In: THE TIMES of London, November 14-21, 1849. Six complete issues of this newspaper, with supplements.
On November 13, 1849, Charles Dickens (with his friend, the illustrator John Leech) witnessed in Horsemonger's Lane the public hanging of George Manning and his wife Maria (for the murder of her former lover). Dickens was disgusted not by the executions themselves, but by the fact that they were public -- it is estimated that the hangings were witnessed by about 30,000. Later that very day Dickens wrote a letter to the editor of The Times, and it appeared the next day...
Wednesday, November 14th. Dickens's first letter to The Times, in which he expresses his shock at the behavior of the crowd at the hangings, going on to ask that public executions be abolished.
... When I came upon the scene at midnight, the shrillness of the cries and howls... made my blood run cold. As the night went on, screeching, and laughing, and yelling in strong chorus of parodies on Negro melodies, with substitutions of "Mrs. Manning" for "Susannah," and the like, were added to these. When the day dawned, thieves, low prostitutes, ruffians and vagabonds of every kind, flocked onto the ground, with every variety of offensive and foul behavior... When the two miserable creatures who attracted all this ghastly sight about them were turned quivering into the air, there was no more emotion, no more pity, no more thought that two immortal souls had gone to judgment... than if the name of Christ had never been heard in this world...
This issue further includes an editorial by The Times itself, reporting and commenting on the "act of judicial slaughter" committed on the previous day, but disagreeing with Dickens's request that executions be carried out in private. Also included in this issue is a long account of the executions, including an account of the murder that began all of this.
Friday, November 16th. (There was nothing relevant in Thursday's paper.) This issue contains a letter from a reader using the pen-name "T", commenting on the situation and agreeing with Dickens's points. It also contains the coroner's report on one Catherine Read, who was trampled to death by the crowd at the Mannings' executions.
Saturday, November 17th. This issue contains a letter from reader "S.G.O.", agreeing with Dickens and further reporting that some spectators at the hanging were using opera glasses, the better to view the proceedings. It also contains a letter from reader "Milo", agreeing that Dickens had made some good points in his letter but saying that the solutions Dickens offered are impractical (Dickens will refer to this letter in his own next letter to The Times).
Monday, November 19th. (There was no Sunday Times.) This issue contains Dickens's second and last letter to The Times on this subject, and is much more extensive than his first. He expresses his views on executions in general (which he does not oppose), and public executions in great detail.
Tuesday, November 20th. This issue contains a letter from "P.G. Head" who completely opposes Dickens's views as expressed the day before. It also includes a second Times editorial on the subject, very extensive, which discusses the strong impact of Dickens's letters on the public's reaction to capital punishment.
Wednesday, November 21st. Finally, in this issue is a third editorial by The Times, which criticizes Dickens's views as expressed in his letter of the 19th. It also reports on the proceedings of an "Anti-Capital Punishment" meeting of two days earlier. Finally, there is also a letter from reader "John Gilpin", regarding that meeting.
In 1824, Dickens's father had been sent to Marshalsea Prison for owing forty pounds ten shillings -- compelling twelve-year-old Dickens to leave school and get a job in a factory; more than three decades later, the father of "Little Dorrit" was likewise a Marshalsea debtor (interestingly, Marshalsea was demolished in the same year as these Times issues). Beginning with his earliest writings, Dickens showed concern for criminals and the treatment they received in courts: Mr. Bumble's "The law is an ass!" pretty well sums up Dickens's opinion of the English legal system. Bleak House revolves around the unending legal case of Jarndyce vs Jarndyce, A Tale of Two Cities involves public executions (albeit in a different time and country), and in Great Expectations an escaped prisoner plays a major role.
When Dickens was editor of the Daily News in 1846, he wrote a number of pieces on capital punishment -- views revived by the Mannings' execution circus in 1849. However it was not until 1868 that a law was passed abolishing public executions; they finally ceased in 1869, the year before Dickens died.
These are the complete newspaper issues; it is very difficult to amass the entire group of six. They are in near-fine condition, with only minor fraying at some edges (two or three of the issues may have once been bound into a volume); one has a "Dublin Castle" ink-stamp at the top. The text of Dickens's two letters may be found in the Pilgrim Edition of his Letters, Vol V pages 644-645 and pages 651-654; not noted by Podeschi (Yale) nor by vanderPoel (Texas). Item #12379