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When Charles Dickens came to Boston

The city had great expectations for the author’s 1842 tour.

AS THE STEAMSHIP BRITANNIA veered into her berth at Long Wharf on the evening of January 22, 1842, 29-year-old Charles Dickens stood on deck, huddled against the wind in a bearskin coat. The dashing British author of five blockbuster novels, including The Adventures of Oliver Twist and The Old Curiosity Shop and a popular collection of stories called Sketches by Boz, had just endured 18 dreary days at sea and a battering storm for the chance to tour the United States and write a travel book about the New World.

Dickens had been fixated on the possibility of the journey when, in September 1841, he received a letter from one of his literary idols, Washington Irving. The American author promised that if Dickens visited “it would be a triumph . . . from one end of the States to the other.” Fully expecting to love the young republic, Dickens finally made up his mind to go. It would be a four-month tour that began in Boston, a place many regarded as the Athens of America.

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