Robert Langton: Charles Dickens and Rochester

The fol­low­ing essay was, most of it, writ­ten in Au­gust and Septem­ber, 1879,
and was read be­fore the Manch­ester Lit­er­ary Club, on the evening of the 16th Febru­ary, 1880.


Read PDF
(with illustrations)

Writ­ing to the Hon. Mrs. Wat­son in 1856, Charles Dick­ens says: —

"I have al­ways ob­served with­in my ex­pe­ri­ence that the men who have left home young have, many long years af­ter­wards, had the ten­der­est love for it. That's a pleas­ant tiling to think of, as one of the wise ad­just­ments of this life of ours."


Rochester Castle. Showing Graveyard 
in the remains of Castle Moat. 
Here Charles Dickens wished to be buried.
I

T has no doubt been ob­served by all care­ful read­ers of the works of Charles Dick­ens how very fre­quent­ly in his ear­li­est and his lat­est books he in­tro­duces the city of Rochester as the scene of por­tions of his sto­ries.

I now pro­pose to bring to­geth­er such ref­er­ences to this lo­cal­i­ty' as are to be found in the en­tire works of Dick­ens, and where pos­si­ble, to let the great mas­ter him­self do the de­scrip­tive part in his own lan­guage.

In adding some ex­plana­to­ry notes of my own. I may say that, hav­ing passed per­haps the most im­pres­sion­able part of my child­hood at a school in Rochester, and hav­ing been fa­mil­iar with the neigh­bor­hood all through my life, I am able to tes­ti­fy to the won­der­ful ac­cu­ra­cy and re­al­ism of the many sketch­es of life and scene in that part of Kent, which are to be found in some of the works of Charles Dick­ens.

Though not a man of Kent by birth, Charles Dick­ens was at the ten­der age of four years re­moved with his fa­ther's fam­i­ly to Chatham, where they lived near the parish church of St. Mary. Forster truly says that "the as­so­ci­a­tions that were around him when he died were those which, at the out­set of his life, had af­fect­ed him most strong­ly."

He was, we are told, a very small boy for his age, and very del­i­cate, in­so­much that he could not en­gage in the or­di­nary sports of boys, but sat apart and watched them at their play, or read such works of Defoe, Smol­lett, Field­ing, and Gold­smith as he had ac­cess to.

All this and a great deal more we have from his own sketch of his early days in David Cop­per­field. When a very lit­tle fel­low he had made sev­er­al at­tempts at dra­mat­ic writ­ing, or, as he says in his pref­ace to a later edi­tion of the Sketch­es by Boz, "They (the sketch­es) com­prise my first at­tempts at au­thor­ship — with the ex­cep­tion of cer­tain tragedies achieved at the ma­ture age of eight or ten, and rep­re­sent­ed with great ap­plause to over­flow­ing nurs­eries." He had al­ready be­come fa­mous in his own child­ish cir­cle as a good teller of a story, and an es­pe­cial­ly good singer of comic songs. Writ­ing to Wilkie Collins in 1856, in an­swer to some en­quiries as to his early years, he says: "I had been a writ­er when I was a mere baby, and al­ways an actor from the same age."

That his child­hood at this time was a happy, in­no­cent en­joy­ment of life, is cer­tain. We can gath­er this from some of his au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal char­ac­ters, for we may now be quite sure that be­sides David Cop­per­field, Pip in Great Ex­pec­ta­tions, lit­tle Paul Dombey, and to some ex­tent lit­tle Oliv­er Twist, there are other chil­dren, boys and girls too, here and there in his writ­ings, who more or less re­flect his own quaint­ly beau­ti­ful child-life. Dur­ing the last two years of his res­i­dence at Chatham he was sent to school to a Mr. William Giles, in Clover Lane, or Clover Street as it is now. Here, too, he dis­tin­guished him­self by his happy way of recit­ing pieces, and once ob­tained a dou­ble en­core for a piece out of the Hu­mourist's Mis­cel­lany called "Dr. Bolus." Mr. Giles ap­pears to have had a very early and pro­nounced opin­ion of the ster­ling abil­i­ties of his lit­tle schol­ar, and it will, per­haps, be re­mem­bered that when about half the parts of Pick­wick had been pub­lished, he, Mr. Giles, sent Dick­ens a sil­ver snuff box with this in­scrip­tion: "To the inim­itable Boz;" and ac­cord­ing­ly, he was known among his more in­ti­mate friends as "the inim­itable" for the rest of his life.

The school of Mr. Giles is still re­mem­bered by many mid­dle-aged peo­ple in these towns, as is also a school­boy's dog­grel rhyme which em­braces the four prin­ci­pal schools of Rochester and Chatham of fifty' years ago. It ran thus: — Baker's Bull Dogs, Giles's Cats, New-road Scrub­bers, Troy-Town Rats. [The Troy-Town School at the top of Star-Hill was kept for many years by Mr. Geo. E. Shirley. The ori­gin of the term "Scrub­bers" is rather ob­scure.]

It was in the year 1821, at the age of nine years, that these I happy days of child­hood were to ter­mi­nate. "I have often heard him say," says Forster, "that in leav­ing the neigh­bour­hood of Rochester he was leav­ing ev­ery­thing that had given his ail­ing lit­tle life its pic­turesque­ness or sun­shine. He was to be taken to Lon­don in­side the stage coach, and Ken­tish woods and fields, Cobliam Park and Hall, Rochester Cathe­dral and Cas­tle, and all the won­der­ful ro­mance to­geth­er, in­clud­ing the red-cheeked baby he had been wild­ly in love with, were to van­ish like a dream." Ar­rived in Lon­don we find the bright, ge­nial, ten­der-heart­ed boy falling into utter pover­ty and ne­glect; his fa­ther was in dif­fi­cul­ties, and soon af­ter­wards was re­moved to the Mar­shalsea Prison, and the boy Dick­ens was sent to do the ver­i­est drudgery at a black­ing man­u­fac­to­ry at Hunger­ford Stairs. What such a boy must have suf­fered in his ne­glect it would be dif­fi­cult to es­ti­mate. He was not only get­ting no book-learn­ing what­ev­er, but he was fast los­ing what lit­tle he had learned at Chatham. He was not even prop­er­ly fed, and had to as­so­ci­ate with very dif­fer­ent peo­ple to those he had been used to in Kent.

The sub­ject of his ne­glect at this time was so painful to him that for twen­ty-five years af­ter­wards he could not bring him­self to men­tion it, even to his dear­est friends. I find, how­ev­er, that he men­tions the black­ing man­u­fac­to­ry in­ci­den­tal­ly in two of his works. In the Pick­wick Pa­pers, chap, xxxi­ii., Mr. Weller, se­nior, says: "Po­et­ry's unnat'ral; no man ever talked po­et­ry 'cept a bea­dle on boxin' day. or War­ren's blackin', or Row­land's oil. or some o' them low fel­lows." In Great ex­pec­ta­tions, chap. xxvii., in an­swer to a ques­tion as to whether he had seen Lon­don yet, Joe Gargery, the black­smith, replies: "Why, yes, sir, me and Wop­sle went off straight to look at the blackin' ware'us — but we didn't find that it come up to its like­ness in the red bills at the shop doors; which I mean­ter­say," added Joe, in an ex­plana­to­ry maimer, "as it is there drawed too ar­chi­tec­tooralooral."

For a full ac­count of the al­most in­cred­i­ble hard­ships and ne­glect that Dick­ens ex­pe­ri­enced at this time, see David Cop­per­field. The only dif­fer­ence in the ac­tu­al sor­did drudgery he was put to is that in the novel he makes a wine and spir­it ware­house pass for the black­ing man­u­fac­to­ry. I will mere­ly quote here the last para­graph of the dis­mal story. "I know that I lounged about the streets, in­suf­fi­cient­ly and un­sat­is­fac­to­ri­ly fed — I know that, but for the mercy of God, I might eas­i­ly have been, for any care that was taken of me, a lit­tle rob­ber or a lit­tle vagabond."

After an­oth­er brief pe­ri­od of school­ing, Charles Dick­ens went, at the age of fif­teen, to a so­lic­i­tor's of­fice, as ju­nior clerk or of­fice­boy, for that was what he re­al­ly was; and after being there some eigh­teen months he. by the force of his own strong will, set him­self to mas­ter the dif­fi­cul­ties of stenog­ra­phy, and to qual­i­fy him­self to take a sit­u­a­tion as a re­porter. Hav­ing suc­ceed­ed in this in no or­di­nary de­gree, and hav­ing been in the gallery of the House of Com­mons for some years as a par­lia­men­tary re­porter, Dick­ens sud­den­ly star­tled the read­ing world of 1834 and 1835 by his Sketch­es by Boz which first ap­peared in the Month­ly Mag­a­zine, and af­ter­wards in the Evening Chron­i­cle.

From this time there was for him re­al­ly no look­ing back, ei­ther in pop­u­lar­i­ty or for­tune, and his first book, the Pick­wick Pa­pers, went up in cir­cu­la­tion from four hun­dred copies of part i. to foily thou­sand of part xv, and this, says Forster, "with­out news­pa­per no­tice or puff­ing, until peo­ple at this time talked of noth­ing else, trades­men rec­om­mend­ed their goods by using its name, and its sale, out­strip­ping at a bound all the most fa­mous books of the cen­tu­ry, had reached to an al­most fab­u­lous num­ber."

Writ­ing at this time on the won­der­ful pop­u­lar­i­ty, of Pick­wick, Thomas Car­lyle says —

An archdea­con with his own ven­er­a­ble lips re­peat­ed to me, the other night, a strange pro­fane story of a solemn cler­gy­man who had been ad­min­is­ter­ing ghost­ly con­so­la­tion to a sick per­son; hav­ing fin­ished, sat­is­fac­to­ri­ly as he thought, and got out of the room, he heard the sick man ejac­u­late: "Well, thank God, Pick­wick will be out in ten days any way."

Hav­ing thus very briefly sketched an out­line of the child­hood and youth of Charles Dick­ens, I will now enter upon the more im­me­di­ate sub­ject in hand, and it will per­haps be bet­ter to take the works con­tain­ing ref­er­ences to Rochester (which of course in­cludes Chatham) in the order in which they ap­peared; and here I may say that the very beau­ti­ful draw­ings of my friend, the late William Hull, show Rochester not only as it now is, but as it was when Dick­ens was a child. Changes have taken place in the old city dur­ing the last half cen­tu­ry, and no­tably the old bridge has been re­placed by a new one; but the views of Rochester here shown by Mr. Hull, and which he truly said he took up at my in­vi­ta­tion as a labour of love, are most of them sub­stan­tial­ly the same as they must have ap­peared to William Hog­a­rth and his four jovial friends, when they vis­it­ed Rochester dur­ing their mem­o­rable "Five days pere­gri­na­tion" in May, 1732! It is very prob­a­ble that had Charles Dick­ens lived to com­plete Edwin Drood, some of the il­lus­tra­tions would have in­clud­ed views of places now be­fore you. From the vol­umes of Dick­ens's Let­ters we learn that at the end of the very week in which Dick­ens died, Mr. Fildes was to have been in­tro­duced to Rochester and neigh­bour­hood, with a view to fu­ture il­lus­tra­tions. In the wood­cut op­po­site page 88 of the un­fin­ished story, we have a view taken op­po­site the west door of the cathe­dral, and which shows part of the cathe­dral grave­yard, part of St. Nicholas' Parish Church, and the Gate­house. This was ev­i­dent­ly taken after Dick­ens's death, and though the Gate­house is shewn as a stone build­ing to the top, in­stead of tim­ber, it is still a won­der­ful­ly fine il­lus­tra­tion, and serves to show what we have lost.

In "The Great Wingle­bury Duel," one of the Sketch­es, oc­curs the first rec­og­niz­able hint of Rochester, though it is of course not men­tioned by name. It was nev­er­the­less ev­i­dent­ly in the mind of the writ­er when he penned the de­scrip­tion of the High Street and the hotel.

At the open­ing of Pick­wick we find the friends on their way to the Bull Hotel. Rochester, and a cap­i­tal de­scrip­tion is given of the old house, the ball-room and grand stair­case of which re­main to this day just as it ap­peared to Mr. Pick­wick and his friends more than fifty years since, for the tale is laid in the year 1827. Stand­ing on Rochester bridge early on a fine sum­mer morn­ing, Mr. Pick­wick, be­held the land­scape here de­scribed, and part of which I have at­tempt­ed to show in a sketch at the head of this paper:

On the left of the spec­ta­tor lay the rained wall, bro­ken in many places, and in some over­hang­ing the nar­row beach below in rude and heavy mass­es. … Be­hind it rose the an­cient cas­tle, its tow­ers roof­less, and its mas­sive walls crum­bling away, but telling us proud­ly of its old might and strength … On ei­ther side the banks of the Med­way, cov­ered with corn­fields and pas­tures, with here and there a wind­mill or a dis­tant church, stretched away as far as the eye could see, pre­sent­ing a rich and var­ied land­scape, ren­dered more beau­ti­ful by the chang­ing shad­ows which passed swift­ly across it, as the thin and half-formed clouds skimmed away in the light of the morn­ing sun.

We next get a glimpse of the friends just is­sued from their hotel. On their way to Din­g­ley Dell, Mr. Win­kle's horse "drift­ing up the High Street in the most mys­te­ri­ous man­ner — side first, with his head to one side of the way, and his tail to­wards the other." Then there is an ac­count of a re­view on Chatham Lines, won­der­ful­ly told, but too long to give here. An ex­tract from Mr. Pick­wick's nev­er-fail­ing note­book rails thus: "The prin­ci­pal pro­duc­tions of these towns ap­pear to be sol­diers, sailors, Jews, chalk, shrimps, of­fi­cers, and dock­yard men. The com­modi­ties chiefly ex­posed for sale in the pub­lic streets are ma­rine stores, hard bake, ap­ples, fiat fish, and oys­ters."

Mr. Jin­gle, in de­scrib­ing the var­i­ous grades of ex­clu­sive­ness in these parts, says, for the en­light­en­ment of Mr. Tup­man, "The dock-yard peo­ple of upper rank don't know dock-yard peo­ple of lower rank; — dock-yard peo­ple of lower rank don't know small gen­try — small gen­tly don't know trades­peo­ple; — com­mis­sion­er don't know any­body."

It is wor­thy of no­tice, more par­tic­u­lar­ly as it is not men­tioned by Forster, that the scene of the duel which was to have been fought be­tween Mr. Win­kle, and the iras­ci­ble Dr Slam­mer, is laid in the field at the back of Fort Pitt; the very spot where the four schools be­fore-men­tioned, used to meet to set­tle their dif­fi­cul­ties with their fists!! Here too they oc­ca­sion­al­ly met in the more friend­ly ri­val­ry of Crick­et. We do not find Rochester men­tioned again till 1849, when David Cop­per­field pass­es through these towns on his way to Dover.

I see my­self, as evening clos­es in, com­ing over the bridge at Rochester, foot­sore and tired, and eat­ing bread that I had bought for sup­per. One or two lit­tle hous­es with the no­tice "Lodg­ings for trav­ellers" hang­ing out had tempt­ed me; but I was afraid of spend­ing the few pence I had, and was even more afraid of the vi­cious looks of the ham­pers I had met or over­tak­en. I sought no shel­ter, there­fore, but the sky, and toil­ing into Chatham — which in that night's as­pect is a mere dream of chalk and draw­bridges, and mast­less ships in a muddy river, roofed like Noah's arks — crept at last upon a sort of grass-grown bat­tery over­hang­ing a lane, where a sen­try was walk­ing to and fro. There I lay down near a can­non, and, happy in the so­ci­ety of the sen­try's foot­steps, slept sound­ly till morn­ing.

He then tells how he had to sell his lit­tle jack­et in order to buy food, and "Old Charley," the deal­er in sec­ond-hand clothes — a real char­ac­ter of forty years ago — is por­trayed for all time. The de­scrip­tion is too long for quo­ta­tion, but here is the close of it: —

There never was such an­oth­er drunk­en mad­man in that line of busi­ness, I hope. That he was well known in the neigh­bour­hood, and en­joyed the rep­u­ta­tion of hav­ing sold him­self to the Devil, I soon un­der­stood from the vis­its he re­ceived from the boys who con­tin­u­al­ly came skir­mish­ing about the shop, shout­ing that leg­end and call­ing to him to bring out his gold.

There is an­oth­er ref­er­ence to this dis­trict in David Cop­per­field, where Mrs. Mi­caw­ber ex­plains her pres­ence thus: —

Mr. Mi­caw­ber was in­duced to think, on en­quiry, that there might be an open­ing for a man of his tal­ent in the Med­way coal trade. Then, as Mr. Mi­caw­ber very prop­er­ly said, the first step to be taken was to come and see the Med­way — which we came and saw. We came, re­peat­ed Mrs. Mi­caw­ber, and saw I think the greater part of the Med­way, and my opin­ion of the coal trade on that river is that it may re­quire tal­ent, but that it cer­tain­ly re­quires cap­i­tal. Tal­ent, Mr. Mi­caw­ber has; Cap­i­tal, Mr. Mi­caw­ber has not.

In 1854 we have as a Christ­mas tale The Seven Poor Trav­ellers, the scene of which is laid in High Street, Rochester, at Watts's Char­i­ty. The well known In­scrip­tion over the door of Watts's Char­i­ty has puz­zled many gen­er­a­tions of men. It runs thus: — Richard Watts, Esq., by his Will, dated 22 Aug, 1579, found­ed this Char­i­ty for Six poor Trav­ellers, who not being Rogues or Proc­tors, may re­ceive gratis for one night, Lodg­ing, En­ter­tain­ment, and Fourpence each.

This may have been well un­der­stood three hun­dred years ago, but, Time had drawn a veil over the true read­ing of the in­scrip­tion, till quite late­ly, when Mr. W. Gib­son Ward of Ross, point­ed out, that the PROC­TORS who are not to par­tic­i­pate in the char­i­ty, were a set of men­di­cants, who swarmed ev­ery­where in the South of Eng­land, under the pre­tence of col­lect­ing alms for the sup­port of Lep­er-hous­es, at a time, too, when these Hos­pi­tals had for­tu­nate­ly be­come un­nec­es­sary.

In the time of Watts, these Proc­tors had be­come a greater nui­sance than the Lep­rosy it­self. Hence the pro­hi­bi­tion. Dick­ens under guise of a sev­enth poor Trav­eller, then gives a de­scrip­tion of the Char­i­ty as ad­min­is­tered in 1854.

I had been wan­der­ing about the neigh­bour­ing cathe­dral and had seen the tomb of Richard Watts, with the ef­fi­gy of wor­thy Mas­ter Richard start­ing out of it like a ship's fig­ure-head, and the way being very short and very plain, I had come pros­per­ous­ly to the in­scrip­tion and the quaint old door.

I found it to be a clean white house, of a staid and ven­er­a­ble air, with choice lit­tle low lat­tice win­dows, and a roof of three gables. The silent High Street of Rochester is full of gables, with old beams and tim­bers carved into strange faces. It is oddly gar­nished with a queer old clock that pro­jects over the pave­ment out of a grave red-brick build­ing, as if time earned on busi­ness there and hung out his sign. Sooth to say, he did an ac­tive stroke of work in Rochester, in the days of the Ro­mans, and the Sax­ons, and the Nor­mans; and down to the times of King John, when the rugged cas­tle — I will not un­der­take to say how many hun­dreds of years old then — was aban­doned to the cen­turies of weath­er which had so de­faced the dark aper­tures in its walls that the rain looks as if the rooks and daws had picked its eyes out.

As I passed along the High Street I heard the waits at a dis­tance, and struck off to find them. They were play­ing near one of the old gates of the city, at the comer of a won­der­ful­ly quaint row of red-brick ten­e­ments, which the clar­i­onet oblig­ing­ly in­formed me were in­hab­it­ed by the minor canons. They had odd lit­tle porch­es over the doors, like sound­ing- boards over old pul­pits; and I thought I should like to see one of the minor canons come out upon his top step and favour us with a lit­tle Christ­mas dis­course about the poor schol­ars of Rochester, tak­ing for his text the words of his Mas­ter rel­a­tive to the de­vour­ing of wid­ows' hous­es.

This refers to a great scan­dal, caused by the dis­cov­ery of a se­ri­ous mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion of the Rochester Cathe­dral funds by the cler­gy, and for the ex­po­sure of which the Rev. Robert Whis­ton, M. A, then Head Mas­ter of the Gram­mar School, had just be­fore this date (Novem­ber. 1854) been pre­sent­ed with a ser­vice of plate.

Mr. Whis­ton re­cov­ered for the school a large sum of money, amount­ing to many thou­sands of pounds, for which ser­vice he was prompt­ly turned out of his Head Mas­ter­ship by the Dean and Chap­ter. They were how­ev­er com­pelled to re-in­state him at once, and the fore­go­ing al­lu­sion by Dick­ens was thought at the time to be well de­served, and not at all too strong.

In the Un­com­mer­cial Trav­eller, i860, we have many glimpses of Rochester and its vicin­i­ty. The first is in a chap­ter on Tramps, which abound on the great Dover Road, and es­pe­cial­ly so in the neigh­bour­hood of Gads Hill. [The ini­tial let­ter I at the head of this paper rep­re­sents the mon­u­ment erect­ed to the mem­o­ry of Charles Larkin, of Rochester, at Gads Hill.]

As a tramp­ing clock-mak­er the un-com­mer­cial trav­eller gives a good de­scrip­tion of Cob­ham Hall and Woods. ... Hav­ing in fol­low­ing his vo­ca­tion given voice to the long silent bell of the sta­ble- clock, the un-com­mer­cial is in­tro­duced to the hos­pi­tal­i­ty of the ser­vants' hall ... "and there re­galed with beef and bread, and pow­er­ful ale."

Then, paid freely, we should be at lib­er­ty to go, and should be told by a point­ing helper to keep round over yin­der by the blast­ed ash, ... and so straight through the woods, till we should see the town-lights, right afore us. ... Then should we make a burst to get clear of the trees, and should soon find our­selves in the open, with the town-lights bright ahead of us.

So should we lie that night at the an­cient sign of the Crispin and Crispanus [at Strood], and rise early next morn­ing to be be­times on tramp again.

Far­ther on in this chap­ter on tramps, we have the sur­round­ings of the third mile­stone from Rochester, on the road to Gravesend, lying a lit­tle to the West of Gads-hill Place, brought be­fore our no­tice thus. ... (The dis­tant river is the Thames.)

I have my eye on a piece of Ken­tish road, bor­dered on ei­ther side by a wood, and hav­ing on one hand, be­tween the road-dust and the trees, a skirt­ing patch of grass. Wild flow­ers grow in abun­dance on this spot, and it lies high and airy, with a dis­tant river steal­ing steadi­ly away to the ocean, like a man's life. To gain the mile­stone here, which the moss, prim­ros­es, vi­o­lets, blue bells, and wild roses would soon ren­der il­leg­i­ble but for peer­ing trav­ellers push­ing them aside with their sticks, you must come up a steep hill, come which way you may. So all the tramps with carts or car­a­vans — the gipsy tramp, the show tramp, the Cheap Jack — find it im­pos­si­ble to re­sist the temp­ta­tions of the place, and all turn the horse loose when they come to it, and boil the pot. Bless the place, I love the ashes of the vagabond fires that have scorched its grass! On this hal­lowed ground has it been my happy priv­i­lege (let me whis­per it) to be­hold the white-haired lady with the pink eyes eat­ing meat pie with the giant. It was on an evening in Au­gust that I chanced upon this rav­ish­ing spec­ta­cle, and I no­ticed that, where­as the giant re­clined half con­cealed be­neath the over­hang­ing boughs and seemed in­dif­fer­ent to na­ture, the white hair of the gra­cious lady streamed free in the breath of evening, and her pink eyes found plea­sure in the land­scape. I heard only a sin­gle sen­tence of her ut­ter­ing, yet it be­spoke a tal­ent for mod­est repar­tee. The ill-man­nered giant — ac­cursed be his evil race! — had in­ter­rupt­ed the lady in some re­mark, and, as I passed that en­chant­ed comer of the wood, she gen­tly re­proved him with the words, "Now, Cobby;" — Cobby! so short a name! — " ain't one fool enough to talk at a time?"

This de­scribes the neigh­bour­hood of Gads Hill as prob­a­bly only Dick­ens could have de­scribed it. Of the house, Gads Hill Place, lit­tle need be said here, as it has been so thor­ough­ly done by Forster. It is a com­fort­able, old-fash­ioned house, built about a cen­tu­ry since, in the reign of George III, and is on the very spot men­tioned in Shake­speare's Henry IV. as the scene of the rob­bery of the trav­ellers.

Gads Hill had been the scene of many rob­beries on the high­way, long be­fore Shake­speare con­ferred upon it what may now be called its first world-wide renown. An ex­tract or two from the parish reg­is­ters of Gravesend will serve to show that Trav­ellers in these parts did not al­ways tame­ly sub­mit to be spoiled of their goods.

Thus we find the fol­low­ing entry: — " 1586, Septem­ber 29th daye, was a thiefe yt was slayne, buried." And again, "1590, Marche the 17th daie, was a theefe yt was at Gad­shill wound­ed to deathe, called Robert Writs, buried."

Also in John Clavell's "Re­can­ta­tion of an ill-led life" pub­lished in 1634, we find the fol­low­ing al­lu­sion to the well known char­ac­ter of this part of the Dover Road.

"For though I oft have seen Gads-hill and those Red tops of moun­tains, where good peo­ple lose Their ill-kept purs­es. I did never climbe … Par­nas­sus' Hill or could aduen­ture time To tread the muse's mazes, …" The cir­cum­stances con­nect­ed with the pur­chase of this es­tate by Dick­ens are so re­mark­able that it will be as well to give an ex­tract from a let­ter from Dick­ens to his friend M. de Cer­jat, writ­ten in 1857, folly de­tail­ing them : —

I hap­pened to be walk­ing past [the house] a year and a half or so ago, with my sub-ed­i­tor of House­hold Words (Mr. W. H. Wills,) when I said to him, "You see that house? It has al­ways a cu­ri­ous in­ter­est for me, be­cause when I was a small boy down in these parts I thought it the most beau­ti­ful house (I sup­pose be­cause of its fa­mous old cedar trees) ever seen. And my poor fa­ther used to bring me to look at it, and used to say that if ever I grew up to be a clever man per­haps I might own that house, or such an­oth­er house. In re­mem­brance of which I have al­ways in pass­ing looked to see if it was to be sold or let, and it has never been to me like any other house, and it has never changed at all." We came back to town, and my friend went out to din­ner. Next morn­ing he came to me in great ex­cite­ment and said, "It is writ­ten that you are to have that house at Gads Hill. The lady I had al­lot­ted to me to take down to din­ner yes­ter­day began to speak of that neigh­bour­hood. 'You know it?' I said; 'I have been there to-day.' 'O yes,' she said, 'I know it very well. I was a child there in the house they call Gads Hill Place. My fa­ther was the rec­tor, and lived there many years. He has just died, has left it to me, and I want to sell it.' So," says the sub­editor, "you must buy it. Now or never!" I did, and hope to pass next sum­mer there.

Near­ly op­po­site Gads Hill Place, is the Fal­staff Inn, dat­ing prob­a­bly from Queen Anne's time. It for­mer­ly had an old-fash­ioned swing­ing sign, on one side of which was paint­ed Fal­staff fight­ing with the men in buck­ram suits, and on the other, Fal­staff being pitched into the Thames from a buck-bas­ket, the merry wives of Wind­sor look­ing on ap­prov­ing­ly. In its long, sand­ed room there was a copy of Shake­speare's mon­u­ment in West­min­ster Abbey, with the in­scrip­tion, "The cloud-capt tow­ers, the gor­geous palaces," and so forth. It is worth not­ing, that forty' years ago, some­thing like nine­ty coach­es passed this old hostel­ry every day!

The Rail­ways have al­tered that, and al­though it is still true, as Mr. F 's Aunt says, that, "there's mile­stones on the Dover road," [Lit­tle Dor­rit. — Chap. XXIII.] it is also true that, in some places there is very lit­tle else; for in parts of the road grass strug­gles suc­cess­ful­ly with the di­min­ished traf­fic of these lat­ter days.

"Dull­bor­ough Town" is the title of an­oth­er chap­ter of the Un­com­mer­cial Trav­eller, and is an­oth­er name for Rochester.

The fol­low­ing ex­tracts show more clear­ly per­haps than any other por­tion of the writ­ings of Charles Dick­ens, how he clung to the mem­o­ries of his child­hood, and how he still loved Rochester when in the full-tide of his pop­u­lar­i­ty, and in the prime of his life.

As the un­com­mer­cial saun­ters along a street, he at last recog­nis­es a man he had known many years be­fore, when a child. ... "It was he him­self; he might for­mer­ly have been an old-look­ing young man, or he might now be a young-look­ing old man, but there he was." ... Ad­dress­ing the man (a green­gro­cer) he wish­es to ex­plain that he for­mer­ly as a boy had the hon­our of his ac­quain­tance, but he quite failed to ex­cite the in­ter­est of his for­mer ac­quain­tance. …

Net­tled by his pheg­mat­ic con­duct, I in­formed him that I had left the town when I was a child. He slow­ly re­turned, quite un­soft­ened, and not with­out a sar­cas­tic kind of com­pla­cen­cy, Had I? Ah! And did I find it had got on tol­er­a­bly well with­out me? Such is the dif­fer­ence (I thought, when I had left him a few hun­dred yards be­hind, and was by so much in a bet­ter tem­per) be­tween going away from a place and re­main­ing in it. I had no right, I re­flect­ed, to be angry with the green­gro­cer for his want of in­ter­est; I was noth­ing to him: where­as he was the town, the cathe­dral, the bridge, the river, my child­hood, and a large slice of my life, to me.

There is prob­a­bly more of fact than fic­tion, in the fol­low­ing ex­tract from the same chap­ter.

As I left Dull­bor­ough in the days when there were no rail­roads in the land, I left it in a stage coach. Through all the years that have since passed have I ever lost the smell of the damp straw in which I was packed — like game — and for­ward­ed, car­riage paid, to the Cross Keys, Wood Street, Cheap­side, Lon­don? There was no other in­side pas­sen­ger, and it rained hard all the way, and I thought life slop­pi­er than I had ex­pect­ed to find it.

The coach that had earned me away was melo­di­ous­ly called Timp­son's Blue-eyed Maid, and be­longed to Timp­son, at the coach of­fice up street; the lo­co­mo­tive en­gine that had brought me back was called severe­ly No. 97 and be­longed to S.E.R., and was spit­ting ashes and hot water over the blight­ed ground.

When I had been let out at the plat­form door the first dis­cov­ery I made was that the sta­tion had swal­lowed up the play­ing field. I looked in again over the low wall at the scene of de­part­ed glo­ries. Here, in the hay­mak­ing time, had I been de­liv­ered from the dun­geons of Seringa­p­atam, an im­mense pile (of hay­cock.) by my coun­try­men, the vic­to­ri­ous British (boy next door and his two cousins,) and had been rec­og­nized with ec­sta­sy by my af­fi­anced one (Miss Green,) who had come all the way from Eng­land (sec­ond house in the ter­race) to ran­som me and marry me. Here had I first heard of the ex­is­tence of a ter­ri­ble ban­dit­ti, called "The Rad­i­cals," whose prin­ci­ples were that the Prince Re­gent wore stays, and that no­body had a right to any salary, and that the army and navy ought to be put down — hor­rors at which I trem­bled in my bed, after sup­pli­cat­ing that the Rad­i­cals might be speed­i­ly taken and hanged.

The the­atre was in ex­is­tence, I found, and I re­solved to com­fort my mind by going to look at it. Many won­drous se­crets of na­ture had I come to the knowl­edge of in that sanc­tu­ary, of which not the least ter­rif­ic were, that the witch­es of Mac­beth bore an awful re­sem­blance to the thanes and other prop­er in­hab­i­tants of Scot­land; and that the good King Dun­can couldn't rest in his grave, but was con­stant­ly com­ing out of it and call­ing him­self some­body else.

To the the­atre, there­fore, I re­paired for con­so­la­tion. But I found very lit­tle, for it was in a bad and de­clin­ing way. No, there was no com­fort in the the­atre. It was mys­te­ri­ous­ly gone, like my own youth — un­like my own youth, it might be com­ing back some day; but there was lit­tle promise of it.

Of course the town had shrunk fear­ful­ly since I was a child there. I found the High Street lit­tle bet­ter than a lane. There was a pub­lic clock in it which I had sup­posed to be the finest clock in the world: where­as it now turned out to be as in­ex­pres­sive, moon-faced, and weak a clock as ever I saw.

I had not gone fifty paces along the street when I was sud­den­ly brought up by the sight of a man who got out of a lit­tle phaeton at the doc­tor's door, and went into the doc­tor's house. Im­me­di­ate­ly the air was filled with the scent of trod­den grass, and the per­spec­tive of years opened, and at the end of it was a lit­tle like­ness of this man keep­ing a wick­et, and I said "God bless my soul! Joe Specks!" Scorn­ing to ask the boy left in the phaeton whether it was re­al­ly Joe, and scorn­ing even to read the brass plate on the door — so sure was I — I rang the bell and in­formed the ser­vant maid that a stranger sought au­di­ence of Mr. Specks. Into a room half surgery', half study, I was shown to await his com­ing.

When my old schoolfel­low came in and I in­formed him with a smile that I was not a pa­tient, he seemed rather at a loss to per­ceive any rea­son for smil­ing in con­nec­tion with that fact, and en­quired to what was he to at­tribute the hon­our? I asked him with an­oth­er smile could he re­mem­ber me at all? He had not (he said) that plea­sure. I was be­gin­ning to have but a poor opin­ion of Mr. Specks, when he said re­flec­tive­ly, "And yet there's a some­thing, too." Upon that I saw a boy­ish light in his eyes that looked well, and I asked him if he could in­form me, as a stranger who de­sired to know and had not the means of ref­er­ence at hand, what the name of the young lady was who mar­ried Mr. Ran­dom? Upon that he said "Nar­cis­sa," and, after star­ing for a mo­ment called me by my name, shook- me by the hand, and melt­ed into a roar of laugh­ter. "Why, of course," you'll re­mem­ber Lucy Green," he said, after we had talked a lit­tle. "Of course," said I. "Whom do you think she mar­ried?" said he. "You?" I haz­ard­ed.

"Me," said Specks, "and you shall see her." So I saw her, and she was fat, and if all the hay in the world had been heaped upon her it could scarce­ly have al­tered her face more than time had al­tered it from my re­mem­brance of the face that had once looked down upon me into the fra­grant dun­geons of Seringa­p­atam. ["Death doesn't change us more than life my dear." — Old Cu­rios­i­ty Shop. Chap. XVII.]

We talked im­mense­ly, Specks, and Mrs. Specks, and I, and we spoke of our old selves as though our old selves were dead and gone, and in­deed, in­deed they were — dead and gone as the play­ing field that had be­come a wilder­ness of rusty iron, and the prop­er­ty of S .E. R.

When I went to catch my train at night I Was in a more char­i­ta­ble mood with Dull­bor­ough than I had been all day; and yet in my heart I had loved it all day too. Ah! who was I that I should quar­rel with the town for being changed to me, when I my­self had come back so changed to it! All my early read­ings and early imag­i­na­tions dated from this place, and I took them away so full of in­no­cent con­struc­tion and guile­less be­lief, and I brought them back so worn and torn, so much the wiser and so much the worse!

In an­oth­er paper of the Un­com­mer­cial Trav­eller there is a graph­ic de­scrip­tion of Chatham Dock­yard and the ma­chin­ery there, also of the ap­pear­ance of the Med­way and the marsh­es be­yond. In Paper 26 there is a rem­i­nis­cence of a fu­ner­al Dick­ens at­tend­ed when a child at Chatham, and the im­pres­sions it made on his mind. '"Other fu­ner­als," he says, "have I seen with grown-up eyes since that day, of which the bur­den has been the same child­ish bur­den. Mak­ing game. Real af­flic­tion, real grief and solem­ni­ty, have been out­raged, and the fu­ner­al has been per­formed. " These im­pres­sions en­larged on in near­ly all his other works have gone far to abol­ish the ab­sur­di­ties and ex­trav­a­gance of modem fu­ner­al cus­toms.

In 1861 Great Ex­pec­ta­tions ap­peared. The open­ing scene is Cool­ing Church­yard, near Rochester, be­yond which lies a large tract of marsh coun­try ex­tend­ing from the Med­way to the es­tu­ary of the Thames. While at Rochester in Au­gust, 1879, with Mr. Hull, we drove out to look at the spot, and the sketch is one I made of the church and church­yard. (See Tail-piece.)

The cu­ri­ous rows of lit­tle cof­fin-shaped stones are still to be seen ex­act­ly as de­scribed by Pip. but with this dif­fer­ence, the tale says there are five of them, Forster says there are "a dozen," the real num­ber is thir­teen, — and they are all the chil­dren of one fam­i­ly! Even the names of the chil­dren are ac­cu­rate­ly given so far as they go.

This tale has many al­lu­sions to Rochester, but most­ly under the name of "Our mar­ket town." Ac­cord­ing to Forster, "Restora­tion House," as it is called, stands for the "Satis House" in the tale. That may be so, but it cer­tain­ly is not the "Satis House" where Richard Watts en­ter­tained Queen Eliz­a­beth. That stood on Boley Hill, close up to the cur­tain wall of the cas­tle, and over­look­ing the river. A por­tion of this fine old house is in­cor­po­rat­ed with the new one built about a cen­tu­ry since.

There is a fine de­scrip­tion of the des­o­late tract of wild marsh­es be­yond the vil­lage of Cool­ing, and of the "fear­ful wild fowl" in the shape of es­caped con­victs some­times caught there. Pip. the hero of the story, says: —

To five lit­tle stone lozenges, each about a foot and a half long, which were ar­ranged in a neat row, and were sa­cred to the mem­o­ry of five lit­tle broth­ers of mine — who gave up try­ing to get a liv­ing ex­ceed­ing­ly early in that uni­ver­sal strug­gle — I am in­debt­ed for a be­lief I re­li­gious­ly en­ter­tained that they had all been born on their backs, with their hands in their trous­er pock­ets, and had never taken them out in this state of ex­is­tence. Ours was the marsh coun­try, down, by the river, with­in, as the river wound, twen­ty miles of the sea. My first most vivid and broad im­pres­sion of the iden­ti­ty of things seems to me to have been gained on a mem­o­rable raw af­ter­noon to­wards evening. At such a time I found out, for cer­tain, that this bleak place over­grown with net­tles was the church­yard; and that the dark flat wilder­ness be­yond the church­yard was the marsh­es; and that the low lead­en line be­yond was the river; and that the dis­tant sav­age lair from which the wind was rush­ing was the sea; and that the small bun­dle of shiv­ers grow­ing afraid of it all, and be­gin­ning to cry, was Pip. "Hold your noise!" cried a ter­ri­ble voice, as a man start­ed up from among the graves at the side of the church porch. "Keep still, you lit­tle devil, or Til cut your throat!"

A fear­ful man all in coarse grey, with a great iron on his leg. A man with no hat, and with bro­ken shoes, and with an old rag tied round his head. A man who had been soaked in water, and smoth­ered in mud, and lamed by stones, and cut by flints, and stung by net­tles, and torn by briers; who limped and shiv­ered, and glared and growled; and whose teeth chat­tered in his head as he seized me by the chin.

The con­vict makes the fright­ened boy promise to bring him in the morn­ing a file and some "wit­tles," and then takes him­self off, "hug­ging his shud­der­ing body in both his arms, and pick­ing his way among the net­tles, and among the bram­bles that bound the green mounds, as if he were elud­ing the hands of the dead peo­ple, stretch­ing up cau­tious­ly out of their graves to get a twist upon his ankle and pull him in." Pip gets the file and the "wit­tles," and in the morn­ing finds the con­vict at an old bat­tery on the marsh­es: —

Hug­ging him­self and limp­ing to and fro as if he had never all night left off hug­ging and limp­ing. He was aw­ful­ly cold, to be sure. I half ex­pect­ed to see him drop down be­fore my face, and die of dead­ly cold. His eyes looked so aw­ful­ly hun­gry, too, that when I hand­ed him the file, and he laid it down on the grass, it oc­curred to me he would have tried to eat it if he had not seen my bun­dle. "What's in the bot­tle, boy?" said he. "Brandy," said I. He was al­ready hand­ing mince-meat down his throat in the most cu­ri­ous man­ner — more like a man who was putting it away some­where in a vi­o­lent hurry than a man who was eat­ing it -- -but he left off to take some of the liquor. He shiv­ered all the while so vi­o­lent­ly that it was quite as much as he could do to keep the neck of the bot­tle be­tween his teeth with­out bit­ing it off. "I think you have got the ague," said I. "I'm much of your opin­ion, boy," said he. "It's bad about here," I told him. "You've been lying out on the mesh­es, and they're dread­ful aguish. Rheumat­ic too." "I'll eat my break­fast afore they're the death of me," said he. "I'll beat the shiv­ers so far, I'll bet you." He was gob­bling mince-meat, meat-bone, bread, cheese, and pork pie all at once; star­ing dis­trust­ful­ly while he did so at the mist all around us. and often stop­ping — even stop­ping his jaws — to lis­ten. Some real or fan­cied sound, some clink upon the river or breath­ing of beast upon the marsh, now gave him a start, and he said sud­den­ly: "You're not a de­ceiv­ing imp? You brought no one with you?" "No. sir! no!" "Nor giv' no one the of­fice to fol­low you?" "No!" "Well," said he, "I be­lieve you. You'd be but a fierce young hound in­deed if, at your time of life, you could help to hunt a wretched warmint, hunt­ed as near death and dunghill as this poor wretched warmint is!" Some­thing clicked in his throat as if he had works in him like a clock, and was going to strike. And he smeared his ragged, rough sleeve over his eyes.

Dick­ens must have had many op­por­tu­ni­ties of ob­serv­ing the ap­pear­ance and con­di­tion of the Chatham con­victs, and there are many vivid glimpses of con­vict life in this tale. The cap­tured con­victs in this chap­ter, were spir­it­ed away to the hulk lying out in the Med­way, and look­ing by night like "a wicked Noah's Ark." He also de­scribes in an­oth­er chap­ter the man­ner of con­vey­ing con­victs to Chatham by coach, and how or­di­nary out­side pas­sen­gers first be­came aware of their pres­ence by their "bring­ing with them that cu­ri­ous flavour of bread poul­tice, baize, rope yam, and hearth­stone, which at­tends the con­vict pres­ence."

Far­ther on in the tale, Pip is taken to the Town Hall to be bound ap­pren­tice to Joe Gargery, the black­smith. The "Hall," is of course the Guild­hall, Rochester.

The Hall was a queer place I thought, with high­er pews in it than a church, ... and with mighty jus­tices lean­ing back in chairs, with fold­ed arms, or tak­ing snuff, or going to sleep, or writ­ing, or read­ing the news­pa­pers, ... and with some shin­ing black por­traits on the walls, which my unartis­tic eye re­gard­ed as a com­po­si­tion of hard­bake and stick­ing-plas­ter. There in a comer my in­den­tures were duly signed and at­test­ed, and I was "bound;" Mr. Pum­ble­chook hold­ing me all the while as if we had looked in on our way to the scaf­fold, to have those lit­tle pre­lim­i­nar­ies dis­posed of.

At the din­ner and mer­ry-mak­ing at the Blue Boar, which fol­lowed, Pip com­plains that being sleepy, his friends kept wak­ing him up. and telling him to enjoy him­self. — and far­ther on in the evening Mr. Wop­sle gave us Collins's Ode, and threw his blood-stained sword in thun­der down, with such an ef­fect, that a wait­er came in and said "The com­mer­cials un­der­neath sent up their com­pli­ments, and it wasn't the Tum­blers Arms."

The Blue Boar so often men­tioned in this tale is un­doubt­ed­ly in­tend­ed for the Bull Hotel in the High Street.

The fol­low­ing ex­tract may have been and very like­ly was a per­son­al ex­pe­ri­ence of Dick­ens on re­vis­it­ing Rochester. In the story it is the ex­pe­ri­ence of Pip, after he had for a time re­al­ized his great ex­pec­ta­tions: —

It was in­ter­est­ing to be in the quiet old town once more, and it was not dis­agree­able to be here and there sud­den­ly rec­og­nized and stared after. One or two of the trades-peo­ple even dart­ed out of their shops, and went a lit­tle way down the street be­fore me, that they might turn, as if they had for­got­ten some­thing, and pass me face to face — on which oc­ca­sions I don't know whether they or I made the most pre­tence; they of not doing it. or I of not see­ing it.

The story of Great Ex­pec­ta­tions lies ei­ther in Rochester and neigh­bour­hood or Lon­don, and, like Edwin Drood, is so full of Rochester and Lon­don that ei­ther book might equal­ly with his ter­ri­ble story of the French Rev­o­lu­tion have been called A Tale of Two Cities.

Many char­ac­ters in the ear­li­er and later books of Charles Dick­ens are, it is well known, taken from ac­tu­al life, and have been thought by some still liv­ing in these towns to be much too eas­i­ly rec­og­niz­able to be pleas­ant.

Names of places, too, are oc­ca­sion­al­ly used in works that do not oth­er­wise touch on Rochester dis­trict at all; for in­stance, in Bleak House, a rook­ery in Lon­don is called "Tom-all-alone's," which to thou­sands not in the se­cret may seem an un­mean­ing name. It is re­al­ly the name of an out­ly­ing dis­trict of Chatham, at the back of the Lines, and is now being near­ly all ab­sorbed in the dock­yard ex­ten­sion. There is or was late­ly here a tav­ern also called "Tom-all-alone's." Of the names of char­ac­ters through­out the works of Dick­ens, many are drawn from these towns. Hub­ble. Jasper. Cobb, Dowler, Larkins, and many oth­ers are well-known local names; Caleb Pordage and Fanny Dor­ritt lie side by side in the cathe­dral grave­yard; and there is a Weil­er, a green­gro­cer, in High Street. Chatham.

In the last work of Dick­ens, Rochester fig­ures again as Clois­ter­ham, and there are sev­er­al fine pas­sages in the frag­ment re­lat­ing to his favourite spot. In a let­ter to Forster, writ­ten some six years be­fore his death, he says: — " I have grown hard to sat­is­fy, and write very slow­ly." There is, how­ev­er, no doubt that this work shows on falling off ei­ther in in­ven­tion or de­scrip­tive power; and al­though his state­ment to his friend, "that he had grown hard to sat­is­fy," is folly borne out by a care­ful ex­am­i­na­tion of the manuscript, where era­sures and in­ter­lin­eations are nu­mer­ous, per­haps few will doubt that this, his last work, is one of his best, if not the best of all.

It may be noted, too, that to­wards the close of his life Charles Dick­ens seems to have been more fre­quent­ly in the im­me­di­ate precincts of the cathe­dral than ever be­fore; this may very prob­a­bly have been in order to make a clos­er study of its sur­round­ings, for use as the story de­vel­oped it­self. The ap­par­i­tor of the cathe­dral (the Mr. Tope of the tale) says: — " he often saw Mr. Dick­ens about the cathe­dral dur­ing the last few months of his life; and for some time he took no par­tic­u­lar no­tice of him, not know­ing who he was." And to the re­mark, "All, but he was tak­ing no­tice of you!" he replied "Very tine, sir, very true," and seemed pleased with the recog­ni­tion of his por­trait. The cu­ri­ous char­ac­ter, Dur­dles, who has only re­cent­ly dis­ap­peared from the neigh­bour­hood, was from the life, as was also, to some ex­tent, Mr. Sapsea. There is plen­ty of good com­e­dy in Edwin Drood, [It is be­lieved on good grounds, that (with the al­ter­ation of one let­ter,) Edwin Drood is named after a for­mer Land­lord of the Fal­staff. his name being Edwin Trood.] but it is rather no­tice­able for a qui­eter and more thought­ful­ly sub­dued tone through­out. The first ex­tract de­scribes East­gate House, or the Nun's House of the tale, the High Street, and Mr. Sapsea's premis­es. Mr. Hull's draw­ings of the High Street and East­gate give cap­i­tal views of this part of Rochester.

A drowsy city, Clois­ter­ham, whose in­hab­i­tants seem to sup­pose, with an in­con­sis­ten­cy more strange than rare, that all its changes lie be­hind it, and that there are on more to come. A queer moral to de­rive from an­tiq­ui­ty, yet older than any trace­able an­tiq­ui­ty.

So silent are the streets of Clois­ter­ham (though prone to echo on the small­est provo­ca­tion,) that of a sum­mer day the sun­blinds of its shops scarce dare to flap in the south wind; while the sun-browned tramps who pass along and stare, quick­en their limp a lit­tle, that they may the soon­er get be­yond the con­fines of its op­pres­sive re­spectabil­i­ty.

In a word, a city of an­oth­er and a by­gone time is Clois­ter­ham, with its hoarse cathe­dral bell, its hoarse rooks hov­er­ing about the cathe­dral tower, its hoars­er and less dis­tinct rooks in the stalls far be­neath.

In the midst of Clois­ter­ham stands the Nun's House; a ven­er­a­ble brick ed­i­fice, whose pre­sent ap­pel­la­tion is doubt­less de­rived from the leg­end of its con­ven­tu­al uses. On the trim gate en­clos­ing its old court­yard is a re­splen­dent brass plate flash­ing forth the leg­end " Sem­i­nary for Young Ladies. Miss Twin­kle­ton." The house front is so old and worn, and the brass plate is so shin­ing and star­ing, that the gen­er­al re­sult has re­mind­ed imag­i­na­tive strangers of a bat­tered old beau with a large mod­ern eye­glass stuck in his blind eye. …

Mr. Sapsea's premis­es are in the High Street, over against the Nun's House. They are of about the pe­ri­od of the Nun's House, ir­reg­u­lar­ly mod­ern­ized here and there, as steadi­ly de­te­ri­o­rat­ing gen­er­a­tions found, more and more, that they pre­ferred air and light to fever and the plague. Over the door­way is a wood­en ef­fi­gy, about half life size, rep­re­sent­ing Mr. Sapsea's fa­ther, in a curly wig and toga, in the act of sell­ing. The chasti­ty of the idea, and the nat­u­ral ap­pear­ance of the lit­tle fin­ger, ham­mer, and pul­pit, have been much ad­mired.

The fig­ure of the auc­tion­eer just men­tioned, dis­ap­peared some twen­ty-five years since, but the de­scrip­tion of it, and it is said of the auc­tion­eer also, was true to life; cer­tain it is that, when Charles Dick­ens died, the suc­ces­sors of this very auc­tion­eer, Messrs. Thomas and Homan, were em­ployed by the ex­ecu­tors to sell the fur­ni­ture and ef­fects at Gads Hill Place. Here fol­lows a de­scrip­tion of Minor Canon Row, or, as it is called in the tale, "Minor Canon Cor­ner," the res­i­dence of the minor canons. Mr. Hull's beau­ti­ful draw­ing was sketched under dif­fi­cul­ties, and we were more than once in­vit­ed into the near­est house in the row, the comer one, out of the piti­less rain. What we were shown there con­vinced us that Dick­ens had been there be­fore us, as his ac­count of the in­te­ri­or of Canon Crisparkle's house is pho­to­graph­ic in its ac­cu­ra­cy.

Minor Canon Comer was a quiet place in the shad­ow of the cathe­dral, which the caw­ing of the rooks, the echo­ing foot­steps of rare passers, the sound of the cathe­dral bell, or the roll of the cathe­dral organ, seemed to ren­der more quiet than ab­so­lute si­lence. Swag­ger­ing right­ing men had had their cen­turies of ramp­ing and rav­ing about Minor Canon Cor­ner, and beat­en serfs had had their cen­turies of drudg­ing and dying there, and pow­er­ful monks had had their cen­turies of being some­times use­ful and some­times harm­ful there; and be­hold, they were all gone out of Minor Canon Cor­ner, and so much the bet­ter. Per­haps one of the high­est uses of their ever hav­ing been there was that there might be left be­hind that blessed air of tran­quil­li­ty which per­vad­ed Minor Canon Cor­ner, and that serene­ly ro­man­tic state of the mind, pro­duc­tive for the most part of pity and for­bear­ance, which is en­gen­dered by a sor­row­ful story that is all told, or a pa­thet­ic play that is played out.

Red-brick walls har­mo­nious­ly toned down in color by time, strong-root­ed ivy, lat­ticed win­dows, pan­elled rooms, big oaken beams in lit­tle places, and stone-walled gar­dens where an­nu­al fruit yet ripened upon monk­ish trees, were the prin­ci­pal sur­round­ings of pret­ty old Mrs. Crisparkle and the Rev­erend Sep­ti­mus as they sat at break­fast.

Here is what Mr. Grew­gious saw and heard as he stood at the great west door of the cathe­dral on the af­ter­noon of a fine au­tumn day: —

"Dear me," said Mr. Grew­gious, peep­ing in, "it's like look­ing down the throat of Old Time."

Old Time heaved a mouldy sigh from tomb and arch and vault; and gloomy shad­ows began to deep­en in cor­ners; and damps began to rise from green patch­es of stone; and jew­els, cast upon the pave­ment of the nave from stained glass by the de­clin­ing sun, began to per­ish. With­in the grill-gate of the chan­cel, up the steps sur­mount­ed loom­ing­ly by the fast dark­en­ing organ, white robes could be dimly seen, and one fee­ble voice, ris­ing and falling in a cracked monotonous mut­ter, could at in­ter­vals be faint­ly heard. In the free outer air, the river, the green pas­tures, and the brown arable lands, the teem­ing hills and dales, were red­dened by the sun­set; while the dis­tant lit­tle win­dows in wind­mills and farm home­steads shone patch­es of bright beat­en gold. In the cathe­dral all be­came grey, murky, and sepul­chral, and the cracked monotonous mut­ter went on like a dying voice, until the organ and the choir burst forth, and drowned it in a sea of music. Then the sea fell, and the dying voice made an­oth­er fee­ble ef­fort, and then the sea rose high, and beat its life out. and lashed the roof, and surged among the arch­es, and pierced the heights of the great tower; and then the sea was dry, and all was still.

The old build­ing be­fore men­tioned, called "Restora­tion House," has al­ways in the mem­o­ry of man been said to be haunt­ed. The story is that a lady, with a child in her arms and a rope dan­gling from her neck, has been seen, not only in the house, but in the Vines op­po­site (the monk's vine­yard of the story,) and in parts of the precincts. Dick­ens says :

A cer­tain awful hush per­vades the an­cient pile, the clois­ters, and the church­yard, after dark, which not many peo­ple care to en­counter. The cause of this is not to be found in any local su­per­sti­tion that at­tach­es to the precincts, but it is to be sought in the in­nate shrink­ing of dust with the breath of life in it from dust out of which the breath of life has passed; also in the wide­ly dif­fused, and al­most as wide­ly un­ac­knowl­edged, re­flec­tion: "If the dead do, under any cir­cum­stances, be­come vis­i­ble to the liv­ing, these are such like­ly sur­round­ings for the pur­pose that I, the liv­ing, will get out of them as soon as I can."

This re­minds one of that fine pas­sage in Ras­se­las, where Imlac says: — " That the dead are seen no more I will not un­der­take to main­tain against the con­cur­rent and un­var­ied tes­ti­mo­ny of all ages and of all na­tions. That it is doubt­ed by sin­gle cav­illers can very lit­tle weak­en the gen­er­al ev­i­dence; and many who deny it with their tongues con­fess it by their fears."

Christ­mas Eve in Clois­ter­ham : —

A few strange faces in the streets; a few other faces, half strange and half fa­mil­iar, once the faces of Clois­ter­ham chil­dren, now the faces of men and women who come back from the outer world at long in­ter­vals. To these, the strik­ing of the cathe­dral clock, and the caw­ing of the rooks, are like voic­es of their nurs­ery time.

To such as these, it has hap­pened in their dying hours afar off, that they have imag­ined their cham­ber floor to be strewed with the au­tu­mal leaves fall­en from the elm trees in the close: so have the rustling sounds and fresh scents of their ear­li­est im­pres­sions re­vived, when the cir­cle of their lives was very near­ly traced, and the be­gin­ning and the end were draw­ing close to­geth­er.

The next and last ex­tract was writ­ten at Gads Hill, on the morn­ing of the 8th of June, 1870, in the Swiss chalet which stood in the grounds on the op­po­site side of the road; and in the evening Charles Dick­ens was strick­en with apoplexy, and died the next day. The weath­er was un­usu­al­ly fine and warm, ['The June weath­er was de­li­cious. The sky was blue, the larks were soar­ing high over the green com, I thought all that coun­try-side more beau­ti­ful and peace­ful by far than I had ever known it to be yet." — Great Ex­pec­ta­tions. Chap. LVIII.] and in the morn­ing of his last day of con­scious­ness we find him thus beau­ti­ful­ly de­scrib­ing the ef­fects of such a morn­ing in his favourite spot: —

A bril­liant morn­ing shines on the old city'. Its an­tiq­ui­ties and rains are sur­pass­ing­ly beau­ti­ful, with the lusty ivy gleam­ing in the sun, and the rich trees wav­ing in the balmy air. Changes of glo­ri­ous light from mov­ing boughs, songs of birds, scents from gar­dens, woods, and fields — or rather, from the one great gar­den of the whole cul­ti­vat­ed is­land in its yield­ing time — pen­e­trate into the cathe­dral, sub­due its earth­ly odour, and preach the Res­ur­rec­tion and the Life. The cold stone tombs of cen­turies ago grow warm; and flecks of bright­ness dart into the sternest mar­ble com­ers of the build­ing, flut­ter­ing there like wings.

Hav­ing thus glanced at all the works of Dick­ens con­tain­ing ref­er­ences to this neigh­bour­hood, it re­mains only to note that, al­though none of the books be­tween Pick­wick and David Cop­per­field touch upon Rochester, we can by the aid of Forster's Life of Dick­ens, and the two vol­umes of Let­ters pub­lished by Miss Dick­ens, and her Aunt, get many glimpses of his old love for these towns. Charles Dick­ens never wea­ried of tak­ing his friends Forster, Maclise, Stan­field, Leech, Longfel­low, Fields, Wilkie Collins, and many oth­ers to see the places he had known from child­hood; and which places may cer­tain­ly be said to have left their in­flu­ences, — very benef­i­cent in­flu­ences too — upon the whole of his after life.

Charles Dick­ens has now been in his grave ten years, and al­though it would not be be­com­ing in me to ex­press any opin­ion as to the rel­a­tive value of his works, or the hold they are des­tined to take on pos­ter­i­ty, I may say that I have taken some lit­tle pains to get an ex­pres­sion of opin­ion from the book­sellers as to the pre­sent and prob­a­ble fu­ture sale of his books. To quote a term used in the trade, "Dick­ens is still alive." The sales are good, and to all ap­pear­ances like­ly to con­tin­ue so per­ma­nent­ly, and there is an en­tire­ly new edi­tion re­cent­ly pub­lished, the Pock­et Edi­tion, which is sell­ing well. Of Dick­ens him­self it may be said that prob­a­bly there has not been an­oth­er man so en­tire­ly beloved by all class­es of peo­ple dur­ing the pre­sent cen­tu­ry. [It may be record­ed here on the best au­thor­i­ty, that of Dean Stan­ley, that oc­ca­sion­al­ly to this day, flow­ers, and now and then a wreath, are laid on the grave of Dick­ens in West­min­ster Abbey. This is in­de­pen­dent of a fine wreath of choice flow­ers placed there an­nu­al­ly by lov­ing hands on the ninth of June.] Some per­sons it is true have writ­ten and thought dis­parag­ing­ly of our great nov­el­ist, but it has per­haps been more from ig­no­rance of the facts than from any other cause. The pub­lish­ing late­ly of his pri­vate let­ters, writ­ten to all sorts and con­di­tions of men, has let in a flood of light as to the real char­ac­ter of this gift­ed, gen­er­ous man.

It is not too much to say that very few men could have passed through that great­est of all tri­als, un­bound­ed suc­cess and pop­u­lar­i­ty, and yet have re­mained, as he did, un­spoiled to the last! Pros­per­i­ty, in his case, only served to bring out the ster­ling good qual­i­ties of the man, not to dwarf or nar­row them. Most men start­ing in life as poor as he, would, when they had at­tained to rich­es and hon­our, have turned Con­ser­va­tive in the worst sense of the word, while he, as we all know, re­mained a con­sis­tent Rad­i­cal to his life's end.

Charles Dick­ens was "born with Heav­en­ly com­pas­sion in his heart," [Bleak House. Chap. XLVII.] and was ever ready to help with money and with hard work the fam­i­lies of de­ceased lit­er­ary men, and oth­ers less for­tu­nate than him­self. He no more be­lieved "that peo­ple with nought are naughty'" than did Thomas Hood, the ge­nial au­thor of that pun­ning line.

To learn how world-wide is the knowl­edge of the works of Charles Dick­ens we have but to look to the news­pa­per press of the pre­sent day, whether metropoli­tan, provin­cial, or colo­nial. Take up a news­pa­per where you will in the En­glish-speak­ing por­tions of our globe, and of­ten­er than not you will find one or more quo­ta­tions from his books in its lead­ers. And what is quite as re­mark­able, quo­ta­tions, phras­es, and say­ings from Dick­ens are no­tice­ably more and more get­ting into our lan­guage.

So that, fi­nal­ly, it may be said of him, with­out ex­ag­ger­a­tion, that "his sound is gone out into all lands, and his words to the ends of the world!"