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George Augustus Sala

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Published : 237 Articles
Pen Names : None
Date of Birth : 24/11/1828
Death : 8/12/1895
Views : 1879

Journalist. Attended school in Paris and in London; thereafter received some instruction in drawing. Earned living for a time as scene-painter, illustrator, engraver. For some months edited a half-penny weekly. With intent of becoming a journalist, studied back numbers of the Quarterly Review and the Examiner. In 1851 became contributor to H.W. In 1857 began his long connection with the Daily Telegraph; sent by the paper as "special correspondent" to the U.S., the Continent, and elsewhere. Contributed to the lllustrated Times, Cornhill, the Illustrated London News, Belgravia, and other periodicals. For a short time editor of Welcome Guest; of Temple Bar, 1860-1866. Brought out Sala's Journal, 1892-1894. Published some forty works, fiction and non-fiction, almost all of them reprinted from his periodical writings; also various ephemeral pieces. In 1895 granted Civil List pension of £'100 a year. Regarded by some of his contemporaries as the "great" Sala, the "brilliant" Sala, the man of "commanding talent"; by Matthew Arnold (Friendship's Garland), as the-"'rowdy Philistine".


In submitting his first contribution to H.W., Sala wrote Dickens a letter, reminding him that "he had known me when I was a boy, and that he had been very kind to me and mine" (Things I Have Seen, I, 67). The allusion is to Dickens's acquaintance with Sala's mother, a singer and actress, who had played a role in two of Dickens's plays; through her, young Sala had met Dickens. Of all the writers who first became known through their connection with H.W., it was Sala, wrote Forster, in whom Dickens had "the strongest personal interest" (Life, Book VI, sect. iv). Sala wrote of Dickens: "I revered the writer and I loved the man"; but for Dickens's friendship and encouragement, he stated, "I should never have been a journalist or a writer of books" (Life and Adventures, p. 305; Charles Dickens, p. VI). The two men were not intimate friends, though Sala was frequently invited to the dinners held at the H.W. office, and, during his residences in Paris, he was often in the company of Dickens there. On Dickens's death, Sala wrote for the Telegraph a memorial sketch of Dickens, later enlarged and published in booklet form. In it, he gave lavish praise to Dickens's writings and predicted for Dickens "perpetuity of renown" among the greatest literary masters. In other of his books that touched on Dickens and his writings, Sala's comments were not uncritical. Pictures from Italy, for instance, he mentioned as illustrating Dickens's contempt for foreigners and his ignorance of art, and A Tale of Two Cities as "a dramatic but very superficial picture of French life and manners" at the time of the Revolution (Things I Have Seen, I, 104-105, 108). Sala was among those who knew of Dickens's relationship with Ellen Ternan. He held that the matter was no concern of the public. According to Thomas Wright (Life of Charles Dickens, p. 283), he was "furious" when he learned in 1893 that Wright was collecting material for a life of Dickens that would reveal certain circumstances of Dickens's later years that Forster had not revealed.

Sala's connection with H.W. began with Dickens's enthusiastic acceptance in 1851 of "The Key of the Street". Dickens found it "a very remarkable piece of description"; he instructed Wills to ask for additional articles and himself suggested topics for Sala to write on. "There is nobody about us whom we can use, in his way, more advantageously than this young man" (to Wills, August 13, September 27 1851). For the following five years Sala contributed regularly to H.W. Dickens found some of his papers "capital", "very good", "excellent"; in others he found subjects inadequately treated and tastelessly handled. The Office Book records Dickens's initials jointly with Sala's name for but one item (for another—"How I Went to Sea"—Dickens's initials are entered, then marked out); actually, Dickens made changes in many of Sala's contributions. He cut passages and compressed material; sometimes he added material; he corrected misstatements; he altered comments that might shock readers; he changed phraseology. The "Dickensian touches", admitted Sala, were "always for the better", but they gave him, he wrote, the undeserved reputation of being a slavish Dickens imitator (Things I Have Seen, I, 78-79).

Dickens on one occasion instructed Wills to be generous to Sala in the matter of payment: "Don't run him too close in the money way. I can't bear the thought of making anything like a hard bargain with him" (August 7 1854). The Office Book record, for items for which payment is recorded, is that for about forty items in the regular numbers Sala was paid somewhat more than the standard rate and for about forty items somewhat less; for items in the Christmas numbers he was paid, as was the custom, more than the standard rate. No payment to Sala is recorded for items contributed during about six months of 1854; during those months, payment was evidently on another basis than that of payment for individual items.

Of the items that Sala wrote for H.W. during his first two and a half years as contributor (during which time his contributions were paid for on an individual basis), more than half are marked as paid for in advance. On one occasion, when such payments amounted to twenty guineas, Dickens "told Wills delicately to make [Sala] a present" of the amount; on another occasion he wiped from the slate arrears of some seventy pounds (Forster, Life, Book VI, sect. iv; Sala, Things I Have Seen, I,120). From August 1854, the Office Book records no further payments as made to Sala in advance, though Dickens made him at least one such payment in January 1856. Dickens was much concerned at that time about Sala's dilatoriness in sending in copy (to Wills, January 10, January 24, 1856).

Later in the same year, Sala proposed that Dickens send him to Russia to gather material for a series of papers on Russian life and manners (A Journey Due North); Dickens agreed to the proposal. Sala's dispute, on his return, about travelling expenses and his delay in completing the stipulated number of papers led to a bitter quarrel with Dickens. Sala was informed that his services were dispensed with and that permission to publish the Russian papers in book form was refused.

In 1858 Dickens and Sala again became friends, and Sala later contributed to A.Y.R. For that periodical Dickens accepted from him the novel Quite Alone; when Sala delayed overlong in sending in the final chapters, Dickens had the serial completed by Andrew HaIliday.

Thackeray thought "The Key of the Street" "almost the best magazine paper that ever was written" (Letters, Ill, 470-471). Vizetelly called "Colonel Quagg's Conversion" "one of the most amusing short stories in the language" (Glances Back through Seventy Years, II, 111-112); the Marquis of Stafford and some of his friends, according to Yates (Recollections and Experiences, p. 213), "were loud in praise" of the same story; and Swinburne found it highly amusing (Letters, I, 64).

Six of Sala's H.W. contributions were reprinted in whole or part in Harper's, one of them acknowledged to H.W., and one—"What Christmas Is in the Company of John Doe"—credited to Dickens. "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, and Musketry" was included in the Putnam volume of selections from H.W.: Home and Social Philosophy, 2nd series, "The Key of the Street" Sala found included in a volume titled Nouveaux contes de Charles Dickens.

Author: Anne Lohrli; © University of Toronto Press, 1971.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

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