Happy Birthday, Mister Dickens

If Charles Dickens were alive today, it would be his 200th birthday.  This Englishman left behind a rich legacy which graces our lives in 2012.

Charles John Huffam Dickens was born February 7, 1812 in Portsmouth, England. He was the second of the eight children of John and Elizabeth Culliford Barrow Dickens.

Charles had an insatiable appetite for reading.  Life was great until his father’s unwise spending placed the family in crushing debt. The debtors’ prison Marshalsea in London would become the new home of the Dickens’ family, except for Charles who was working at the age of twelve and his sister Frances who was at the Royal Academy of Music.

Fortunately, a relative of John’s died leaving him a large sum which paid his family out of Marshalsea.  However, Charles had to continue his arduous job at the boot-blacking warehouse. It was his mother’s decision.

This decision did not endear his mother to him.  His view of John as weak would last until his father’s death.  Of course his father would be a major source of discomfort and annoyance for Charles as his fame increased.

Charles met and fell in love with Maria Beadnell, his first love. Unfortunately, Maria and her parents decided that Charles was not the type of husband which would be suitable for a banker’s daughter.  She boated off to Paris leaving Charles heart-broken.  Charles’ heart was scarred for the rest of his life.

In 1836 he would marry Catherine Hogarth, daughter of George Hogarth—editor of the Evening Chronicle.  Ten children would result from this union which lasted until 1858.  By then Charles had fallen out of love with Catherine and was enamored with a young lady of the theatre, Ellen Ternan.  Because of his standing in the community and the dread of scandal, he kept the affair secret.

Charles died on June 9, 1870 at the age of 58.  Contrary to his wishes for a simple funeral and burial, he was interred in the Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey.

From the Tale of Two Cities:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.


G. D. Williams       © 2012