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Charles Dickens: a writing lifetime

Dickens: at 'The Mirror of Parliament'

A selection of pamphlets showing title pagesA sample of speeches and reports reprinted from the Mirror of Parliament [FCO Historical Collection]When he was in his early twenties, between c1831/2 and 1834, Charles Dickens worked as a shorthand writer in the Reporters' Gallery at the Houses of Parliament. He was employed by the journal of Parliamentary record, The Mirror of Parliament, which was a competitor to Hansard at the time.

Dickens was very highly regarded by the other Parliamentary reporters for the speed and accuracy of his transcriptions. In one instance it is known that a prominent politician recognized Dickens's excellence as a parliamentary reporter, but sadly, shorthand notes for this period do not survive, and all reports in the Mirror of Parliament were published unsigned, so it is not possible to say with any certainty which transcripts were his.

The Mirror of Parliament was owned and run by John Barrow, Dickens's uncle, and it is believed that it was through him that Dickens's father and Dickens himself were inspired to learn shorthand, and to enter the field of news reporting. John Barrow generously helped Dickens obtain a highly sought-after full-time salaried job as a staff reporter on the Morning Chronicle in 1834.

The Foyle Special Collections Library holds a number of speeches reprinted from the Mirror of Parliament dating from the years Dickens is thought to have worked in the Reporters' Gallery in the old Houses of Parliament, any of which Dickens might have recorded in shorthand himself. Most of the Library's holdings concern the abolition of slavery.

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