Charles Dickens (1812–1870) made his name as a writer with the success of Sketches by Boz and The Pickwick Papers, both published in instalments from 1836-37. As one critic put it, The Pickwick Papers catapulted Dickens to fame ‘like a skyrocket’.
The character of Sam Weller – a humorous cockney with a caricature London accent – proved particularly popular. So popular, in fact, that this stage drama shamelessly stole the character and setting. The play was written by William Thomas Moncrieff (1794–1857), a prolific playwright who had earlier adapted Life in London by Pierce Egan (1772–1849), to great success.
This is the playbill for the production at the New Strand Theatre in July 1837, before The Pickwick Papers had even finished being serialised. Moncrieff’s apology to ‘Boz’ in a note on the playbill did not pacify Dickens, who immediately lampooned him as a literary pickpocket (‘Mr Crummles’) in his novel Nicholas Nickleby. Moncrieff responded by dramatising Nickleby.