A select catalogue of applicants to the Royal Literary Fund 1790-1870 with a historical introduction
The Royal Literary Fund was founded in 1790 to assist authors in distress and, by so doing, to raise the status of the literary profession. This thesis has two aims; to chart the history of the Fund from its radical beginnings to its transformation into a lofty Victorian Institution which was vigorously attacked by Dickens, and to provide a guide and analysis of the archives illustrated by a selected catalogue of applicants. The archives of the Royal Literary Fund have proved to be a valuable source for statistical and descriptive analysis of the changing conditions of authorship. The years l820-l840 were financially disastrous for most authors and the fierce competition was highlighted by the unique success of the novels of Charles Dickens. After 1840 conditions improved to the extent that at least major authors were able to make a comfortable living from authorship. For most authors, however, the literary profession involved an incessant struggle with publishers and critics, debt and disease. In their attempts to survive, authors became mendicants; they petitioned charities, memorialized Prime Ministers for Civil List Pensions; they sought refuge in the Charterhouse, the Workhouse and the debtors' prisons. It is important to emphasise that the majority of applicants to the fund were far from being 'hacks'. In their day, if they missed the front rank, they were often well-known and widely respected.