From the Archives: “Snuggling Up to Genius”

December 16, 2008 @ 5:30 pm | Filed under: Books, Chesterton & Dickens

(Excerpted from a December 2005 post)

…Anyway, all this Dickens talk brought to mind something I read long ago in the introduction to Kate Douglas Wiggins’s Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. It was an unforgettable account of young (very young) Kate’s encounter with Charles Dickens himself on a train during one of his reading tours of the United States. I no longer have the edition of Rebecca which contains the article (Alice, I think it was your copy?), but I Googled this morning with hope in my heart and aha! There it was, in full, at a delightful site called OldMagazineArticles.com.

An excerpt:

There on the platform stood the Adored One. His hands were plunged deep in his pockets (a favorite posture), but presently one was removed to wave away laughingly a piece of the famous Berwick sponge-cake offered him by Mr. Osgood, of Boston, his traveling companion and friend.

I knew him at once: the smiling, genial, mobile face, rather highly colored, the brilliant eyes, the watch-chain, the red carnation in the buttonhole, and the expressive hands, much given to gesture. It was only a momentary view, for the train started, and Dickens vanished, to resume his place in the car next to ours, where he had been, had I known it, ever since we left Portland.

Shortly thereafter, the intrepid Kate slips into Dickens’s car, where she finds him alone and launches into a discussion of his “stories”:

“Well, upon my word!” he said. “You do not mean to say that you have read them!”

“Of course I have,” I replied. “Every one of them but the two that we are going to buy in Boston, and some of them six times.”

“Bless my soul!” he ejaculated again. “Those long, thick books, and you such a slip of a thing!”

“Of course,” I explained, conscientiously, “I do skip some of the very dull parts once in a while; not the short dull parts, but the long ones.”

He laughed heartily. “Now, that is something that I hear very little about,” he said. “I distinctly want to learn more about those very dull parts,” and, whether to amuse himself or to amuse me, I do not know, he took out a note-book and pencil from his pocket and proceeded to give me an exhausting and exhaustive examination on this subject—the books in which the dull parts predominated, and the characters and subjects which principally produced them. He chuckled so constantly during this operation that I could hardly help believing myself extraordinarily agreeable; so I continued dealing these infant blows under the delusion that I was flinging him bouquets.

You can read the article in its entirety here.


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Comments

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  1. Thanks so much for posting this! My eight-year-old son has been reading “A Christmas Carol” and is very proud of the fact that he is reading Dickens (“oh, can’t forget to bring Dickens to school today”). I can’t wait to share this with him (as soon as he finishes his homework)

  2. Melissa,

    Thanks for this great story. I cannot wait to read this to my 9yo daughter and I know already how her eyes will widen and her hands clasp as she instantly puts herself in the shoes of the young Kate. What a fabulous encounter!

  3. You find the best stuff. And I keep chuckling VERY LOUDLY at the “very model of a modern major general” remark. I think I’ll write that on anything I have to write “occupation” on – it describes Motherhood very well! (and 7 year olds) 🙂

  4. Our former neighbor Steve the Llamabutcher gave me (via Facebook) the BEST compliment in response to that comment–he said “And I too have often thought of you as someone with many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse. It’s kind of the essence of the Bonny Glen lifestyle.” LOL LOL LOL!!!

  5. What a great article! I love that she thought about her bonnet ribbons and how the Great Man would approve if he glanced her way.

    xxS