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Charles Dickens as journalist

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“We have,” proclaimed the young journalist, “a most extraordinary partiality for lounging about the streets. Whenever we have an hour or two to spare, there is nothing we enjoy more than a little amateur vagrancy – walking up one street and down another, and staring into shop windows, and gazing about as if, instead of being on intimate terms with every shop and house in Holborn, the Strand, Fleet Street and Cheapside, the whole were an unknown region to our wandering mind. We revel in a crowd of any kind – a street ‘row’ is our delight – even a woman in a fit is by no means to be despised, especially in a fourth-rate street...”

Years later Dickens tended to dismiss his early journalism as picturesque juvenilia. Hardly. Already the writing is what we now readily identify as "Dickensian," glorying in that mix of humor, archness and bounce, that theatricality, which belongs to “the Inimitable” alone. Above all, for today’s casual reader, "Sketches by Boz"– in contrast to such Victorian-Gothic cathedrals as "Bleak House," "Little Dorrit," and "Our Mutual Friend" – is an approachable, friendly book. None of its vignettes of Cockney London goes on for more than a dozen or so pages. One can open the book at random,  read a few pieces, enjoy the Cruikshank illustrations, and marvel at  a description, a bit of overheard conversation, or even a list. A list? Dickens’ operatic imagination  could never resist any opportunity for a catalogue aria:

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