"When I was a very small boy indeed," Dickens recalled in his 1853 essay "Gone Astray," "I got lost one day in the City of London." It is hardly an unusual childhood memory, especially at a time when the churning crowds of Britain's cities made it all too easy for individuals to lose their moorings and be set adrift in a sea of strangers. In 1849, commenting on the number of children "left inefficiently attended" in Manchester, the journalist Angus Reach claimed that every year "more than 4,000 go annually astray and get 'lost' in the streets," while newspapers like the Times regularly carried notices pleading for information about those who had gone missing. They included a nine-year-old boy last seen with a man who had promised him "lots of sugar - a great many basins full," and a seven-year-old who disappeared wearing "a blue jacket, black trousers, blue waistcoat, old brown pinafore, cloth cap, and hob nailed boots" - a heartbreakingly precise description of clothes so common they would have worked like a cloak of invisibility in the bustling city streets.
-Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, Becoming Dickens: The Invention Of A Novelist