The Genesis of a Failed Novel: 1859

By the spring of 1859, the Irish novel about a swindler-politician, Davenport Dunn, had completed its serial run with Chapman and Hall, and appeared in volume form. As the British consul to Italy stationed at Spezia, Lever's diplomatic duties were sufficiently light that he was not even tied to the town, and was free to travel, all the while looking for ideas for his next novel, Gerald Fitzgerald, which was serialised and published in volume form by the end of 1859. While working on the autobiographical novel One of Them, which Lever wrote wholly at the Villa Marola in Spezzia, he was approached by Charles Dickens, editor of a recently founded weekly literary magazine, All the Year Round which had replaced Household Words. Unfortunately, Lever decided to continue to write One of Them while simultaneously undertaking a new extended prose fiction for weekly serialisation, A Day's Ride: A Life's Romance. As Lever's biographer notes, the highly episodic, picaresque tale of a young Anglo-Irish university student named Algernon Sydney Potts travelling on the Continent was unsuited to the weekly spoonfuls dictated by the format of Dickens's new journal:

This story relates the adventures of a half-shrewd, half-foolish day-dreamer. Through it there runs a curious vein of irony which is quite different from the author's early or later quality of humour. There is an insufficiency of movement in the tale; and it proved to be quite unsuited for serial publication in a magazine where the plot interest has to be kept alive from month to month. Dickens was bitterly disappointed: he complained that the circulation of his magazine was injuriously affected. Something perilously near a quarrel arose between the editor of All the Year Round and the author of A Day's Ride. Lever did not hold a very high opinion of the novel, but he was justified in not regarding it as an absolutely worthless performance. [Downey, I: 359-360]

A Twentieth-Century Reminiscence about the Disappointing Lever Novel

About half a century ago, an Irish novelist, Charles Lever, wrote a story entitled A Day’s Ride: A Life’s Romance. It was published by Charles Dickens in Household Words, and proved so strange to the public taste that Dickens pressed Lever to make short work of it. I read scraps of this novel when I was a child; and it made an enduring impression on me. The hero was a very romantic hero, trying to live bravely, chivalrously, and powerfully by dint of mere romance-fed imagination, without courage, without means, without knowledge, without skill, without anything real except his bodily appetites. Even in my childhood I found in this poor devil’s unsuccessful encounters with the facts of life, a poignant quality that romantic fiction lacked. The book, in spite of its failure, is not dead: I saw its title the other day in the catalogue of Tauchnitz. [George Bernard Shaw, John Bull’s Other Island, with How he Lied to her Husband, and Major Barbara (London: Constable and Company, 1931), pp. 203-205]

A Day's Ride in its Initial Serialisations (1859-60)

The Harper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization advertisement of 11 August 1860 (page 498) correctly states that each weekly instalment of Lever's new novel, A Ride for A Day [sic], would appear a week earlier in Harper's than in Dickens's London weekly magazine All the Year Round: Chapter I, for example, appeared first in the United States, on 11 August, but a week later in Great Britain. In the seventeen numbers of both weeklies, instalments of A Day's Ride (as it was soon called) ran alongside instalments of Great Expectations which Dickens precipitately ran in order to bolster the appeal of his own journal and sustain sales, which had fallen off sharply when he started to publish the "horse-racious and pugnacious" Lever romance in serial.

Note should be made here of William Newman's transAtlantic program for the Lever novel as it appeared in serial instalments in Harper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization from 11 August 1860 through 17 November 1860, when the editorial board apparently pulled the house illustrator off the job and transferred him to work on Dickens's Great Expectations. The last weekly number of A Day's Ride appeared in Harper's without illustration on 13 April 1861.

Working methods


Brown, John Buchanan. Phiz! Illustrator of Dickens' World. New York: Charles Scribner's, 1978.

Burton, Anthony. "Vision and Designs. Review of John Harvey, Victorian Novelists and heir Illustrators. Sidgwick & Jackson, 1970. £3.50." Dickensian, 67.2 (1971): 105-109.

Downey, Edmund. Charles Lever: His Life in Letters. 2 vols. London; William Blackwood, 1906.

Fitzpatrick, W. J. The Life of Charles Lever. London: Downey, 1901.

Harvey, John R. "Conditions of Illustration in Serial Fiction." Victorian Novelists and Their Illustrators. London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1970. Pp. 182-198.

Lester, Valerie Browne. Phiz: The Man Who Drew Dickens. London: Chatto and Windus, 2004.

Lever, Charles. A Day's Ride; A Life's Romance. Illustrated by William Newman. Harper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization. Vols. IV and V (18 August 1860 through 13 April 1861) in 35 weekly parts.

Lever, Charles. A Day's Ride; A Life's Romance. Illustrated by "Phiz" (Hablot Knight Browne). London: Chapman and Hall, 1863, rpt. Routledge, 1882.

Lever, Charles. The Daltons and A Day's Ride. Illustrated by Hablot Knight Browne ('Phiz'). Vol VI of Lever's Works. New York: P. F. Collier, 1882; rpt. from Chapman and Hall, 1852 and 1862.

Lever, Charles. A Day's Ride: A Life's Romance.  Illustrated by Hablot Knight Browne ('Phiz'). Vol XIV of Lever's Works. New York: Peter Fenelon Collier, 1900. rpt. from Chapman and Hall, 1863.

Lever, Charles James. A Day's Ride; A Life's Romance.

Shaw, George Bernard. John Bull’s Other Island, How he Lied to her Husband, and Major Barbara. London: Constable, 1931.

Stevenson, Lionel. Dr. Quicksilver: The Life of Charles Lever. New York: Russell & Russell, 1939, rpt. 1969.

Sutherland, John. "Charles Lever." The Stanford Companion to Victorian Fiction. Stanford, Cal.: Stanford U. P., 1989. 372-374.

Created 24 March 2022