, Dickens praised the drawings of George Cruikshank: "Entertaining no inconsiderable feeling of trepidation, at the idea of making so perilous a voyage in so frail a machine, alone and unaccompanied, the author was naturally desirous to secure the assistance and companionship of some well-known individual, who had frequently contributed to the success, though his well-known reputation rendered it impossible for him ever to have shared the hazard, of similar undertakings." Despite these comments, he wrote to Macrone saying he found Cruikshank difficult to work with and stated that "I have long believed Cruikshank to be mad."
Sketches by Boz was published on 8th February 1836, the day after Dickens twenty-fourth birthday. The book was very well received by the critics. George Hogarth, in the Morning Chronicle , described Dickens as "a close and acute observer of character and manners". However, Dickens was hurt by the numerous references to Cruikshank's talented drawings. The reviewer in The Sunday Herald admitted that after reading the book he was unsure "whether we most admire the racy humour and irresistible wit of the sketches, or of the illustrations in George Cruikshank's very best style".
The Sunday Times agreed: "The majority of these very pleasant sketches have already appeared in the columns of the Evening Chronicle, and the interest which they excited has, it seems, induced the author to publish them in their present form, with appropriate graphic illustrations by George Cruikshank, whose genius, like the purse of Fortunatus, is inexhaustible."
The book sold well and a second edition was published in the summer. Macrone and Dickens had every reason to be pleased with their collaboration. At this time Dickens saw Macrone as his best friend and invited him to become his best man when he married Catherine Hogarth. However, Macrone's wife insisted that the best man must be a bachelor.
Robert L. Patten, the author of Charles Dickens and his Publishers (1978), has pointed out: "Between 1835 and 1837 Macrone gathered a substantial stable of authors, including Benjamin Disraeli, W. H. Maxwell, and Leitch Ritchie. He issued enough three-deckers to catapult him into the first rank of fiction publishers. But each success tempted him to greater ambitions.... Macrone overstretched himself time and again, notably in sharing the exorbitant costs of the Westminster Review, merged in 1836 with the London Review. Despite the size of his list Macrone did not sell particularly well to circulating libraries because many of his authors were second-raters, some a bit passé, and many recycling titles previously published."
Sketches by Boz was such a success that Macrone commissioned Dickens to write a three-volume novel, Gabriel Vardon (renamed Barnaby Rudge), to be delivered in November, 1836, for a payment of £200. Meanwhile, Dickens was enjoying great success with the serialisation of The Pickwick Papers. Another publisher, Richard Bentley, offered Dickens £500 for his next novel. Dickens now refused to keep his promise and paid off Macrone with £100.
Macrone now decided to publish Sketches by Boz in monthly episodes. Dickens thought that this would damage sales of The Pickwick Papers and asked his friend, John Forster , to persuade him to abandon the project. Macrone refused and Dickens persuaded Chapman & Hall to buy the copyright for £2,000. However, this did not succeed in preventing serious business difficulties.
John Macrone died of influenza on 9th September 1837. The Times reported that: "Mr. Macrone was much respected by all who knew him, and his death will be sincerely lamanted by his friends and acqaintances." Charles Dickens claimed that Macrone had left his family "in a state of utter destitution". He joined forces with George Cruikshank, Hablot Knight Browne and Henry Colburn to publish a book that raised £450 for the Macrone family.
Between 1835 and 1837 Macrone gathered a substantial stable of authors, including Benjamin Disraeli, W. H. Maxwell, and Leitch Ritchie. He issued enough three-deckers to catapult him into the first rank of fiction publishers. But each success tempted him to greater ambitions.... Macrone overstretched himself time and again, notably in sharing the exorbitant costs of the Westminster Review, merged in 1836 with the London Review. Despite the size of his list Macrone did not sell particularly well to circulating libraries because many of his authors were second-raters, some a bit passé, and many recycling titles previously published.