Charles Dickens in Boston

On his second tour of the United States in the late 1860s, Charles Dickens took rooms at the Parker House in Boston. This hotel was his headquarters for five months between 1867 and 1868, during which time he traveled extensively among other cities. Next door at the Tremont Temple he gave the first American reading of A Christmas Carol—from memory—together with the trial scene from Pickwick, a perennial favorite with audiences.

The Parker House was torn down and rebuilt in stages during the 1920s, with the present building completed in 1927. Two artifacts related to Dickens and his residency can still be found on site. The first is a mirror in which he rehearsed. On stage he would seem to transform into the various characters from his books, not only in voice, but in body and mannerism.

If you find yourself at the Parker House, you will see his mirror on the mezzanine floor, to the left of the elevator bank.

The second artifact is the very door to the suite of rooms that he occupied, with the numbers 138 and 139 affixed. This was salvaged during the demolition of the original building and stands in a small gallery downstairs from the lobby.

See also: Dickens and the Stage.

Dickens at 210

“Then came the time when, inseparable from one’s own birthday, was a certain sense of merit, a consciousness of well-earned distinction. When I regarded my birthday as a graceful achievement of my own, a monument of my perseverance, independence, and good sense, redounding greatly to my honour.”—Charles Dickens, The Uncommercial Traveller.

The great Boz was born on this day in 1812. I commend to your attention the following excerpts from my book Victoriana:

Dickens and the Stage
A Ghost Story for Christmas

and assorted Dickensian posts:

London By Gaslight
A Map of Dickensian London
A Lost Portrait of Charles Dickens Rediscovered
A Portrait of Charles Dickens Returns Home
A Dickensian Shop Sign

See also:

Dickens at 209.

Dickens at 209

“I always go to bed at eight o’clock, except when it is my birthday, and then I sit up to supper.”—Charles Dickens, letter to Hastings Hughes, December 12, 1838.

“This is my birthday. Many happy returns of the day to you and me. I took it into my head yesterday to get up an impromptu dinner on this auspicious occasion—only my own folks, Leigh Hunt, [Harrison] Ainsworth, and [John] Forster.”—Charles Dickens, letter to J. P. Harley, February 7, 1839.

The great Boz was born on this day in 1812. I commend to your attention the following excerpts from my book Victoriana:

Dickens and the Stage
A Ghost Story for Christmas

and assorted Dickensian posts:

London By Gaslight
A Map of Dickensian London
A Lost Portrait of Charles Dickens Rediscovered
A Portrait of Charles Dickens Returns Home
A Dickensian Shop Sign

Introduction to Victoriana

VICTORIANA: ARTS, LETTERS, AND CURIOSITIES OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
Hardcover, 160 pp (New York: Castle Imprint, 2019)
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“That after men might turn the page / And light on fancies true & sweet / And kindle with a loyal heat / To fair Victoria’s golden age”—Alfred, Lord Tennyson, To the Queen (draft), 1851.

The reign of Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1901 coincided with an unprecedented flourishing of invention, industry, and creativity in Britain. The transatlantic telegraph, Bessemer steel, modern sewage systems, and the first forays into analytical computing were all introduced during this time, when the British Empire governed a quarter of the globe. In the Anglosphere of the twenty-first century we have inherited the technologies of the nineteenth century but we have not inherited the culture that once contained them. The World Wars obliterated that culture. In the crisis of the early twentieth century the context in which the modern world had been developing was suddenly removed.

Was a different modernity possible? Something more romantic? Something more authentic? A future of dirigibles, telephones, Prussian and Russian monarchy on the Continent, railways (instead of motorways), heritage crafts, muscular Christianity, classical education, art and architecture that continued to develop within the Western vernacular not against it?

The Victorian period occupies a special place in our popular culture. Every year it is recreated on page, stage, and screen in pastiche. No other era is revisited with such regularity. What is it that fascinates us? I believe we see in the Victorian past a future that might have been. Or that might yet be. The Victorians were forced by the exigencies of history to find a balance between tradition and innovation, hierarchy and populism, community and individuality, the old and the new. These forces coexisted, if not always comfortably, then at least sympathetically and effectively. We have lost that balance. Sooner or later the exigencies of our own history will demand that we strike it again.

This book involves a cultural history of nineteenth-century Britain. I write “a” cultural history and not “the” cultural history because it is by no means exhaustive. The major figures in arts and letters are examined in detail: Charles Dickens and the Pre-Raphaelite painters particularly. But you will read nothing of Darwin, Marx, or Freud. And you will read rather more about Thomas De Quincey than you might in another book about the period. Insomuch as I have written a general introduction to Victorian arts and letters, I have also, necessarily, written a very personal one. I trust that you will encounter in these pages interesting people and works previously unfamiliar, and familiar ones from unexpected angles. If I am successful you will come any with a touchstone to that lost future that still fascinates us. What you will make of it (indeed, what we will make of it as a society) remains to be seen.

A Dickensian Collection Returns Home

The Standard reports:

A huge “treasure trove” is being brought to the Charles Dickens Museum after a £1.8 million deal struck with the owner of the world’s largest private collection.

Among the more than 300 items are previously unseen letters and original artwork from books such as Oliver Twist. Cindy Sughrue, the director of the museum, which is based in Doughty Street, said the haul was a “once in a generation” offer.

It took three years to organise after they were first approached by the American owner. She said the man, who developed an interest in Dickens after reading Oliver Twist as a boy, came from “fairly humble beginnings but became a successful businessman and the first thing he bought was a first edition of Oliver Twist”.

The collection was built up over four decades.

Among the items they chose to bring back to London were jewellery belonging to Dickens, 25 books from his own library and letters covering everything from his travels over “a sea of ice” in Switzerland to his instructions for a dinner party where guests were to have “a good supply of champagne” but the gin was to be kept “in ice under the table” just for him and a close friend.

The First Christmas Card

In 1843 Henry Cole sent the first Christmas card. Cole was a British civil servant, later the founding director of the Victoria & Albert Museum. According to an article on the V&A website, he was “instrumental in reforming the British postal system, helping to set up the Uniform Penny Post which encouraged the sending of seasonal greetings on decorated letterheads and visiting cards.”

The same year that Dickens published A Christmas Carol, Cole commissioned a properly Pickwickian illustration by the artist John Callcott Horsley, which he reproduced on 1000 cards. These were “offered for sale at a shilling a piece, which was expensive at the time, and the venture was judged a commercial flop.” Though we now know it was ahead of its time.

Twenty-one copies of the card have survived. One of them is on display at the Charles Dickens Museum in London through April 2020 as part of the exhibition Beautiful Books: Dickens and the Business of Christmas.

A Portrait of Charles Dickens Returns Home

DickensGillies

Last November I wrote about the rediscovery of an 1843 portrait of Charles Dickens by Margaret Gillies. The poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote that it depicted “the dust and mud of humanity about him, notwithstanding those eagle eyes.” The much deteriorated portrait was sold as junk at a market in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa in 2017, subsequently identified and restored by British art dealers Philip Mould and Company, and unveiled at The Dickens Museum in the author’s former home, 48 Doughty Street, London.

The museum launched a fundraising campaign to purchase the portrait from Philip Mould and Company for £180,000. Today the Dickens Museum announced that it has acquired the painting:

The Gillies portrait will go on display from 24th October 2019 and will be a highlight of the festive season. The portrait will become a regular part of the Museum’s programme of displays, though it will require times away from display to preserve the quality of the 176-year-old watercolour.

Read more about the acquisition at here.

Victoriana, Coming Soon

My second book, Victoriana, will be published later this month by Castle Imprint. The official release date is May 21. From the Castle Imprint website:

The reign of Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1901 coincided with an unprecedented flourishing of invention, industry, and creativity within her realm. This volume offers a general introduction to the arts and letters of nineteenth century Britain with authoritative analysis. Historian Nick Louras describes a civilization involved in a process of renewal, whereby historical forms and traditions were drawn into a culture of innovation, to create a society that was both rooted and forward-looking, traditional and vital. He examines the influence of Charles Dickens, the Pre-Raphaelites, Lord Tennyson, John Ruskin, Thomas De Quincey, and the Queen herself to reconstruct that society for the reader.

A Lost Portrait of Dickens Rediscovered

DickensGillies
Portrait of Charles John Huffman Dickens (1812-1870), wearing dark jacket and cravat, white waistcoat, his dark hair worn collar-length in long curls, by Margaret Gillies RWS, 1843; Photo: Philip Mould & Company

An 1843 portrait of Charles Dickens was rediscovered in South Africa after being lost for 174 years. At a market in Pietermaritzburg last year, “[a] man paid the equivalent of £27 for a cardboard tray containing a metal lobster, an old recorder, a brass plate and a small painting which was so covered with mould that the face could barely be made out,” writes Mark Brown in The Guardian.

The painting has been identified as a portrait of Dickens by Margaret Gillies, which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1844. Gillies painted the novelist during the very weeks when he first began writing A Christmas Carol. The poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote that it depicted “the dust and mud of humanity about him, notwithstanding those eagle eyes.” Gillies had lost track of the painting by 1860. It seems to have been in the possession of a brother-in-law of her adopted daughter when he emigrated to South Africa in the 1860s.

The portrait is being unveiled today in London at The Dickens Museum where it will hopefully become part of the permanent collection. The museum is trying to raise funds to purchase it from the London art dealers Philip Mould and Company for £180,000. To support this effort, donate here.

A Map of Dickensian London

The writers at Londonist created this map of real-life London locations featured in the novels of Charles Dickens.

The map (embedded below) marks sites mentioned in the novels but also “the many addresses that Dickens called home, so you can see how his novels often feature those areas he was most familiar with.”