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.
“‘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.
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.)
“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.