Source 16 - To Working Men

Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth in 1812. By 1828, he had established himself as a journalist in London, gaining a reputation as a parliamentary reporter. In 1834, he joined the Morning Chronicle, a newspaper which later became concerned with sanitary reform and public health. In September 1834, he began to contribute a series of 'street sketches', drawing on his observations of daily London life. These were later published as a novel - Sketches by Boz. Other novels soon followed.

In the Preface to Martin Chuzzlewit, published in 1842, Dickens stated:

I hope I have taken every available opportunity of showing the want of sanitary improvements in the neglected dwellings of the poor.

Indeed, one of Dickens's novels, Oliver Twist, contains a description of Jacob's Island in Bermondsey, London. Bill Sykes, one of the novel's main characters, dies among 'loathsome...filth, rot and garbage' in Folly's ditch in Jacob's Island. The area was also described at length by Henry Mayhew in a letter to the Morning Chronicle (see source 1).

March 1850 saw the first publication of Dickens's journal Household Words which featured a mixture of informative and entertaining articles as well as serialised fiction (including some of Dickens's own). Dickens also began to use this journal, alongside his novels, as a means of campaigning for sanitary reform.

This extract has been taken from the article To Working Men. It was published in Household Words in October 1854. In it, Dickens addresses the working population of Britain, encouraging them to take up the cause of sanitary reform and to change their lives.

  • Why did Charles Dickens think it was important for working men to be involved in the campaign?
  • Do you think 'celebrities', both in the past and today, who are involved in campaigns can have a positive effect on it?

Taken from: Household Words
Publisher: Charles Dickens
Date: 1854
Copyright: By permission of the British Library Board
Shelfmark: p.p.6004.g