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CHARLES DICKENS

 

CHARLES DICKENS, the most popular novelist of the century, and one of

the greatest humourists that England has produced, was born at Landport

in Portsea on Friday, the seventh of February, 1812.

 

His father, John Dickens, a clerk in the navy-pay office, was at this

time stationed in the Portsmouth dockyard. He had made acquaintance with

the lady, Elizabeth Barrow, who became afterwards his wife, through her

elder brother, Thomas Barrow, also engaged on the establishment at

Somerset-house; and she bore him in all a family of eight children, of

whom two died in infancy. The eldest, Fanny (born 1810), was followed by

Charles (entered in the baptismal register of Portsea as Charles John

Huffham, though on the very rare occasions when he subscribed that name

he wrote Huffam) ; by another son, named Alfred, who died in childhood;

by Letitia (born 1816); by another daughter, Harriet, who died also in

childhood; by Frederick (born 1820); by Alfred Lamert (born 1822); and

by Augustus (born 1827); of all of whom only the second daughter now

survives.

 

Walter Scott tells us, in his fragment of autobiography, speaking of the

strange remedies applied to his lameness, that he remembered lying on

the floor in the parlour of his grandfather's farmhouse, swathed up in a

sheepskin warm from the body of the sheep, being then not three years

old. David Copperfield's memory goes beyond this. He represents himself

seeing so far back into the blank of his infancy, as to discern therein

his mother and her servant, dwarfed to his sight by stooping down or

kneeling on the floor, and himself going unsteadily from the one to the

other. He admits this may be fancy, though he believes the power of

observation in numbers of very young children to be quite wonderful for

its closeness and accuracy, and thinks that the recollection of most of

us can go farther back into such times than many of us suppose. But what

he adds is certainly not fancy. "If it should appear from anything I may

set down in this narrative that I was a child of close observation, or

that as a man I have a strong memory of my childhood, I undoubtedly lay

claim to both of these characteristics." Applicable as it might be to

David Copperfield this was unaffectedly true of Charles Dickens.

 

He has often told me that he remembered the small front garden to the

house at Portsea, from which he was taken away when he was two years

old, and where, watched by a nurse through a low kitchen-window almost

level with the gravel-walk, he trotted about with something to eat, and

his little elder sister with him. He was carried from the garden one day

to see the soldiers exercise; and I perfectly recollect, that, on our

being at Portsmouth together while he was writing Nickleby, he

recognized the exact shape of the military parade seen by him as a very

infant, on the same spot, a quarter of a century before.

 

When his father was again brought up by his duties to London from

Portsmouth, they went into lodgings in Norfolk-street,

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