I’ve been on tour for a week now with The Further Adventures of Ebenezer Scrooge, with five events in four states so far. As I’ve put away the miles I’ve had time to think about the history of this whole way of marketing books, and it turns out the fellow who started it all is none other than the inspiration for my latest book, Charles Dickens. So, as I’ve introduced people to my continuation of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, I’ve also been telling them a little something about Dickens and the book tour.
On Tuesday December 27 1853, Charles Dickens did something no other major author had ever done. He stepped onto the stage of City Hall in Birmingham, in front of a crowd of two thousand people, and performed (one cannot simply say read) his book, A Christmas Carol. It was the beginning of a new phase of Dickens’s career and of a new aspect of the writer’s life. Lucky for him, he didn’t have to write a blog or keep up with Facebook posts.
Here are some accounts of that first reading, that day when Charles Dickens invented the book tour, eventually driving himself, if not others of us, to an early grave:
From the London Daily News:
“Mr. Dickens prefaced his readings on each evening by asking his couple of thousand of auditors to imagine themselves seated with him chatting round the fire; and, numerous as they were, his manner instantly converted them into a family party in friendly communion with him. In truth Mr. Dickens’s reading presented a novelty which can scarcely be over-estimated.”
And from the Birmingham Gazette:
“Notwithstanding the inclemency of the weather, nearly two thousand people assembled. The high mimetic powers possessed by Mr. Dickens enabled him to personate with remarkable force the various characters of the story, and with admirable skill to pass rapidly from the hard, unbelieving Scrooge, to the trusting and thankful Bob Crachit, and from the genial fullness of Scrooge’s nephew to the hideous mirth of the party assembled in the “fence’s” parlour. The reading occupied more than three hours, but so interested were the audience that only one or two persons left the Hall previously to its termination, and the loud and frequent bursts of applause attested the successful discharge of the reader’s arduous task.”
Dickens began his career as a solo performer with A Christmas Carol in 1853 and he ended that career with A Christmas Carol on March 15, 1870. That night, in St. James’s Hall, London, after performing his beloved book, he addressed the crowd:
“Ladies and gentlemen, It would be worse than idle, for it would be hypocritical and unfeeling, if I were to disguise that I close this episode in my life with feelings of very considerable pain. For some fifteen years, in this hall and in many kindred places, I have had the honour of presenting my own cherished ideas before you.
I have thought it well, at the full flood tide of your favour, to retire upon those older associations between us which date from much further back than these, and henceforth to devote myself exclusively to the art that first brought us together; but from these garish lights I vanish now for evermore, with a heart-felt, grateful, respectful, and affectionate farewell.”
Less than three months later, he was dead at the age of 58, but the book tour lives on, and so does A Christmas Carol. Everywhere I go to talk about my book, I meet love and affection for Dickens’s original. I hope you love it, too, that you’ll love my continuation, and that I’ll see you out there on book tour. Mr. Dickens would want it that way.