Acting with his friends and his children during the summer of 1857 in the Mr. Wilkie Collins' production The Frozen Deep, the first feeling occurred to Charles Dickens for a second historical novel. Such a tale was then a fancy, and the sadness and trouble of the winter of the year were not favorable to it. Toward the close of January 1858, talking of declining living conditions, it was again in his thoughts:
Growing inclinations of a fitful and undefined sort are upon me sometimes to fall to work on a new book. Then I think I had better not worry my worried mind yet awhile. Then I think it would be of no use if I did, for I couldn't settle to one occupation--and that's all!...[he wrote three days later]...If I can discipline my thoughts into the channel of a story, I have made up my mind to get to work on one: always supposing that I find myself, on the trial, able to do well.
Nothing whatever will do me the least "good" in the way of shaking the one strong possession of change impending over us that every day makes stronger; but if I could work on with some approach to steadiness, through the summer, the anxious toil of a new book would have its neck well broken before beginning to publish, next October or November. Sometimes, I think I may continue to work--sometimes, I think not.1
Dickens would finally find his muse, but not for two months when, at end, he settled himself to the task he had contemplated so charily.
Conveniently enough, in the major eighteenth-century circulations All the Year Round had taken the place of haughty but well-esteemed Household Words, for which Dickens held a tongue-lashed editorial seat. He resolved to publish...