John Macrone (1809 – 1837) was a London publisher who worked with leading writers and illustrators of his day but died at the age of just 28. He was Charles Dickens‘s first publisher.
John Macrone was born in the Isle of Man but moved to London in 1830 and soon afterwards he joined a small publishers owned by James Cochrane. In September 1834 he left Cochrane and started his own firm with offices in St. James’s Square, London.
Macrone achieved considerable success in the same year he had set up on his own by publishing the popular novel Rookwood by William Harrison Ainsworth and illustrated by George Cruikshank. It was Ainsworth who would introduce Macrone to Charles Dickens.
Charles Dickens and John Macrone.
Macrone suggested an idea to Charles Dickens reprinting his stories and sketches that had appeared in The Morning Chronicle and The Evening Chronicle in volume form. Macrone offered Dickens £100 for the copyright of these stories. Dickens accepted the proposal as it would provide an extra income just before his proposed marriage to Catherine Hogarth.
The first edition of Sketches by Boz was published by John Macrone in two series. The first series was a two-volume set which was published in February 1836. This was just a month before the publication of the first parts of The Pickwick Papers (1836 – 37). The “Second Series” was published in August 1836.
Dickens had also drawn up an agreement with Macrone to write a three-volume novel, entitled Gabriel Vardon, the Locksmith of London. Dickens was supposed to have the complete manuscript delivered by 30 November 1836 and would be paid £200 for the copyright.
With Dickens already hectic schedule the deadline to finish Gabriel Vardon, the Locksmith of London would prove impossible to meet and relations with Macrone were soured in the summer of 1836 after Dickens signed agreements with a rival publisher, Richard Bentley. On 22 August 1836 Dickens signed an agreement to write two novels for Bentley at a price of £500 for the copyright of each.
After Dickens became famous, he could buy out his agreements with Macrone.
John Macrone died unexpectedly of influenza on 9th September 1837, at age of 28, leaving a wife and several children in comparatively destitute circumstances. Charles Dickens helped to organise and publish a charitable publication along with contributions by George Cruikshank, Hablot Knight Browne and Henry Colburn. The book, a three-volume anthology composed of miscellaneous pieces by various authors called The Pic-Nic Papers helped raise £450 for Macrone’s widow and children.
The The Pic-Nic Papers included a rewriting of The Lamplighter, a play Dickens had written for the actor/theatre manager and close friend William Charles Macready but which had been rejected. Dickens reworked the play into prose form as The Lamplighter’s Story, and was included as the lead story in the anthology.