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New Uncommercial Samples: A Plea for Total Abstinence [xxxvi]

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Author Charles Dickens
Genre Prose: Essay i
Subjects Animals; Domestic Animals; Pets; Working Animals; Birds; Insects
Associations; Institutions; Clubs; Labor Unions
Ethics; Morals; Moral Development; Moral Education; Philosophy; Values
Religion; Religion and Culture
Temperance; Alcoholism
Other Details
Printed : 5/6/1869
Journal : All the Year Round
Volume : Volume II "New Series"
Magazine : No. 27
Views : 717

Retitled 'A Plea for Total Abstinence' in collected editions of the series.

In the first of his 'Sketches of London' for the Evening Chronicle (31 Jan 1835; see Vol. 1 of the Dent edition of Dickens's Journalism, p. 83) Dickens as 'Boz' had declared that 'we are as great friends to horses... as the renowned Mr Martin'.

Richard Martin, an Irish MP, was a founder in 1824 of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and had been instrumental in the passing of the Act for Protecting the Rights of Animals in 1822. Dickens demonstrated the sincerity of this declaration in 1838, by appearing as a leading prosecution witness in the trial of Richard Davis, a London omnibus driver accused of mistreating his horse near Lincoln's Inn Fields on 16th October. The charge was filed by the Secretary of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and Dickens's testimony, to judge by a report in The Times of 20 October, was felt to have weighed heavily againt the driver, who was fined twenty shillings by the Bow Street magistrate (see Nils Erik Enkvist, 'Charles Dickens in the Witness Box', The Dickensian, Vol. 47 [1951], p. 201). Thus, in spite of proposing the pledge for 'Total Abstinence from Horseflesh' in the present item as something of a reductio ad absurdum, Dickens's concern about mistreatment of animals was genuine. His article for HW about the poor living conditions for animals exhibited at Regent's Park, suggests a continuing interest (see Vol. 3 of the Dent edition, Item 46).

In 1849, Dickens had used the platform provided by Forster's Examiner to voice his objections to the principles of the movement for 'Total Abstinence' from alcoholic beverages, complaining of the 'large class of minds apparently unable to distinguish between use and abuse'. The same charge is made in the present item, in which more than a whiff of Carlylism is detectable (see headnote to Item 35 in Vol. 2 of the Dent edition; also Literary allusions below). For other essays in which Dickens attacks Temperance societies and principles, see Vol. 2 of the Dent edition, Item 26, and Vol. 3, Items 3, 6, 22 and 40. The title of the essay is clearly designed to shock or intrigue readers by suggesting a sharp divergence from a position Dickens felt he was known to maintain.

MS. Draft [?May 1869], Houghton Library, University of Harvard, MS Eng. 58.4. ff. 1-6, heavily amended, with rare vertical interpolation on f. 1

Literary allusions:

  • ''whether the husk or shell of him,' as the esteemed Herr Teufelsdrockh might put it': ''The gladder am I... to do reverence to those Shells and outer Husks of the Body'', Thomas Carlyle, Sartor Resartus: The Life and Opinions of Herr Teufelsdrockh (1835), Ch. 6;
  • 'this Gilpinian triumvirate': William Cowper's comic poem 'John Gilpin' (1785) recounts the mishaps of an incompetent rider whose horse bolts from Cheapside to Ware and back again;
  • 'Up guards and at 'em': order attributed to the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo in Sir E. Creasy's Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World (1851), Vol. II, p. 329;
  • 'I will never desert Mr Micawber': Mrs Micawber's repeated cry in Dickens's David Copperfield (1850), Ch. 12;
  • 'a gallant, gallant crew': untraced;
  • 'if patriotic Peckham picked a peck of pickled poetry...': adaptation of the traditional child's tongue-twister, 'Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled pepper';
  • 'the less includes the greater': reversal of Euclid's axiom from The Elements (n.d), 'the greater includes the lesser'.


Author: John Drew; © J. M. Dent/Orion Publishing Group, Dickens' Journalism Volume IV: 'The Uncommercial Traveller' and Other Papers, 1859-1870, 2000.

DJO gratefully acknowledges permission to reproduce this material.

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