Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 15.djvu/26

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Dickens
Dickens
20

of Scotland; Balfour's Annals; Spalding's Memorials; Gordon's Scots Affairs; State Papers, Dom. Ser. 1652-3; Douglas's Baronage of Scotland, i. 269-70; Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. vi. 457.]

T. F. H.

DICKENS, CHARLES (1812–1870) novelist, was born 7 Feb. 1812 at 387 Mile End Terrace, Commercial Road, Landport, Portsea. His father, John Dickens, a clerk in the navy pay office, with a salary of 80ɭ. a year, was then stationed in the Portsmouth dockyard. The wife of the first Lord Houghton told Mr. Wemyss Reid that Mrs. Dickens, mother of John, was housekeeper at Crewe, and famous for her powers of story-telling (Wemyss Reid, in Daily News, 8 Oct. 1887). John Dickens had eight children by his wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Charles Barrow, a lieutenant in the navy. The eldest, Fanny, was born in 1810. Charles, the second, was christened Charles John Huffam (erroneously entered Huffham in the register), but dropped the last two names. Charles Dickens remembered the little garden of the house at Portsea, though his father was recalled to London when he was only two years old. In 1816 (probably) the family moved to Chatham. Dickens was small and sickly; he amused himself by reading and by watching the games of other boys. His mother taught him his letters, and he pored over a small collection of books belonging to his father. Among them were ‘Tom Jones,’ the ‘Vicar of Wakefield,’ ‘Don Quixote,’ ‘Gil Blas,’ and especially Smollett’s novels, by which he was deeply impressed. He wrote an infantine tragedy called ‘Misnar,’ founded on the ‘Tales of the Genii.’ James Lamert, the stepson of his mother’s eldest sister, Mary (whose second husband was Dr. Lamert, an army surgeon at Chatham), had a taste for private theatricals. Lamert took Dickens to the theatre, in which the child greatly delighted. John Dickens’s salary was raised to 200ɭ. in 1819, and to 350ɭ. in 1820, at which amount it remained until he left the service, 9 March 1825. It was, however, made insufficient by his careless habits, and in 1821 he left his first house, 2 (now 11) Ordnance Terrace, for a smaller house, 18 St. Mary’s Place, next to a baptist chapel. Dickens was then sent to school with the minister, Mr. Giles (see Langton, Childhood of Dickens). In the winter of 1822-3 his father was recalled to Somerset House, and settled Bayham Street, Camden Town, whither his son followed in the spring. John Dickens, whose character is more or less represented by Micawber, was now in difficulties, and had to make a composition with his creditors. He was (as Dickens emphatically stated) a very affectionate father, and took a pride in his son’s precocious talents. Yet at this time (according to the same statement) he was entirely forgetful of the son’s claims to a decent education. In spite of the family difficulties, the eldest child, Fanny, was sent as a pupil to the Royal Academy of Music, but Charles was left to black his father’s boots, look after the younger children, and do small errands. Lamert made a little theatre for the child’s amusement. His mother’s elder brother Thomas Barrow, and a godfather took notice of him occasionally. The uncle lodged in the upper floor of a house in which a book-selling business was carried on, and the proprietress lent the child some books. His literary tastes were kept alive, and he tried his hand at writing a description of the uncle’s barber. His mother now made an attempt to retrieve the family fortunes by taking a house, 4 Gower Street North, where a brass plate announced ‘Mrs. Dickens’s establishment,’ but failed to attract any pupils. The father was at last arrested and carried to the Marshalsea, long afterwards described in ‘Little Dorrit.’ (Mr. Langton thinks that the prison was the king’s bench, where, as he says, there was a prisoner named Dorrett in 1824.) All the books and furniture went gradually to the pawnbroker’s. James Lamert had become manager of a blacking warehouse, and obtained a place for Dickens at 6s. or 7s. a week in the office at Hungerford Stairs. Dickens was treated as a mere drudge, and employed in making up parcels. He came home at night to the dismantled house in Gower Street with a reduced old lady, a Mrs. Roylance, the original of Mrs. Pipchin in ‘Dombey and Son.’ Another lodging was found for him near the prison with a family which is represented by the Garlands in his ‘Old Curiosity Shop.’ The elder Dickens at last took the benefit of the Insolvent Debtors Act, and moved first to Mrs. Roylance’s house, and then to a house in Somers Town. Dickens’s amazing faculty of observation is proved by the use made in his novels of all that he now saw, especially in the prison scenes of ‘Pickwick’ and in the earlier part of ‘David Copperfield.’ That he suffered acutely is proved by the singular bitterness shown in his own narrative printed by Forster. He felt himself degraded by his occupation. When his sister won a prize at the Royal Academy, he was deeply humiliated by the contrast of his own position, though