Frederic Chapman – described as a ‘tall, burly and rubicund’ man – worked as Charles Dickens’ publisher for over 14 years, during which time Mr Chapman was at the helm of Chapman & Hall publishers at a prosperous time for the business, as railways and a middle-class appetite for reading sent book sales rocketing
Frederic Chapman got his start in the publishing game early, landing a job as a clerk at his cousin’s firm Chapman & Hall publishers at the age of 18.
In 1858 after 17 years at the publishing house, Mr Chapman had graduated to the role of partner at Chapman & Hall.
At the time, publishing was enjoying headwinds like the expansion of railways and an increasing appetite among the middle-classes for novels.
Described as ‘tall, burly and rubicund’ with ‘a good business instinct’ by the prolific Anglo-Irish author Percy Fitzgerald, Mr Chapman enjoyed a long and close business relationship with Charles Dickens.
Over 14 years – punctuated by a 15-year rift that saw Dickens sign with a rival publisher – Mr Chapman worked with Mr Dickens to publish ‘The Pickwick Papers’, ‘A Christmas Carol’, ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, ‘Great Expectations’ and numerous other novels.
His house in Ovington Square was described as ‘small but delightful’ by author Mr Fitzgerald.
Mr Fitzgerald noted that Mr Chapman had converted the billiard room he’d found upon buying the property into a ‘charming dining room’.
In the house’s converted billiard room, the ‘blunt but good natured’ publisher would host luncheons and dinners, attended by the stars of 19th century Britain’s literary world.
Mr Chapman was married to his first wife, Clara, in 1861 and after giving birth to a son, she fell pregnant again with a daughter.
However, Clara Chapman miscarried her second pregnancy in 1866, and a few weeks later she herself died.
The ‘blunt’ and straight-forward businessman Mr Chapman was spotted at a dinner party just two weeks after his tragic loss.
When asked by the poet and playwright Robert Browning how he had composed himself sufficiently to socialise after such a bereavement, Mr Chapman responded that it was better to go out than to mope at home.
Besides, he commented, the death of his child had prepared him for the subsequent loss of his wife.
Mr Chapman re-married in 1867 – just a year after losing Clara Chapman – to Annie Marion, with whom he had a daughter.