Bookdealer Jeremy Parrott hit the headlines last year when he discovered a remarkable set of bound volumes of ‘All the Year Round’, the periodical founded and owned by Charles Dickens. The volumes had been annotated by Dickens himself to show the names of the authors of each contribution.
All articles, stories and poems had originally been published anonymously, with only Dickens’ own name appearing as editor. The authors of many had remained unknown for well over 100 years. It had become one of the great literary puzzles that scholars debated endlessly, and at one stroke Jeremy Parrott seems to have solved it. It’s hard to imagine the excitement that he must have felt when he realised what he had discovered.
But a small dent had been made in this puzzle much earlier. One of the many firsts that the German publisher Tauchnitz achieved, was to be the first to identify who had written what in some of the Christmas numbers of ‘All the Year Round’. Here’s how it happened.
It had become a tradition for Dickens each Christmas to publish a special Christmas number of ‘All the Year Round’ (and before that ‘Household Words’), which contained a series of short stories by different authors linked into a single overall framework. Dickens himself would write at least one story, as well as forming the framework, and other contributors would write the other stories, or chapters. As usual, contributors other than Dickens were mostly anonymous.
In 1862 Tauchnitz reprinted the stories from ‘All the Year Round’ of 1859, 1860 and 1861 as volume 609 of the Collection of British Authors, under the title ‘Christmas Stories’. The paperback wrapper described the stories as being by Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins etc., but the title page, listed all the separate authors for each story. Dickens and Collins are given precedence in each case, followed by the other names, so it is not made clear exactly which parts were written by which author. But at least the names are there, and according to research by Neville Davies in 1978, this is believed to be the first time that they had been identified.
Tauchnitz had been caught out before by reprinting works from ‘Household Words’ and seeming to attribute them just to Dickens. In 1856 he had started a series of ‘Novels and Tales reprinted from Household Words, conducted by Charles Dickens’, where most of the writing was by other authors. This was in the tradition of ‘Household Words’, but it became a bit much when all of volume 4 of the series and most of volume 5 were devoted to a single novel, ‘The dead secret’, written by Wilkie Collins. Although Collins was credited on the contents page, the only author’s name on the title page and the wrappers of the first printing was that of Dickens, and this really did seem unfair. On later printings, Collins was properly credited. Once bitten, Tauchnitz may have been twice shy. When it came to reprinting the Christmas stories, he wanted all authors credited.
Five years later in 1867, he brought the series up to date by publishing the Christmas stories from 1862, 1863 and 1864 as volume 888 in the series, and those from 1865 and 1866 as volume 894. Perhaps surprisingly, this time the title page shows only the name of Dickens, although it does add ‘and the authors named at the head of the stories’. Although this is in some ways a step backwards, the real difference here is that at the start of the stories, each chapter has the name of the author against it, so that we can now see exactly who wrote what. Again this is believed to be the first time that this information had been revealed. Presumably it was done with the approval of Dickens, and the same information appeared in Britain the following year, after the final Christmas story of 1867, when a Collected Edition of all the 9 stories from 1859 to 1867 was published.
That final 1867 story – ‘No thoroughfare’, which was written by Dickens and Collins only, was published in a Tauchnitz Edition in June 1868, as volume 961, and both authors are fully credited. But the story was not long enough to fill a volume on its own and so another story that had been published in ‘All the year round’ was included with it. ‘The late Miss Hollingford’ had been written by Rosa Mulholland, but was published anonymously, leaving the rather unfortunate impression that it too had been written by Dickens and Collins.