"THE ONE GREAT CHRISTMAS MYTH OF MODERN LITERATURE": FIRST EDITIONS OF DICKENS' ILLUSTRATED CHRISTMAS BOOKS, INCLUDING A LOVELY FIRST ISSUE OF A CHRISTMAS CAROL, ALL IN ORIGINAL GILT-DECORATED CLOTH
DICKENS, Charles. The Christmas Books. London: Chapman and Hall, 1843-48. Together, five volumes. Small octavo, original rose and red cloths (Carol is expertly rebacked with original spine laid down), gilt-decorated covers and spines, all edges gilt. Housed in a custom chemise and slipcase.
First editions of all five of Charles Dickens' Christmas Books—chief among them a first issue of his immortal Christmas Carol, the veritable "Bible of Christmas"—illustrated with 63 engravings, four in color, by Leech, Maclise, Stanfield, Doyle and Landseer, all books in the original gilt-decorated cloth. A lovely set.
A Christmas Carol "may readily be called the Bible of Christmas… It was issued about ten days before Christmas, 1843, and 6000 copies were sold on the first day… the number of reprintings have been so many that all attempts at the figures have been futile. Altogether 24 editions were issued in the original format" (Eckel, 110). "It was a work written at the height of Dickens' great powers, which would add to his considerable fame, bring a new work to the English language, increase the festivities at Christmastime, and contain his most eloquent protest at the condition of the poor" (John Mortimer). "Suddenly conceived and written within a few weeks, [A Christmas Carol] was the first of Dickens' Christmas books (a new literary genre thus created incidentally)… it was an extraordinary achievement—the one great Christmas myth of modern literature." The publication history of A Christmas Carol is bibliographically complex. "Dickens decided to publish the book himself… He wanted the Carol to be a beautiful gift book and took pride in its development. He stipulated the following requirements: a fancy binding, blind-stamped, with gilding on the spine and front cover; all edges gilded; four full-page hand-colored etchings; half title and title pages printed in colors of bright red and green; and hand-colored green endpapers to match the green title page… However, in examining printed copies prior to publication, Dickens was disappointed with the appearance of the green titles, which turned drab, and the hand-colored green endpapers, which dusted off and smudged, and had the title page changed to red and blue, the half title to blue, the date on the title page changed from 1844 to 1843, and the endpapers changed to yellow, which did not require hand work. Dickens' changes were completed by December 17… Since Dickens' instructions to discontinue the unsatisfactory titles and endpapers were received at the press before publication, at a time when there were on hand different quantities of endpapers, title pages, and sheets of printed text already produced, many copies are found with a mixture of features" (Smith, 21-22). A Christmas Carol is from the first issue, with uncorrected text ("Stave I" as the first chapter heading), the red-and-blue title page dated 1843, the half title printed in blue, and yellow endpapers. (First-issue copies appear with either yellow or green endpapers, no priority established.) Binding matches Todd's first impression, first issue, with the smallest interval between blindstamped border and gilt wreath equal to 14-15 mm, and with the "D" in "Dickens" unbroken (Smith II:4). Dickens followed A Christmas Carol's tremendous success with four more Christmas books. In each book, he deftly develops the themes of the first, ideals that have consequently become inseparable from the holiday itself: love and redemption, charity and mercy. First edition of The Chimes, with the second state of the engraved title page (publisher's imprint is engraved beneath the title vignette); first edition of The Cricket on the Hearth, with second state of advertising leaf at rear (headed "New Edition of Oliver Twist"); first edition of The Battle of Life, with vignette title page in the fourth state (subtitled "A Love Story" on a scroll carried by an angel and without publisher's imprint); first edition of The Haunted Man and The Ghost's Bargain. All advertisements present, as issued. Eckel, 110-125. Smith II: 4-6, 8-9. Owner signatures, small dealer tickets; bookplate in Christmas Carol.
Christmas Carol with front free endpaper replaced, repair to front joint; minimal staining and bubbling to cloth. Other volumes generally fresh and bright. An excellent set.