Most of Dickens’ novels were first issued in serial form, either as monthly parts or in some cases serialised in his journals, ‘Household Words’ or ‘All the Year Round’. ‘A tale of two cities’ combined both of these forms.
Dickens used it as the lead story when he launched ‘All the Year Round’ in April 1859, running it in 31 weekly parts from April to November 1859, and so copies of ‘All the Year Round’ represent the true first publication of the story. It was printed in huge numbers and many copies were kept, so it’s not too difficult even now to pick up copies at reasonable cost. Many surviving copies are in bound volumes, but still offer an affordable way to own a Dickens ‘first edition’.
That though is not enough of a challenge for many book collectors. Dickens followed up publication in ‘All the Year Round’ by publishing it in eight monthly parts (six single parts and a final double one) from June to December 1859 and these are much rarer. One bookseller is currently offering a full set of the parts at a mere $30,000, for what is clearly neither the first publication nor the first book edition.
The first book edition followed in November 1859 and you can buy a copy for considerably less than $30,000 although maybe in the thousands rather than the hundreds of dollars.
But over the same period, the story was also being published in English in Continental Europe. Dickens was on friendly terms with the publisher Bernhard Tauchnitz in Leipzig, and offered him the choice of taking the novel either in weekly or monthly parts. Tauchnitz chose to issue it in monthly parts and publication of the first part was announced on 30th June 1859. It’s likely that the parts appeared shortly after the UK parts, although it’s possible that the Tauchnitz part-issues were actually ahead of the equivalent parts in the UK.
The print run would have been much lower than in the UK and surviving copies of the Tauchnitz part-issues might be expected to be much rarer. It’s a meaningless question to ask how valuable such parts might be, because no copies of them have ever been publicly recorded. Until now.
Copies of the first four part-issues of ‘A tale of two cities’ have recently been discovered by a book collector in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, where they had been held in a local library and were being disposed of. Some books were being offered free to local residents, but these ones had to be rescued from a dumpster, by someone who recognised their importance before they disappeared. They are now in his personal collection – a reminder of how narrow the line is between survival and destruction.
They’re certainly not pretty. Three of the four parts have been taped around the edges, which is really not a great look. Only Part 4 is untaped and only the first four parts are present. However they offer the first conclusive proof that such part-issues exist at all. The fourth part contains at the front preliminary pages so that the four parts could be taken to a bookbinder and bound up as a single book, which would be identified as volume 479 of the Tauchnitz series.
Tauchnitz itself then published ‘A tale of two cities’ in book form and it’s not entirely clear whether there’s any way of distinguishing copies issued by Tauchnitz as a single book, from copies that might have been bound up from the parts. One thing that the part-issues do make clear though, is that copies with ten preliminary pages, including a dedication and preface, are not the first printing in book form, as suggested in the Todd & Bowden bibliography. To qualify as a first printing in book form, copies must have only 6 pages of preliminaries, with the contents on pages v and vi. Sadly that means that copies in the British Library in London, the Bodleian in Oxford, in Frankfurt, Munich and in Stockholm, can no longer be considered first printings.
The second set of four parts could be bound up as volume 480, and Tauchnitz announced publication of the entire novel in book form in these two volumes on 22nd December 1859. This was about a month after first publication of the complete novel in the UK, although it’s likely, in line with previous practice, that the first Tauchnitz volume would have been sold on its own in advance of this, possibly from September or October.
When Todd & Bowden published their bibliography of Tauchnitz Editions in 1988 they were able to locate only a single Tauchnitz part-issue of any novel, in any of the major Tauchnitz collections, including those in national, state or university libraries around the world. In total 84 different parts are believed to have been published from a total of six novels, but the only remaining example they could find was a tattered copy of one part of ‘Little Dorrit’ in the Bibliotèque Nationale in Paris.
Since then copies of individual parts of ‘Bleak House’ and ‘Our mutual friend’ have come to light, followed by the discovery of a full set of 20 parts of ‘Bleak House’, although the location of these is now unknown. The discovery now of part-issues of ‘A tale of two cities’ means that parts are known of, for four of the five Dickens novels published in this way. No parts of ‘Edwin Drood’ are yet known, nor any of the one non-Dickens novel to be issued in parts by Tauchnitz – ‘A strange story’ by Bulwer Lytton.
It was Charles Dickens who quickly became the star writer of the Tauchnitz Collection of British Authors, but when the series launched in 1841, Dickens was only 29 years old and had published relatively few works. He had already written ‘The Pickwick Papers’, ‘Oliver Twist’ and ‘Nicholas Nickleby’ all of which appeared early on in the Tauchnitz series, and he was at work on ‘Master Humphrey’s Clock’. These on their own were more than enough to cement his reputation in literary terms, but in terms of quantity, they were not enough to sustain the new series.
That task fell instead in large part to Edward Bulwer Lytton, perhaps the most popular writer of the 1830s, filling the gap between Walter Scott and Dickens. His reputation has not survived in the same way, but in his time he was seen as a master storyteller (before Dickens came along to redefine the term). Bulwer Lytton’s books were widely pirated in continental Europe, and in publishing them in his new series, Tauchnitz was following in the footsteps of several other publishers. It was a natural way to keep the series going, while he prepared his revolutionary plans to pay authors for permission to publish authorised editions of their latest works.
Three of the first ten volumes in the Tauchnitz series were by Bulwer Lytton, including ‘Pelham’ as volume 1. By volume 25, he accounted for 12 volumes and by the time the series moved away from piracy to publishing editions sanctioned by the author, the tally had increased to 15 volumes. Almost all of Bulwer’s previous works had by then appeared, and later works appeared in authorised editions as they were written, over the next 30 years.
As the author most ‘pirated’ in the early years of the series, Bulwer might reasonably have borne Tauchnitz some ill will, but this seems not to have been the case. The grand gesture Tauchnitz made in offering to pay for authorisation, when there was no legal requirement to do so, seems to have silenced all his critics and established his reputation as a man of principle from then on.
In that rush of early pirate editions, one book that stands out is ‘Godolphin and Falkland’, which appeared as volume 23 of the series in 1842. It combines two works – ‘Godolphin’, a satirical novel from 1833, and ‘Falkland’, a shorter work written in the form of a series of letters.
Very unusually for Tauchnitz, the first printing is marked by a major printing error on the title page, where the title is shown as ‘Codolphin and Falkland’. As it is written correctly on the front wrappers and half-title, on the fly-title which follows the main title page, and throughout the novel, this seems to be a simple error in typesetting and proofreading. Such errors are rare though in Tauchnitz Editions and no doubt this one caused a good deal of distress to Dr. Fluegel, who according to the wrappers was responsible for ‘the corrections of the press’. It reminds me of the error allegedly committed by a priest saying Grace who referred to ‘the piece of Cod that passeth all understanding’.
The title page was corrected in later printings, but all early copies seem to have this misprint. Corrected copies appear only with the more modern typeface adopted in 1848, and are marked as copyright editions, so misprinted copies continued to be sold for around six years. It’s hard to imagine such a fundamental error being allowed to continue for so long these days. If nothing else, the author would surely insist on the book being withdrawn and pulped, but as this was initially a pirate edition, the author had no say.
Any copy of the book with the misprint is from those first 6 years, but as usual with Tauchnitz, the only way of being sure that a copy is a first printing, is if the original wrappers are still present. Tauchnitz bibliographers Todd & Bowden were unable to find any copy in original wrappers earlier than 1875, which hardly helps us. But the copy in my own collection is in a makeshift binding for the Jens & Gassmann circulating library in Solothurn, Switzerland, matching the similar copy of ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’, that I believe could be the earliest copy of this novel in book form anywhere in the world.
In particular, although these volumes are privately bound, the original paper wrappers are bound in, and provide the evidence for precise dating. In the case of ‘Godolphin and Falkland’, the rear wrapper lists just the first 25 volumes in the series, which makes it almost certainly the earliest wrapper, and the book therefore a first printing.