Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Dickens' Desk and more

Charles Dickens was born on February 7th, 1812, so on this bi-centenary I have looked through my collection for something appropriate for you. Here’s an engraving of his desk, which I have scanned from ‘Harper's Weekly’, published in New York on January 7th, 1871. He always had to have particular items for his eyes to linger upon while he took brief rests from putting quill to paper. Any of these objects would have been instantly missed if it had been removed. On the left hand corner  you can see there was a French bronze of two rather fat sword fighting toads:

I have read that others included a bronze of a dog-fancier, with little dogs under his arms and in his pockets; a long gilt leaf and a rabbit sitting on its haunches; a huge paperknife which he often held in his hand while giving readings, and a green cup, decorated with cowslips, that was always filled with fresh flowers each morning before he started to write. Wherever he worked, his calendar was always set to the correct day and date and placed in front of him.

Is there anything on your desk that you ‘must have in place’ before you start writing, or do you have a set routine? My grandfather was a farmer and as soon as he stepped outside the house in the morning he picked a fresh flower from the garden for his button-hole. I'm more casual.

Of interest to illustrators may be the character sketches that Phiz (Hablot Knight Browne) did in the development of Mr Dombey. This is taken from ‘Phiz – A Memoir’ written by Fred Kitton in 1882:

Dickens’ works were often first released in serial form. The Tale of Two Cities was published in ‘All The Year Round’ without illustrations, but also available in monthly parts with Phiz’s illustrations from Chapman and Hall.

In America it was serialised in 'Harper’s Weekly', with illustrations printed from woodblocks engraved by John McLenan. My copy of May 21, 1859 says the story was ‘Printed from early proof sheets for which Messers. Harper and Brothers pay the author FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS’. Big money in those days!

And I love the old advertisements in the magazines, too:

Peter Taylor


Gabrielle wang said...

Thanks Peter, this is so interesting.

Sally Murphy said...

Fascinating, Peter. The only thing I have to have on my desk to be able to write is my laptop, really, but my desk is always a clutter of bits of paper, books, bills to be paid and so on.

Peter Taylor - Author and Illustrator said...

Many thanks for visiting and for your kind comments, Gabrielle and Sally. Congratulations on the recent short-listing of your book 'Our Australian Girl: Meet Poppy' for the West Australian Young Readers' Book Award, Gabrielle, and I look forward to hosting your blog tour for a day, Sally, when your new book 'Do Not Forget Australia' is released by Walker Books in March. Congratulations on the publication of that, too. You should both have left your website addresses - this is a friendly blog:

My desk is tidy for a day, occasionally, when I've swept all the papers and clutter into a box - maybe when the relatives are due to visit. There's usually a 'mystery pile' on the end - it's a mystery how it accumulated and a mystery as to what's in it. Nothing urgent, I'm sure.

I don't have specific things that must be on my desk, but I do have decorative glass paperweights and a couple of antique boxes on it at present, as well as two pots of pens. The room would feel far too bare and clinical with nothing on the table, cupboard tops, window ledge... If I removed what is there now, it would be fine - but I'd have to find replacements. Yes, there are plenty of scattered papers, too.

Dale Harcombe said...

Fascinating Peter. Now I can say I have something in common with Dickens, apart from the fact of both being writers. I have a calender on my desk(amid the clutter and it is always set first thing in the morning to the right date.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating post, Peter.
I love Dickens and am thoroughly enjoying all the interest in him at the moment. Your desk sounds much more interesting than mine!
Probably the only nec. thing is my cd player as I like to write to music.

Peter Taylor - Author and Illustrator said...

Many thanks for visiting and contributing, Dale and Alison. I think it's wonderful that we're all different, not only how we arrange our desks but also sit at them. Rarely do two people (characters) sit in a chair the same way. I do enjoy music of almost every kind, and may listen while writing emails - but not when writing fiction. It's very hard for schools to organise classrooms to provide ideal learning situations for all students. When I'm thinking hard, I either like to wander around or pace up and down, or sprawl or curl up in a chair, and never sit bolt upright.