When the name Charles Dickens is mentioned, various characters cross the mind. Here’s just a few: Ebenezer Scrooge, Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Miss Havisham, and Little Dorrit. The prolific Victorian author is probably the most well-known of his 19th century contemporaries.
Like William Shakespeare, Dickens’ works are still read, quoted, and produced for film and television, especially on the BBC and PBS. One can hardly escape his masterwork A Christmas Carol during the Christmas season.
Dickens was a complex individual. His early childhood and teenage years in their stark realistic tones were reflected in his novels that vividly depicted Victorian society.
One aspect of his life that has not been widely emphasized is the concern and love for his children he expressed. It is in this area that Dickens’ faith is very evident.
As his children were growing up, he condensed the Gospels into the vernacular for children. It was not until 1934 that these Gospel rewrites were published in the book The Life of Our Lord.
In 1868, when his youngest son Edward Bulwer Lytton Dickens (nicknamed Plorn), left for Australia at age 16 to attend university, Dickens wrote him a letter which had deep pathos and loving concern. In this letter he shared the underpinnings of his soul:
My dearest Plorn,
I write this note to-day because your going away is much upon my mind, and because I want you to have a few parting words from me to think of now and then at quiet times. I need not tell you that I love you dearly, and am very, very sorry in my heart to part with you. But this life is half made up of partings, and these pains must be borne. It is my comfort and my sincere conviction that you are going to try the life for which you are best fitted. I think its freedom and wildness more suited to you than any experiment in a study or office would ever have been; and without that training, you could have followed no other suitable occupation.
What you have already wanted until now has been a set, steady, constant purpose. I therefore exhort you to persevere in a thorough determination to do whatever you have to do as well as you can do it. I was not so old as you are now when I first had to win my food, and do this out of this determination, and I have never slackened in it since.
Never take a mean advantage of anyone in any transaction, and never be hard upon people who are in your power. Try to do to others, as you would have them do to you, and do not be discouraged if they fail sometimes. It is much better for you that they should fail in obeying the greatest rule laid down by our Saviour, than that you should.
I put a New Testament among your books, for the very same reasons, and with the very same hopes that made me write an easy account of it for you, when you were a little child; because it is the best book that ever was or will be known in the world, and because it teaches you the best lessons by which any human creature who tries to be truthful and faithful to duty can possibly be guided. As your brothers have gone away, one by one, I have written to each such words as I am now writing to you, and have entreated them all to guide themselves by this book, putting aside the interpretations and inventions of men.
You will remember that you have never at home been wearied about religious observances or mere formalities. I have always been anxious not to weary my children with such things before they are old enough to form opinions respecting them. You will therefore understand the better that I now most solemnly impress upon you the truth and beauty of the Christian religion, as it came from Christ Himself, and the impossibility of your going far wrong if you humbly but heartily respect it.
Only one thing more on this head. The more we are in earnest as to feeling it, the less we are disposed to hold forth about it. Never abandon the wholesome practice of saying your own private prayers, night and morning. I have never abandoned it myself, and I know the comfort of it.
I hope you will always be able to say in after life, that you had a kind father. You cannot show your affection for him so well, or make him so happy, as by doing your duty.
Your affectionate Father.
There are times when the best advice comes from the most imperfect individuals. Dickens was far from the ideal father or husband, but his words, especially about the New Testament and living a life devoted to the principles contained therein, are as true today in 2019 as they were in 1868 — 151 years ago.
Charles Dickens never saw his son again. I am sure as he watched the ship sail from the harbor, he knew in his heart that they would never meet again on this earth.
However, it was his belief that heaven was about family. In the future time there would be no good-byes, just happiness and a lot of evenings around the hearth reading and laughing.
Charles Dickens died June 9, 1870. He was 58.
Notes & References:
“How to Be a Decent Person: Charles Dickens’s Letter of Advice to His Youngest Son” by Maria Popova, BrainPickings.org
The Letters of Charles Dickens Vol. 2, 1857-1870
G.D. Williams is recently retired after working in Adventist higher education for 30+ years. His pursuits include photography, genealogy, collecting antique books, and working on his old farmhouse.
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
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