Academic journal article Dickens Quarterly

Dickens, Macready and the Theatrical Charltons

Academic journal article Dickens Quarterly

Dickens, Macready and the Theatrical Charltons

Article excerpt

In a Household Words essay, of 1850, Dickens, "[looking] into [his] youngest Christmas recollections, wrote:

I see a wonderful row of little lights rise smoothly out of the ground, before a vast green curtain. Now, a bell rings--a magic bell, which still sounds in my ears unlike all other bells--and music plays, amidst a buzz of voices, and a fragrant smell of orange-peel and oil. Anon, the magic bell commands the music to cease, and the great green curtain rolls itself up majestically, and The Play begins! ("Christmas Tree" 289, 292)

And, in the last year of his life, he confided to a friend:

What do you think would be the realisation of one of my most cherished day-dreams? [...] To settle down now for the remainder of my life within easy distance of a great theatre, in the direction of which I should hold supreme authority. (Kent 263-64)

Dickens's early and enduring passion for the theater is widely acknowledged. That a particular branch of his extended family--the Charltons--had strong theatrical connections has not been previously recognized.

The Dickens family association with a "Mr. and Mrs. Charlton" was first revealed by the solicitor Edward Blackmore in July 1870.

   In the year 18271 was established in business in Grays Inn, in
   partnership with a Mr. Ellis, and resided at a boarding-house in
   Berners Street, kept by Mr. and Mrs. Charlton. Mrs. Dickens [the
   mother of Charles] was the niece of Mrs. Charlton, and often paid
   us a visit with her children, of whom I remember two--Miss Dickens,
   who was being educated at the Royal Academy of Music, and her
   brother Charles, a youth about fifteen, who had just left school
   and was exceedingly good-looking and clever. His mother expressed a
   great wish to get him employment in my office, and the boy's
   manners were so prepossessing that I agreed to take him as a clerk
   [...] (1)

Elizabeth Culliford, a younger sister of Dickens's maternal grandmother Mary Barrow, had married Charles William Charlton in 1814 and the couple lived at 16 Berners Street, off Oxford Street. Charles William worked as a clerk at the Prerogative Office in Doctors' Commons. Here wills proved in the Prerogative Court were received, stored and made available for consultation (Butler and Campling 186-87, Long). Elizabeth, perhaps continuing employment associated with her father's occupation as a manufacturer of musical instruments, worked for a time as a "Silverer [or "Spinner"] of Piano Forte Strings." (2)

A little after Elizabeth Charlton had been indirectly instrumental in obtaining employment for her fifteen-year-old great-nephew, her husband was similarly helpful. In 1830 Charles William Charlton sponsored Dickens's application to be placed on the register of admissions to the reading room of the British Museum. He was probably also involved in persuading his Berners Street neighbor, the prominent orthopaedic physician William Tilleard Ward, to act as Charles's other sponsor (Letters 1: 9fn.) (3)

When Charles Dickens married in 1836, discord within his family led to the exclusion of a maternal uncle, Thomas Culliford Barrow, from the celebration. The difficulty originated from a transaction in 1819 in which Barrow had guaranteed an annuity to a third party in return for cash paid to John Dickens. When John Dickens failed to pay the annuity, Barrow, in 1821, was constrained to repay the money himself. This prompted him to bar John Dickens from his house (Carlton). Dickens concluded a letter of 31 March to his uncle:

There is no Member of my family to whom I should be prouder to introduce my wife, than yourself, but I am compelled to say [...] that the same cause which has led me for a long time past, to deny myself the pleasure and advantage of your society, prevents my doing so. If I could not as a single man, I cannot as a married one, visit at a relation's house from which my father is excluded: nor can I see any relations here, who would not treat him, as they would myself. …

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