Prologue of a Finale: a reading from Peter Ackroyd on Dickens’ Death Day

Wherein we celebrate the life of our Beloved Boz on the anniversary of his death–9 June 1870–with a reading from Peter Ackroyd’s biography; and a toast.

Little Nell and her Grandfather

“‘I rather grieve—I do rather grieve to think…that those who die about us, are so soon forgotten.’

“‘And do you think,’ said the schoolmaster, marking the glance she had thrown around, ‘that an unvisited grave, a withered tree, a faded flower or two, are tokens of forgetfulness or cold neglect? Do you think there are no deeds, far away from here, in which these dead may be best remembered? Nell, Nell, there may be people busy in the world, at this instant, in whose good actions and good thoughts these very graves—neglected as they look to us—are the chief instruments…Forgotten! oh, if the good deeds of human creatures could be traced to their source, how beautiful would even death appear; for how much charity, mercy, and purified affection, would be seen to have their growth in dusty graves!’”

~ The Old Curiosity Shop

One hundred and fifty-two years ago today, the English-speaking world was in mourning for their most beloved storyteller, their voice and inspiration. He was too young, only fifty-eight, but worn with care and relentless activity, including the grueling public readings which had both animated him and took every ounce of energy from his vast store.

Dickens on his deathbed by John Everett Millais, shared by the Dickens Fellowship.

Charles Dickens died at Gad’s Hill, the very same home that, many years ago, his father had pointed out to the young Charles as something to strive for. And sure enough, decades later, Dickens bought it.

“’Bless you, sir,’ said the very queer small boy, ‘when I was not more than half as old as nine, it used to be a treat for me to be brought to look at it. And now, I am nine, I come by myself to look at it. And ever since I can recollect, my father, seeing me so fond of it, has often said to me, “If you were to be very persevering and were to work hard, you might some day come to live in it.” Though that’s impossible!’ said the very queer small boy, drawing a low breath, and now staring at the house out of window with all his might.”

~ The Uncommercial Traveller (https://www.charlesdickensinfo.com/life/gads-hill-place)

It seems fitting, somehow, that Gad’s Hill is now a school.

From The New York Times; America, too, was in deep mourning.

Charles Dickens with his daughters and friends at Gads Hill

I couldn’t think of a better way to remember—“memory,” again!—the anniversary of Dickens’ death than to read the “Prologue” to Peter Ackroyd’s biography, Dickens. I would add a pdf here too, but my copy is filled with messy underlining and marginal notes. (And yes, I’m trying to get everyone to read this book!) I recorded this in the very early pre-dawn hours of June 8th before a busy day, on too little coffee, but I’ll let its mistakes remain as they are. If you enjoy hearing a reading, however imperfect and quiet, just think of it as a friend reading the book at your side, with no advance preparation, because that’s what it amounts to! I hope you enjoy it. (NOTE: SPOILER ALERT for events in Master Humphrey and Little Dorrit.)

A Pickwickian toast…to Boz!

“If the good deeds”—and good stories—“of human creatures could be traced to their source,” Dickens must surely be outstanding in his impact. Here’s raising a glass (or a mug of coffee) to our Beloved Boz, who can never be forgotten, an inimitable and inexhaustible source of whimsy, hilarity, heartbreak, atmosphere, melodrama, never-to-be-equaled friends and foes, and life-changing inspiration.

To Boz!

9 Comments

  1. Dickensian Wren,

    What a beautiful and touching tribute to the Inimitable and his life/legacy.

    The depth and breadth of his spirit continually astonish me.

    I join in the Pickwickian toast: to a singular spirit and storyteller, and illuminator of this perplex human condition!

    Daniel

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Rachel, I was going about my day, not knowing it was the anniversary of Dickens’ death until I saw your post. That passage from The Old Curiosity Shop is a favorite of mine from the book and a lovely way to remember him. And even more so for Ackroyd’s Prologue. You must read aloud poetry – it sounds so natural for you to make the prose sound like poetry. The whole essay and reading made me feel like shedding a tear for Dickens, and for our loss of him even after so long a time. Thanks for the remembrance – see, it relates to your wonderful essay on memory! It’s up to all us to keep the memory of Dickens alive – as we’re doing here – especially through these dark times when the classics are being sidelined, if not eliminated, in places like universities where authors like Dickens should most be remembered and taught.
    Marnie

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Marnie, thank you so very much, that is so kind!! I too get so moved by Ackroyd’s prologue that I had to try not to choke up reading 🖤 thank you for your kind words! I sometimes wonder if Ackroyd writes poetry. Certainly, I think he has the heart of a poet (and sometimes, I half wonder, a kind of strange mystic!).

      I like to dabble a bit in fiction too, and oddly enough, his bio of Dickens feels like a masterclass in how to write beautifully, and with the poetry of words and coherence of “theme”/imagery in mind. He is amazing!

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  3. To Boz! You chose an excellent reading (though I unfortunately haven’t yet had the chance to listen) — I love the Ackroyd book!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. This is so good, Rach. I’m listening to it again and I’m struck by just how young he was when he died, by how many books we might have gotten if he had lived to be seventy, and how many thousands of good deeds were left undone by his death. I keep thinking of that passage in Fahrenheit 451 where the man is talking about his grandfather who was a sculptor and the horrible void left by his absence: “He shaped the world. He *did* things to the world. The world was bankrupted of ten million fine actions the night he died.” When Dickens died, we lost one of God’s ministering angels.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I couldn’t agree more, Boze, but you put it so perfectly. Thanks so much for what you said…I am always moved reading this whole passage, especially about the rougher offerings of flowers at his grave, tied up with pieces of rag. He spoke for *everyone*, and did so much good. To think of Drood, and all the other beauties we might have had too 🥺

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