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Master Humphrey's Clock began publication on 4 April 1840. Initial sales were very large but quickly declined when the public realized the Clock was not to be a continuous story. The reclusive old cripple Master Humphrey and his little club of old-fashioned story-tellers did not appeal to the public and even the reintroduction of Mr Pickwick and the Wellers failed to halt the sharp decline in sales. The woodcut illustrations by Cattermole and Browne dropped into the text that were such a feature of the Clock made it an expensive product, so some prompt action was needed. Dickens quickly developed one of an intended series of 'Personal Adventures of Master Humphrey' into a full-length story and this, under the title The Old Curiosity Shop, soon took over the entire publication. The story of Little Nell's wanderings about England with her helpless old grandfather, fleeing from Quilp, a grotesquely hideous, anarchic, and sexually predatory dwarf, is the most Romantic and fairy tale-like of Dickens's novels, and it also contains, in the story of Dick Swiveller and the Brasses' little slavey, the Marchioness, some of the greatest humorous passages that Dickens ever wrote. By the end of the story's serialization in the Clock (6 February 1841) the circulation had reached a phenomenal 100,000 copies. Nell's slow decline and eventual (off-stage) beatified death plunged this vast readership into grief and mourning, Lord Jeffrey famously declaring that there had been 'nothing so good as Nell since Cordelia' (Forster, 174). For Dickens himself it reopened an old wound: 'Dear Mary died yesterday, when I think of this sad story' (Letters, 2.182). The Shop was immediately succeeded in the Clock by the long projected Barnaby Rudge, Dickens's first historical novel, dealing with the anti-Catholic Gordon riots of 1780 and written in conscious emulation of Scott. The Wordsworthian influence, evident in some parts of The Old Curiosity Shop, is also seen here in the conception of Barnaby which clearly owes something to Wordsworth's Idiot Boy as well as to Davie Gellatley in Scott's Waverley. The completion of Barnaby (27 November 1841) 'worked off the last of the commitments so hastily entered into in the heady days of 1836' (Patten, 118), ending five years of intensive labour which saw Dickens established as far and away the most popular writer in Britain, though he was somewhat bitterly aware that he was still making much more money for his publishers than for himself. The triumphal welcome he received in Edinburgh in June 1841, following an invitation to go there from Lord Jeffrey and other distinguished Scottish admirers, was a striking manifestation of the extraordinary public position this young writer now occupied. The dinner in his honour was, he told Forster, 'the most brilliant affair you can conceive' (Forster, 176). He himself spoke, in the two toasts he proposed, with notable effect and eloquence, as he was so often to do in later life as the star turn at other banquets, meetings, charitable dinners, and so on. Four days later he was given the freedom of the city, after which he and Catherine went on a scenic tour that took them as far north as Glencoe; they returned into England via Abbotsford in order to visit Scott's house. The history of Scott's being forced by financial circumstances in his later years to maintain a prolific output was in Dickens's mind when he now proposed to Chapman and Hall that, after the cessation of the Clock on 27 November (Barnaby Rudge had not gripped the reading public in the way that The Old Curiosity Shop had, and the magazine's circulation had fallen to 30,000), he should have a sabbatical year. By continuing to write incessantly he would, he feared, do 'what every other successful man has done' and make himself 'too cheap' (Letters, 2.365). Wisely submitting to their hugely lucrative author's wishes, Chapman and Hall agreed to pay Dickens 150 a month for fourteen months as an advance on his profits from his next work (to be published in monthly numbers). He was soon being 'haunted by visions of America, night and day' (Forster, 195) and, Catherine's deep reluctance to leave the children having been overborne, resolved that they should make a six-months' tour there, the children to be left under Macready's care. He would keep a notebook on his travels, and Chapman and Hall should publish it on his return. His eager preparations for the trip, excited as he was by communications like Washington Irving's telling him 'it would be such a triumph from one of the States to the other, as was never known in any Nation' (Letters, 2.383), were briefly interrupted by a painful operation for a fistula. He soon recovered, polished off the last numbers of the Clock (the final number appeared on 4 December), and engaged in a whirl of pre-embarkation social engagements.
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From the outset of his public readings career Dickens had been contemplating the possibility of an American tour, but he dreaded the long separation from Nelly and then the outbreak of the civil war put the whole idea out of the question. By May 1867, however, the attractions of America as what he had once called 'a golden campaigning ground' (Letters, 5.396) had become very strong indeed in the face of his ever-increasing expenses; he wrote that he began to feel himself 'drawn to America, as Darnay in A Tale of Two Cities was attracted to the Loadstone Rock, Paris' (Forster, 707). Dickens appointed George Dolby as his tour manager and sent him across the Atlantic on a reconnaissance expedition and, after receiving a favourable report and being fêted at a grand farewell banquet, himself left for the States. The tour began in Boston on 2 December 1867 and ended in New York on 20 April 1868, two days before he sailed for home aboard the Russia. Harsh weather, a punishing schedule, and the often enormous American auditoria made the tour a severe ordeal for Dickens who was suffering from 'a truly American catarrh' and exhaustion, as well as from lameness resulting from 'a neuralgic affection of the right foot', aggravated by his insistence on walking long distances in deep snow whenever possible. He seems to have nourished a hope that Nelly might come to America (she had cousins in Newburyport, Massachusetts, and perhaps considered visiting them) but this was soon given up, and he had to content himself with sending her letters via Wills with covering messages such as 'Another letter for my Darling enclosed' (Letters, 11.528). He did, however, receive most devoted support and tender care from Dolby, and also from his American publisher James T. Fields and Fields's charming wife, Annie. Dickens and Annie clearly shared a strong bond of mutual affection, and she seems to have been sensitive to the pain and trouble that lay beneath his sparkling public persona ('it is wonderful', she wrote in her journal, 'the fun and flow of spirits C.D. has for he is a sad man'; Curry, 44). Despite constant troubles with ticket touts and continued hostility from some sections of Dickens's old enemy, the American press, the tour was a most triumphant success (neither sickness nor exhaustion ever prevented Dickens from turning in a great performance at the reading-desk) and netted him over 19,000, a sum which might have been much greater if he had not in his distrust of American currency insisted on changing his dollars into gold at a 40 per cent discount. 350c69d7ab