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Charles Dickens at 200 Letters
Letter 1 | 30 April 1856 | to Sophie Verena, page 3
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strangers think I look like one who passes so many hours alone in his own Study. You would be disappointed perhaps, to see me with a brown-red color in my face?

I very seldom write or talk about myself, but you express your interest so naturally and unaffectedly, that I feel I ought to describe myself in the same spirit.

It makes me sorry to find you describing your health as very delicate. You must remember that in all your literary aspiration, and whether thinking or writing, it is indispensably necessary to relieve that wear and tear of the mind by some other exertion that may be wholesomely set against it. Habitually, I have always had, besides great bodily exercise, some mental pursuit of a light kind with which to vary my labors as an Author. And I have found the result so salutary, that I strongly commend it to the fair friend in whom I am deeply interested.

Charles Dickens (1812–1870)
Autograph letter signed, Dover, 30 April 1856 to Sophie Verena
Purchased for The Dannie and Hettie Heineman Collection as the gift of the Heineman Foundation, 2011; MA 7681

This is an extraordinarily candid and personal letter to the young German novelist Sophie Verena, the pen name of Sophie Alberti, who dedicated her first novel to Dickens. Although it states: "I very seldom write or talk about myself," Dickens's letter describes in detail his physical appearance, exercise regimen, and writing habits. Asked whether he dictates his work, he tells Verena: "I answer with a smile that I can as soon imagine a painter dictating his pictures. No. I write every word of my books with my own hand.... I write with great care and pains (being passionately fond of my art, and thinking it worth any trouble)."

Manuscripts and Letters

The Morgan has the richest collection of Dickens manuscripts and letters in the United States. Dickens's letters are exceptionally brilliant and entertaining, and with his literary manuscripts, provide great insight into his craftsmanship and imagination, giving us the closest view of the novelist at work.

Dickens was careful, methodical, and painstaking in his work. Using a goose quill pen, he generally wrote from ten o'clock each morning until two in the afternoon, completing between two and four pages (or "slips," as he called them) each day. Except for letters, he wrote on only one side of the paper. In his early years, he favored black ink, now faded to brown, but in the late 1840s he switched to blue paper and blue ink, which dried more quickly. The handwriting in his early manuscripts is fluent, bold, and largely free of correction, suggesting "a hand racing to keep pace with the mind's conceptions." But, as he developed as an artist, his handwriting became increasingly small and compact, and his later manuscripts are more heavily revised and complex in appearance.


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