University of Virginia Library

Thackeray and the Morning Chronicle

As Gordon Ray has noted, "During the eighteen-thirties and eighteen-forties the Morning Chronicle was the chief rival of the Times for the title of London's principal newspaper" (Ray, Contributions xi). Under the editorship of John Black in 1834 the Morning Chronicle had been revitalized and converted into a Whig organ to act as counterweight to the Toryish Times. By 1844 Black had been replaced by Andrew Doyle but the general policies of the newspaper remained the same. The paper supported the aggressive foreign policy advocated by Lord Palmerston and published the political-economic articles of John Stuart Mill. Although Mayhew's famous Morning Chronicle series on "London Labor and the London Poor" was only to appear later, during the years 1844–46 the paper was nonetheless generally branded as the "serious" competitor to the Times, as compared to less serious but more popular papers such as Dickens's Daily News (Bourne 2:87–95, 143, 168).

In the spring of 1835 the twenty-three-year-old Thackeray, living in Paris and studying art, was a regular visitor to the household of Eyre Evans Crowe, the Paris correspondent of the Morning Chronicle (Crowe 10). In what appears to be his first effort to get full-time employment, Thackeray with Crowe's help applied


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for (but did not receive) a foreign correspondent position at Constantinople for the Morning Chronicle (Ray, Letters 1:281, 283). Later, in March 1838, Thackeray spent time in Paris and with the Crowes. In an 1853 letter Thackeray wrote, "I recalled to Mr. Crowe as we walked back from the cemetery; how 15 years ago he use to pay me 10 francs a day to do his work as Newspaper Correspondent for him" (Harden, Letters Supp. 1:604). In a subsequent letter Thackeray again wrote "How welcome those 10 francs a day used to be when he was away & I was doing his work for the Chronicle" (Harden, Letters Supp. 1:777). Thus, some of Crowe’s Morning Chronicle submissions in 1835 or 1838 were apparently written in whole or in part by Thackeray.

Charles Mackay, a subeditor of the Morning Chronicle from 1835 to 1844, wrote in his memoirs that "Mr. Thackeray, from so early a period as 1839–1840, was a frequent contributor to his favourite journal, the Morning Chronicle, though he never succeeded in establishing a permanent connection with it" (Mackay, Forty Years Recollection 2:294). In another memoir Mackay adds that "Thackeray was often a paid contributor to the Chronicle, especially on subjects related to the Fine Arts" (Mackay, Memorials 1:58). If Mackay’s memory is correct, Thackeray was submitting contributions to the Morning Chronicle in his own name in the early 1840s (although any such submissions would have been published anonymously). A surviving letter from May 1839 documents the Chronicle’s rejection of a Thackeray submission in which Thackeray writes that he is "now only waiting to know what they want" (Ray, Letters 1:384). Thackeray’s Morning Chronicle articles from the early 1840s remain largely unidentified; however, as subsequently discussed, an April 1, 1842, art review in the Morning Chronicle is likely a Thackeray freelance contribution.

On March 11, 1844, Thackeray wrote to his mother about a couple of potential posts, "one [of which] is at the Morning Chronicle where my friends Doyle & Crowe are working anxiously in my favour" (Ray, Letters 2:164). Thackeray did reach some agreement with the Morning Chronicle; two articles by Thackeray totaling 3.05 columns were published in the Morning Chronicle in March 1844, and Thackeray's account book for March 1844 appropriately shows an entry of 8 pounds for the Chronicle, reflecting a rate of 2.5 guineas per column (Ray, Letters 2:841; Simons, Pecuniary Explication 37). As mentioned previously, Mackay stated that Thackeray never had a permanent (presumably a salaried staff) position with the Morning Chronicle, and that apparently is true; in early June 1844 Thackeray wrote that "The Chronicle is I believe as safe as if I had an engagement" (Ray, Letters 2:170; emphasis added). Later, in June 1844 Thackeray complained that he didn't "do above 20£ for the Chronicle instead of 40 – but it is my own fault – the fact is I can't write the politics and the literary part is badly paid" (Ray, Letters 2:172).

Thackeray's newspaper work was interrupted during his trip from August 22, 1844, through February 8, 1845, around the Mediterranean, but he appears to have resumed his Morning Chronicle contributions in March 1845. During March – July 1845 Thackeray also held a time-consuming position as subeditor of the Examiner, and in the second half of 1845 he was absorbed with writing his travel book, Notes of A Journey from Cornhill to Grand Cairo, conflicting responsibilities


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which perhaps explain his generally low level of Morning Chronicle activity for most of that year. Previous Thackeray scholars have not identified any Thackeray articles from the periodJune-November 1845; however, a Thackeray letter dated November 28, 1845, in which Thackeray asserted that "The Chronicle articles are very well liked – they relieve the dullness of that estimable paper," makes it clear that Thackeray articles continued to be published (Ray, Letters 2:216).

In a letter tentatively dated January, 1846, Thackeray returned to the issue of political articles when he wrote "I have besides 700 £ between Punch & the Chronicle: though I don't count on the latter beyond the year as I am a very weak & poor politician only good for outside articles and occasional jeux d'esprit" (Ray, Letters 2:225). Indeed, in February 1846 Thackeray wrote that he was "making a failure at the Chronicle[;] all my articles miss fire: except the literary ones" (Ray, Letters 2:229). And in March 1846 Thackeray wrote "The Chronicle and I must part or I must cut down half the salary. They are most provokingly friendly all the time, and insist that I should neither resign nor disgorge — but how can one but act honorably by people who are so good natured?" (Ray, Letters 2:231). "Disgorge" implies giving money back or reducing income. All this suggests that the Morning Chronicle may have been paying Thackeray for "misfired" political articles and that because his political articles were unacceptable Thackeray believed his income should be reduced. Under this interpretation several questions remain open: which political articles did Thackeray write for the Morning Chronicle, were they published, what opinions did he express, and why were those articles deemed to be failures?

In February 1846 Thackeray temporarily resigned from the Chronicle; however, he soon rescinded this decision and wrote articles from March through at least October 1846. In January 1847, coincident with the initial serialization of Vanity Fair, Thackeray wrote to Caroline Norton that: "I am no longer a writer in the Chronicle" (Ray, Letters 2:264). But this was not a final decision. In April 1848, Thackeray, despite the money he was then earning from Vanity Fair, wrote to his mother complaining: "My own expenses are something very severe – and with debts keep me always paying & poor." To find this extra income, Thackeray added that he was "writing a little for the Chronicle and getting good pay always thinking, plunging about, thinking as usual" (Ray, Letters 2:373). Indeed, Thackeray's letters from April, October, and November 1848 establish that, motivated by "an awful bribe that five guineas an article," he continued to write for the Morning Chronicle (Ray, Letters 2:362, 373, 442, 459). However, as his income from his novels grew, there is no indication that he wrote critical articles for that newspaper after 1848.


See Colby 45, 69, 129, 207, 243, 341; Fasick 82; Fischer 78; Hawes 64; Mauskopf 21–33; McAuliffe 25–40; Nicolay 119—145; Pearson 127, 130; Pantückova 79–105; Peters 250; Prawer 123, 180, 182–183, 214–216; Taylor 240, 256, 271; Thomas 2, 24, 31.


Simons, "Thackeray's Contributions to the Times."