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Nicholas Nickleby, Tauchnitz and the pirates

Pirate publishers in Continental Europe and in America were a constant irritant to Charles Dickens.  There was probably no other author who suffered as much at their hands. Dickens’s early works were widely pirated in Europe until the first international copyright treaties, starting with the treaty in 1846 between Prussia and the United Kingdom.

Tauchnitz 2 frontispiece

Even many years after that, they were still being pirated in the US and Dickens became a very vocal campaigner for the introduction of international copyright laws.  He never succeeded in his lifetime.  It was not until 1891 that the US introduced an International Copyright Act, and even then it refused to join the international Berne Convention.   Perhaps worth remembering when Americans complain about the lack of copyright protection in China and elsewhere?  Trump will not be the first US president to co-operate with other countries only when it suits him.

All this was far into the future when Bernhard Tauchnitz first launched his series of English language novels in Germany in 1841.  He was free to publish the novels of British Authors without any restriction or any payment, and he enthusiastically joined the pirate band.  To his credit, he realised relatively quickly that the life of a pirate was not for him and set about building relationships with authors, including Dickens.  But for the first 18 months or so, Tauchnitz Editions were unauthorised pirate editions.

Dickens was the new rising star of English literature at that time, challenging the establishment of writers such as Bulwer Lytton, G.P.R. James, Captain Marryat and Walter Scott (who had died 10 years earlier).  The works of all of these authors were widely available in Europe in unauthorised editions, both in English and in translation.  So Tauchnitz was far from the first to publish ‘Nicholas Nickleby’ when it appeared as volumes 47 and 48 of his ‘Collection of British authors’ in 1843.


Dickens wrote the novel in 1838 / 1839, publishing it in monthly instalments from March 1838 to October 1839.  Before the final instalment was published, possibly even before it was written, pirate versions of the earlier chapters were appearing.  In 1838, Georg Westerman in Braunchweig was already publishing ‘Leben und Abenteuer des Nicolaus Nickleby. Herausgegeben von Boz, dem Verfasser der Pickwicker‘.  By 1939 the novel had been published in English by J.J. Weber and Frederick Fleischer in Germany and from Paris had appeared in Baudry’s European Library.  In the same year it was published in the US by Lea and Blanchard in Philadelphia and apparently by two New York publishers, William H. Colyer and James Turney.  It seems fairly safe to assume that none of these publishers paid anything to Dickens.

Nickleby German Edition 1839 2a

A pirate German language edition of Nicholas Nickleby, already in 1839, the Second Edition

By early June 1843 when the Tauchnitz Edition of Nickleby appeared, Tauchnitz had already published ‘The Pickwick Papers’ as volumes 2 and 3 of his series, ‘American Notes for general circulation’ as volume 32 and ‘Oliver Twist’ as volume 36.  After Nickleby, ‘Sketches by Boz’ followed a month or two later, bringing the number of unauthorised Dickens volumes to seven.  But change was underway.  Dickens had returned from a six month tour of America in 1842 outraged at the piracy of his works.  In May 1843 he chaired a first meeting of the ‘Association for the Protection of Literature’.  Six weeks after that Tauchnitz made his move, proposing voluntary payment to authors.  His first authorised volume, by G.P.R. James, appeared in August 1843, and by the end of the year he was able to publish a fully authorised edition of Dickens’ latest work, ‘A Christmas Carol’.

So that first unauthorised printing of ‘Nicholas Nickleby’ in a Tauchnitz Edition was one of the last few pirate editions Tauchnitz ever published.  It can be identified by the lack of any copyright notice on the title page.  All later printings still show 1843 on the title page, but say clearly ‘copyright edition’.  Any copy printed after about 1853 will also show the later form of the publisher’s name, as ‘Bernhard Tauchnitz’ rather than ‘Bernh. Tauchnitz Jun.’

Nicholas Nickleby reprint title page vol I

The title page from a later reprint showing ‘Copyright Edition’  and ‘Bernhard Tauchnitz’

It’s not clear  to what extent the agreement with Dickens was retrospective, offering payment for works already published and copies already sold. But it would be surprising if Tauchnitz didn’t offer some payment to wash away his previous sins.  Certainly he seems to have done enough to earn the gratitude of Dickens and to establish cordial relations with him for the rest of his life.  But however much absolution Tauchnitz later received, that first Tauchnitz printing of Nicholas Nickleby still has a tinge of piracy about it.

The Pickwick Pirates

The Tauchnitz ‘Collection of British Authors’ started in late 1841 with ‘Pelham’ by Bulwer Lytton.  Neither the book nor the author are much remembered today.   But it was followed by what has surely become one of the best-known and best-loved books of the entire 19th century, written by the century’s most famous author.   ‘The posthumous papers of the Pickwick Club’, or as it’s better known today, ‘The Pickwick Papers’ by Charles Dickens was published in two volumes as volumes 2 and 3 of the Tauchnitz series.

Tauchnitz 2 half-title recto  Tauchnitz 3 half-title recto

Dickens was only 24 when he started to write the Pickwick Papers, which appeared in monthly instalments over 1836 and 1837, with the first publication in book form in 1837.   It was a publishing sensation in Britain and not surprisingly, rapidly attracted the attention of continental publishers.  By the time Tauchnitz published it at the start of 1842 (or possibly late 1841), it had already appeared in English language editions published by Galignani and by Baudry in Paris and by Friedrich Fleischer in Leipzig.  It had also been published in German language translations by Weber in Leipzig (from 1837) and by at least two other publishers (Eduard Leibrock and Vieweg und Sohn).

Tauchnitz 2 frontispiece

Frontispiece portrait of Dickens

All of these, and the first Tauchnitz publication too, were pirated.  There was no international copyright agreement and none of those publishers would have paid Dickens a penny for the right to publish his work.   Although Tauchnitz went on to make his name and fortune by offering payment to authors, notably Dickens, for the right to publish authorised editions, he too started off by effectively stealing their work.   He went on to publish 5 further pirated volumes by Dickens, before finally offering payment for the publication of ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’ in 1844.

Tauchnitz 2 title page

First and second editions have no reference to ‘Copyright Edition’ on the title page

Tauchnitz 2 final page

Text finishes on page 444, followed by Contents on pages 445-446

So the earliest Tauchnitz editions of The Pickwick Papers carry no reference to authorisation on the title page.   As the book went on to be reprinted many times by Tauchnitz over the next 100 years, later printings are described as ‘copyright edition’, and the vast majority of copies now found are of this type.   But at least the first two editions are distinguished by having no mention of copyright on the title page.   The first edition had 446 pages in volume 1 (and 427 in volume 2), but the first volume was quickly re-set with 432 pages, so few copies have survived of the very first printing.  I have one in my collection and there are two copies in the Pressler collection, now in the National Library of Scotland.  The bibliography records no other copies, although there are surely some out there.   It’s certainly possible though that not a single copy in the original paperback state has survived.   If anyone has a paperback copy, or even has ever seen one, please let me know.