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First Fruits

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Authors Charles Dickens
George Augustus Sala
Genres Cross-genre i
Prose: Essay i
Prose: Leading Article i
Prose: Short Fiction i
Subjects Children; Childhood; Pregnancy; Childbirth; Child Rearing; Adoption; Child Labor
Health; Diseases; Personal Injuries; Hygiene; Cleanliness—Fiction
Other Details
Printed : 15/5/1852
Journal : Household Words
Volume : Volume V
Magazine : No. 112
Office Book Notes
Views : 715

Dickens probably wrote the following sections of 'First Fruits': from 'The first picture-book!' (p. 190) to 'something and water' (p. 191); from 'But, here have we been' (p. 192) to the conclusion.
Dickens may also have added to the following passage: from 'Who can lay his hand' to 'but not the baby!' (p. 191).
In addition, Dickens seems to have emended and enhanced other portions of the piece.
In some limited respects, Sala's literary sensibility was akin to Dickens'; he could, for instance, brilliantly imitate - at times parody - certain of Dickens' stylistic mannerisms and literary strategies. He also had a Dickensian relish for picturesque oddities and trenchant details - all of which, plus Dickens' habit of editing and emending the work of his collaborators, sometimes makes it extremely difficult, in joint pieces, to disentangle his writing from Dickens'.
In Things I Have Seen and People I Have Known, commenting on Dickens' editorial methods, Sala wrote: 'Dickens took the revises in hand himself, and very often surprised me by the alterations - always for the better - which he made, now in the title, and now in the matter, of my 'copy.'' Sala then goes on to give a number of examples. In one article, Sala had written that a tipsy passenger on top of an omnibus might feel 'very queer sensations,' to which Dickens added in the revise, 'particularly when the bow of your cravat slides to the back of your head and hangs there like a bag-wig.' 'These thoroughly Dickensian touches,' Sala continues, 'added purely by his own autocratic will, did, I am convinced, a great deal of good to the productions of his young men; but, at the same time, the frequency of Dickensian tropes, illustrations, and metaphors, interpolated in the articles of his disciples, led to their being taunted with being slavish imitators of their leader'.
Dickens immediately recognized Sala's talent and his potential usefulness as a staff writer who could do certain 'Dickensian' things. In 1851 Sala had submitted an unsolicited piece to Household Words. As soon as Dickens read it, he wrote (13 August 1851) to Wills:

I have written to the Author of the Key of the Street, accepting his paper. It is a very remarkable piece of description, and (although there is little fancy in it) exceedingly superior to the usual run of such writing. I have delicately altered it myself, so as to leave no offence in it whatever. If the young man can write, generally, as well as that, he will be an acquisition to us. I think it quite good enough for a first article - but we will not put it first, for fear we should spoil him in the beginning. It is sure to tell.

On 27 September 1851, after cutting and editing another article by Sala, Dickens wrote to Wills:

There is nobody about us whom we can use, in his way, more advantageously than this young man. It will be exceedingly desirable to set him on some subjects. I will endeavour to think of a few, suited to him. Suggest to him Saturday night in London, or London Markets - Newport Market, Tottenham Court Road, Whitechapel Road (where there are the most extraordinary men holding forth on Saturday night about Corn Plaister - the most extraordinary things sold, near Whitechapel workhouse - the strangest shows - and the wildest cheap Johns) - the New Cut, &c., &c., &c. I think he would make a capital paper out of it.

Sala soon became a salaried member of the Household Words staff - a sign that Dickens regarded him as an unusually versatile and valuable writer.
The core of Dickens' contribution to 'First Fruits' is largely autobiographical and includes many details which also occur in other, demonstrably autobiographical pieces.

Harry Stone; © Bloomington and Indiana University Press, 1968. DJO gratefully acknowledges permission to reproduce this material.

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