Wednesday, 9 January 2008

What the Dickens was he thinking?

As well as being one of the greatest English novelists of all time, and a celebrated performer of his own and others' work, Charles Dickens also found time to have ten children with his wife Catherine née Hogarth, with her obviously doing most of the work.

Here are their names, with associations attached:

Charles Culliford (Charley) Dickens (1837-1896)

The only Culliford I could find was a 17th century pirate, so this first child's name may not have much significance.

Mary (Mamie) Dickens (1838-1896)

Mary was named after her mother's sister who died the year before Mary was born. Mamie, as she was called, later wrote a memoir My Father As I Recall Him, which is online here.

Kate Macready (Katie) Dickens (1839-1929)

William Charles Macready was an actor and a friend of Dickens.

Walter Savage Landor Dickens (1841-1863)

Landor and Dickens shared a biographer in John Forster. Landor was a writer and poet much more popular then than he is now.

Francis Jeffrey (Frank) Dickens (1844-1886)

Jeffrey was a judge and critic, helped launch the Edinburgh Review with Sydney Smith, and helped Smith edit the periodical.

Alfred D'Orsay Tennyson Dickens (1845-1912)

Count D'Orsay, much admired by Byron, was an artist and dandy, and a friend of Disraeli and Bulwer-Lytton.

Tennyson, obviously, was the Poet Laureate from 1850 until he died in 1892.

Sydney Smith Haldimand Dickens (1847-1872)

Smith was a preacher, lecturer, pamphleteer and writer.

Haldimand was a Swiss-born general who helped defeat the French in Canada and from there carried out raids into the colonies during the American Revolutionary War.

Henry Fielding (Harry) Dickens (1849-1933)

Fielding was, of course, the author of Tom Jones. But also founder of the Bow Street Runners. He died more than half a century before Dickens was born.

Dora Annie Dickens (1850-1851)

Dora was named after a character in David Copperfield.

Edward Bulwer Lytton (Plorn) Dickens (1852-1902)

Bulwer-Lytton was a hugely popular writer of the time, nowadays mostly forgotten except as the author of the inimitable first line, "It was a dark and stormy night".

So, with the exception of the two literary giants Fielding and Tennyson, Dickens named his children after leading literary figures of his circle, one or two of whom were also personal friends. Nonetheless, I find that little foible quite charming. To be so immortalised by one of the giants, in such an intimate way, must have been considered quite an honour. How different from the leading figures of the culture today, who call their children Brooklyn, or Fifi Trixibelle, or Lourdes.