Charles Culliford Dickens, the first child of Charles Dickens and Catherine Hogarth Dickens, was born on 6th January, 1837. She had difficulty feeding the baby and gave up trying. A wet nurse was found but Mary Hogarth believed that her sister was suffering from depression: "Every time she (Catherine) sees her baby she has a fit of crying and keeps constantly saying she is sure he (Charles Dickens) will not care for her now she is not able to nurse him."
According to Claire Tomalin, the author of Dickens: A Life (2011), Dickens loved his son "with passion, but was anxious about him when he could not be with him. 'Don't leave him alone too much,' he wrote to Catherine from Yorkshire in February, 1837, as though he feared the precious boy might not be getting enough of her attention." On 6th March, 1838, Catherine gave birth to a second child, Mamie Dickens . This was followed by Kate Dickens in October, 1839.
In December, 1839, the Dickens family moved from 48 Doughty Street to 1 Devonshire Terrace, York Gate, close to Regent's Park. Dickens paid £800 for the eleven-year lease in addition to an annual rent of £160. The house had more than a dozen rooms that included a library, dinning and drawing rooms, several bedrooms and two nurseries for his two younger sisters, Mamie and Kate. A fourth child, Walter Landor, was born on 8th February, 1841.
Charley, Mamie and Kate were all taught to read by their aunt, Georginia Hogarth, who was now living with the family. Later they had a governess whereas Charley had a private tutor, Louis Roche. Angela Burdett Coutts, the second richest woman in England, offered to pay for Charley's education. Charles Dickens accepted her offer, and assured her that Charley was "a child of a very uncommon capacity indeed" and that "his natural talent is quite remarkable". At this stage he was also convinced that "he takes after his father".
In January 1850, a week after Charley's thirteenth birthday, he left home to attend the top school in the country, Eton College. In June 1851 Dickens wrote to Miss Coutts: "I went down to Eton and saw Charley, who was very well indeed, and very anxious to be reported to you. He was much commended by his tutor, but had previously been reported rather lazy for the time being. I had therefore stopped his boat, and threatened other horrible penalties."
Charley did well at first but after two years Dickens became dissatisfied with his progress and told Miss Coutts that while "Eton would like to keep Charley making Latin verses for another five years" he thought it would be better if he left.
Charley wanted to join the army and Miss Coutts was willing to buy him a commission. However, Dickens was against the idea and instead insisted that he had a career in business. He was sent to Leipzig to learn German and start acquiring commercial skills. After nine months his German teacher told Dickens that his son was showing no interest in becoming a businessman. Dickens was furious when he heard the news and wrote to Miss Coutts that Charley suffered from "lassitude of character, a serious thing in a man" and that he had "less fixed purpose and energy than I could have supposed possible in my son."
Dickens found him work on his journal, Household Words. Eventually, Angela Burdett Coutts found him a position in Barings Bank in London at £50 a year. As Claire Tomalin pointed out: "He was now eighteen, a cheerful boy with good manners, and without ambition or drive."
In 1856 Wilkie Collins, wrote The Frozen Deep. The inspiration for the play came from the expedition led by Rear-Admiral John Franklin in 1845 to find the North-West Passage. Charles Dickens helped Collins with writing of the play and offered to arrange its first production in his own home, Tavistock House. Dickens also wanted to play the part of the hero, Richard Wardour, who after struggling against jealousy and murderous impulses, sacrifices his life to rescue his rival in love.
Dickens, who grew a beard for the role, also gave parts to three of his children, Charley, Mamie Dickens, Kate Dickens, and his sister-in-law, Georgina Hogarth. Dickens later recalled that taking part in the play was "like writing a book in company... a satisfaction of a most singular kind, which had no exact parallel in my life". Dickens invited the theatre critic from The Times to attend the first production on 6th January, 1857 in the converted schoolroom. He was very impressed and praised Kate for her "fascinating simplicity", Mamie for her "dramatic instinct" and Georgina for her "refined vivacity".
The temporary theatre held a maximum audience of twenty-five, four performances were given. A private command performance, with the same cast, was also given for Queen Victoria and her family on 4th July and three public benefit performances were given in London in order to raise money for the widow of Dickens's friend, Douglas Jerrold.
In May 1858, Catherine Dickens accidentally received a bracelet meant for Ellen Ternan. Her daughter, Kate Dickens, says her mother was distraught by the incident. Charles Dickens responded by a meeting with his solicitors. By the end of the month he negotiated a settlement where Catherine should have £400 a year and a carriage and the children would live with Dickens. Later, the children insisted they had been forced to live with their father.
Charley refused and decided that he would live with his mother. He told his father in a letter: "Don't suppose that in making my choice, I was actuated by any feeling of preference for my mother to you. God knows I love you dearly, and it will be a hard day for me when I have to part from you and the girls. But in doing as I have done, I hope I am doing my duty, and that you will understand it so."
On the signing of the settlement, Catherine Dickens found temporary accommodation in Brighton, with her son. Later that year she moved to a house in Gloucester Crescent near Regent's Park. Dickens automatically got the right to take away 8 out of the 9 children from his wife (the eldest son who was over 21 was free to stay with his mother). Under the 1857 Matrimonial Causes Act, Catherine Dickens could only keep the children she had to charge him with adultery as well as bigamy, incest, sodomy or cruelty.
Charles Dickens now moved back to Tavistock House with Mamie Dickens, Georgina Hogarth, Walter Landor Dickens, Henry Fielding Dickens, Francis Jeffrey Dickens, Alfred D'Orsay Tennyson, Sydney Smith Haldimand and Edward Bulwer Lytton Dickens. Mamie and Georgina were put in command of the servants and household management.
In June, 1858, Dickens decided to issue a statement to the press about the rumours involving him and two unnamed women (Nellie Ternan and Georgina Hogarth): "By some means, arising out of wickedness, or out of folly, or out of inconceivable wild chance, or out of all three, this trouble has been the occasion of misrepresentations, mostly grossly false, most monstrous, and most cruel - involving, not only me, but innocent persons dear to my heart... I most solemnly declare, then - and this I do both in my own name and in my wife's name - that all the lately whispered rumours touching the trouble, at which I have glanced, are abominably false. And whosoever repeats one of them after this denial, will lie as wilfully and as foully as it is possible for any false witness to lie, before heaven and earth."
The statement was published in The Times and Household Words. However, Punch Magazine, edited by his great friend, Mark Lemon, refused, bringing an end to their long friendship. William Makepeace Thackeray also took the side of Catherine Dickens and he was also banned from the house. Dickens was so upset that he insisted that his daughters, Mamie Dickens and Kate Dickens, brought an end to their friendship with the children of Lemon and Thackeray.
Edmund Yates supported Dickens in his dispute with his wife. On 12th June 1858 Yates published an article on Thackeray in a weekly called Town Talk . Thackeray complained to the committee of the Garrick Club that Yates, a fellow member, must have spied on him there. Charles Dickens, interceded on Yates's behalf, but he was expelled from the club, of which he had been a member since he was seventeen. Dickens resigned from the club in protest.
William Makepeace Thackeray wrote to a friend: "I'm not even angry with Dickens now for being the mover in the whole affair. He can't help hating me; and he can't help not being a - you know what (gentleman)... His quarrel with his wife has driven him almost frantic." Dickens had also been hurt by this dispute. He wrote to Yates: "If you could know how much I have felt within this last month, and what a sense of wrong has been upon me, and what a strain and struggle I have lived under, you would see that my heart is so jagged and rent and out of shape, that it does not this day leave me hand enough to shape these words."
In December 1858 Charley wrote an article for Punch Magazine about the Thackeray/Yates affair. As Lucinda Hawksley has pointed out: "In his article, Charley took Thackeray's side. Charley seems to have despised Edmund Yates, no doubt partly because of Katey's heartbreak, but also because Yates had very deliberately set about creating a rift between Thackeray and Dickens. Incensed by the article, Charles took malicious revenge upon his own son for what he saw as a lack of loyalty: he removed Charley's name from the list of potential new members of the Garrick Club - just as it was about to come up for election. Charley had been waiting patiently to become a member, and membership opportunities were scarce. Charles's step effectively ruined Charley's chances of ever becoming a member; if his name were resubmitted, it would take many years to get back up to the top of the list. One cannot help speculating that Charles's vindictive act had less to do with the Edmund Yates affair than it had with Charley's decision to stand by his mother."
The journalist, Eneas Sweetland Dallas took the side of William Makepeace Thackeray in his dispute with Charles Dickens and Edmund Yates: "The great fun I think is to see how Dickens backs up Yates, & how his jealousy of Thackeray comes out. Surely that man will one of these days blow his brains out. With the exception of a few toadies there is not a soul to take his part. They cut him at the clubs. His daughters - now under the benign wing of their aunt, Miss Hogarth - are not received into society. You would be excessively amused if you heard all the gigantic efforts the family make to keep their foot in the world - how they call upon people they never called on before & that they have treated with the most dire contempt."
In 1860 Charley left for Hong Kong to become a tea buyer. He also visited Walter Landor Dickens in Calcutta before returning to London in February 1861, in order to marry Bessie Evans (1839–1907). This caused another conflict with his father as Bessie was the daughter of Frederick Mullet Evans, Dickens's former publisher who had supported Catherine during the marriage separation. Dickens vowed never to speak to Evans again, and attempted to sever all contact between the two families. He told Catherine: "I absolutely prohibit... any of the children... ever being taken to Mr. Evans's house".
In March 1861, Dickens commented: "Charley.... will probably marry the daughter of Mr. Evans, the very last person on earth whom I could desire so to honor me." He blamed Catherine for his son's "odious" choice. "I wish I could hope that Charley's marriage may not be a disastrous one. There is no help for it, and the dear fellow does what is unavoidable - his foolish mother would have effectually committed him if nothing else had; chiefly I suppose because her hatred of the bride and all belonging to her, used to know no bounds, and was quite inappeasable. But I have a strong belief, founded on careful observation of him, that he cares nothing for the girl".
Claire Tomalin, the author of Dickens: A Life (2011) has pointed out: "He (Charles Dickens) tried to stop friends from attending the wedding, or entering the Evans house; and he blamed Catherine, who was of course at the wedding, and was indeed fond of the bride." The couple were married at St. Mark's Church in Regent's Park, on 19th November 1861. Dickens wrote to Robert Bulwer-Lytton complaining: ""The name the young lady has changed for mine, is odious to me and when I have said that. I have said all that need be said".
Over the next few years Bessie gave birth to eight children: Mary Angela (1862–1946), Ethel Kate (1864–1936), Charles Walter (1865–1923), Sydney Margaret (1866–1955), Dorothy Gertrude (1868–1923), Beatrice (1869–1937), Cecil Mary (1871–1952), and Evelyn Bessie (1873–1924).
Charles Dickens eventually forgave Charley for his support of his mother and marrying Bessie. In 1865 Charley, Bessie and their children spent Christmas at Gad's Hill Place. The following year Charley's paper business failed, leaving him bankrupt with personal debts of £1,000. Dickens now sacked Henry Morley, who had worked for him since 1851 and hired Charley as a sub-editor of All the Year Round.
In 1868 Dickens decided to send the sixteen-year-old son, Edward, to Australia. He wrote to Alfred asking him to help his younger brother. He added that he could ride, do a little carpentering and make a horse shoe but raised doubts about whether he would take to life in the bush. Dickens gave Edward a letter the last time he saw him: "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." He then urged him to leave behind the lack of "steady, constant purpose" and henceforth "persevere in a thorough determination to do whatever you have to do as well as you can do it". The letter concluded, "I hope you will always be able to say in after life, that you had a kind father".
Henry Fielding Dickens took Edward to Portsmouth. Henry later recalled: "He (Edward) went away, poor dear fellow, as well as could possibly be expected. He was pale, and had been crying, and had broken down in the railway carriage after leaving Higham station; but only for a short time." Dickens told a friend: "Poor Plorn has gone to Australia. It was a hard parting at the last. He seemed to become once more my youngest and favorite little child as the day drew near, and I did not think I could have been so shaken. These are hard, hard things, but they might have to be done without means or influence, and then they would be far harder. God bless him!"
Dickens was also having trouble with his son Sydney , who was an officer in the Royal Navy. Arthur A. Adrian has commented that " there were ominous signs that Sydney could not resist the family tendency toward extravagance". Sydney wrote to his father: "I must apply to you I am sorry to say and if you won't assist me I'm ruined". Dickens did pay off his debts but it was not long before he was asking for money again. "You can't understand how ashamed I am to appeal to you again... If any promises for future amends can be relied on you have mine most cordially, but for God's sake assist me now, it is a lesson I'm not likely to forget if you do and if you do not I can never forget. The result of your refusal is terrible to think of." Dickens wrote to his son, Henry, on 20th May, 1870: "I fear Sydney is much too far gone for recovery, and I begin to wish he were honestly dead." Dickens told his son that he was no longer welcome at Gad's Hill Place .
Claire Tomalin, the author of Dickens: A Life (2011) has pointed out that he was much more understanding of his eldest son, Charley's problems, than he was of those of his younger sons: "Sydney was cast off as Walter had been when he got into debt, and brother Fred when he became too troublesome, and Catherine when she opposed his will. Once Dickens had drawn a line he was pitiless.The conflicting elements in his character produced many puzzles and surprises. Why was Charley forgiven for failure and restored to favour, Walter and Sydney not? Because Charley was the child of his youth and first success, perhaps. But all his sons baffled him, and their incapacity frightened him: he saw them as a long line of versions of himself that had come out badly. He resented the fact that they had grown up in comfort and with no conception of the poverty lie had worked his way out of, and so he cast them off; yet he was a man whose tenderness of heart showed itself time and time again in his dealings with the poor, the dispossessed, the needy, other people's children."
Michael Slater, the author of Charles Dickens (2009) has explained: "Dickens took Charley on to the staff, having discovered, on his return from America, that the paper-making business in which his son was involved was on the verge of bankruptcy. Happily, Charley was to prove himself 'a very good man of business' in Wellington Street and in May 1870 formally succeeded Wills as general manager."
Charles Dickens died on 8th June, 1870. The traditional version of his death was given by his official biographer, John Forster. He claimed that Dickens was having dinner with Georgina Hogarth at Gad's Hill Place when he fell to the floor: "Her effort then was to get him on the sofa, but after a slight struggle he sank heavily on his left side... It was now a little over ten minutes past six o'clock. His two daughters came that night with Mr. Frank Beard, who had also been telegraphed for, and whom they met at the station. His eldest son arrived early next morning, and was joined in the evening (too late) by his youngest son from Cambridge. All possible medical aid had been summoned. The surgeon of the neighbourhood (Stephen Steele) was there from the first, and a physician from London (Russell Reynolds) was in attendance as well as Mr. Beard. But human help was unavailing. There was effusion on the brain."
The Times ran an editorial calling for Dickens to be buried in Westminster Abbey. This was readily accepted and on 14th June, 1870, his oak coffin was carried in a special train from Higham to Charing Cross Station. The family travelled on the same train and they were met by a plain hearse and three coaches. Only four of his children, Charley, Mamie Dickens, Kate Dickens Collins and Henry Fielding Dickens attended the funeral. George Augustus Sala gave the number of mourners as fourteen.
Dickens's last will and testament, dated 12th May 1869 was published on 22nd July. As Michael Slater has commented: "Like Dickens's novels, his last will has an attention-grabbing opening" as it referred to his mistress, Ellen Ternan. It stated: "I give the sum of £1,000 free of legacy duty to Miss Ellen Lawless Ternan, late of Houghton Place, Ampthill Square, in the county of Middlesex." It is assumed that he made other, more secret, financial arrangements for his mistress. For example, it is known that she received £60 a year from the house he owned in Houghton Place. According to her biographer, she was now a "woman approaching middle age, in delicate health, solitary and inured to dependence on a man who could give her neither an honourable position nor even steady companionship."
The total estate amounted to over £90,000. The will stated: "I give to my eldest son Charles my library of printed books, and my engravings and prints; and I also give to my son Charles the silver salver presented to me at Birmingham, and the silver cup presented to me at Edinburgh, and my shirt studs, shirt pins, and sleeve buttons. And I bequeath unto my said son Charles and my son Henry Fielding Dickens, the sum of £8,000 upon trust to invest the same, and from time to time to vary the investments thereof, and to pay the annual income thereof to my wife during her life, and after her decease the said sum of £8,000 and the investments thereof shall be in trust for my children (but subject as to my daughter Mary to the proviso hereinbefore contained) who being a son or sons shall have attained or shall attain the age of twenty-one years, or being a daughter or daughters shall have attained or shall attain that age or be previously married, in equal shares if more than one."
Charley upset Georgina Hogarth when he decided to buy Gad's Hill Place when it went up for auction. As Arthur A. Adrian, the author of Georgina Hogarth and the Dickens Circle (1957) has pointed out: "To raise the purchase price of Gad's Hill, he had mortgaged the place for £5,000 and added another £3,000 from his share of the estate. Burdened with the support of a large family, forced to maintain a costly house, and faced with diminishing income from a journal that had once flourished because of his father's prestige, he stood on perilous ground."
To raise money Charley decided to exhibit the chalet, where Dickens did his writing, all over England. On reading in a newspaper that the hallowed little building had already been moved to the Crystal Palace for this purpose, Georgina became frantic and wrote to Annie Fields: "I cannot imagine how Charley could do such an indecent action. Also, I maintain that he had no right, to do it - without consulting the family. Legally, of course it was his own as he bought the property - but morally, he had no business to compromise us all... because when this dear sacred little place where his Father spent his last living day comes to be puffed and hawked about, all his family will be held responsible - and will be disgraced by it."
In 1879 Charley was so desperately short of money he was forced to sell Gad's Hill Place and move into the office in Wellington Street and farm out six of the seven children among relatives. Peter Ackroyd has argued: "He (Charley) had inherited his father's love of order and neatness, but in no other respect did he resemble him. He was dutiful but suffered from a certain lassitude of spirit which was, in the end, to lead him into precisely the kind of financial calamities which his own father dreaded."
Charles Culliford Dickens died of leukemia on 20th July 1896, aged 59.