On reaching eighteen in 1830 Charles Dickens applied to the British Museum for a ticket to the Reading Room. He used to spend his mornings reading history books and the afternoons and evenings reporting on the events in parliament. This included recording the debates on issues such as parliamentary reform, the abolition of the slave trade and legislation to protect factory workers. Dickens considered most politicians to be "pompous" who seemed to spend most of the time speaking "sentences with no meaning in them". However, Dickens was impressed with some of the MPs who genuinely appeared to be interested in making Britain a better place to live.
In 1832 Dickens began contributing articles to the radical newspaper, the True Sun. Unlike most radical newspapers such as the Poor Man's Guardian and The Gauntlet, it did pay the 4d. stamp duty. Despite having to charge the heavy tax imposed on newspapers, the newspaper sold 30,000 copies a day. In his articles, Dickens used his considerable knowledge of what went on in the House of Commons to help promote the cause of parliamentary reform. Charles Dickens was pleased when Parliament eventually agreed to pass the 1832 Reform Act, however, like most radicals, he thought it did not go far enough. The new reformed House of Commons passed a series of new measures including a reduction in newspaper tax from 4d. to 1d. As a result, the circulation of the newspaper increased to over 60,000.
In the summer of 1834 Dickens reported on the new Poor Law that was going through the House of Commons. The act stated that: (a) no able-bodied person was to receive money or other help from the Poor Law authorities except in a workhouse; (b) conditions in workhouses were to be made very harsh to discourage people from wanting to receive help; (c) workhouses were to be built in every parish or, if parishes were too small, in unions of parishes; (d) ratepayers in each parish or union had to elect a Board of Guardians to supervise the workhouse, to collect the Poor Rate and to send reports to the Central Poor Law Commission; (e) the three man Central Poor Law Commission would be appointed by the government and would be responsible for supervising the Amendment Act throughout the country.
Dickens was especially impressed by the speeches of William Cobbett who warned the legislators that "they were about to dissolve the bonds of society" and to pass the law would be "a violation of the contract upon which all the real property of the kingdom was held". Cobbett particularly objected to the separation of families, and to workhouse inmates being forced to wear badges or distinctive clothing. Thomas Attwood argued that workhouses would become "prisons from the purpose of terrifying applicants from seeking relief". Daniel O'Connell, said that as an Irishman, he would not say much, but he objected to the bill on the grounds that it "did away with personal feelings and connections."
In August 1834 Dickens was offered a permanent job by the Morning Chronicle on a salary of five guineas a week. John Black, the editor of the newspaper, was a supporter of social reform, and wanted Dickens to become a key member of the team taking on the more conservative, The Times. Dickens was one of twelve parliamentary reporters employed by Black. He later wrote about reporting on speeches made by politicians outside of London: "I have often transcribed for the printer from my shorthand reports, important public speeches in which the strictest accuracy was required... writing on the palm of my hand, by the light of a dark lantern, in a post chaise and four, galloping through a wild country, all through the dead of night."
Charles Dickens had obtained a reputation for speed and accuracy in recording debates. In was a well-paid but exhausting job. Reporters were consigned to the back bench of the Strangers' Gallery, where it was hard to hear what was taking place on the floor of the chamber. A fellow reporter claimed: "It was dark: always so insufficiently lit that on the back benches no one could read a paper so ill-ventilated that few constitutions could long bear the unwholesome atmosphere." Charles Mackay, a colleague at the Morning Chronicle, wrote that Dickens "had the reputation of being the most rapid, the most accurate, and the most trustworthy reporter then engaged on the London press".
Dickens wrote to John Forster about his experiences working on the newspaper: "There never was anybody connected with newspapers, who, in the same space of time, had so much express and post-chaise experience as I. And what gentlemen they were to serve, in such things, at the old Morning Chronicle! Great or small, it did not matter. I have had to charge for half-a-dozen break-downs in half-a-dozen times as many miles. I have had to charge for the damage of a great-coat from the drippings of a blazing wax-candle, in writing through the smallest hours of the night in a swift-flying carriage and pair. I have had to charge for all sorts of breakages fifty times in a journey without question, such being the ordinary results of the pace which we went at. I have charged for broken hats, broken luggage, broken chaises, broken harness - everything but a broken head, which is the only thing they would have grumbled to pay for."
John Black, the editor of Morning Chronicle, agreed to publish Dickens' short stories. Over the next few months five of Dickens' stories appeared in the newspaper. Dickens called Black "my first hearty out-and-out appreciator". A friend of Black claimed that "I have often heard Black speak of him (Dickens), and predict his future fame." Another recalled that Black had "the highest opinion of his original genius."
In 1834 Dickens was approached by George Hogarth, a fellow journalist at the Morning Chronicle who had recently been appointed as editor of the sister newspaper, The Evening Chronicle. He commissioned Dickens to write a series of articles, Sketches of London, under the pseudonym "Boz". As a result Dickens' salary was increased to seven guineas a week.
Hogarth invited Dickens to visit him at his home in Kensington. The author of Dickens: A Life (2011) has pointed out: "Hogarth... had a large and still growing family, and when he (Dickens) made his first visit to their house on the Fulham Road, surrounded by gardens and orchards, he met their eldest daughter, nineteen-year-old Catherine. Her unaffectedness appealed to him at once, and her being different from the young woman he had known, not only in being Scottish but in coming from an educated family background with literary connections. The Hogarths, like the Beadnells, were a cut above the Dickens family, but they welcomed Dickens warmly as an equal, and George Hogarth's enthusiasm for his work was flattering."
During this period Charles Dickens visited Newgate Prison. He was especially concerned about the plight of young women in prison: "The girl belonged to a class - unhappily but too extensive - the very existence of which should make men's hearts bleed. Barely past her childhood, it required but a glance to discover that she was one of those children, born and bred in neglect and vice, who have never known what childhood is: who have never been taught to love and court a parent's smile, or to dread a parent's frown. The thousand nameless endearments of childhood, its gaiety and its innocence, are alike unknown to them. They have entered at once upon the stern realities and miseries of life, and to their better nature it is almost hopeless to appeal in after-times, by any of the references which will awaken, if it be only for a moment, some good feeling in ordinary bosoms, however corrupt they may have become. Talk to them of parental solicitude, the happy days of childhood, and the merry games of infancy! Tell them of hunger and the streets, beggary and stripes, the gin-shop, the station-house, and the pawnbroker's, and they will understand you." This article later appeared in Sketches by Boz.
One of Dickens' new friends, William Harrison Ainsworth, introduced him to John Macrone. Although he was only a small publisher, he recently achieved considerable success by publishing Ainsworth's novel, Rookwood. Ainsworth introduced Macrone to Dickens, who suggested reprinting his stories and sketches that had appeared in the Morning Chronicle and The Evening Chronicle. Macrone offered Dickens £100 for the copyright of these stories. Dickens accepted the proposal as it would provide an extra income just before his marriage to Catherine Hogarth.
One of Dickens' new friends, William Harrison Ainsworth, introduced him to John Macrone. Although he was only a small publisher, he recently achieved considerable success by publishing Ainsworth's novel, Rookwood. Ainsworth introduced Macrone to Dickens, who suggested reprinting his stories and sketches that had appeared in the Morning Chronicle and The Evening Chronicle. Macrone offered Dickens £100 for the copyright of these stories. Dickens accepted the proposal as it would provide an extra income just before his marriage.
Macrone promised to persuade George Cruikshank to provide the illustrations for the book. Peter Ackroyd has argued that Cruikshank was not an easy man to work with: "It was something of a coup for Macrone to enlist the services of this illustrator, George Cruikshank, in the cause of a young author of only modest fame. To have his name on the title page was, if not a guarantee of success, at least a provident hedge against failure... He was already very well known as a caricaturist and illustrator of books - he was in some ways a difficult man, with powerful perceptions but equally powerful opinions. He could be truculent and assertive, even though this self-assertive manner often gave way, in his famous drinking bouts, to one of drunken clowning and gaiety."
Charles Dickens later recalled: "These Sketches were written and published, one by one, when I was a very young man. They were collected and republished while I was still a very young man; and sent into the world with all their imperfections... They comprise my first attempts at authorship... I am conscious of their often being extremely crude and ill-considered, and bearing obvious marks of haste and inexperience."
In his introduction, to Sketches by Boz Dickens praised the drawings of George Cruikshank: "Entertaining no inconsiderable feeling of trepidation, at the idea of making so perilous a voyage in so frail a machine, alone and unaccompanied, the author was naturally desirous to secure the assistance and companionship of some well-known individual, who had frequently contributed to the success, though his well-known reputation rendered it impossible for him ever to have shared the hazard, of similar undertakings."
It was published on 8th February 1836, the day after his twenty-fourth birthday. The book was very well received by the critics. George Hogarth, in the Morning Chronicle, described Dickens as "a close and acute observer of character and manners". However, Dickens was hurt by the numerous references to Cruikshank's talented drawings. The reviewer in The Sunday Herald admitted that after reading the book he was unsure "whether we most admire the racy humour and irresistible wit of the sketches, or of the illustrations in George Cruikshank's very best style".
John Easthope, the owner of the Morning Chronicle, who had made a fortune on the stock exchange, was a difficult employer, and became known as "Blast-hope". In February 1836, Charles Dickens led a short, successful strike against Easthope over the terms of employment of his journalists. He also came into conflict with John Black, the editor of the newspaper. According to Andrew Sanders, Dickens often clashed with Black over politics: "Dickens later claimed that he and Black had quarrelled many times about the effect of that cornerstone of Utilitarian legislation, the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834. But it was not simply the Poor Law that offended Dickens's sense of humanity, it was the whole tenor of philosophy, and by extension an economic system, which militated against the proper, and often spontaneous, practice of humane charity."
The success of Sketches by Boz, The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby enabled him to become a full-time author. However, he retained his interest in journalism and contributed articles on social reform in several magazines and newspapers.
Charles Dickens was a supporter of the Liberal Party and in 1845 he began to consider the idea of publishing a daily newspaper that could compete with the more conservative The Times. He contacted Joseph Paxton, who had recently become very wealthy as a result of his railway investments. Paxton agreed to invest £25,000 and Dickens' publishers, Bradbury and Evans, contributed £22,500. Dickens agreed to become editor on a salary of £2,000 a year.
The first edition of The Daily News was published on 21st January 1846. Dickens wrote: "The principles advocated in the Daily News will be principles of progress and improvement; of education, civil and religious liberty, and equal legislation." Dickens employed his great friend and fellow social reformer, Douglas Jerrold, as the newspaper's sub-editor. William Henry Wills joined the newspaper as assistant editor. Dickens put his father, John Dickens, in charge of the reporters. He also paid his father-in-law, George Hogarth, five guineas a week to write on music.
William Macready confided in his diary that John Forster told him that The Daily News would greatly injure Dickens: "Dickens was so intensely fixed on his own opinions and in his admiration of his own works (who could have believed it?) that he, Forster, was useless to him as a counsel, or for an opinion on anything touching upon them, and that, as he refused to see criticisms on himself, this partial passion would grow upon him, till it became an incurable evil."
One of the newspaper's first campaigns was against the Corn Laws that had been introduced by the Conservative Party government. When Robert Peel, the Prime Minister, told the House of Commons that he had changed his mind about the legislation, Dickens did not believe him and wrote in the editorial that he was "decidedly playing false".
The Times had a circulation of 25,000 copies and sold for sevenpence, whereas The Daily News, provided eight pages for fivepence. At first it sold 10,000 copies but soon fell to less than 4,000. Dickens told his friends that he missed writing novels and after seventeen issues he handed it over to his close friend, John Forster. The new editor had more experience of journalism and under his leadership sales increased.