Dickens, Charles (1812 – 1870)

An extraordinary letter encapsulating the moment of deciding to write A Christmas Carol

A fine two-page autograph letter, on the first and third sides of a folded sheet, signed by Dickens, 10th March 1843, to social reformer Thomas Southwood Smith. After corresponding for some time about sanitary conditions for working children in England, and deciding to publish a pamphlet exposing the scandal, Dickens here writes with a change of plan. In full:

‘My Dear Dr. Smith, Don’t be frightened when I tell you that since I wrote to you last, reasons have presented themselves for depriving the production of that pamphlet until the end of the year. I am not at liberty to explain them further, just now, but rest assured that when you know them, and see what I do, and where and how, you will certainly feel that a sledge hammer has come down with twenty times the force — twenty thousand times the force — I could expect gy following out my first idea.’

‘When so recently as I wrote to you the other day I had not contemplated the means I shall now, please God, use. But they have been suggested by me, and I have guided myself for their service, as you shall see in due time. f you will allow our tete a tete and projected conversation on this subject, still to come off, I will write to you as soon as I see my way to the end of my month’s work. Always faithfully yours, Charles Dickens’.

An astonishing letter written at the very moment of inspiration to write A Christmas Carol. It is, in fact, well-known that Dickens used ‘Sledge Hammer’ as his working title for his novel for some time, the purpose of his book being to strike a hammer’s blow on behalf of the poor children of England — a firm aim documented quite clearly in this letter.