Ward's Book of Days.
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What happened on this day in history.
On this day in history in 1870, died Charles Dickens.
Dickens was an author who used his literary genius to construct politically outstanding works disguised as popular fiction.
Dickens was born in Portsmouth, the son of an impoverished naval clerk. His birthplace is now a Dickens Museum [393 Old Commercial Road, Portsmouth, Hampshire, PO1 4QL]. When Dickens was five years old, the family moved to Chatham in Kent. Much of the Kent landscape features in Great Expectations and other novels. From here they moved to Camden Town, where they lived in cramped accommodation, like Bob Cratchit. Dickens’ father was forever in debt, like Mr Micawber, and was imprisoned for debt in the Marshalsea, like Mr Dorrit. Dickens was obliged to work in a bottle factory, like David Copperfield and later became a law clerk like Uriah Heap.
Dickens found life as a clerk tedious and became a court reporter. In his spare time, he wrote a series of comic sketches, which he published under the name Boz. Encouraged by the success of these works, Dickens went on to write The Pickwick Papers, which was published in newspaper columns. Most of Dickens’ works were serialised before publication in book form. Writing then became Dickens’ life’s work. He wrote nineteen and a half novels, (Edwin Drood was unfinished at his death) and numerous short stories.
Dickens work was essentially political. He was a Tory and stood for the old patriarchal society where benign employers cared for honest servants who knew their place. He detested the Whig party, with their doctrine of Laissez-faire, where spiritual values are ignored in an industrial society, where profit comes first and the abject poor are confined to the workhouse. The gentle Mr Pickwick is a Tory. He supports the Buffs, the colour of the Tories and detests the Blues, the Whig Party. The detestable Scrooge is a forthright Whig. He supports the treadmill, the prisons and the union workhouses established by the Whigs. He would like those who cannot cope in a competitive society to ‘die and reduce the surplus population’. By contrast, the good employer is Mr Fezziwig who spends his spare profits on the care of his workforce. The name Fezziwig stands for ‘fuzzy wig’ as old-fashioned Tories continued to wear wigs well into the Nineteenth Century. Loyal employees like Wemmick enjoy a comfortable life in a pleasant home, while upstarts like Uriah Heap, who try to advance themselves, come to a bad end.
Dickens lived happily with his wife Catherine for 23 years and had 10 children, after which he left Catherine for his mistress, Nelly Ternan, on whom Nancy of Oliver Twist is based. On 9th June 1865, Dickens and Nelly were involved in the Great Staplehurst Railway Crash, in which they were mercifully uninjured. Ten of his fellow passengers were killed and forty-nine injured. Dickens aput aside the manuscript of Our Mutual Friend, on which he was working, and attended to the injured. It is said that Dickens never recovered from the trauma and he died five years later to the day.
Dickens was buried with great dignity in Westminster Abbey and not, as he had wished, in Rochester Cathedral. His wife and some of his ten children are buried in Highgate Cemetery West [Swains Lane, London, N6 6PJ].
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