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CHARLES DICKENS was born at Portsmouth, England, February 7, 1812 ; he died June 9, 1870. He was born of an obscure family, his father holding a small clerkship in a government office; he died perhaps the most widely known Englishman of his day, and he became widely known through the vast number of men, women, and children whom he imagined and then told stories about. Some one has counted the number, and it falls but little short of nineteen hundred. He had a childhood of varied experience. His family moved from place to place, and his father, a man of happygo-lucky temper, was part of the time obliged to be in prison, for in the early part of the century men who could not pay their debts were shut up in prison till they could.
This varied experience gave Dickens, who had a sensitive memory, a vast fund of material upon which he could draw when relating the childhood, as he often did, of the heroes of his stories. He had some schooling, and for a time was in a lawyer's office, but finally found a more congenial occupation as reporter on a daily newspaper. Here he was in his element, for he had a marvellously quick eye for whatever was a little out of the common, and a nimble
when he came to describe it. He was very fond also of going to the theatre, and at one time seriously considered whether he should not become an actor. If he had been an actor he would have been a very clever one, and might have written an actor's reminiscences. Instead of that, he played all his
life at being a player, taking part in a great many amateur performances, but made his real business story-telling.
His story-telling grew out of his reporter's work. He tried his hand at graphic sketches in the paper with which he was connected, and quickly discovered that he had a talent which he could use. A firm of young publishers wanted some sketches to accompany some comic pictures, and applied to Dickens. Out of this grew the famous Pickwick Papers. In a very short time, instead of Dickens writing to accompany an artist, artists were eager to draw pictures to accompany his writing. His splendid power of vivid portraiture enabled him to draw characters like Pickwick and Sam Weller that were welcomed with delight by readers, and his abounding spirit and good-natured fun kept him gayly throwing out story after story, and inventing more and more amusing personages.
His success was immediate, and perhaps somewhat intoxicating, for this constant drain on his faculty of imagination, and the demand of readers and publishers, left him no hours of rest. He travelled, coming twice to America, but more often going to France and Switzerland; he managed companies of amateur actors for this or that charity, and at last, finding how eager people were to hear him read his own stories, he added to his task of writing that of reading in public, and under this weight of forced work and worry broke down at last.
But he left behind him a great mass of fiction and narrative and sketches and plays, which has been published again and again as fresh readers come forward, and it is not likely that he will soon cease to be one of the most popular writers in the English language. One great reason for this is the sympathy which he showed with the poor. He was buried in Westminster Abbey, London, where great kings and greater poets lie. “ The funeral,” said Stanley, the Dean of Westminster, "was strictly private. It took place at an early hour in the summer morning, the grave having
been dug in secret the night before, and the vast solitary space of the Abbey was occupied only by the small band of the mourners, and the Abbey clergy, who, without any music, except the occasional peal of the organ, read the funeral service. For days the spot was visited by thousands. Many were the tears shed by the poorer
visitors.” Kingdoms and republics may change into new forms of social life, but the poor we have with us always, and Dickens was the poet, the prophet, the historian, the interpreter
of the poor.
THE SEVEN POOR TRAVELLERS.1
IN THE OLD CITY OF ROCHESTER.
STRICTLY speaking, there were only six Poor Travellers; but being a Traveller myself, though an idle one, and being withal as poor as I hope to be, I brought the number up to seven. This word of explanation is due at once, for what says the inscription over the quaint old door?
RICHARD WATTS, Esq.,
founded this Charity
for Six Poor Travellers,
and Fourpence each.
It was in the ancient little city of Rochester in Kent, of all the good days in the year upon a Christmas Eve, that I stood reading this inscription over the quaint old door in question. I had been wandering about the neighboring Cathedral, and had seen
1 Dickens, besides his famous Christmas stories, wrote from time to time, in company with friends, parts of groups of stories. Here, for instance, is the opening chapter of a collection, to which one and another contributed.