The Mystery of the Prologue to “The Patrician’s Daughter.”
John C. Eckel in his authoritative Bibliography The First Editions of Charles Dickens and Their Values published in 1913 lists under Part IV-Plays the “Prologue to ‘The Patrician’s Daughter.’” Eckel states that the Prologue written by Dickens and consisting of forty-eight lines was printed in an octavo pamphlet with paper wrappers and that this was the first edition of the prologue and the play. The play was first performed in December 1842. He goes on to write that the Prologue was reprinted in the “Theatrical Journal and Stranger’s Guide" for December 17, 1842. He writes that the first edition (the pamphlet with the Prologue) owing mainly to Dickens’s contribution is worth about one pound.
Despite the small value of the first edition indicated by Eckel, this first edition he describes has proved to be one of the scarcest items among all of Dickens’s works.
During the research and preparation phases of this Virtual Exhibition of Dickens’s life and work, an effort was made to locate a copy of the first edition of “The Patrician’s Daughter” with the Prologue. A copy offered for sale was inspected in early 2004. This copy was bound with other 19th century plays. The copy contained a Preface but no Prologue. A careful collation of the signatures of this work revealed that no pages appeared to be missing or to have been excised. Foxmarks and inkmarks on adjacent pages of this copy further corroborated that the play appeared to be complete as issued, despite having been rebound.
It was then discovered that the Catalogue of the Richard Gimbel Collection in the Yale University Library contained a reference to a copy of an 1842 edition of “The Patrician’s Daughter,” and stated that the Prologue did not appear in this edition.
It became apparent that Eckel had made a mistake and that a copy of the first edition of the play with Dickens’s Prologue, as described by Eckel in all likelihood simply doesn’t exist.
To complicate matters further, the Grolier Club’s Catalogue of the Works of Charles Dickens published in 1913 lists “The Original Manuscript of the Prologue (48 lines) which Dickens wrote for Marston’s ‘The Patrician’s Daughter,’ 1842.” However the Grolier Catalogue did not include a copy of a book first edition with the Prologue.
Some of the following is conjecture but is what may have taken place. Westland Marston, a young playright, wrote the play “The Patrician’s Daughter.” Marston was a friend of Charles Dickens and asked Dickens to read the play and give his opinion of it. Dickens liked the play but asked his friend, the famous actor William Charles Macready to recite a short Prologue to be written by Dickens. Dickens wrote Macready “[the Prologue would] get the curtain up with a dash – and begin the play with a sledge-hammer blow.” Macready agreed. Dickens wrote out the forty eight line prologue which he gave to Macready and the latter recited the Prologue at the beginning of performances. Then, Macready may have kept the manuscript or may have given it to John Forster, who was Dickens’s literary executor. There is no way of knowing how many hands the manuscript may have gone through between 1842 and 1913 when it appeared at the Grolier Exhibition.
However, the following is documented: The Prologue was printed in the "Sunday Times," a newspaper published in London on December 11, 1842. It was then reprinted in the “Theatrical Journal and Stranger’s Guide” for December 17, 1842, and in the “Monthly Magazine and Liberal Miscellany” for January, 1843. The first book edition of the Prologue is Volume One of The Letters of Charles Dickens edited by his Sister-In-Law and Eldest Daughter published in three volumes by Chapman and Hall, 1880-82.
Apparently John Eckel and Judge Patterson, both Dickens scholars, likely assumed that the pamphlet contained the Prologue without ever having inspected a copy.
These facts, and admitted conjecture, are the probable solution to the mystery surrounding the writing, reading, and publication of the Prologue to “The Patrician’s Daughter.” If not, and an octavo pamphlet with the Prologue as described by Eckel should some day turn up, it would certainly be worth more than Eckel’s estimate of one pound!