Happy 200th birthday, Charles Dickens (so much nicer to celebrate a birthday than a deathday). Dickens was nothing if not a prolific writer. Author of A Christmas Carol, Great Expectations, the Pickwick Papers…even if you haven’t read much of his work, you will have heard of some of it. And while many artists struggle for recognition in their lifetimes, he was wildly successful while alive – since then his books have never been out of print.
Most of his work was published serially, in instalments – rather like a soap opera today. Rather than write them all up in one go, he’d write to the same pace as the publishing, giving his stories a real rhythm, complete with cliff hangers. He’d have been perfectly happy writing today, I reckon.
His early life sounds like something out of one of his books – indeed characters from it found their way in. He was the second of eight children. His father lived beyond his means and ended up in debtors prison with the rest of the family while young Charles, aged 12, was sent to a family friend. Then he was moved to the back attic of a court-insolvency clerk (a fat, good-natured old man).
To pay his way and help his family, he had to leave school and work 10 hours a day in a blacking warehouse, pasting labels on shoe polish. Unsurprisingly, this treatment etched itself on his memory. Not just in characters for his books (one of the other boys there was called Bob Fagin, which he used in Oliver Twist), but in his thoughts on labour conditions and the economy – and the unreasonable work-load that was foisted on the poor and dispossessed.
An unexpected inheritance got his family out of prison, but his mother didn’t take him straight out of the workhouse. Unsurprisingly, he never really forgave her. Eventually though young Charles worked his way to a job at a law firm, learnt short hand and then became a freelance reporter…the rest writes itself.
To give you an idea of his popularity – on a trip to America, a “Boz Ball” (his early nom de plume was Boz) was held in his honour, 3,000 people came. He called in on the President. When he got back, Angela Coutts, heir to the Coutts Bank fortune, approached him to help set up a house for fallen women in Shepherds Bush, Great Ormond Street asked him to help with funding…he was a great philanthropist.
He died in 1870 after a series of strokes. He had wanted to be buried at Rochester Cathedral “in an inexpensive, unostentatious, and strictly private manner,” but was instead interred in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey. A printed epitaph that went around during the time of his funeral says: “To the Memory of Charles Dickens (England’s most popular author) who died at his residence, Higham, near Rochester, Kent, 9 June 1870, aged 58 years. He was a sympathiser with the poor, the suffering, and the oppressed; and by his death, one of England’s greatest writers is lost to the world.”
Dickens’s last words, as reported in his obituary in The Times were:
“Be natural my children. For the writer that is natural has fulfilled all the rules of art.”
Accidents will occur in the best regulated families.
I do not know the American gentleman, god forgive me for putting two such words together.
‘Tis love that makes the world go round, my baby.
Minds, like bodies, will often fall into a pimpled, ill-conditioned state from mere excess of comfort.
No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.
Reflect on your present blessings, of which every man has many; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.
Subdue your appetites, my dears, and you’ve conquered human nature.
Train up a fig tree in the way it should go, and when you are old sit under the shade of it.
With affection beaming out of one eye, and calculation shining out of the other.
It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known. (A Tale of Two Cities)
Any man may be in good spirits and good temper when he’s well dressed. There ain’t much credit in that.
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. (A Tale of Two Cities)
Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pound ought and six, result misery. (David Copperfield)
We need never be ashamed of our tears.
A boy’s story is the best that is ever told.
Nature gives to every time and season some beauties of its own; and from morning to night, as from the cradle to the grave, it is but a succession of changes so gentle and easy that we can scarcely mark their progress.
The first rule of business is: Do other men for they would do you.
A day wasted on others is not wasted on one’s self.
There is a wisdom of the head, and a wisdom of the heart.
This is a world of action, and not for moping and droning in.
There is nothing so strong or safe in an emergency of life as the simple truth.
A loving heart is the truest wisdom.
The men who learn endurance, are they who call the whole world, brother.
A person who can’t pay gets another person who can’t pay to guarantee that he can pay. Like a person with two wooden legs getting another person with two wooden legs to guarantee that he has got two natural legs. It don’t make either of them able to do a walking-match.
The civility which money will purchase, is rarely extended to those who have none.
May not the complaint, that common people are above their station, often take its rise in the fact of uncommon people being below theirs?
Cows are my passion. What I have ever sighed for has been to retreat to a Swiss farm, and live entirely surrounded by cows – and china.
No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of it to anyone else.
Oh the nerves, the nerves; the mysteries of this machine called man! Oh the little that unhinges it, poor creatures that we are!
Papa, potatoes, poultry, prunes and prism, are all very good words for the lips.
It opens the lungs, washes the countenance, exercises the eyes, and softens down the temper; so cry away.
The pain of parting is nothing to the joy of meeting again.
It’s my old girl that advises. She has the head. But I never own to it before her. Discipline must be maintained.
There are only two styles of portrait painting; the serious and the smirk.
Reflect upon your present blessings of which every man has many – not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.
We forge the chains we wear in life.
Regrets are the natural property of grey hairs.
Renunciation remains sorrow, though a sorrow borne willingly.
Subdue your appetites, my dears, and you’ve conquered human nature.
In the little world in which children have their existence, whosoever brings them up, there is nothing so finely perceived and so finely felt, as injustice.
That sort of half sigh, which, accompanied by two or three slight nods of the head, is pity’s small change in general society.
The age of chivalry is past. Bores have succeeded to dragons.
Send forth the child and childish man together, and blush for the pride that libels our own old happy state, and gives its title to an ugly and distorted image.
The one great principle of English law is to make business for itself.
There are strings in the human heart that had better not be vibrated.
To conceal anything from those to whom I am attached, is not in my nature. I can never close my lips where I have opened my heart.
Vices are sometimes only virtues carried to excess!
We are so very ‘umble.
A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.
I only ask to be free. The butterflies are free.
Whatever I have tried to do in life, I have tried with all my heart to do it well; whatever I have devoted myself to, I have devoted myself completely; in great aims and in small I have always thoroughly been in earnest.
Fan the sinking flame of hilarity with the wing of friendship; and pass the rosy wine.
Great men are seldom over-scrupulous in the arrangement of their attire.
Have a heart that never hardens, and a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts.
When a man bleeds inwardly, it is a dangerous thing for himself; but when he laughs inwardly, it bodes no good to other people.
I have known a vast quantity of nonsense talked about bad men not looking you in the face. Don’t trust that conventional idea. Dishonesty will stare honesty out of countenance any day in the week, if there is anything to be got by it.
You don’t carry in your countenance a letter of recommendation.
It is a pleasant thing to reflect upon, and furnishes a complete answer to those who contend for the gradual degeneration of the human species, that every baby born into the world is a finer one than the last.
The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists.
There are dark shadows on the earth, but its lights are stronger in the contrast.
Although a skillful flatterer is a most delightful companion if you have him all to yourself, his taste becomes very doubtful when he takes to complimenting other people.
An idea, like a ghost, must be spoken to a little before it will explain itself.
Dignity, and even holiness too, sometimes, are more questions of coat and waistcoat than some people imagine.
Bring in the bottled lightning, a clean tumbler, and a corkscrew.
Charity begins at home, and justice begins next door.
Credit is a system whereby a person who can not pay gets another person who can not pay to guarantee that he can pay.
Do you spell it with a “V” or a “W”?’ inquired the judge. ‘That depends upon the taste and fancy of the speller, my Lord’.
He had but one eye and the pocket of prejudice runs in favor of two.
Home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than magician ever spoke, or spirit ever answered to, in the strongest conjuration.
I never could have done what I have done without the habits of punctuality, order, and diligence, without the determination to concentrate myself on one subject at a time.
If there were no bad people, there would be no good lawyers.
Most men are individuals no longer so far as their business, its activities, or its moralities are concerned. They are not units but fractions.
It is a melancholy truth that even great men have their poor relations.
Let us be moral. Let us contemplate existence.
It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.
Life is made of ever so many partings welded together.
Electric communication will never be a substitute for the face of someone who with their soul encourages another person to be brave and true.
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