Charles Dickens

Francis Douce: the dance of death

London: William Pickering, 1833

Sp Coll Gemmell 34

This volume bears the rather striking bookplate of Charles Dickens, depicting a lion with a star. Dickens was born on 7 February 1812, in Landport, Portsmouth, the second of eight children of John Dickens and his wife Elizabeth. Charles' parents were unfortunately rather careless with money, but good-natured and refined - perhaps the models for Mr. and Mrs. Micawber in David Copperfield. In 1822 the family suffered a major financial set-back and they had to move to a smaller home and remove Charles from school, which upset him greatly. In 1824 John was committed to the debtors' prison at the Marshalsea, and, as was the custom, his wife and children went to live with him there. A family friend found work for Charles at Robert Warren's blacking factory but Charles never fully recovered from his outrage and hurt over this experience and an intense sorrow over his lost childhood found expression in his later works, particularly Oliver Twist and Little Dorrit.

When the family's finances improved, Charles' mother did not remove him immediately from the blacking factory. However, he did eventually return to school and afterwards worked first as a lawyer's clerk, which he hated, and then, from age 17, as a court stenographer which gave him an insight into characters from the seedier walks of life which he drew on in many of his later works. He also worked as a journalist.

Dickens' career as a novelist earned him enormous world-wide poularity, and his works are admired for skilful storytelling and the many unforgettable characters. As well as being the foremost novelist of the era, he was a keen social campaigner. His popularity has continued to this day and it is a remarkable achievement that none of his works has ever gone out of print.

During his life-time he amassed a significant collection of books, including this volume by Francis Douce (1757-1834), a dissertation on a late medieval allegory on the universality of death.

This book is on display in the Special Collections Department foyer until 14th April 2011.

Bookplate of Charles Dickens in Douce, Francis: The Dance of Death
Bookplate of Charles Dickens in Francis Douce's The Dance of Death.

Go to the next book in the exhibition, previously owned by: David Livingstone