DICKENSLAND

 

LEE JACKSON is an author and historian with an abiding interest in the social history and geography of Victorian London.

Lee is currently beginning a PhD at Royal Holloway University, in conjunction with the Dickens Museum, entitled Dickensland. This will examine both the evolution of "Dickens' London" as an imaginative space and its importance to contemporary Dickensian literary/heritage tourism.
 

lee@victorianlondon.org

twitter.com/victorianlondon

www.victorianlondon.org

 

19C articles on this page:

George Sala's Dickens ObituaryDaily Telegraph, 11 June 1870  [added 30 May 2018]

Charles Dickens Jr. 'Notes on Some Dickens Places and People'Pall Mall Magazine, July 1896 pp.342-355 [added 23rd April 2018]

'The Old Curiosity Shop' Pall Mall Gazette 1st January 1884 [added 21st February 2018]

    

 

  

George Sala's Dickens Obituary, Daily Telegraph, 11 June 1870 

[added 30 May 2018]

He is gone, then! – the gifted writer, the prince of story-tellers, the most genial of essayists, the master of humour and pathos, the compeller of laughter and tears, the wisest and kindest of moralists. All the world admired his genius; all those who were privileged to know him loved him. On him were bestowed, ere the golden bowl was broken and the silver cord loosened, an imperishable treasure of renown and an immeasurable endowment of affection. He appealed not only to the intellect, but to the hearts of the entire civilised community. Into well-nigh every living language which has a grammar and a form of printed expression his words had been translated; and among nations too rude to read him his name at least was known – as those of Shakespeare and Napoleon are known – as that of a great man. The most carping of his critics, the malignant of his detractors, will not now dare to deny that his memory is one which posterity will not let die. His record is an essential part of the nineteenth century and of the Victorian era; and it would be as difficult to obliterate from the chronicle of our time the remembrance of who he was and what he did, as to forget Fulton or Stephenson, Brewster or Faraday.

It was said by Johnson of Garrick that by his death was eclipsed for a season “the gaiety of nations”. The nations are more populous and busier and noisier than they were a hundred years ago; and even as the world rolls, day by day, society must scramble and jostle, traders must strive, lawyers must wrangle, legislators must debate, the great city must whirl in its maelstrom of passing and ambition and intrigue, unchecked for one moment even by the consciousness of the loss they have sustained – by the knowledge that Charles Dickens lies at Gadshill, dead. On the day that Goldsmith died Sir Joshua Reynolds threw down his pencil to resume it no more until his friend had been buried; but such a tribute of sorrow could hardly be spared by the toiling workers of to-day. The roaring looms cannot for one instant by arrested; the whirling and clanking of the machine cannot for one moment be hushed. He himself died at his post, in full and earnest and active pursuit of his vocation, and at an age when many men less earnest and less active would have withdrawn from public life to enjoy honourable, well-deserved repose. All that his contemporaries can do is to snatch a few hours from their appointed labour to record his achievements and to bewail his loss. That loss will be felt by the entire community as a national one, and the actual and personal sorrow experienced for the death of Charles Dickens will be equal in wide-spread feeling the grief which saddened the country at the death of the great Sir Robert Peel. That illustrious statesman, in old age and the mature vigour of his faculties, was called away, through a painful accident, as suddenly as Charles Dickens by a natural spasm was summoned on Thursday last; but the shock to the public mind, the impression on the public heart, will be the same. The face, the form, the garb, of Sir Robert were as familiar to the people twenty years ago as those of Dickens were only three days since. There were few who did not recognise, in his daily ride, the popular Baronet, with his cheerful countenance and light hair, his blue frock-coat and buff waistcoat. There were as few last week who would have been unable to point out the famous novelist, with his thought-lined face, his grizzled beard, his wondrous searching eye, his bluff presence and swinging gait, as, head aloft, he strode now through crowded streets, looking seemingly neither to the right nor the left, but of a surety looking at and into everything – now over the pleasant meads and breezy downs which stretched around his modest Kentish demesne hard by the hoary towers of Rochester. Just as the Kentish farmers and peasants would great with simple rural courtesy the neighbour they knew so well, and esteemed so highly for his frank and cordial bearing, so would London folks draw aside as the great writer – who seemed always to be walking a match against Thought – strode on, and looking after him, say, “There goes Charles Dickens!” The towering stature, the snowy locks, the glistening spectacles, the listless, slouching port, as that of a tired giant, of William Makepeace Thackeray, were familiar enough likewise in London a few years since, but comparatively speaking, only to a select few. He belonged to Club-land, and was only to be seen sauntering there or in West-end squares, or on his road to his beloved Kensington, or in the antique hall at Charterhouse on Founder’s Day, or on Eton Bridge on the fourth of June, or sometimes, haply, on the top of a Richmond omnibus journeying to a brief furlough at Rose Cottage. Thackeray in Houndsdith, Thackeray in Bethnal-green or at Camden Town, would have appeared anomalous; as well could we picture Carlyle at Cremorne, or Tennyson at Garraway’s; but Charles Dickens, when in town, was ubiquitous. He was to be met, by those who knew him, everywhere – and who did not know him? Who had not heard him, and who had not seen his photographs in the shop-windows? The omnibus conductors knew him, the street-boys knew him; and perhaps the locality where his recognition would have been least frequent – for all that he was a member of the Athenaeum Club – was Pall-mall. Elsewhere he would turn up in the oddest places, and in the most inclement of weather: in Ratcliff Highway on Haverstock-hill, on Camberwell-green, in Gray’s Inn-lane, in the Wandsworth-road, at Hammersmith Broadway, in Norton Folgate, and at Kensal New Town. A hansom whirled you by the Bell and Horns at Brompton, and there was Charles Dickens striding, as with seven-league boots, seemingly in the direction of North-end Fulham. The Metropolitan Railway sent you forth at Lisson-grove, and you met Charles Dickens plodding speedily towards the Yorkshire Stingo. He was to be met rapidly skirting the grim brick wall of the prison in Coldbath-fields, or trudging along the Seven Sisters-road at Holloway, or bearing, under a steady press of sail, underneath Highgate Archway, or pursuing the even tenor of his way up the Vauxhall Bridge-road. He seemed to prefer the lengthy thoroughfares of our exterior boulevards to narrow and intricate streets. They offered, perhaps, a better opportunity for fair and honest walking, and for the performance of that self-appointed task of pedestrianism, which for so many years he had undertaken, and which well-nigh undeviatingly, and wherever he was – in London, at home at Gadshill, in France, in Italy, or in America – he performed to its last root and furlong. It was one of Mr. Dickens maxims that a given amount of mental exertion should be counteracted by a commensurate amount of bodily fatigue; and for a length of years his physical labours were measured exactly by the duration of his intellectual work. It is idle at this time to inquire whether he took too much exercise, and whether, in some cases, Nature will not resent unvarying regularity in the observance of her laws, or refuse to respond by the gift of health and long life to the most rigidly-pursued system of hygiene. If Charles Dickens erred in this respect, he erred with Cornaro, with Franklin, and with Prescott, all of whom lived by line and rule; measuring the sands of their time by the grain, weighing out their sustenance by the ounce and the gill, adjusting even the weight of the garments they wore in summer or in winter to the minutest flections of the balance. Charles Dickens was a man who never exceeded; whose nature, strongly impulsive as it was, seemed to have been brought under an inexorable discipline.

Those who had followed Charles Dickens from the morning of his career to its dazzling noontide, and so to its golden evening – those who, knowing him of old, watched the man as well as the master with that reverent love which Raphael’s scholars, which Luther’s disciplines, and which the personal attendants of the First Napoleon bore for their chiefs – might now, in very mournful retrospect, call to mind the different phases of personal aspect of him who was at once the leader and the friend, the king and the colleague. The photographic portraits of Charles Dickens form a legion; and the more recent ones give a life-like resemblance of him as he seemed to the present generation – a bronzed, weather-worn, hardy man, with somewhat of a seaman’s air about him. His carriage was remarkably upright, his mien almost aggressive in its confidence. He was one of the few men whose individuality was not effaced by the mournful conventionality of evening dress. Many a prince, many a peer, would be absorbed at public dinners or evening parties by the terrible dead level of the black coat and white cravat, but for their stars and ribands; but under such circumstances the face and figure of Charles Dickens were always unmistakably conspicuous. The same prominence of individuality was curiously manifest in Mr. Leslie’s well-known picture of Mr. Dickens as the Copper Captain in “Every Man in his Humour” in the recent Exhibition of Deceased Masters at the Royal Academy. The dramatic travestissement was complete; the picturesque “make up” was perfect; the simulated Captain was the genuine swashbuckler and braggadocio of Ben Johnson; and yet beneath all these there shone forth, strongly as the sun darting from behind a summer cloud, the searching eyes, the determined visage, the irresistible smile of Charles Dickens. His appearance in walking dress in the streets, during his later years, was decidedly “odd”, and almost eccentric, being marked by strongly pronounced colours, and a cut of the garments which had somewhat of a sporting and somewhat of a theatrical guise. To those who did not know that he was Charles Dickens he might have been some prosperous sea-captain home from a long votage, some Western senator on a tour in Europe, some country gentleman of Devon or of Yorkshire who now and then bred a colt or two, and won a cup, but never betted. But those who could look far back remembered when Charles Dickens was in countenance like Milton in his youth, “eminently beautiful”, and when in attire he was, next to Count D’Orsay, the choicest and most tastefully dressed dandy in London. For the similitude of the elderly Dickens we must rely upon the wonderfully faithful photographic portraits lately published; for the Dickens of middle age we must refer to the noble portrait by Mr. Frith, or to the grand but somewhat dusty picture by Ary Sheffer; but for the Dickens of thirty years since, for the “unknown young man” who, as his greatest critic and admirer, Mr. Thackeray, said, “calmly and modestly took his place at the head of English literature,” we must turn to the portrait by his early friend, Daniel Maclise, an engraving of which forms the frontispiece, we think to the first completed edition of “Nicholas Nickleby”. There is a also a very characteristic sketch of the youthful Dickens in an etching by George Cruikshank, illustrating one of the “Sketches by Boz”, and in which both the author and the artist are depicted with wands in their hands, as stewards at a public dinner at the Freemason’s Tavern; but for grace and refinement and intellectual force we must go to Maclise’s canvas, and ponder over that exquisite delineation of the young man with the long silky hair, the fascinating smile, and the marvellous clear and inquiring eyes which, even from the copper-plate, seem to follow the beholder everywhere as the eyes of Guido Beatrice do in the gallery at Rome. This was the Charles Dickens who, in high satin stock and double breast pin, in glossy frock coat and velvet collar , in cut velvet waistcoat and glistening chain, was, in the early days of Queen Victoria’s reign, one of the best looking and best dressed young fellows about town; or who, a few years later, in a blue frock, white vest, and white trousers, looked even nattier and comelier. This was the brilliantly successful young author who, without effort, as it seemed, had risen from the lowest to the topmost rung of the ladder of literature; who, the day before yesterday as it were, lawyer’s clerk, reporter at a police-court, short-hand writer in the House of Commons gallery, scribbler of fugitive articles in an evening paper, found himself suddenly admired, courted, lionised, almost idolised, by almost all that was wealthy, and dignified, and beautiful in society; who, emerging from a model middle-class home and middle-class surroundings, found himself also at once the peer and the associate of Bulwer and Miles, of Lockhart and Jeffrey, of Moore and Campbell, of Talfourd, and Proctor, and who, ere he had long enjoyed his first wreath of laurels, had the high honour to be virulently abused by the Right Honourable John Wilson Croker. About four-and-thirty years have elapsed since the publication of “Pickwick.” Lifted into immediate and prodigious celebrity, Charles Dickens, until the day of his death, never knew what it was for that celebrity to have decreased one jot. In 1836, England and all America knew him, rejoiced in him, and were proud of him; all England and all America, and all the civilised world beside, know and are proud of him in 1870; although, alas! their rejoicing is turned to sorrow and the greenest of bays of all their chaplets, which they would have wreathed round the brows of the author of the “Mystery of Edwin Drood,” must now be laid upon a grave. There is something eminently touching and consoling in this thoroughness and completeness of the good writer’s life – in this insoluble community of fame, in this long day of renown whose brightness knew no overclouding, no storms, no dank chilliness after the meridian heat. And as, in the tropics, there is no twilight, and while the sky is all ablaze with the crimson and gold of the setting sun a great black pall suddenly falls and extinguishes all in night, so, while the genius of Charles Dickens was at its brightest and the splendour of his name most luminous, comes Death, and drops a cloak over all the light and splendour and shuts it up; and there is night – and we can only hope that it will be a night of stars.
 
Le pauvre en sa cabane ou le chame le couvre
Est sujet a ses lois.
Et la garde qui veille aux barriers du Louvre
N’en defend pas nos rois.
 
In such magnificent lines has Malesherbes echoed the eloquent warning of the heathen poet. But its boots not to dilate on the brevity or the uncertainty of life, to strain rhetoric into high-flown reflections on this transitory existence, or to indulge in vain lamentations on the suddenness of the event, for which it is impossible to know whether the deceased was prepared or unprepared. It is sufficient to know that God took him in His own good time, and that he had been permitted to fil la place in the history of his age, to enjoy a career, and to accomplish a life-work, the completeness of which kings and conquerors might envy. He never failed. We will not be so rash as to say that he was born to succeed in anything he might have attempted; but it is certain that he brought his powers under mastery, that he had so disciplined his capacity, that he had so trained and developed the direction of his genius as to be able to ensure and to command a certain amount of success in every one of his endeavours. His triumphs were neither fortuitous nor accidental. They were premeditated, consummated and deserved. His introduction Messrs. Chapman and Hall – his earliest, his latest, and his most appreciative publishers – had, perhaps, some appearance of “luck” about it; and it might be argued that, if poor Seymour had not proposed to execute a series of humorous etchings for Messrs. Chapman and Hall, and if those gentlemen had not been compelled to cast about for a clever young man to “write the engravings,” Charles Dickens might have continued, for many years longer, to vegetate in his chambers in Furnival’s Inn. We all know with what painful, toilsome slowness Thackeray ascended the staircase of renown; in how many ante-chambers he was forced to wait; at how many doors he was fain to knock unavailingly; how he laboured in obscurity in magazines, and reviews, and newspapers, and weekly serials, till at length, but tardily, success, celebrity, and glory came. And yet Thackeray was, in his sphere of letters, as distinctly original and as distinctly unapproachable as Dickens. Both men have had followers and imitators by the score – doleful creatures, who have copied the faults of their models, even as monkeys mimic the meanest motions of men, but who have been wholly unable to imitate their beauties. There were no social satirists of note to compete with Thackeray when he began “Vanity Fair.” There was no humorist of note textent to compete with Dickens when he began “Pickwick”. The last sprang at once into transcendent fame; the first – who was a practised member of Fraser’s staff before Dickens had been heard of – saw no less than ten years elapse before “Vanity Fair”, bandied about, rejected, from publisher was at length accept. The reason for the long-deferred recognition in the one case, and the immediate and tremendous acclaim in the other, was probably, that Thackeray only appealed to a cultivated and a somewhat cynical section of society, and that Dickens appealed to all humanity. “Pickwick” was a literary panacea. The Spanish King who from his palace window saw a student rolling in ecstacies of laughter with a book in his hand on the banks of the Mancanares, remarked to his courtiers, “That scholar must either be mad or reading ‘Don Quixote’.” And Philip III. Had very probably just been reading Cervantes masterpiece himself. It was every one’s portion. Only a limited number of scholars and worldlings could understand the mordant satire, the delicate equivoque, the scathing iron of “Vanity Fair,” or could understand the polished humour of Backy Sharpe and the Marquis of Steyne, or of Major Pendennis and Barnes Newcome. Thackeray essayed to construct an English Quixote in Colonel Newcome, butt he succeeded only in producing a beautiful work of art, whose most natural acts were less true to nature than the wildest Quixotism of the ingenious Hidalgo. On the other hand, every one – the prince, the peasant, the judge, the charity boy, the learned professor, and the servant maid – could understand, and could enjoy “Pickwick”. It was the universal recreation and solace. When the luckless Irish rebel, John Mitchel, after his condemnation to transportation in Dublin, was conveyed in a war steamer to the convict depot at Spike Island, the officer commanding the ship mercifuly lent the prisoner in his lonely cabin some novels of Charles Dickens to read. Mitchel, in his “Gaol Journal,” has recorded the consolation their perusal afforded him. And precisely the same alleviation of suffering, or weariness, or low spirits, might have been felt by a Princess of the Blood Royal turning over the pages of “Pickwick” or “Nickleby” at the very moment that the wretched Irish convict was deep in Dickens, and endeavouring to divert his thoughts from the imminent hulks. The only “luck” experienced by Charles Dickens at the outset of his career was, that he discovered a great national want which had not yet been supplied. The age would no longer tolerate the grossness of Smollett and Sterne, and could not understand the philosophy, while it still applauded the wit, of Fielding. The “comic literature” of the decade preceding the advent of Charles Dicken s was simply deplorable in its dull idiocy. When it happened to be somewhat funny, it was usually ribald. Charles Lamb had written, and written exquisitely, but the circulation of his essays, from the medium adopted for their publication was restricted; and even at the present day the people at large fail to appreciate the arrowy wit and delicate fancy of Elia. But to whom are Saw Weller, Tony Veller, Mr. Winkle, Mr. Snodgrass, Mr. Tupman, Mr. Jingle and the immortal Fat Boy, mysteries? Who has ever found Bob Cratchit, Scrooge, Tiny Tim, or even Marley’s Ghost, recondite? Is any world-wide experience necessary to understand Mrs. Gamp? Need we be cynical to enjoy Mr. Peckniff? It was through the universality of his epopoea and the thorough humanity of his personages that Charles Dickens at once attained world-wide fame. He was “lucky” to find a liberal publisher in the Strand for the “Pickwick Papers,” but had he never written that enchanting piece of drollery he would have been as “lucky” with Mr. Macrone in St. James’s-square with his “Sketches by Boz”, as lucky with Mr. Bentley in New Burlington-street with “Oliver Twist.” His genius was bound to “pierce”. It was the hour for him – the hour when the school-master began to be abroad; when a young generation was rising, determined to be kept no longer in ignorance; when the presence of a young and blameless Queen on the throne made thoughtful men reflect with horror on the scurrility and the ribaldry of bygone literature – and for that hour Charles Dickens was the Man. Had he approved himself nothing but a comic writer, his celebrity, vast as it would have been for a time, might very soon have waned. Samuel Foote was called “The English Aristophanes;” yet what sane publisher would undertake, at the present day, a reissue of Foote’s works? Rabelais was the merriest droll imaginable; his writings are a mine of roaring fun; yet who, save laborious scholars, reads Rabelais through? Scarron, Tom Browne, D’Urfey, George Coleman have all been laughed at – and forgotten; and even the reputation of the arch-way, Tom Hood, would have been ephemeral but for his noble services to humanity as a serious poet – as the writer of the “Song of the Shirt” and the “Bridge of Sighs.” When Charles Dickens was about midway in his career, it was a favourite device with those who decried him to exaggerate beyond measure the merits of “Pickwick” to the disparagement of his later and more serious works, and to declare that he would never again write anything half so good as his first, his most facetious, but certainly his least artistically constructed novel. But these backbiters were speedily silenced when it was found that the great master of fun was likewise a great master of sentiment; that Dickens could be, on occasion, not only irresistibly comic, not only slily humorous, could be infinitely tender, graceful, and pathetic – that he could be dramatic, tragical, and terrible. The hand which drew Mr. Pickwick “in the pound” gave us, almost simultaneously, Fagin in the condemned cell. From Little Nell, and the marriage of Mrs. M’Stinger; the description of Mr. John Smawker’s “Swarry’, and the picture of the Gordon Riots; the “terrific combat” of Mr. Crummles and his sons, and the storm in “David Copperfield;” the christening of Little Paul Dombey, and the murder of Sir Leicester Dedlock. We conscientiously believe that, had Charles Dickens never written “Pickwick” at all, his hold on the public mind and on the public love would have been as great, and as promising of permanence as it is now.

He was a great traveller. We are not alluding to his two journeys to the United States, to his long residence in Italy, to his frequent excursions to France, or even to his prolonged explorations – now on business, now on pleasure – of his own country. Where he travelled longest, where he had looked deepest and learned most, was in inner London. We was no Regent-street lounger; he scarcely ever mentions Pall-mall; he rarely alludes to Piccadilly; he is not much at home in the fashionable squares; he is not to be found in the Ladies’ Mile; he is not at home at Brompton, or in the Regent’s Park, or in Great Gaunt-street, or at Greenwich, or Richmond, or any of the localities so well beloved by Thackeray. But he knew all about the back streets behind Holborn, sidling streets of the remoter suburbs, the crooked little alleys of the City, the dank and oozy wharfs of the water-side. He was at home in all lodging-houses, station-houses, cottages, hovels, Cheap Jack’s caravans, workhouses, prisons, school-rooms, chandlers’ shops, back attics, barbers’ shops, areas, back yards, dark entries, public-houses, rag-shops, police-courts, and markets in poor neighbourhoods. And, curiously, from these localities, unseemly and unsavoury as they might be, he produced pictures of life and manners, and produced characters of men and women and children that have been the wonder and delight and edification of millions, not only of his own countrymen, but of strangers at the uttermost ends of the earth. He was the good genius who turned everything into gold. Upon offal and garbage, upon crime and misery, upon poverty and pestilence, upon the dullest, densest, ugliest things the bright light of his amazing fancy shone, and of the social reptiles he held up to view only the precious jewels in their heads remained. He was a great traveller – as earnest and as eloquent a pilgrim, indeed, as that wandered whom John Bunyan has shown us travelling from this world to the next. And he, too, like Christian, has got to his journey’s end – to the cold, dark river with the shining city beyond.

Of his private life it behove us not, at this time, and in this place, to speak. We have dealt with Charles Dickens thus briefly only as a public man, and as the foremost writer of the Victoria era. Biographers there will be in plenty, no doubt, and at no distant period, who will retail his minutest words and deeds; who will publish his correspondence, and who will do justice to the amiability of his character, to the cordiality of his manner, to the charms of his conversation, to the frankness of his hospitality, to the inflexible integrity which he ever showed in his dealings with his fellow-men, to his private charities – which were untiring – to his public spirit and lofty sense of right, to his industry, his punctuality, his forbearance under provocation, his placable nature after wrong. It has been our task only to touch upon the leading points in his literary career, and to recall the outward aspect of the man who but three days since was so warm a friend, so kind a host, so true a master, so ready a writer, so eloquent a speaker, so merry a companion – and who now lives cold and dumb. He is gone. There is no longer a Charles Dickens; and to the veterans and worn-out coursers in the race of life, whose old feet seem to do naught but stumble at graves, this last yawning tomb can but suggest the grim question, “Who next, and next?”

  

 

  

Charles Dickens Jr. 'Notes on Some Dickens Places and People', Pall Mall Magazine, July 1896 pp.342-355

[added 23rd April 2018]

THERE was a short correspondence, some months ago, in one of the papers, which interested me a good deal, as illustrating the curiously serious manner in which a great many people, to this day, treat questions of the topography of the writings of Charles Dickens. It began by somebody inquiring whereabouts in Kentish Town he could find the site of the "Boot" tavern, described in "Barnaby Rudge" and was closed by a letter which pointed out with unimpeachable correctness that the "Boot" was said in the book to have been "situated in the fileds at the back of the Foundling Hospital," and could, therefore, never had had anything whatever to do with Kentish Town. In addition to this the writer stated, no doubt with equal truth, that the "Boot" public-house which now stands in Cromer Street is a direct successor of the old Gordon Riots Tavern, and stands upon its actual site; and, if I remember rightly, that the present landlord is a descendant of mine host of 1780 - which, by-the-bye, does not seem to be much to be proud of. It is true that the compiler of "Old and New London" states that "the 'Boat,' an isolated tavern in the open fields at the back of the Foundling, doubtless commemorated the time when boats and barges came up the Fleet River as far as Battle Bridge," and further identifies it by saying that "it formed the headquarters of the rioters and incendiaries who aided and abetted Lord George Gordon in his anti-Popish riots in 1780." But, while the latter statement is correct enough, I think the writer must have been deluded by a misprint or an [-343-] error in transcription and having thus got at "Boat" instead of "Boot" evolved the derivation of the sign from his inner consciousness and not from any trustworthy antiquarian authority - a supposition which is greatly strengthened by the fact that index declines to have anything to do with "Boat," but adheres without hesitation to "Boot".
    Thus, I take it, there is no doubt about the accuracy of the letter to which I have alluded - so far at least; but the writer went on to a point to which, I confess, I cannot follow him. He avers that he must be right because he was told, in the "boot,", by "the illustrious novelist himself," in the year 1867 or 1868, that that was the identical house he had in his mind's eye when he was writing "Barnaby Rudge". My disposition to consider this an amiable hallucination or an odd mistake is strengthened and, indeed, fully confirmed by two considerations. In the first place, it is not conceivable that the author, in describing a house which existed in 1780, should have troubled himself with a totally different building which too its place many years afterwards; and, in the second place, I cannot imagine anything more unlikely that that "the illustrious novelist himself" should have been hob-nobbing and talking about his books with a casual stranger in the bar or bar-parlour - the precise location is not specified - of a public-house in Cromer Street in the year 1867 or 1868, or at any date thereunto distantly related.
    The mental confusion which is apparent in this account of Charles Dickens's treatment of the "Boot" is typical of that which is displayed by a great many excellent Dickensites, who, in their desire to get as much as possible at the inner history of the books which they love so much are perhaps a little inclined to get over-exacting, and to require more than, in the nature of things, they can get. The desire is one which cannot fail to be most interesting and pleasant to me and to all the members of my father's family, and a little genuine disinterested hero-worship in these pessimistic and cynical days is always agreeable and refreshing; but even a good [-344-] thing can be overdone, and I am afraid that the present is rather a case in point. In their wish to verify as closely as possible the places with which the Dickens books deal, people run a considerable danger of losing sight of the rather important fact that the imagination of the writer has generally, except in describing an actual place under its actual name, raised so considerable a superstructure on the basis of the original fact as to make it practically unrecognisable. It is true that many of the places described in Charles Dickens's book were suggested by real localities or buildings, but the more the question comes to be examined the more clear it is that all that was done with the prototype was to use it as a painter or a sculptor uses a sketch, and that, under the hand of the writer and in the natural process of evolution, it has grown in almost every case into a finished picture with few if any very salient points about it to render its origin unmistakable. Photographic accuracy must not be demanded in these cases.
    My friend Percy Fitzgerald, as he makes clear in his recent volume "Bozland," is not of my way of thinking. He is not content with the knowledge that the "Great White Horse" at Ipswich is the veritable "Great White Horse" of "Pickwick" but is even feverishly anxious to be informed which was the actual room in which Mr. Pickwick had that embarrassing interview with the middle-aged spinster in the culr-papers, or in what particular corner of which particular corridor he waited until Mr. Samuel Weller came to his rescue. What was the exact itinerary followed by Little Nell and her Grandfather when the fled from London is as burning a question with Mr. Fitzgerald as if he were contemplating a personally conducted tour; and he is seriously troubled in his mind by the impossibility of discovering the exact site of the Old Curiosity Shop - not, it would seem, consoling himself with the explicit disposal of the subject which is to be found in the concluding words of the book. But, logically speaking, if you are going to accept the author's account of the place as being absolutely literal and exact, you must also accept and look upon as final the very plain statement that Kit, "sometimes took them to the street where she lived; but new improvements had altered it so much, it as not like the same. The old house had been long ago pulled down, and a fine broad road was in its place. At first he would draw with his stick a square upon hthe ground to show them where it used to stand. But he soon become uncertain of the spot, and could only say it was thereabouts, he thought, and that these alterations were confusing. Such as the changes which a few years bring about, and so do things pass away, like a tale which is told." The bearing of this last reflection, as the skipper of the Cautious Clara would have said, "lies in the application of it."
    For people, however, who look at the matter in Mr. Fitzgerald's way this is not enough; nor, to take another instance, are they satisfied to know that the "Maypole" Inn in "Barnaby Rudge" was taken from the fine old "King's Head" - still, I believe, in good preservation - at Chigwell. "Chigwell, my dear fellow," wrote Charles Dickens to John Forster in the early days of their friendship, "is the greatest place in the world ... Such a delicious old inn opposite the churchyard - such a lovely ride - such beautiful scenery - such a sexton!" They would not be content unless they knew for certain that the ground-plan of the Chigwell house was identical with that of the "Maypole" or that it was in the olden days veritably kept by a fat man who had a one-armed son, and stood in some awre of a celebrated talking raven; and then they would consider it necessary to follow the raven to Charles Dickens's stable and to find out exact particulars and details about him.
    I propose, in this article, to deal with a few of the cases in which it is actually known on Charles Dickens's own authority, or in which it is unmistakably obvious [-345-]



from international evidence, what were the places he describes; and I think I shall have but little dififculty in proving the absolute correctness of my contention. With mere unintelligent and unsupported fable, I do not intend to trouble myself - with the absurd credulity, for instance, which induces some travellers to believve, when they are told by the guides, whom they pick up at the hotels, that the house in Portsmouth Street, Lincoln's Inn, which has in some inexplicable way come to be labelled as the Old Curiosity Shop, has anything in the remotest degree to do with the story - I shall in no way concern myself. Only this very day I was told by a friend that the Pickwick Cottage at Dulwich was to be let; and surprised him not a little by assuring him that there exists no sort of evidence anywhere to induce anybody to believe that Charles Dickens, when he finally settled his hero down for life, had any particular house in view for him. That is only one of the numerous myths which abound in the land of Dickens sight-seers and collectors, the resolution of which into their original nebulosity would require more space than the Editors of the PALL MALL MAGAZINE are at all likely to give me, and more labour than I feel inclined to devote to the task.
    Two or three very striking illustrations of my view of the matter occur in "Bleak House," which contained until the extensive clearances and demolitions which were necessitated by the building of the Royal Courts of Justice, perhaps more recognisable neighbourhoods and houses - not being public places and simply described as such - than can be found in any of the book. But even these, except in one notable case, can only be identified (or could, for many of them have already disappeared) by reference to the context as well as to the actual description of them. There is absolutely only one such place that I ever saw, which would satisfy the claims of the sticklers for absolute accuracy. This is the horrible little burying ground in which Captain Hawdon was laid, and on the steps of which Lady Dedlock died - [-346-] 



"a hemmed in churchyard, pestiferous and obscene ... with houses looking in on every side, save where a reekly little tunnel of a court gives access to the iron gates." So runs the description in the book, and so you will find the place to this day, on the left-hand side as you go down Russell Court - taking care of your pockets the while - from Catherine Street to Drury Lane, the only difference being that the burying ground has been decently covered over with asphalte and is now used as a playground for the slum children of those parts.
    A little farther east is Lincoln's Inn Fields; and No.50 on the west side of the square, where John Forster lived, was admittedly Mr. Tulkinghorn's house. But literal exactitude was by no means observed in the description of its rooms [-347-] in "Bleak House". To begin with, Forster's big room was on the ground floor, while Mr. Tulkinghorn's was upstairs - mainly, I think, because the staircase was found to be necessary for the working out of the situation on the evening of the murder. I do not clearly remember whether the Roman existed in fact or only in fancy. I do recollect very well that a truculent portrait by Maclise of Macready as Macbeth, in the cauldron scene with the witches, hung on the wall opposite the fireplcae, and was constantly present to my very juvenile mind as a kind of nightmore note to be equalled for its power of inspiring terror; but I am inclined to think that the Roman himself only existed in the mind's eye of the writer.
    Crossing "the Fields," we come to New Square, Lincoln's Inn, where Miss Flite had her first interview with Richard, and Ada, and Esther (the Courts in Old Square have long since been pulled down), and close to where, as Esther tells us, "slipping us out at a little side gate, the old lady stopped most unexpectedly in a narrow back street, part of some courts and lanes immediately outside the wall of the Inn." Here, at the south-est corner of Chichester Rents, which gives access from Chancery Lane to the side entrance to New Square, is - or was, for when I last saw them, a few weeks ago, "the Rents" were about to be pulled down - without doubt the house that served as the model for Mr. Krook's establishment. There was no difficulty at all about recognising Miss Flite's lodging at the top of the house, a "pretty large room, from which she had a glimpse of the roof of Lincoln's Inn," while outside the long low garret window was the parapet on which Mr. Krook's cat, Lady Jane, crouched with murderous design on Miss Flite's birds - the only parapet in the neighbourhood available for such a purpose, it may be observed. This is all plain sailing enough so far; but (alas for the photographic accuracy people!) Mr. Krook's house is described as having a house to the west of it, while this at the corner, and the "Old Ship" Tavern which unquestionably was the original of the "Sol's Arms" - it had a large room on the first floor in which the inquest must have been held - is opposite, instead of next door. Various houses have been claimed as having been Mr. Snagsby's in Took's Court (Cook's Court), Cursitor Street, and Mr. Jellyby's in Thavies Inn (opened to the world by the Holborn Viaduct, and still, apparently, astonished at its sudden publicity), but not even the smallest evidence exists to support any of these conjectures.
    Out of London also "Bleak House" affords a very conclusive proof that Charles Dickens very rarely thought it necessary to actually reproduce the first sketch in the finished picture. Writing to the Hon. Mrs. Richard Watson, he said, "In some of the descriptions of Chesney Wold I have taken many bits, chiefly about trees and shadwos, from observations made at Rockingham"; and, in like manner, the great drawing-room and the terrace walk before its windows were transferred from Rockingham to Chesney Wold. But Rockingham Castle stands on a breezy hill in Northamptonshire, and Chesney Wold is placed in a flat, watery Lincolnshire landscape, and in scarcely any respect except that which I have mentioned is there any likeness between the two houses.
    In "Great Expectations" is a singularly interesting example of the same principle of working. If there is one thing on which the professors of Dickens topography are agreed, it is that the village of Cooling, on the Thames and Medway marshes, is the actual village in which Pip and the Gargerys lived - the actual identical place, and nothing else. And a reference in "Forster's Life" confirms their faith. "It is strange," he writes, "as I transcribe the words, with what wonderful vividness they bring back the very spot on which we stood when he said he meant to make it the scene of the opening of his story - Cooling Castle ruins [-348-]



and the desolate church, lying out among the marshes seven miles from Gadshill." That Charles Dickens did start "Great Expectations" with Cooling village and church before him - the ruins of Cooling Castle are not even suggested in the book - is an undoubted fact, as I have heard from himself when walking in those parts. But a visit to the place itself will very soon demonstrate how quickly, though perhaps unconsciously, he altered and adjusted his scene in accordance with the requirements of his story. The marshes themselves are, of course, unaltered, and the fine descriptions of them in the book are extraordinarily close and true; but there is more than one church - the old parish church at Lower Higham for one - which would answer the general purpose quite as well as that at Cooling. That Cooling churchyard is that from which the original sketch was made is clear enough, not only by the author's own statement on the subkect, but also from the fact that it contains the "little stone lozenges, eacvh about a foot and a half long," which were sacred to the memory of Pip's little brothers and sisters, and implanted in his mindthe firm belief that "they had all been born on their backs with their hands in their trousers pockets and had never taken them out in this state of existence." But so much of absolute exactitude in the way of description, as is otherwise contained in those parts of the book which deals with the marsh country, applies only to the landscape. Furthermore, it is worth of notice that, although Restoration House in Rochester was most certainly the original of Satis House in the book, and the Medway Hulks [-349-] are plain enough in the story, neither Rochester nor Chatham nor Gravesend in the least answers to Pip's market town, in the accounts of which there are no sailors, soldiers, fishermen, dockyards, Castle or Cathedral. On the other hand, when I read that "Mr. Pumblechook appeared to conduct his business by looking across the street at the saddler, who appeared to transact his business by keeping his eye on the coachmaker, who appeared to get on in life by putting his hands in his pockets and contemplating the baker, who in his turn folded his arms and stared at the grocer, who stood at his door and yawned at the chemist," I am irresistibly  reminded of a slack day in the main street of Rochester as I knew it twenty years and more ago.
    Other of Pip's residences were plainly enough described as having been in Garden Court in the Temple, and in Barnard's Inn, Holborn. The former house was pulled down years ago, and Pip would not be able to recognise Garden Court now - indeed, the Temple has been pulled about and altered in a most extraordinary fashion since Charles Dickens made it the scene of so many incidents in his books - while Barnard's Inn has been taken by one of the great City companies for its school But the Mercers have made their alterations gently enough, and in adapting the place to the requirements of their boys have retained the old hall, and the best of the old buildings, and Barnard's is very much improved since the time when Joe Gargery characterised it as a "close spot," and declared that he wouldn't keep a pig in it himself "not in the  case that I wished him to fatten wholesome and to eat with a meller flavour on him."
    Barnard's neighbour, Staple Inn, which figures so largely in "Edwin Drood," has undergone but little change, except on the south side; and even here the march of improvement has stopped short at Mr. Grewgious's house, with its S P T inscription. Down at Rochester, Eastgate House (the nun's house of the book), Minor Canon Row, the Gate House entrance to the Cathedral Close, and all the other "Edwin Drood" scenes, are little, if at all, altered. But it may be remarked that Charles Dickens, requiring a weir for the discovery by Mr. Crisparkle of Edwin's missing jewellery, placed one at Cloisterham, although, in fact, there is no such thing on the Medway, for a considerable distance above Rochester.
    "David Copperfield" has not been so much or so closely examined by the topographical commentators as most of the other books, probably for the reason that the fragment of autobiography which it contains, and the consequent pressing necessity for endeavouring to fit all the story of David into the known facts of Charles Dickens's life, has been felt to the proper subject for study in this connection. Down Yarmouth way all the localities have been carefully - if in some instances incorrectly - identified and there were, not many years ago, plenty of people who knew all about Blunderstone Rookery, and had had close acquaintance with Mr. Chillip, the meek little doctor. And yet Mr. Chillip was sketched from our family medical attendant in the old Devonshire Terrace days, and never had anything at all to do with Suffolk, while it is at least an open question whether Charles Dickens ever saw Blunderstone at all. Writing to Mrs. Watson about Lowestoft and the connection of all that country with "David Copperfield," he said, "I saw the name Blunderstone on a directrion-post between it and Yarmouth, and took it from the said direction-post for the book" - but he does not describe a visit to the place itself.
    I have seen in (American) print a triumphant account of the absolute identification of Miss Betsey Trotwood's house on the cliff at Dover, the principal evidence in the case relating to the green over which Miss Trotwood believed herself to have [-350-]

jurisdiction as regarded the incursions of donkeys; and very much impressed I should have been, no doubt, with the writer's industry and ingenuity, if I had not unfortunately happened to know of my own knowledge that he was altogether wrong. The Trotwood donkey-fights did not take place at Dover at all, but at Broadstairs; where a certain Miss Strong - a charming old lady who was always most kind to me as a small boy, and to whose cakes and tea I still look back with fond and unsatisfied regret - lived in a little double-fronted cottage in the middle of Nuckell's Place, on the sea front, firmly convinced of her right to stop the passage of donkeys along the road in front of her door. Never shall I forget being carried by a wilful donkey, who evidently enjoyed the fun, across this sacred ground, and seeing my old friend making vigorously hostile demonstrations at me with the hearth-broom. It was a long time before she could be brought to understand that I really had been an unwilling and perfectly innocent trespasser. Broadstairs, by the way, is distinguished by a characteristically baseless, but universally believed, Dickens tradition. It is said - indeed, it is hardly safe at Broadstairs to throw any doubt on the story - that a great part of "Bleak House" was written in the tall house by the coastguard station above the little pier, which was formerly called Fort House, but is now generally known as Bleak House. As a matter of fact, not a line of "Bleak House" was written there, although a good deal of "Copperfield" was.
    David Copperfield once lived in Buckingham Street, Strand; and so did Charles Dickens, before he took up his abode in Furnival's Inn, although the circumstance is not mentioned by Forster, and is not, I think, generally known. The rooms were, as described in the book, at the top of one of the end houses, and looked over the river and the dirty ragged foreshore, instead of having, as to-day, a brieght and cheerful view of the Embankment Gardens. Whether the railway bridge and [-351-] stations are pleasanter neighbours than old Hungerford Market - there was no bridge in those days - must be a matter of opinion. I should like to think that Charles Dickens lived at No.14, on the west side, as one of greatest friends, Clarkson Stanfield, had rooms there when he first began scene-painting; but William Etty, the painter, occupied the upper floors of that house all through the thirties, and Charles Dickens, if he lived in David Copperfield's rooms - as I have no doubt he did - must have kept house on the top floor of No.15 on the east side, a house which displays a tablet commemorating its one-time tenancy by Peter the Great, Czar of all the Russias.
    The construction of Holborn Viaduct, of Farringdon Road, and of New Smithfield, swept away number of interesting and real Dickens localities - the old "Belle Sauvage" on Snow Hill of "Nicholas Nickleby"; the filthy Field Lane, with its receivers of stolen goods, of "Oliver Twist", among others - while we can only wonder what sotr of people our fathers and grandfathers must have been to tolerate for so long the Smithfield Market of which we read in "Oliver Twist" and "Great Expectations". In Holborn there still stands the "Bull" of Martin Chuzzlewit, where, according to the unimpeachable authority Mrs. Prig, "the drinks is all good" - or were, at all events, in her time. Next door at the "Old Bell" is one of the few specimens of the old galleried inn-yards still left in the heart of London, which gives a very fair idea of what the "White Hart" in the Borough was befire it was modernised.
    The London of Mr. Pickwick has practically disappeared, but as we might now appropriatrely give "Pickwick" the sub-title of "Waverley," "'Tis Sixty Years Since", the fact is not surprising when we consider the extraordinary and far-reaching changes of all sorts which the latter half - or, for the matter of that, the last quarter - of a century has seen. Almost all the places and streets described in the book have been swept away or improved out of all knowledge. The "White Hart" in the [-352-]  Borough affords no trace of its former self; the "Golden Cross" is another house altogether, that from which Mr. Pickwick started for Rochester, and in which David Copperfield stayed, having been cleared bodily away to make room for the construction of Trafalgar Square; Mr. Perker's chambers in Gray's Inn - the Inn is also associated with Copperfield and Traddles - still remain, but the surrounding neighbourhood is unrecognisable; and Mr. Lowten would be  much puzzled to point out even the site of his favourite " Magpie and Stump". Perhaps the only Pickwickian scene which is practically unchanged is that of the famous Bardell and Raddle tea-party - the old " Spaniards" tea-gardens on Hampstead Heath. But even that is now threatened by the great new town which is fast springing up between Highgate and Finchley, and, indeed, all about that neighbourhood. Many of the country towns mentioned in "Pickwickc " have changed but little, and, as they are almost all described under their own names, do not impose any tax on the ingenuity of guessers. Of the exceptions we might, perhaps, be safe in reading Town Malling in Norwich for Eatanswill - making due allowance, in each case, for the author's heightening touches.
    There is, by-the-bye, an almost inexplicable slip in "Pickwick" in the account of Mr. Winkle's unpleasant experience in Royal Crescent, Bath, with Mrs. Dowler, Mr. Dowler and the sedan-chair. When Mr. Dowler, armed with a small supper knife, rushed into the street after Mr. Winkle, that gentlenman, it w ill be remembered, did not show fight, but "took to his heels, and tore round the Crescent, hotly pursued by Dowler and the watchman. He kept ahead, the door was open as he came round the second time; he rushed in" and so on. Unfortunately the manoeuvre here described is impossible of execution. Royal Crescent is really a Crescent, and Mr. Winkle could by no means have run round it. When you come to either end there is nothing to be done but to retrace your steps — a proceeding which would have had the effect of promptly confronting Mr. Winkle with the infuriated Dowler. Evidently, what Charles Dickens was thinking about when he wrote this description was the Circus, which is close to the Crescent; but this confusion by the writer of two actual places which he knew perfectly well is not encouraging for people who want to settle all the Imaginative topography on strictly scientific principles.
    And, as it is of the places, so also is it of the people. The number of individuals who have been positively and unhesitatingly identified as the originals of almost all the characters in Charles Dickens's books is absolutely overwhelming. The fact bears the highest testimony to the writer's power of endowing his fictitious characters with life, and is not the least of the many proofs of the singular kind of personal interest which the public has always taken in him and his books ; but it presents its points of difficulty too.
    I do not think that, when I was travelling all over the country giving Dickens Readings, and being hospitably entertained at all sorts of houses, and acquiring a remarkable experience of all sorts of hotels, I heard of more than fifty originals of Sam Weller - but I certainly heard of no fewer. Sam had been rgoom to Mr. This and gardener to Mr. That, and odd man at the "George," and ostler at the "King's Head," and had followed all sorts of similar avocations. As a rule he was dead when I heard of him, but occasionally still survived. In the latter case it seldom happened that he was available for interviewing purposes; and even when he was, it somehow always so fell out that an appointment could not be made. A good many peoiple who told me about the local Sam Weller clearly knew that he was a mere hallucination, but did not like to refuse public expression of belief in him, from the  [-353-]



feeling that he reflected some certain amount of credit on the town; but there were others who really had firm faith in the tradition and obviously conceived rather a low opinion of me if I hestitated a doubt. As for Mr. Weller Senior, I think I may safely say that I have never been in a town or village which as famous in the old coaching days without hearing of him. Mrs. Lynn Linton, who lived at Gadshill in early life, declares with all her usual positiveness that the real original man was one Chumley, who drove the Rochester coach, and, for all I know, she may be right. But my conviction is that Tony, like so many of Charles Dickens's characters, was a compound made up from observation of many men - "a kind of plaid," as Bob Sawyer has it. 
     Of course, many points of many people have been reproduced in Charles Dickens's books, but there are few, very few, cases in which absolute portraits are to be found. Of those, the bullying police magistrate in "Oliver Twist" is one, havinh been taken bodily from a Mr. Laing of Hatton Garden Police Court notoriety. Lawrence Boythorn is Walter Savage Landor. The original of Miss Mowcher found the portrait as lifelike that she was moved to bitter remonstrance, with the result that the little chiropodist's share in the working out of the plot of "David Copperfield" was entirely reconsidered and altered. One Shaw, a Yorkshire schoolmaster, claimed to be the very Squeers himself, because all the neighbours said he was so like him. Leigh Hunt was grievously hurt by Harold Skimpole, and, I think, reasonably; for it was almost impossible to separate the innocent peculiarities [-354-] of Hunt, which were made extensive use of, from the contempible characteristics of Skimpole.
    A letter which Charles Dickens wrote to Leigh Hunt at this time is very noteworthy as illustrating his method of work, as well as for its bearing on the point of view I have adopted in writing this paper. "Every one," it said, "in writing must speak from points of his experience, and so I of mine with you; but when I felt it was going too locse I stopped myself, and the most blotted parts of my MS. are those in which I have been striving hard to make the impression I was writing from un-like you. The diary writing I took from Haydon, not from you. I now first learn from yourself that you ever set anything to music, and I could not have copied that from you. The character is not you, for there are traits in it common to fifty thousand besides, and I did not fancy you would ever recognise it. Under similar disguises my own father and mother are in my books, and you might as well see your likeness in Micawber." Or, for the matter of that, the likeness of my grandfather, who was the original sketch for Micawber, but who, except as to the unfortunate circumstances which are detailed in the autobiographical fragment, and an incurable propensity for fine language and pompous letter-writing, resembled the grotesque figure in the book in no particular. Similarly, it was only my grandmother's somewhat involved and discursive style of narrative, and not the woman herself, that is reproduced in Mrs. Nickleby. Nor is "David Copperfield" in any sense an autobiography, except asa to the portion I have already indicated. Perhaps the fact that David was a parliamentary reporter, and afterwards a successful novelist, first led people (many people) into the mistake of supposing that it was, while the belief was confirmed by the publication of the autobiographical fragment in Forster's Life. But "Copperfield" is not an autobiography, all the same.
     There was another case in which Charles Dickens avowedly took a model, but departed from it so much that what is left looks almost like mere coincidence. This was John Sadleir, of infamous memory. "I shaped Mr. Merdle himself," Charles Dickens wrote, "out of that rascality." But, except that they were both egregious swindlers and robbers through the medium of a bank, and that both committed suicide when they found that detection  and punishment could not longer be avoided, there is nothing in common between the mean, sneaking rascal of "Little Dorrit" and the bold, pushing, adventuous Irish politician of the Tipperary Bank and the Royal Swedish Railway Company.
    I may add that I have known originals of Volumnia Dedlock, of Rosa Dartle, and of dozens of others, in the limited sense that certain salient peculiarities of these originals were added on to the characters of the story. Bits of Forster are scattered all over the books, in characters with which, as a whole, there is no possibility of identifying him. I went to school with a young lady who was in no respect like Miss Blimber, except that she was - a little in advance of her time only - an excellent classical scholar, and taught the boys in her father's school, but who, nevertheless, suggested the fair Cornelia. The Miss Strong whom I have mentioned had no sort of resemblance to Miss Trotwood, except as to the donkey craze. There is a little analysis of my own character, as it appeared to my father then, in "Great Expectations", although otherwise I had nothing to do with the book.
    Let me conclude by quoting the words of a writer in the Academy who, in an appreciative notice of Mr. Fitzgerald's book, said: "Dickens, like Turner, in the sister art of painting, like all real artists indeed, used nature, no doubt, but used it as being his slave and in no wise his master. He was not content simply to reproduce the places, persons, things, that he had seen and known. He passed them through the crucible of his imagination, fused them, re-combined their elements, changed them into something richer and rare, gave them forth as products of his art. Are we not doing him some disservice when we try to reverse the process?
    With these words I most cordially agree.

CHARLES DICKENS THE YOUNGER.
  

 

 

'The Old Curiosity Shop' Pall Mall Gazette 1st January 1884

[added 21st February 2018]
 

“I'm gettin' heartily sick on't!" exclaimed the lady of the house, a genial, pleasant soul, with humor in her eye, to our representative when he called upon her to ask permission to explore No. 14 Portsmouth street. And not without reason indeed, for Dickens' "Old Curiosity Shop" and the street where it stands are constantly crowded with visitors and sightseers. "And one well-dressed person," said my hostess, with a sniff of contempt, "asked me if he might take a brick away with him as a relic! 'I will smooth it down, and it shall be an heirloom in my family forever.' A lunatic, I call him. And who knows but he beats his wife?" But this gentleman, brimming over with sentiment, walked off with a brick under his coat, nevertheless. Many artists have visited the spot lately, for it is to be torn down, and many sketches from every point of the compass have been taken. Yesterday, in the short space of half an hour, a photographer blocked up Sheffield street with his camera, three reporters were busy taking notes, and two other gentlemen were hard at work sketching the ruins, much to the amusement of the odd fish who constitute the "neighbourhood." Even during the few minutes I spent in the upper regions of No.14 one lady (of a certain age) came up the creaking steps, peering in, apologized for the intrusion, viewed the chaos, remarked that it was a pity, and descended. “I come from Boston,” I heard her murmur. It may be said, en parethese, that a roaring trade is being done in little pictures of the exterior, which may be had for “2d. plain” and “4d. coloured”. Miss Anderson is a constant visitor (so I was told, and insists upon drinking a dish of tea in the parlor when the parlor is once more cozy and rejuvenated. “A charming young lady and so affable.”

"The Old Curiosity Shop" stands in the southwest corner of Lincoln's-inn fields, and occupies an angle of Portsmouth street, one window looking northwest, the other two facing Sheffield street. The red tiles and the overhanging roof have a quaint, old-fashioned air about them, and afford a pleasant relief from the hideous yellow plaster on which is painted in great vulgar letters the name with which it has been endowed. "Immortalized by Dickens," and just below in unholy contrast, "H. Poole. waste-paper dealer," some rag collector, who will give such an advertisement as many a pushing politician would give his eye for. Heavy joists give the house support now, and the yawning gap overhead shows the ruined mass of bricks and mortar. Half the construction has tumbled in, the other half remains intact. At the present, the house, which is said to be 300 years old, contains four rooms, two on the ground floor, and two above them, each pair being divided by a communication from one floor to the other. The lower room not left opens on to the street, and may best be described as a small space enclosed by numerous angles. Heavy sloping beams jut out from the low ceiling, the window of ancient make, the fireplace stands in one corner, in another a thin slit of a door open on to the yard at the back where the waste paper business is conducted. A little window made in the wooden partition looks into the other room, which is now black chaos, the theory being that these two were once united, and here was stored that marvellous collection, the suits of mail, the fantastic carvings, the rusty weapons, the figures in china, wood, iron and ivory, the tapestry and strange furniture.

Mounting the crooking staircase a few steps take one to Little Nell’s reputed bedroom, a dismal, gruesome apartment about 9ft square, and as many in height. One little window lets in what passes for light in Portsmouth-street, which serves only to reveal the gloominess of the surroundings. This is used as a bedroom by the occupants of the house, but at present it has the appearance of a receptacle for lumber. Most the space is occupied by an ordinary iron bedstead on which were a few dusty pictures, a meat-cover, and a doormat. A few chairs are on the floor, a few engravings and a plaster plaque of Dickens adorn the walls. The floor is thick with the dust from the ruins, and here and there are a few old hangings, odd bits of carpet, and some empty bottles. The fireplace is stone, painted black, and on the mantel-shelf is a model of a ship under a glass cover. In one corner is a quaint old cupboard. A portion of this little chamber is cut off by the top of the staircase, which is supposed to gain some light from a window covered with a heavy coat of yellow paint. Below this are fixed some shelves, where a few bundles of musty papers and old books lie neglected and forgotten. One lingers for a moment at the door, endeavouring to conjure up a vision of the most beautiful of Dickens’s creations, but one conjures in vain. Little Nell refuses to appear. Looking through a little window, a foot square, one secs the ruin in the next room, where the full stock has been felt, where now a mass of rubbish is strewn on the floor.

The controversy rages meanwhile with unabated vigour. But when all is said we fear the “Old Curiosity Shop” at No. 14 Portsmouth-street, is a sham. We have ventured to ask Miss Hogarth for any information respecting the house, but the locality was unfortunately never pointed out to her, and she is unable to speak authoritatively. “My impression is," she writes, "that the identifying of this particular house is a mistake ; but I always imagined the place to be more remote. I do not suppose that any one lives now who could throw any light on the matter. Mr. Forster might have known, and George Cattermole and Hablot Brown, certainly." It is pointed out that in the original edition of “Master Humphrey's Clock," Cattermole, who drew the picture of the interior in "The Old Curiosity Shop," showed the house with a step and a spacious portico ''reaching nearly as high as No. 14.; does in its entirety." And further, "at the conclusion of the story, Dickens wrote that Kit sometimes took his children to the street where Nell had lived, but new improvements had altered it so much it was not like the same. The old house had been long ago pulled down, and a fine broad road was in its place." And again, Mr. Charles Tesseyman says that his brother occupied No. 14 between 1868 and 1877, and had the words "The Old Curiosity Shop" placed over the front "for purely business purposes, as likely to attract custom to his shop, he being a dealer in books, paintings, old china, and so on. Before that—that is, before my brother had the words put up—no suggestion had ever been made" that the place was the veritable house that Dickens immortalized.

All this excitement about what is really a very small matter is indeed a handsome tribute to the genius of Dickens. But the great novelist himself would have been the first to deprecate the storm of sentiment which is raging about this poor tumbledown tenement. The cynic may well smile softly to himself at these sham tears which are being shed in such profusion over the memory of Little Nell. For he need but go a score of yards away to find himself amidst the hideous shambles of Clare Market. There is revealed a network of black and sombre slums, upon which the sun never shines but to lighten up with a few dim rays the festering heaps of rubbish. North, south, east, west, in a circumscribed area run these grim and tortuous things called by courtesy streets. Here may be seen tottering, ramshackle houses, and protecting eaves, any one of which might with as great a degree of probability be selected as a competitor in the “Old Curiosity Shop.” Here are old shops with their cracked, dusty windows and repellent interiors, blocked up with what it is the custom to call bric-a-brac. And here may be seen men, women, and children who would gladly sit as models of low life to the next novelist in search of a character.

But “The Old Curiosity Shop" is doomed. At some not very remote period the traffic will be rolling; over its site and London will know it no more. Once on time a model of Shakspeare's house was built at the Crystal Palace for the edification of visitors. The Americans came and begged for it, imitation as it was. Here is a suggestion. Let those American admirers who come to worship at this Portsmouth-street Mecca start a subscription, and transport No. 14— bag and baggage, beams and bricks —bodily to New York, and set it up there in Madison-square. Or, better still; the great Barnum is always open to a bargain. His agent, Mr. Davis, is now in town. Let him buy it. Apparently the investment would be profitable, and the pilgrims would be none the less devout because the shrine lay at their own doors.

a late-19th century photograph ...

a contemporary photograph ...