In effect the piece is a series of humorous caricatures of Dickens's friends. Allusion is made to Leigh Hunt and John Poole ("two litter'y men; one as has had his wrongs...and one as has made a many people merry in his time, but is very dull and sick and lonely..."), to George Cruikshank ("a gentleman with a large shirt-collar and a hook nose...and wiskers that I wouldn't have no lady as I was engaged to meet suddenly a turning round a corner"), John Leech ("a tall, slim, melancolly gent"), Mark Lemon ("a fat gentleman with curly black hair and a merry face"), Douglas Jerrold ("that little willain"), Dudley Costello ("a officer-looking gentleman"), Frank Stone ("a fine looking, portly gentleman, with a face like a amiable full moon"), Augustus Egg ("a short mild gent, with a pleasant smile"), John Forster ("This resolute gent...with the tight legs, and his weskit very much buttoned, and his mouth very much shut, and his coat a flying open"), and others, as well as Dickens himself ("the wild gent in the prespiration, that's been a tearing up and down all this time with a great box of papers under his arm, a talking to everybody wery indistinct").
Dickens intended 'Mrs Gamp with the Strolling Players' to be published as a pamphlet with illustrations by Daniel Maclise, Egg, Stone, Leech and Cruikshank. Forster recalls in his Life - where the text was first published - that the project was abandoned after the artists' "desertion". The text in Forster's Life was taken from a proof printing (given by Dickens to his friend Frank Stone and now in Dickens house), not the current manuscript, however the 1899 Gillis Press edition was taken from this manuscript. Margaret Cardwell included the short story in her Clarendon Press edition of Martin Chuzzlewit. Cardwell based her text on the proof but incorporated "clearly authentic readings" from the 1899 edition. She did not have access to the original manuscript, a full and accurate transcription of which remains to be completed. It can, however, be said with certainty that the reference to the white wig 'that Mr Macready went mad in' was indeed introduced by Forster.
LITERARY MANUSCRIPTS BY DICKENS IN PRIVATE HANDS ARE OF THE UTMOST RARITY. With its confident flow and vigorous swirled cancellations, this manuscript gives a privileged insight into the working practices of one of our greatest writers.
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