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[Letter on Public Executions]
1850. In: The Tioga Banner. Wellsboro Penn., January 8, 1850. One broadsheet (35" x 22") folded to make four pages. On November 13, 1849, Charles Dickens (with his friend, the illustrator John Leech) witnessed in Horsemonger's Lane, London, 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...~In it he expressed 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 letter by Dickens prompted editorials by The Times and responses by other readers over the following week -- which in turn prompted a second letter from Dickens. For the rest of his life Dickens kept arguing against public executions; it was not until 1868 that a law was passed abolishing them, and they finally ceased in 1869, the year before Dickens died.~What we have here is an unusual American printing of the first Dickens letter to The Times. A resident of Blossburg in north-central Pennsylvania, signing only as "Yours for Humanity, Anti-Gallows," has written a letter, dated December 28, 1849 (six weeks after the hangings) to The Tioga Banner of nearby Wellsboro, in which he or she says, ~A few months ago a man and wife by name of Manning were executed in England. A more barbarous exhibition never came to my knowledge than the scene on that occasion, as described by Charles Dickens. I send you Mr. Dickens' letter, and request you to publish it.~... after which Dickens's letter is indeed printed in full. We do not know how many other American newspapers might have reprinted either of Dickens's letters on this subject, but it is quite likely that this is the only extant copy of this issue of The Tioga Banner outside of perhaps a local historical society. Condition is very good, hinged at the fold with archival paper that does not impinge upon print. 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).
      [Bookseller: Sumner & Stillman]
Last Found On: 2013-08-24           Check availability:      Biblio    

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