Written when Charles Dickens was 23, ‘London Recreations’ displays a number of characteristics that the author would take with him into his mature work. The first is rhetorical – Dickens appearing to flatter the middle-class reader’s prejudices: ‘The wish of persons in the humbler classes of life to ape the manners and customs of those whom fortune has placed above them, is often the subject of remark, and not unfrequently of complaint’. The second, following from the first, is a sterling defence of the legitimacy of working-class culture:
Whatever be the class, or whatever the recreation, so long as it does not render a man absurd himself, or offensive to others, we hope it will never be interfered with, either by a misdirected feeling of propriety on the one hand, or detestable cant on the other.
‘London Recreations’ was one of 56 literary sketches and ‘tales’ Dickens wrote for The Monthly Magazine, Bell’s Magazine and in particular The Evening Chronicle between 1833 and 1836. Employed by the Chronicle primarily as a court and political reporter, Dickens published these sketches under the pen-name ‘Boz’ – a nickname Dickens had given in childhood to his younger brother Augustus. ‘London Recreations’ was combined with similar sketches and tales and published in book form as Sketches by Boz: Illustrative of Every-day Life and Every-day People. Preceding the publication of The Pickwick Papers by four weeks, it was Dickens’s first published book. When The Pickwick Papers (1836) and Oliver Twist (1838) made Dickens a household name, the Sketches were republished with additional content and have since never been out of print. Some later editions of Sketches omit this piece, however.