Rare First-Edition Works of Charles Dickens Exhibited at University’s Hillman Library

Issue Date: 
March 19, 2012

Pitt’s University Library System (ULS) joins the world in celebrating the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens’ birth with a display of rare first editions of some of the author’s most significant works. The free display is open to the public through May 1 in Room 363, Hillman Library.

From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 28—to mark the 170th anniversary of the day that Dickens visited Pittsburgh—an open house will be held in Room 363, featuring the Dickens books as well as those of some of his contemporaries, including Anthony Trollope and Wilkie Collins, among other British literary figures. The display also will showcase historical documents that relate to Dickens’ stay in Pittsburgh, which was part of his first North American reading tour, in 1842. Librarians will be on hand during the open house to answer questions.

Long considered to be one of the greatest novelists of the Victorian period, Dickens emerged on the scene with a serialized publication of comic sketches called The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club (1836), written under the pen name Boz. The Pickwick Papers continued monthly through 1837, became an enormous popular success, and eventually were published as a novel. Oliver Twist (1838) and The Old Curiosity Shop (1840) followed, and Dickens went on to pen some of the most renowned works of all time that continue to be read today.

The Pitt exhibition includes an extremely rare complete set of The Pickwick Papers as well as Nicholas Nickleby (1839), Barnaby Rudge (1841), Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit (1843), Dombey and Son (1848), Bleak House (1853), A Tale of Two Cities (1859), Great Expectations (1861), and others. The Dickens Christmas books, comprising The Christmas Carol (1843), The Chimes (1844), and several others, also are part of the display and maintain their original gold and crimson bindings—a valuable resource in the study of the history of printing, binding, publishing, and descriptive bibliography.

Pittsburgh welcomed Dickens and his wife, Catherine, on March 28, 1842, for a three-day stay, during which he toured the city, visited the prison, and received people at the Exchange Hotel. His guests included William Barclay Foster, mayor of Allegheny City, whose son Stephen Foster would go on to be one of America’s most admired composers. Others who visited with Dickens were Andrew McDowell, a physician who treated the author for an ailment during his stay, and Charles B. Scully and Robert McKnight, two prominent Pittsburgh lawyers. McKnight’s personal diary, in which he recorded an account of his visit with Dickens, also is on display.

The rare volumes in the Dickens display are from Pitt’s Darlington Memorial Library, which comprises at least 11,000 books, 3,000 photographs, hundreds of maps, letters, pamphlets, and other materials pertaining to the history of Southwestern Pennsylvania and Colonial America. It was the first major collection of books, atlases, and maps ever donated to Pitt, assembled by Pittsburgh attorney William M. Darlington. After Darlington’s death in 1889, his widow, Mary O’Hara Darlington, and the couple’s children continued to acquire materials for the collection. Darlington’s son, O’Hara, built the collection of Dickens works that comprises the Pitt display. More information on the library can be found at http://digital.library.pitt.edu/d/darlington/.

The ULS is the 23rd-largest academic library system within the United States. Under the administration of the Hillman University Librarian and ULS Director Rush G. Miller, it includes 20 libraries and collections and holds more than 6.2 million volumes and world-class specialized collections, among them the Archive of Scientific Philosophy and the Archives of Industrial Society, as well as major foreign-language materials from around the world totaling 1.4 million volumes. The ULS offers state-of-the-art facilities and services, with innovative digital library collections and capabilities.