The Pickwick Papers was Charles Dickens’ first novel. It began ‘life’ in monthly instalments – and the first instalment was published on this day – March 30th 1836. On this same day the publishers – the firm of Chapman and Hall – had also started a series of amusing stories dealing with “Cockney sporting scenes”. These were built around the illustrations of Robert Seymour.
On April 20th Robert Seymour committed suicide and Edward Chapman and William Hall had to decide if they were going to continue the series. The author who wrote the text to accompany Seymour’s illustrations had an idea – why not increase the text and hire a less well-known artist? The series could continue, but the focus would change from the illustrations to the story. That author’s name was Charles Dickens and the series was The Pickwick Papers. Chapman and Hall agreed with Dickens ideas and The Pickwick Papers became wildly popular.
The first instalment of The Pickwick Papers sold about 500 copies. It would run on until November 1837 with the last instalment selling about 40,000 copies. There were theatrical adaptations before the series was even completed and Pickwick merchandise began to appear. People could also buy Pickwick cigars, song books and china figurines. Charles’ first book was a success!