Household Words


In 1902 an attempt was made to re-launch Household Words, the periodical founded by Dickens in March 1850. The preface to the new edition was written by Hall Caine (1853-1931), a Manx novelist who became a friend of Collins in his later life. This recently discovered short account gives an interesting point of view from Collins on Household Words, Dickens, and the mass public. The introduction to Caine's 1908 book My Story have more information about him and a warning about the accuracy of his recollections.

...But beyond these two points of parallel there is a third, and I trust I may refer to it without any suspicion of immodesty the desire to speak to a vast audience which is not even yet to be reached by the medium of books. That Dickens had this desire, and that it operated powerfully upon him when, fifty-two years ago, he planned HOUSEHOLD WORDS is a fact which became known to me by a private incident as well as by public records. Calling on Wilkie Collins in the last days of his life, I found my friend greatly excited by the prospect of publishing his next novel as a serial in one of the very humblest of cheap periodicals. A great illustrated weekly had offered a better price, but that counted, for nothing. “Think of it—three hundred thousand readers!” I argued that they were not his readers, but the readers of Jack Sheppard, and of the wildest balderdash that could be put together. “All the better,” said Collins. “They’ll be the easier to handle if I give them something worth having.” I urged that, apparently, they did not want good work, since they were always revelling in bad. “Nonsense,” said my friend, “they take the best they can get, and it is our fault if they can’t get better.” “But think of it,” I protested, “you are giving up the best readers in the country for this unknown penny public.” “ That’s the worst of it,” said Wilkie. “It’s such a pity it can’t be a ha’penny one.”

Then he told me how Dickens had hungered for the same audience; what faith he had in it; how he loved it; how honest he had found it; how quick to respond to the good and true; and how, when he had planned this periodical, he had felt like an organist who, touching a little key-board, sets a mighty instrument quivering and throbbing, and filling the air with music.

 Written by Hall Caine for the preface to Household Words 1902 on its attempted re-launch.

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