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That Other Public

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Author Charles Dickens
Genres Prose: Essay i
Prose: Leading Article i
Subject Great Britain—Politics and Government
Other Details
Printed : 3/2/1855
Journal : Household Words
Volume : Volume XI
Magazine : No. 254
Office Book Notes
Views : 1844

Writing to Miss Burdett Coutts about his deep anxiety concerning the contemporary political scene (25 January 1855; Pilgrim, Vol. VII, pp. 510-513), Dickens tells her, referring to this article, 'I have fired off a small volley of red hot shot, in Household Words next week'.

Taking his cue from an earlier HW article by G. A. Sala entitled 'Where are They?' (1 April 1854), Dickens hits upon the device of an elusive 'other public', gullible, supine, hopelessly superficial in its understanding even of the things it complains about, and complicit, in its stupidity and credulity, with all manner of social and political abuses. We, of course, he ironically assures his readers, are not at all like 'that other public' but highly intelligent and clear-sighted, never imposed upon. Beginning with a petty abuse, the demand for tips by theatre attendants, Dickens goes on to bring in such major scandals as the deplorable condition of the British troops in the Crimea and ends by detecting a comparable 'other public' in America on the basis of P.T. Barnum's recently published memoirs in which the great showman boasts of the number of tricks and deceptions he has practised on the public.

The reference in paragraph 2 to 'our friend, THE EXAMINER newspaper' is curious. In the 'Miscellaneous News' section of The Examiner for the same data as the date of this isse of HW appears an extract from this article ('What can that other Public mean ...' to '...egregiously gulled') acknowledging its source and adding the comment: 'It is to be hoped that this nuisance, condemned by the "Times" and all other real or effective organs of public opinion will not much longer be tolerated. The public has the remedy in its own hands'. Dickens and Forster, The Examiner editor, were, it seems, combining forces against something that particularly irked them.

Literary allusions

  • 'by that sign ye shall know them': adapted from Matthew 7:20;
  • 'the flower Warning, we have plucked from this nettle War': adapted from Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part I, Act 2, Sc. 3;
  • 'plague, pestilence and famine...': from the Litany in The Book of Common Prayer;
  • 'bright particular star': Shakespeare, All's Well That Ends Well, Act 1, Sc. 1;
  • 'one Chuzzlewit': refers to Martin Chuzzlewit (1844);
  • American Notes: Dickens quotes here from the 'Concluding remarks' of his 1842 American travel book.

MS. Pierpont Morgan Library, New York. This shows a number of minor emendations and deletions made with the running pen; also that Dickens must have changed or added a few phrases in proof including the setence, 'It is that other Public who will read ... to the Rocky Mountains'.

Author: Michael Slater; © J. M. Dent/Orion Publishing Group, Dickens' Journalism Volume III: 'Gone Astray' and Other Papers from Household Words, 1851-1859, 1998.

DJO gratefully acknowledges permission to reproduce this material.

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