Tauchnitz Editions

Our mutual friends: Dickens and Tauchnitz


Charles Dickens undoubtedly played a key part in the publishing history of Tauchnitz.  It is also at least arguable that Tauchnitz played a key part in the publishing history of Dickens, but let's look first at Dickens' role in the Tauchnitz story.

It starts with the Pickwick Papers, published as volumes 2 and 3 of the Tauchnitz Collection of British Authors, apparently initially without any approval at all from the author, or any payment to him.   The same applied to Oliver Twist, published the following year as volume 36, Nicholas Nickleby (volumes 47 and 48) and Sketches by Boz (volume 50).  By the time of the publication of Martin Chuzzlewit (volumes 57 and 58) in 1844 though, an agreement was in place between the two men, as it was with other Tauchnitz authors, and the edition was clearly marked as 'Sanctioned by the author'.  There was at the time no international copyright convention and it was Bernhard Tauchnitz who had taken the initiative to offer payment to Dickens and to other British authors in return for an explicit authority to publish their works for continental distribution.

It was this move, more than any other, that established Tauchnitz as the pre-eminent continental publisher of English language novels, a position that the firm held for most of the next 100 years.  With agreements in place with Dickens and other important British authors of the time, Tauchnitz was able to obtain early texts of new novels and publish them on the Continent more or less simultaneously with the UK editions, and in some cases even earlier.  The initial move by Tauchnitz to offer payment when none was legally required, led to a long and fruitful relationship between the two men.  Dickens' son, Charles, even seems to have spent time in Germany with the Tauchnitz family.

Extracts from correspondence between Bernhard Tauchnitz and Charles Dickens were published in a section of the book celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Tauchnitz firm in 1912.  They attest to a close relationship in which Dickens had total trust in the fair dealing of Tauchnitz.  In reference to 'Dombey and Son' in 1846 for instance he wrote '... I really do not know what it would be fair and reasonable to require from you.  But I have every reason to rely upon your honourable intentions; and if you will do me the favour to state your own proposal, I have little doubt that I shall be willing to assent to it ...'.  Then again in 1860, 'I cannot consent to name the sum you shall pay for 'Great Expectations'.  I have too high a regard for you and too high a sense of your honourable dealing, to wish to depart from the custom we have always observed.  Whatever price you put upon it will satisfy me.  You have always proposed the terms yourself, on former occasions, and I entreat you to do so now'.  A further example of the correspondence is illustrated in the final section below.

The practical result of this close relationship was that work by Dickens occupied a leading position in the early catalogue of Tauchnitz editions.  From the first 100 volumes of the Collection of British Authors, 13 were by Dickens.  This left him just behind Bulwer Lytton at this point in terms of number of volumes, although by 1848 Dickens also had to his credit 'A Christmas Carol' and 4 other Christmas books published by Tauchnitz outside the main series.  By 1860, when Tauchnitz published the 500th volume in the main series, it contained a total of 79 volumes ascribed to Dickens, including 36 volumes of 'Household Words' and a further 11 volumes of 'Novels and Tales, reprinted from Household Words', although several of these in practice owed little to Dickens' authorship.

The Dickens part-issues

Many of Dickens’ novels were originally issued in the UK in weekly parts, and for the later novels, the same practice was followed by Tauchnitz.  Each part was sent over to Leipzig as it was issued, so that continental publication was almost simultaneous with that in the UK.

As slim paperbacks, the individual part-issues have not lasted well and copies remaining now are few and far between.  The Todd & Bowden bibliography recorded only a single part of of 'Little Dorrit' in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.  I have since become aware of several other copies, including a complete set of the parts of 'Bleak House', but they are still undoubtedly very rare.   As well as 'Bleak House', 'Little Dorrit' and ‘Our Mutual Friend’, each originally published in 20 parts, ‘A tale of two cities’ (8 parts) and ‘Edwin Drood’ (6 parts) were also published by Tauchnitz as part-issues, giving a total of 74 original part-issues.   I have never seen a copy of most of these, and would be delighted to hear of any other copies that have been preserved.   There are more pictures in the Dickens album on the Photos page.



The first book printings

Although precise dates are in many cases hard to establish, it is clear that a number of the Dickens novels were published in book form by Tauchnitz ahead of the first London edition, and so represent the worldwide first edition.  ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’ for instance, was published by Tauchnitz in December 1843, whereas the complete London edition was issued in July 1844.  ‘David Copperfield’ was published by Tauchnitz in three volumes, the first in mid 1849, the second in early 1850 and the third in early November 1850.  It is likely that all three volumes were published before the London Edition of 14 November 1850.

These two novels were not published as part-issues by Tauchnitz, making it easier to bring forward the publication in book-form.  Even if Tauchnitz did publish in part-issues though, they followed up quickly with an edition in book form, made up from the part-impressions and may in some cases have achieved precedence over the London edition.

Even where the Tauchnitz issues can be clearly established as the worldwide first editions, it may be less easy to make that claim for any particular copy, given the difficulty in clearly identifying Tauchnitz first printings.  There is one bibliographical peculiarity though that may simplify this – the existence of a publisher’s imprint at the foot of page 1 of the text.  This is present on the part-issues and on the first book issues, but is then withdrawn, suggesting that the first book issue was actually bound up from the part-issues.  On this basis it may be possible to identify all book issues bearing the page 1 imprint as being of the first edition in book form.

It is much easier to identify paperback copies as the first Tauchnitz printing, but few such copies remain.  One unusual copy of ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’ in my own collection however has the original paper covers bound into a more permanent binding.  These covers list no other titles published after ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’ and so positively identify this as a first Tauchnitz printing and therefore a worldwide first edition in book form.


Possibly the earliest ever copy of Martin Chuzzlewit in book form?

A Christmas Carol

The Tauchnitz Edition of 'A Christmas Carol' deserves a special place in this account, if only because of the book's special place in British culture.  It was the first English language book to be issued by Tauchnitz as an unnumbered edition outside the main 'Collection of British Authors' series, presumably because it was not long enough to justify inclusion in the series at full price.  Publication was announced by Tauchnitz on 4 December 1843 for simultaneous issue with the London edition, although there has been speculation that it may have preceded the first English edition by a few days.

It was issued and re-issued many times by Tauchnitz over an extended period, and exists in many variants.  The first printing is distinguished by showing the publisher as Bernh. Tauchnitz Jun' on the title page (rather than 'Bernhard Tauchnitz'), by inclusion of the wording 'Edition sanctioned by the author' (rather than a copyright notice), and by ending on page 78 with 'THE END' (rather than 'THE E') followed by 'Printed by Bernh. Tauchnitz Jun.'.   It includes a frontispiece of Marley's Ghost, described on the title page as 'a coloured etching' although it would more properly be described as a coloured lithograph.  As is common with Tauchnitz Editions, many copies offered for sale as first printings are in practice much later editions.

A letter from Charles Dickens

The letter illustrated below, dated 15th November 1860, together with two envelopes, is a rare example of surviving correspondence between Dickens and Tauchnitz.  'I willingly accept your proposal of £35 for the reprint of The Uncommercial Traveller (and Hunted Down).  In this, as in all other transactions, I have perfect confidence in you.  Enclosed is a list of the names of all the articles in the series'.  Tauchnitz published a combined edition of 'Hunted Down' (a short story) and 'The uncommercial traveller' (a series of articles first published in All the Year Round') in December 1860, shortly after the date of this letter, as volume 536 of the series.