MR. SERJEANT TALFOURD, M.P.,
MY DEAR SIR,
If I had not enjoyed the happiness of your private friendship, I should still have dedicated this work to you, as a slight and most inadequate acknowledgment of the inestimable services you are rendering to the literature of your country, and of the lasting benefits you will confer upon the authors of this and succeeding generations, by securing to them and their descendants a permanent interest in the copyright of their works.
Many a fevered head and palsied hand will gather new vigour in the hour of sickness and distress from your excellent exertions; many a widowed mother and orphan child, who would otherwise reap nothing from the fame of departed genius but its too frequent legacy of poverty and suffering, will bear, in their altered condition, higher testimony to the value of your labours than the most lavish encomiums from lip or pen could ever afford.
Beside such tributes, any avowal of feeling from me, on the question to which you have devoted the combined advantages of your eloquence, character, and genius, would be powerless indeed. Nevertheless, in thus publicly expressing my deep and grateful sense of your efforts in behalf of English literature, and of those who devote themselves to the most precarious of all pursuits, I do but imperfect justice to my own strong feelings on the subject, if I do no service to you.
These few sentences would have comprised all I should have had to say, if I had only known you in your public character. On the score of private feeling, let me add one word more.
Accept the dedication of this book, my dear Sir, as a mark of my warmest regard and esteem as a memorial of the most gratifying friendship I have ever contracted, and of some of the pleasantest hours I have ever spent as a token of my fervent admiration of every fine quality of your head and heart as an assurance of the truth and sincerity with which I shall ever be, MY DEAR SIR,
Most faithfully and sincerely yours,
CHARLES DICKENS.48, DOUGHTY STREET,
September 27, 1837.
Sir Thomas Noon Talfourd, SL (1795 –1854), was an English judge and author. ‘SL’ after his name (there) stands for ‘Serjeant at Law’, an order of barristers (attorneys who appeared in court) dating back to the fourteenth-century. They had the exclusive rights of representing clients at the Court of Common Pleas, and rights of special audience and effective precedence over other lawyers in other courts; but they were gradually replaced by ‘King’s (or Queen’s) Counsel’, and as no more were created after the Judicature Act of 1873, the order became extinct when the last Serjeant at Law, Lord Lindley, retired from the bench in 1902. In this novel, ‘Serjeant Buzfuz’ appears in chapter 34.
Talfourd had been a professional lawyer since the early 1820s and was made Serjeant in 1833, but in 1835 was elected to Parliament as MP for Reading. He introduced a Copyright Bill into the House of Commons in 1837—a cause close to Dickens’s heart, and the initial ground of their friendship, and adverted to in the first paragraph of this dedication. Despite many setbacks and opposition, obliging him to reintroduce it in 1839, 1840 and 1841 it did eventually become law, extending authorial copyright to life plus seven years. Dickens’ friendship with Talfourd grew and deepened (Forster said that Dickens ‘had no friend he was more attached to’—except, we can intuit, Forster himself) and may have used him as the prototype for Tommy Traddles in David Copperfield. Talfourd was also a writer, and his blank-verse tragedy Ion (1835) was famous enough in its own day to have given its author the nickname ‘Ion Talfourd’.
Like Pickwick, Ion opens with a sunrise, concerns innocence and the passing away of the old ways. Adrastus, wicked old king of Argos, has his heart changed by the earnest, sentimental pleas of the spotless youth, Ion. Argos, meanwhile, is suffering under a terrible plague. A prophecy from Delphi, rather jingily-jangily expressed, says: 'Argos ne'er shall find release/Till her monarch's race shall cease.' The twist (after Adrastus has been slain by an assassin) is that Ion discovers he is the king's long-lost son, a foundling, and must sacrifice himself, which he does by stabbing himself during his own coronation as the new king, after first forcing his subjects to swear that they will institute democratic reforms after he has gone, and not simply appoint another king. The plague vanishes with improbable speed (a messenger rushes onstage seconds after Ion has stabbed himself, crying 'the pestilence abates!'), Ion gets to make one last, lengthy speech before dying, and the curtain falls. Hurrah!