Dickens’ Christmas Day letter up for auction

Posted On December 12, 2006

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A Christmas Day letter penned by the author of A Christmas Carol is up for sale at a US auction house.

But the letter written by Charles Dickens on December 25, 1849, contains a good deal more “bah humbug” than Christmas cheer. In the letter to William Jerdan, Dickens blasts the British journalist for reprinting a bogus biography of him in the Literary Journal. The biography, which originally appeared in the New York Herald, was written by Thomas Powell, a known forger and embezzler who once worked for one of Dickens’ friends.

“Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,” Dickens wrote. “As you reprint the extraordinary lies of the New York Herald, perhaps you may like to know something more of their authority.

“I therefore send you for your own perusal (for I must not anticipate the defence to the ingenious Mr Powell’s American actions for libel) a few small passages in the life of the distinguished ‘literary gentleman from England’, who is in question.”

Powell, who escaped prison in England by pleading insanity and being committed to an asylum, fled to New York after serving his sentence. Once there, he traded on the names of literary figures he had known in England, including Dickens. In his biography of Dickens, he wrote that the two had quarrelled over losses both had incurred from railway speculation.

Dickens also sent a letter to the New York Tribune calling Powell’s piece “a complete and libellous lie”. Powell later sued Dickens, who responded by drawing up a list of Powell’s crimes and having them printed in a pamphlet.

The letter to Jerdan is among memorabilia from Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Robert Louis Stevenson and other luminaries from the past being sold by R&R Auctions in Amherst, New Hampshire. Bidding ends on Wednesday.

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