After Tom Pinch has finally found himself free of Pecksniff, he comes up to London, hoping to make a life with his sister. On arriving there, Tom wanders through the streets. However, unbeknownst to the awe-struck Tom at this point, the job of his dreams awaits — completely re-organizing a private library. Dickens has already established Tom's somewhat juvenile tastes in reading when, visiting Salisbury to pick up the new pupil, Martin Chuzzlewit, he thoroughly enjoys oggling the wares outside the various booksellers':

what were even gold and silver, precious stones and clockwork, to the bookshops, whence a pleasant smell of paper freshly pressed came issuing forth, awakening instant recollections of some new grammar had at school, long time ago, with "Master Pinch, Grove House Academy," inscribed in faultless writing on the fly-leaf! That whiff of russia leather, too, and all those rows on rows of volumes neatly ranged within — what happiness did they suggest! And in the window were the spick-and-span new works from London, with the title-pages, and sometimes even the first page of the first chapter, laid wide open; tempting unwary men to begin to read the book, and then, in the impossibility of turning over, to rush blindly in, and buy it! Here too were the dainty frontispiece and trim vignette, pointing like handposts on the outskirts of great cities, to the rich stock of incident beyond; and store of books, with many a grave portrait and time-honoured name, whose matter he knew well, and would have given mines to have, in any form, upon the narrow shell beside his bed at Mr Pecksniff's. What a heart-breaking shop it was!

There was another; not quite so bad at first, but still a trying shop; where children's books were sold, and where poor Robinson Crusoe stood alone in his might, with dog and hatchet, goat-skin cap and fowling-pieces; calmly surveying Philip Quarll [the hero of a 1727 novel by Edward Dorrington] and the host of imitators round him, and calling Mr. Pinch to witness that he, of all the crowd, impressed one solitary footprint on the shore of boyish memory, whereof the tread of generations should not stir the lightest grain of sand. And there too were the Persian tales, with flying chests and students of enchanted books shut up for years in caverns; and there too was Abudah, the merchant, with the terrible little old woman hobbling out of the box in his bedroom; and there the mighty talisman, the rare Arabian Nights, with Cassim Baba, divided by four, like the ghost of a dreadful sum, hanging up, all gory, in the robbers' cave. Which matchless wonders, coming fast on Mr Pinch's mind, did so rub up and chafe that wonderful lamp within him, that when he turned his face towards the busy street, a crowd of phantoms waited on his pleasure, and he lived again, with new delight, the happy days before the Pecksniff era. [February 1843: Instalment No. 2, Chapter 5]

Tom Pinch's Taste in Books

. . . [Dickens's] childhood reading became for him a living presence, almost a magical presence, which he could summon, like Tom Pinch in Martin Chuzzlewit, by rubbing "that wonderful lamp within him." — Peter Ackroyd, p. 45.

The passage mentions a number of young Charles Dickens's favourite titles from boyhood, including Defoe's 1719 classic, "which, like David Copperfield, he devoured eagerly" (Bentley et al., 218), and The Hermit (1727), which Edward Dorrington wrote in imitation of Robinson Crusoe. In addition to relishing (and constantly referring in later life) to the picaresque novels of Tobias Smollett and Henry Fielding, twelve-year-old Dickens loved Tales from the Genii (a collection of pseudo-oriental tales supposedly translated from the Persian in 1764, but actually written by Reverend James Ridley), Perrault's fairy-tales, and The Arabian Nights, which Dickens "probably read . . . as a child in Jonathan Scott's 6-vol. edition (1811)" (Bentley et. al., 7). According to Peter Ackroyd, Dickens read and re-read many of these books in a small-print series entitled "Cooke's Pocket Library" in a small room beside his own in the little house at St. Mary's Place in Chatham, where his father worked for the Naval Pay Office:

"to the list which Charles Dickens draws up one might add Gulliver's Travels, The Pilgrim's Progress, and the works of Addison, Steele and Johnson. There was also George Colman's Broad Grins, a sequence of verses which for the young boy conjured up magical visions of London; Mrs. Inchbald's collection of farces. [47]

Other characters in the Dickens canon who express a similar taste for 18th c. classics include Ebenezer Scrooge and David Copperfield:

. . . in this little house, in St. Mary's Place, . . . he himself locates his first awareness of books and his first entry into literature. In the room next to his own, his father kept what seems to have been a standard set of volumes: "From that blessed little room, Roderick Random, Peregrine Pickle, Humphrey Clinker, Tom Jones, The Vicar of Wakefield, Don Quixote, Gil Blas and Robinson Crusoe came out, a glorious host, to keep me company. They kept alive my fancy, and my hope of something beyond that place — they, and The Arabian Nights, and the Tales of the Genii — and did me no harm . . ." [originally in David Copperfield, Chapter 4; cited in Ackroyd, p. 44]

Although Tom certainly finds "spick-and-span new works from London" tempting, he seems especially drawn to volumes he would have read in childhood, and therefore with which he was already intimately familiar. By Dickens's time, the common reader would have identified such books as The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver'd by Pyrates as children's books, perhaps because they told tales of daring adventures in foreign lands, and perhaps because they rigorously avoided sexual relationships, and therefore did not require the same sanitizing treatment as the works of Shakespeare received at the hands of Thomas Bowdler, the English physician who published The Family Shakespeare, an expurgated edition of the complete plays.


Ackroyd, Peter. Dickens. London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1990.

Bentley, Nicolas, Michael Slaster, and Nina Burgis. The Dickens Index. Oxford: Oxford U. P., 1990.

Dickens, Charles. The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit. Illustrated by Phiz (Hablot Knight Browne). London: Chapman and Hall, 1844.

Last modified 5 March 2019