It's with great pleasure that I spread the news that Charles Dickens has been identified as the author of a mystery article championing the rights of the working class.
Charles Dickens has been identified as the author of a previously unattributed article which attacks the middle classes for patronising the "working man".Of course this isn't surprising news because Dickens was a champion of the poor and working poor. But any new Dickens attribution is big news in literary land. This news gives me particular pleasure because Dickens has been my lifelong political mentor. I picked up my first Dickens novel when I was 9 years old and didn't stop reading until I had finished all 43 known novels at age about 13. And of course I've reread some of my favorites from time to time. The compassion that he showed for the poor and vulnerable made a great impression on me and to this day influences my politics. I have no doubt that if he lived in this age he would be a great supporter of the Occupy movement. We could use his wisdom now.
"Who has not been outraged by observing that cheerfully patronising mode of dealing with poor people which is in vogue at our soup-kitchens and other depôts of alms?," runs the article, which was published anonymously on 18 April 1863 in the weekly magazine All the Year Round, under Charles Dickens's editorship. "There is a particular manner of looking at the soup through a gold double eye-glass, or of tasting it, and saying, 'Monstrous good – monstrous good indeed; why, I should like to dine off it myself!' which is more than flesh and blood can bear."
Dickens edited two weekly journals for more than 20 years, All the Year Round and Household Words, in which serialisations of his novels Hard Times, A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations were published. Although an office ledger for Household Words remains, showing who wrote what, the ledger for All the Year Round was lost. Scholars at Dickens Journals Online have been working for years to develop open-access digital editions of the journals, which run to 30m words, aided by over 3,000 volunteers – including Guardian readers – who have worked to correct mistakes in machine-read transcriptions of the 30,000 pages.
With the digitisation project now complete, Dickens Journals Online are starting to send articles to the Centre for Literary and Linguistic Computing (CLLC) at the University of Newcastle, Australia, which uses computational stylistics to attempt to pinpoint the unknown authors' identity. The short opinion piece "Temperate Temperance", which urges readers to "get it into our heads – which seems harder to do than many people would imagine – that the working man is neither a felon, nor necessarily a drunkard, nor a very little child", is the first to be analysed, and has been identified as the work of Dickens himself.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities