decorated initial 'D' ickens must have felt that his literary "blow for the poor," the second Carol as he referred to it in his correspondence from Italy prior to "hearing The Chimes at midnight" from the convent near door to the Palazzo Peschieri within the city walls of Genoa, would make a remarkable impact if read aloud. Accordingly, he arrived in early December to perform the novella at John Forster's rooms in Lincoln's Inn Fields for two select groups of literary friends and acquaintances on two separate nights (2 and 3 December), then made changes to the novella in proof. Indeed, the novella is highly "performable" because it contains many rhetorical tricks borrowed from the melodrama, as well as some of the stock characters drawn from melodrama, a dramatic form with a strong working class appeal. As Michael Slater points out in his Penguin preface (1971), the new work was often received according to one's political orientation, with the Tory press panning it as arrant propaganda for the Chartist cause, but the Liberal press praising it for its social realism and incise criticism of Conservative social policy. Certainly, it lacked the general appeal and reaffirmation of the interdenominational Christian message found in A Christmas Carol.

A Contemporary Liberal Review of The Chimes: The Illustrated London News, 21 December 1844, p. 394-95

Literature. THE CHIMES: A Goblin Story of Some Bells that Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In. By CHARLES DICKENS.

As this elegant contribution to our seasonal literature has appeared almost simultaneously on the library-table and the stage, it has, doubtless, already been perused and witnessed with delight, by thousands of the reading and play-going public. A volume of some 170 pages, like the present, and that by one of the master-spirits of the age, must be hailed by a legion of readers; and, however highly expectation may have been raised by the author's exquisite "Carol," we predict that, making allowance for "The Chimes," being the second of its class, it will enjoy a comparative share of popularity. Probably, the "Goblin" of to-day is less jocund than the "Ghost" of last year; it may not equal its predecessor in construction of plot, slight as that was acknowledged to be; nor is there the same breadth of humour and rich fancy flowing through its pages: but, in what may be regarded as the higher end and aim of Mr. Dickens' writings — the reform of social abuse, and the uprooting of deeply-rooted popular error — the present work must be hailed as a well-timed production, likely to realise the most beneficial results in society; while it is replete with refined sentiments upon questions of paramount importance to the adjustment of the social balance, and which must humanise and elevate the heart of even the most listless reader. These noble objects are the under-current of Mr. Dickens' volume; whilst the work is not wanting in those touches of homely truth and humour which have proved the most extensively attractive charms of the author's previous productions.

Numerous as already may be the public acquaintance with "The Chimes," we shall glance at the framework of the story, and its most successful scenic touches. The volume is divided into Four Quarters: the first is chiefly introductory of dram. pers.: here is a specimen from the opening pages: —

There follows an excerpt entitled "A Night Scene in a Church" [From "the night-wind has a dismal trick" to "dwelt the Chimes I tell of" in the "First Quarter."]

Passing over the bells of the Chimes, who had their Godfathers and Godmothers, and their silver mugs — the latter melted down by Henry VIII. — we come to the first character: —

The excerpt entitled "Toby Veck, The Ticket-Porter" also comes from the "First Quarter," from "Whatever Toby Veck said, I say" to "his cane beneath his arm still trotted."

A character of another "order" will, doubtless, be identified among our civic neighbours [an allusion to Middlesex magistrate Sir Peter Laurie, who in 1841 had conducted a campaign against attempting to commit suicide among the urban poor]: it is that of one, who, by "putting down," in the story before us, contrives to perpetuate much mischief, as in the following scene of Toby's Daughter and Alderman Cute.

The excerpt involves Alderman Cute's "lecture" to Meg about the inadvisability of marriage among the working poor, from "Now I'm going to give you a word or two of good advice" to "now we understand each other."

The excerpt from the second quarter runs from "The Year was Old that day" and that from the concluding quarter runs from "Had Trotty dreamed?" to "what our Great Creator formed them to enjoy." Thus, the excerpts render the novella a rebuttal of Malthus and a defense of the emotional life of England's poor.

The illustrations are an emblematic frontispiece ["The Spirits of the Bells"], designed by Maclise, and engraved on steel; and nine wood-cuts, drawn by Leech and Doyle; besides two scenic vignettes by Stanfield ["The Old Church" and "Will Fern's Cottage"]. We miss the humour of the pencil of Phiz, so successfully introduced to the public in some of Mr. Dickens's previous works. [395]

With such friends of Dickens as Douglas Jerrold and Mark Lemon as principal contributors and Ingram as the Liberal owner, The Illustrated London News, having opposed the excesses of the new Poor Law, naturally approved of the message of the second Christmas Book. However, opinion about the book appears to have divided along political and class lines: for example, a week later the Tory organ John Bull fulminated against Dickens's avowal of "low Radical doctrines of the day" (cited in Slater's Penguin "Introduction" to The Chimes, p. 140), while the Chartist journal the Northern Star praised the little book's author as "the champion of the poor! (cited in Slater, p. 140). Even so conservative and establishmentarian a newspaper as the Economist hailed the novella as "one of the most remarkable books of the day" (cited in Slater, p. 140). Despite adverse reviews in the Tory press, the novella, published on 16 December, 1844, proved to be the commercial success that Dickens had hoped his first Carol would be: over the coming months, it sold 20,000 copies. It remained a favourite in the Dickens canon for the remainder of the nineteenth century.

Related Material


Ackroyd, Peter. Dickens. London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1990.

Bentley, Nicholas; Michael Slater and Nina Burgis. The Dickens Index. Oxford: Oxford U. P., 1988.

Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z. The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, 1998.

Dickens, Charles. The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells That Rang an Old Year out and a New Year in. Il. John Leech, Richard Doyle, Daniel Maclise, and Clarkson Stanfield. Charles Dickens: The Christmas Books. Intro. and notes By Michael Slater. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1971. Rpt., 1978. Vol. 1: 137-266.

Kurata, Marilyn J. "Fantasy and Realism: A Defense of The Chimes." Dickens Studies Annual 13 (1984): 19-34.

The Letters of Charles Dickens. Ed. Kathleen Tillotson. The Pilgrim Edition. Vol. 4: 1844-1846. Oxford: Clarendon, 1965.

"Literature: "The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells That Rang an Old Year out and a New Year in. By Charles Dickens. [Review and synopsis]. The Illustrated London News, 21 December 1844. Pp. 394-95.

Schlicke, Paul, ed. Oxford Reader's Companion to Dickens. Oxford: Oxford U. P., 1999.

Last Modified 7 June 2012