These nice google images which regularly celebrate great men or women, be they writers, artists, philosophers, scientists, economists, politicians, humanitarians, always trigger my curiosity and I often click on them to know what man or woman is hiding behind…
On Tuesday, 7 February 2012, when I clicked on the Victorian style image you can see above, I discovered it celebrated the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Dickens, one of the most popular English authors in the world. Some of us will probably recognize on this image one or several characters of Dickens’s world. Ebenezer Scrooge, the central character of A Christmas Carol, whom you can see wandering about with his hurricane lamp, is one of my favourite ones. And I’ve not forgotten Pip, the lonely little boy we discover in the very first pages of Great Expectations, meditating in front of his parents’ gravestone, in a gloomy churchyard, while a mysterious and frightening character is looming about…
But what are the links between the great English writer and Scotland you may ask. That’s exactly what I’ve asked myself and tried to discover. The only thing which came to my mind then was a page I had read about Dickens’s feelings in front of the terrific mountains of Glencoe. These mountains deeply impressed us the first time we saw them and it’s one of our favourite places in Scotland.
In my next post, I will come back to Glencoe and to Dickens’s feelings about it, remembering today that 320 years ago, on 13 February 1692 a terrible massacre took place there which has never been forgotten in Scotland. It’s freezing cold now and I can’t help feeling how it must have been horrible for the surviving villagers of Glencoe to wander about in the snow in search of a refuge and what dreadful fate was awaiting them in the desolate surrounding mountains …
Charles Dickens went to Scotland several times and he became very popular there as a man, journalist and writer. He even received the freedom of the city in Edinburgh as described below, in the article of the Edinburgh Evening News.
Despite never mentioning it in his works, author Charles Dickens had strong links to Edinburgh
Published on Wednesday 28 December 2011:
“AS the chill morning fog lifted from Dunsapie Loch, the figure of a solitary man could be seen, gazing out towards the Firth of Forth, seemingly searching for inspiration.
Charles Dickens would stretch his legs in a daily walk across Arthur’s Seat every time he stayed in Edinburgh – a city to which the author said was always “like coming home”.
Whether he found what he was looking for as he stared at the water is anyone’s guess. After all, Edinburgh never appeared in any of his great literary works – even if it did play a huge part in his life.
Long before he was acclaimed around the world, Edinburgh had given him the freedom of the city. It also gave him his wife Catherine and some of his closest friends – Thomas Carlyle, Lord Henry Cockburn and Lord Francis Jeffrey – and it seems he drew on his experiences wandering the slums of the Old Town, to further galvanise his social reform campaigns.”
A very good source of information about Dickens’s life is the biography written by John Forster, one of the writer’s closest friend. When Charles Dickens died, at the age of 58, Forster was so deeply touched that he decided to devote all his time to the writing of a biography of his friend. We can find many extracts of their correspondence there.
Two chapters of The Life of Charles Dickens are devoted to the writer’s trips to Scotland: Chapter X entitled “In Edinburgh – 1841″ and Chapter XI entitled “In the Highlands – 1841″.
In chapter X, the extracts of Dickens’s letters give us a good idea of the young writer’s popularity in Edinburgh :
“I had a letter from Edinburgh this morning, announcing that Jeffrey’s* visit to London will be the week after next; telling me that he drives about Edinburgh declaring there has been ‘nothing so good as Nell since Cordelia,’ which he writes also to all manner of people and informing me of a desire in that romantic town to give me greeting and welcome. For this and other reasons I am disposed to make Scotland my destination in June rather than Ireland. Think, do think, meantime (here are ten good weeks), whether you couldn’t, by some effort worthy of the owner of the gigantic helmet, go with us. Think of such a fortnight – York, Carlisle, Berwick, your own Borders, Edinburgh, Rob Roy’s country, railroads, cathedrals, country inns, Arthur’s seat, lochs, glens, and home by sea. DO think of this, seriously, at leisure.”
“His first letter from Edinburgh, where he and Mrs Dickens had taken up quarters at the Royal-hotel on their arrival the previous night, is dated 23 June. ‘I have been this morning to the Parliament-house, and am now introduced (I hope) to everybody in Edinburgh. The hotel is perfectly besieged, and I have been forced to take refuge in a sequestered apartment at the end of a long passage, wherein I write this letter. They talk of 300 at the dinner. We are very well off in point of rooms, having a handsome sitting-room, another next to it for Clock purposes, a spacious bedroom, and large dressing-room adjoining. The castle is in front of the windows, and the view noble. There was a supper ready last night which would have been a dinner anywhere (..) We are engaged for every day of our stay, already; but the people I have seen are so very hearty and warm in their manner that muche of the horror of lionization gives way before it. I am glad to find that they propose giving me for a toast on Friday the Memory of Wilkie**.’ (..)
“His next letter was written the morning after the dinner, on Saturday, 26 June. ‘The great event is over, and being gone, I am a man again. It was the most brilliant affair you can conceive; the completest success possible, from first to last. The room was crammed, and more than seventy applicants for tickest were of necessity refused yesterday (..) I think (ahem!) that I spoke rather well. It was an excellent room, and both the subjects (Wilson and Scottish Literature, and the Memory of Wilkie) were good to go upon.’
“He writes four days later [30 June 1841] ‘Yesterday, sir, the lord provost, council, and magistrates voted me by acclamation the freedom of the city, in testimony (I quote the letter just received from ‘James Forrest, lord provost’) “of the sense entertained by them of your distinguished abilities a an author.’
“The parchment scroll of the city-freedom, according the grounds on which it was voted, hung framed in his study to the last, and was one of his valued possessions. Answering some question of mine, he told me further as to the speakers, and gave some amusing glimpses of the party-spirit which still at that time ran high in the capital of the north.”
“The close of his letter tells us all his engagements, and completes his grateful picture of the hearty Scottish welcome. ‘Sunday [4 July] off at seven o’clock in the morning to Stirling, and then to Callender, a stage further. Next day to Loch-earn, and pull up there for three days, to rest and work. (..) We shall be at Inverary in the Highlands on Tuesday week [13 july], getting to it through the pass of Glencoe, of which you may have heard! On Thursday following we shall be at Glasgow (..)“
In chapter XI we can read a very lively account of Dickens’s adventures in the Highlands, some funny anecdotes about Arthur Fletcher, their guide in the Highlands, and the famous passage about his feelings at Glencoe.
“From Loch-earn-head Dickens wrote on Monday, 5 July, having reached it, ‘wet through,’ at four that afternoon. ‘Having had a great deal to do in a crowded house on Saturday night at the theatre, we left Edinburgh yesterday morning at half past seven, and travelled, with Fletcher for our guide, to a place called Stewart’s hotel, nine miles further than Callender (..) Being very tired (for we had not had more than three hours’ sleep on the previous night) we lay till ten this morning; and at half past eleven went through the Trossachs to Lochkatrine, where I walked from the hotel after tea last night. It is impossible to say what a glorious scene it was. It rained as it never does rain anywhere but here. (..) The inns, inside and out, are the queerest places imaginable… The food (for those who cand pay for it) ‘not bad’, as M. would say: oatcake, mutton, hotch potch, trout from the loch, small beer bottled, marmalade, and whiskey….. I don’t bore you with accounts of Ben this and that, and Lochs of all sorts of names, but this is a wonderful region. The way the mists were stalking about to-day, and the clouds lying down upon the hills, the deep glens, the high rocks, the rushing waterfalls, and the roaring rivers down in deep gulfs below were all stupendous.“
And the route goes on with key landmarks as Abbotsford and Dryburgh abbey…
I’ve found a very interesting article published in The Scotsman last year:
By Stuart Kelly
Published on Friday 23 December 2011 00:00
From a headstone which gave him the inspiration for Scrooge to his introduction to the literary elite of the period via his Scots publisher, Charles Dickens, born two centuries ago next year, had plenty to thank Scotland and its people for. (…)
Now, nobody would argue that we can turn Dickens into an honorary Scotsman, but his relationship with Scotland was deeper and more significant than the standard caricatures of him might suggest. Scots were involved in his literary breakthrough, his family life and his charity work; it was Scotland that provided the genesis of his most enduring character and a Scot lies at the heart of one of the mysteries about Dickens.
This long and very interesting article underlines :
– The influence on Charles Dickens’s career of George Hogarth, the editor of the Evening Chronicle in which Dickens’s “street sketches” appeared (later collected and published in the writer’s first book Sketches By Boz in 1836). George Hogarth was an eminent Scot born in Edinburgh and married to the daughter of George Thomson, publisher and friend of Burns. His sister had married James Ballantyne, Walter Scott’s close friend and partner in their fateful publishing and printing business. Last but not least Dickens married Hogarth’s daughter Catherine in 1836 (he was aged 24).
– The leading position of the Scots in British publishing, with great Scottish authors as Sir Walter Scott and Lord Byron and great Scottish magazines as Blackwood’s, The Edinburgh Review, The Quarterly Review.
The Scotsman’s article also focuses on Dickens’s trips to Scotland:
1834 : first visit to Scotland, at the age of 22. Dickens drew inspiration from his Scottish memories to write “The Tale of the Bagman’s Uncle”, in The Pickwick Papers, “a lively little ghost story that captures the spirit of Leith Walk at dark perfectly” – the only piece of writing set in Scotland (Penguin Classics edition pages 775-793). In The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices by Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens tries to imitate the Scottish accent.
1841 : 2nd visit to Scotland at the age of 29 – Edinburgh: “He was the toast of the town. Through his father-in-law’s connections he met the Edinburgh literati a public dinner for 250 guests” – A tour of the Highlands with his wife: “It was while he was in Edinburgh that Dickens came across a gravestone which he would render immortal. In Canongate Kirkyard was a gravestone to one “Ebenezer Lennox Scroggie”. The epitaph listed his profession as a “meal man” – which Dickens misread as a “mean man”.
1847 : 3rd visit of Dickens to Scotland at the age of 35 – “Dickens was back in Edinburgh in 1847, when he was “sorry to report the Scott Monument a failure”. This is a very curious moment, since Dickens is bizarrely silent about his great predecessor. ” (…)
“Dickens had read Scott, and read him thoroughly. Parts of Bleak House seem in conversation with The Heart Of Midlothian… But Scott’s life, rather than his work, was a terror to Dickens. Scott was not only successful, he was rich – and he lost his fortune. Dickens, clambering out of poverty and the hell-hole of the blacking factory by the endeavours of his pen, was haunted by the precarious nature of such a profession. Dickens was obsessed that Scott had lost money through American pirated editions, and fought for tighter copyright controls. Scott was his eminence grise…It was another, altogether tetchier Scottish figure, who proved crucial to the later Dickens. Thomas Carlyle, the Ecclefechan-born historian and thinker…Dickens and Carlyle became friends – as far as anyone was ever friends with Carlyle – and Carlyle’s French Revolution was essential to Dickens’s A Tale Of Two Cities, just as his denunciations of mechanism and utilitarianism would underpin Hard Times. Dickens didn’t need Carlyle to awaken his social conscience, but he did need him to analyse why things were as wrong as they were… It was to Scotland, finally, that Dickens’s mind leapt when he gave one of his most impassioned speeches, fund-raising for the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital. Dickens recollected a dying child in an Edinburgh slum: “he lay there, seeming to wonder what it was a’ aboot… God knows, I thought, he had his reasons for wonder”.
In The Scotsman‘s article mentioned above Stuart Kelly writes : “Next year is the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Dickens. The celebrations have already started: a wonderful new life by the doyenne of British biographers, Claire Tomalin, and a version of A Christmas Carol from the National Theatre of Scotland. The BBC is awash with Dickens in December; with a new version of Great Expectations, Armando Ianucci’s documentary on the author and a Songs of Praise Dickensian special. ”
Here are some of the gorgeous illustrations of my Folio edition of A Christmas Carol…
And below are two videos I’ve found on You Tube which give us a good idea of the version of A Christmas Carol as it was played by the National Theatre of Scotland in last December. How I would have liked to be there !
Now we know a little more about Charles Dickens’s Scottish relationships and his trips to Scotland… but it’s not the end! Rendez-vous in my next post to read the great English writer’s experience in Glencoe.
*Jeffrey, Francis (Lord Jeffrey) (1773-1850) Scottish judge, member of Parliament, literary critic and the editor and founder of the Edinburgh Review. An early admirer of Dicken’s work, especially Twist, Curiosity Shop, Carol, and Donkey. Jeffrey became one of Dickens’s close friends and a frequent correspondent. Dickens visited him in Scotland in 1841, dedicated Cricket to him, and named his fifth child Francis Jeffrey Dickens. (Charles Dickens A to Z Paul Davis Facts on File, Inc. 1998)
** Wilkie, Sir David (1785-1841) Scottish genre and portrait painter; godfather of Wilkie Collins; friend of Dickens. Dickens was often compared to Wilkie, an artist known for his renderings of common people in their everyday lives. He had at least one of Wilkie’s paintings at Gad’s Hill. In a tribute to Wilkie on the painter’s death, Dickens spoke of him as one “who made the cottage hearth his grave theme, and surrounded the lives, and cares, and daily toils, and occupations of the poor, with dignity and beauty.” (Charles Dickens A to Z Paul Davis Facts on File, Inc. 1998)