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NH-born Publisher Enticed Charles Dickens Back to America in 1867


Charles Dickens was not impressed with the United States during his first tour. But much had changed in America, and in Dickens, by his second arrival soon after the Civil War in 1867. Portsmouth, NH-born publisher James T. Fields, Dickens exclusive American publisher, convinced the world's most famous writer to give us another chance. (Click title to read more)  

Who was the best? Bill Murray, Vincent Price, Kelsey Grammar, Albert Finney, George C. Scott, Patrick Stewart, Mr. Magoo, Mickey Mouse, the Muppets, and countless others have portrayed characters from A Christmas Carol. But the greatest performance of Scrooge, Marley, Bob Cratchit, and Tiny Tim all go to author Charles Dickens himself. And New Hampshire played a starring role in bringing this classic tale to the American stage.

It was James T. Fields, born in Portsmouth, who persuaded British superstar, Charles Dickens, to visit the United States. Beginning in Boston in 1867, in a whirlwind five-month tour, Dickens gave dramatic readings of his popular novels, including Christmas Carol.  The sold-out tour was a critical and financial triumph.  

Fields was also the exclusive American publisher of books by Charles Dickens. Fields' Boston firm was the hub of literary New England, representing authors like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Henry David Thoreau, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Harriet Beecher Stowe, John Greenleaf Whittier, and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Charles Dickens public reading 1867    

First American tour

Charles Dickens had been here once before.  With his wife Catherine, he first set foot on American soil in 1842. Already the author of five bestsellers, including Oliver Twist and the Pickwick Papers, Dickens was then just 29. His arrival attracted a media frenzy from the moment his ship docked in Boston.

Among Dickens’ early admirers was James T. Fields, then the junior partner in a company that would become Ticknor & Fields. Fields was among a horde of fans hanging out at Dickens hotel the night of his arrival. He strained for a glimpse of the English celebrity. Fields caught sight of Dickens as he ducked out the hotel for a midnight stroll.  Fields later described his idol as “young, handsome, almost worshipped for his genius.”

That first night, Fields was little more than a stalker, as he followed the novelist and his friend. As Fields watched, the two men wandered the city streets, laughing, before they ducked into a saloon. It was a “stinging” cold night, Fields later recalled, with a full moon. Dickens was “muffled up in a shaggy fur coat.” By the end of the tour, souvenir-hunting fans, had plucked the coat half to pieces.

The more Dickens and his wife saw of America in 1842, the less they liked it. He became a stern critic of southern slavery, earning himself many enemies. Tied to a strict schedule of readings, harsh travel conditions, and social events, Dickens complained to a friend: “I can do nothing that I want to do, go nowhere I want to go, and see nothing that I want to see.”

“Boston is what I would have the whole United States to be,” he concluded.


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