Henry Fielding Dickens, the eighth child of Charles Dickens and Catherine Hogarth Dickens, was born on 16th January, 1849. Dickens named him after the novelist, Henry Fielding. At the time Dickens was writing David Copperfield and he told John Forster that this was in "a kind of homage to the style of the novel he was about to write."
When he was he was seven years old his father purchased Gad's Hill Place from Eliza Lynn Linton. Henry later recalled: "To him (Charles Dickens) Gad's Hill was everything. He was always making some new improvement, increasing its comforts and adding to its attractions. It is impossible to convey in words his happiness in these surroundings. He did much of his work there. Indeed, it is difficult to fix upon a time when he was not at work, either upon a definite book or in contemplation of a new one."
Lucinda Hawksley has argued: "It can sometimes be difficult for modern readers, so used to the cult of celebrity, to understand quite what a phenomenon Charles Dickens's celebrity was to the nineteenth-century observer. He was one of the very first 'celebrities' in the modern sense. People were fascinated by him, in a manner previously reserved for royalty or the greatest of war heroes, such as Nelson or Wellington." Henry recalls what it was like to be with his father as a young boy and the way in which people reacted when they saw Dickens: "To walk with him in the streets of London... was a revelation; a royal progress; people of all degrees and classes taking off their hats and greeting him as he passed."
Henry later recalled: "I remember him (Charles Dickens) as being at his best either at Christmas time or at other times when Gad's Hill was full of guests, for he loved social intercourse and was a perfect host. At such times he rose to the very height of the occasion, and it is quite impossible to express in words his geniality and brilliancy amid a brilliant circle."
In 1857 Henry was sent to a boarding school for English boys in Boulogne, run by two English clergymen, one of whom had been a teacher at Eton College. His brothers, Frank Jeffrey and Alfred D'Orsay Tennyson also attended the school. Henry did not enjoy the experience: "It was confined to English boys who were sent there, presumably, with a view to their becoming proficient in the French language. I was very young then, and although two of my brothers were at the school, I felt rather sad and forlorn. I cannot say I look back on my days there with any degree of pleasure. I did not quite like dining off tin plates, nor was the food altogether appetizing. Very pale veal with very, very watery gravy and the usual stick-jaw pudding were most often the delicacies put before us." The boys were given two months vacation in summer, and none at Christmas unless the parents wished to see them then. It meant that they could be away from home for nearly ten months of the year.
In 1858 Charles Dickens left his wife and insisted that all of his children lived with him at Gad's Hill. Henry was now cared for by his twenty-year-old sister, Mamie Dickens and his aunt, Georgina Hogarth: "My sister Mamie kept house, in conjunction with my dear Aunt Georgins Hogarth, for, of course, the unfortunate estrangement and consequent separation between my father and mother had taken place when I was still a mere child." Henry later remembered that the house was visited by many famous people including Mark Lemon, John Leech, Wilkie Collins, John Forster, Frederic Chapman, Percy Fitzgerald, Edmund Yates, George Augustus Sala and William Frith.
Henry complained that his father was a strict disciplinarian: "There was one thing which my father could not stand, and that was to see any one of us half-hearted about anything we had to do.... That he was a bit dogmatic and domineering in his manner... He was, of course, a man of moods, highly strung and very emotional; full of confidence at one time, depressed at another; but though mercurial to this extent, he was of a thoroughly happy disposition and fully enjoyed his life; singularly modest and yet loving the popularity he had won."
In 1860 Charles Dickens moved Henry and his brothers to Rochester Grammar School. Henry was the brightest of all the children and his father considered entering him for the Indian Civil Service examination. Henry disagreed with the idea and asked if could try for Cambridge University. Dickens wrote to his headmaster to say that he could not afford to send a son to university unless there was a real hope of his doing well there. The headmaster replied that he considered his son capable of benefiting from a university education.
Claire Tomalin, the author of Dickens: A Life (2011) has argued: "Henry was an ambitious and intelligent boy; he worked hard and in 1868 was accepted by Trinty Hall, a Cambridge law college, and went on to win an exhibition. Dickens was almost as incredulous at the success of this aberrant son as he was proud of his achievement." Henry entered Trinity Hall in October, 1868. "Trinity Hall is a law college, and as I was to go to the Bar, I was naturally advised to go there... If ever a tutor made a college Ben Latham made Trinity Hall. I have often thought that the position of tutor in a large college must be one of the most extreme difficulty... Ben Latham knew better than most people the proper way to approach young men of this kind and keep them under control. The method he adopted was simply to put them on their honour and to let them understand that he did so."
Dickens's health continued to deteriorate. George Dolby commented that there was a "slow but steady change working in him". On Christmas Day, 1869, his foot was so swollen that he had to remain in his room. "He could not walk because of the pain and discomfort but, in the evening, he managed to hobble down to the drawing room in order to join his family in the usual festivities after dinner." Dickens lay on the sofa and watched the others playing games. He only joined in when the family played "The Memory Game". Henry later recalled in The Recollections of Sir Henry Dickens (1934): "My father, after many turns, had successfully gone through the long string of words and finished up with his own contribution, 'Warren's Blacking, 30 Strand'. He gave this with an odd twinkle in his eye and a strange inflection in his voice which at once forcibly arrested my attention and left a vivid impression on my mind for some time afterwards." This was of course a reference to the blacking warehouse, the site of his childhood labour and humiliation. However, it meant nothing to his family as none of them knew about this important part of his past.
Charles Dickens died on 8th June, 1870. John Forster 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."
Henry Dickens took his degree early in 1872. "I availed myself of the opportunity of paying a visit to Italy, which lasted some ten weeks. I then started reading in Chambers. I was called in November, 1873, and from that date I was engaged in the profession of the law." He joined the Kent circuit and he made good progress in his chosen career. Georgina Hogarth reported: "We have not seen him in his wig and gown, as he has not brought them home, but we mean to go one day to court to see him in all his glory."
Henry married Marie Roche, the granddaughter of Ignaz Moscheles, a classical composer, on 25th October 1876 in Portman Square in London. Over the next few years that they had four sons and three daughters together.
Dickens was a member of the Liberal Party was invited to stand for Rochester in the 1885 General Election. He turned down the idea as he felt he could not support the Home Rule Bill being promoted by William Ewart Gladstone. He later explained: "My reasons for this were threefold: first the cost, secondly the fear of the double strain, and thirdly, a disinclination to put my conscience into a whip's pocket."
In January 1912, Dickens was appointed as Commissioner of Assize on the Midland Circuit. Hbecame a judge in the Central Criminal Court in November, 1917. He expected Lord Loreburn to promote him to the High Court Bench. However, Loreburn was replaced by Lord Richard Haldane and this seemed to bring an end to his advancement: "Sir Anderson Critchett, a very dear and staunch friend of mine, who told me that, knowing as he did from Loreburn of his intention to give me his next judgeship.... I am not at all putting myself forward as a man with a grievance. There may have been many reasons for my not having been appointed."
His son, Cederic Dickens, was killed while fighting on the Western Front during the First World War: "Our beloved youngest son Cedric - or Ceddy, as we called him - beloved not only by all of us, but by all those who knew him, was killed on the battlefield at Ginchy on September 9th, 1916... He was mentioned in dispatches and was greatly loved by the men under his command. To us his death came as an irreparable blow; our only consolation being that he died for his country. He was only twenty-seven when he died, having at that time attained the rank of major."
Henry Fielding Dickens was given a knighthood in 1922 and retired in August 1932. Now free to express his opinions on law and order he wrote an article for The Times: "There is one other feature in criminal administration which cannot and ought not to be lost sight of. If punishment is to be effective as a deterrent, prisons must surely be places to be avoided, while the labour imposed should be of such a character as to make a man shrink from undergoing it. I wonder what hard labour means nowadays? What of the administration inside the prison? We must take care not to fall into the dangerous habit of molly-coddling the inmates or even of making their prisons happy places for criminals to live in. Are not good and kind-hearted reformers of prison life in danger of going a little too far in that direction? The prisons are meant to smash crime, not to invite it."
He was knocked down by a motorcycle while crossing the Chelsea Embankment and died of his injuries on 21st December 1933.
It (the school in Boulogne) was confined to English boys who were sent there, presumably, with a view to their becoming proficient in the French language. I was very young then, and although two of my brothers were at the school, I felt rather sad and forlorn. I cannot say I look back on my days there with any degree of pleasure. I did not quite like dining off tin plates, nor was the food altogether appetizing. Very pale veal with very, very watery gravy and the usual stick-jaw pudding were most often the delicacies put before us.
From this sad farewell it was a relief to turn to the more cheering prospect of getting Harry ready to enter Trinity Hall, Cambridge. Here was the one nephew Georgina could take pride in-the only one who never disappointed his father, the steady lad with a consistently good academic record. Had he not been promoted to the place of Head Censor at Wimbledon? And a few months before, during his father's absence in America, lie had capably organized and directed the affairs of the Higham cricket club, calling its working-class members together and addressing them - quite as if, at nineteen he were himself the squire of Gad's Hill.
But for all his youthful promise, Harry must be warned, his father felt, against the family pattern of extravagance. "Now, observe attentively," ran the paternal admonition. "We must have no shadow of debt. Square up everything whatsoever that it has been necessary to buy. Let not a farthing be outstanding on any account, when we begin with your allowance. Be particular in the minutest detail." The yearly allowance of £250, to cover all expenses, Dickens considered a handsome one, especially since he would furnish Harry's wines. Already there had been ordered and sent to Cambridge "three dozen sherry, two dozen port, six bottles of brandy, and three dozen light claret". The father-son relationship was to be built on open confidence: "If ever you find yourself on the verge of any perplexity or difficulty, come to me. You will never find me hard with you while you are manly and truthful." As Dickens had done when Plorn left, he urged upon Harry a study of the New Testament, as the one unfailing guide in life".
Within a few weeks of his matriculation at Michaelmas, Harry began to justify the hopes of his father and aunt by winning a £50 scholarship. "I have a great success in the boy-line to announce to you," Dickens hastened to tell Forster, even daring to predict that Harry might eventually win a fellowship. But there was not to be any spoiling the young man with too much money. As soon as his scholarship began, his allowance was reduced by £50. That winter, while Dickens was frequently absent from home, it was Georgina who received and communicated matters relating to Harry's finances.
The chalet had been given to him by Charles Fechter, the actor, in the beginning of 1865, and was so delightful to him that he used to love to work there in the summer time. This is how he himself described it: "My room is up among the branches of the trees, and the birds and the butterflies fly in and out, and the green branches shoot in at the open windows ; and the lights and shadows of the clouds come and go with the rest of the company. The scent of the flowers and, indeed, of everything that is growing for miles and miles is most delicious." It was indeed an ideal spot, where there was nothing to disturb him or arrest the play of his fancy or interfere with the working of his imagination.
At luncheon time he would occasionally stroll into the dining-room to take a biscuit and a glass of sherry. But at such times his mind was far away; walking about the room in deep thought he would speak but little, though he used on some such occasions in an abstracted sort of way to watch the movements of the goldfinch in his cage, who had been taught to draw his water from a small glass well by means of a very light chain and a thimble. This was a task which was far from arduous, and which, judging from the perky way in which he used to look round at us while drinking out of the thimble, was one which he thoroughly enjoyed.
I can recall with the utmost vividness the long walks in the afternoon when his desk work was done, ten miles or more, when I and the dogs were sometimes his sole companions. He rarely went out without his dogs, and I remember the villagers used to talk about Mr. Dickens with his roost of dogs, a quaint expression in that connection.
I remember him as being at his best either at Christmas time or at other times when Gad's Hill was full of guests, for he loved social intercourse and was a perfect host. At such times he rose to the very height of the occasion, and it is quite impossible to express in words his geniality and brilliancy amid a brilliant circle.
To walk with him in the streets of London was in itself a revelation ; a royal progress; people of all degrees and classes taking off their hats and greeting him as he passed. One such occasion I can particularly recall. It was at the Zoo, and my father and I were walking down the broad walk when we saw, a little distance away from us, a lady and gentleman coming towards us with a bright and pretty girl of about fourteen or fifteen running ahead of them. Suddenly the little girl, catching sight of my father, ran back to her mother crying out delightedly, "Oh, mummy! mummy! it is Charles Dickens." My father, who had heard and seen it all, was strangely embarrassed; but, oh, so pleased, so truly delighted. It was a pretty scene; but such things were constantly happening. It was this popular adulation he courted and wooed ; but it never spoilt him. He remained to the end modest and quite untouched by any appearance of affectation or self-conceit.
I have been asked what is my strongest outstanding memory of him, or whether there are any particular phrases or remarks of his which live in my memory. The first part of the question is difficult to answer ; but as to my remembering any particular phrases or remarks that fell from him, it is highly improbable that I should do so, for the simple reason that in ordinary conversation he never talked for the sake of mere effect ; he never turned a sentence or coined an epigram with a view to its being recorded, as some literary and learned people are inclined to do. He was as simple and natural in his speech as he was in his manner, which was always quiet, refined, and entirely free from ostentation.
He was particularly tidy, both in his dress and in his habits; in dress, always neat and dapper, but with a marked inclination to somewhat bright - not to say startling - colours, especially in the matter of waistcoats. In his habits his methods of tidiness were very marked, so pronounced, indeed, as to fail to meet with the entire approval of us small boys.
I never went into Parliament, although I had three good seats offered to me at different times. My reasons for this were threefold: first the cost, secondly the fear of the double strain, and thirdly, a disinclination to put my conscience into a whip's pocket. As to, the first objection, when I enquired in one case as to what would be the necessary outlay on my part, I was told that the election would cost about £1,000 and I should be expected to pay a further £600 a year to the party funds, which was more than I could possibly afford, having regard to my large family. As to the second objection, I had several cases in my mind where men had broken down under the double work in Parliament and at the Bar. The third objection is best told in a story. In Gladstone's great Home Rule election, the exact date of which I cannot recall, I was asked to stand for Rochester. I think it was probably present to the minds of both parties that having regard to my father's close association with that town, I should have been elected on whatever platform I happened to stand; but I was asked to represent Rochester as a Radical by one of the principal Radicals in the town and a strong supporter of Home Rule for Ireland. I felt therefore that I ought to explain the situation and I said to him: "I am afraid you do not quite understand the position. The fact is that I am entirely opposed to Gladstone's Home Rule Bill."
In dealing with this subject one has necessarily to discuss in the first instance from what point of view and with what end should the consideration of such a question be approached. To begin with, one vital point should never be lost sight of, namely, that the real and main object of punishment is to deter others, to prevent crime in the future and put it out of the power of the particular offender to prey on society. This sounds and is in fact a truism, but it is one which has in the past been often lost sight of and indeed often wholly ignored. Revenge or anger should not be allowed to enter into or dominate the judge's mind. Now no one who knows the facts can deny, I think, that the sentences passed in the last century, even as late as the 'eighties, were quite appalling in their ferocity. I can use no milder term. In the cases where prisoners have been charged with being habitual criminals the accused have often drawn the judge's attention to their first conviction years ago, and urged that they never had a chance. I have tried many such cases and have been shocked at the manner in which the prisoners used to be treated at the outset of their lives...
There is one other feature in criminal administration which cannot and ought not to be lost sight of. If punishment is to be effective as a deterrent, prisons must surely be places to be avoided, while the labour imposed should be of such a character as to make a man shrink from undergoing it. I wonder what "hard labour" means nowadays? What of the administration inside the prison? We must take care not to fall into the dangerous habit of "molly-coddling" the inmates or even of making their prisons "happy places for criminals to live in." Are not good and kind-hearted reformers of prison life in danger of going a little too far in that direction? The prisons are meant to smash crime, not to invite it. The obvious way to avoid such a contingency is so to arrange the prisons as entirely to segregate the real professional criminals and to keep them wholly and entirely apart from the others. Much has been done to this end in particular prisons, but this must be ineffective unless the prisons they are confined in are entirely separate and distinct, with totally different discipline and independent rules from the others.