Sketches by Boz, a collection of short articles and stories about London, established the early reputation of Charles Dickens (1812–1870). It first appeared appeared in parts from 1833, and as a collected work in 1836.
This story from the book describes a visit to the circus at Astley’s, a popular theatre in south London mentioned in the 1815 novel Emma by Jane Austen (1775–1817) as well as in Dickens’s own The Old Curiosity Shop (1840–41) and Hard Times (1854). Having survived several fires, Astley’s finally closed in 1860.
Dickens’s sharp eye shows in his vivid description of the audience, from milling families to swaggering drunks, and of the entertainment itself. By reflecting on childhood visits, the unchanging nature of the circus is seen as a backdrop to the journey from childhood to maturity. The ‘Ducrow’ mentioned is the equestrian performer and theatre owner Andrew Ducrow (1793–1842).