Thursday, June 2, 2011
June 9, 1870 --- Death of Dickens
The author had long been in poor health, tormented by piles and a painfully swollen foot which his doctors diagnosed as outward signs of a dangerous vascular condition. He had reluctantly given the last of his public readings in mid-March. A new addition to the program, the story of Sikes' brutal murder of Nancy from Oliver Twist, while bringing his audiences horrific thrills, left Dickens so badly overwrought that - toward the end - he had to be carried off stage. At home, he continued working on The Mystery of Edwin Drood, telling friends it would be a great success, "if, please God, I live to finish it." In fact, he left two chapters in longhand at his death.
At dinner, he complained of a chill and a toothache, then put his hand to his head and collapsed. He was carried to a dining room sofa where he lay through the night and following day until, at a little past six in the evening, with a small tear on his cheek, he was gone. This is, anyway, the official version. It has recently been suggested that Dickens first collapsed while in Peckham, visiting Miss Ellen Ternan, the actress with whom the author (in his double life as Mr. Tringham) had had a relationship for the last thirteen years. Miss Ternan transported her barely conscious lover by cab to Gad's Hill where, with the connivance of Dickens' ever loyal sister-in-law Georgina, the sanitized version of his final hours was concocted.
Regardless, all Britian was immediately plunged into mourning. Carlyle wrote, "How strange, how sad, and full of mystery ... to think of our bright, high-gifted, ever-friendly Dickens, lying there in his final rest." Dickens' will is specific: "I emphatically direct that I be buried in an inexpensive, unostentatious and strictly private manner [without] any monument, memorial or testimonial whatever." However, The Times led the nation in demanding that Dickens - "Our great and genial novelist; intimate of every household" - be buried in Westminster Abbey -"peculiar resting place of English literary genius."
The family agreed but the funeral in Poet's Corner was private. Only 14 mourners heard Dean Stanley preach on Dickens' compassion for victims of poverty and injustice; "In him an unknown friend pleaded their cause with a voice which rang through the palaces of the rich and great, as well as the cottages of the poor."
Posted by Tom Hughes at 10:17 AM