They spent New Year’s Day in that house, a New Year’s Day apparently remembered by Dickens forty-six years later in an article for his journal, Household Words. ‘So far back do my recollections of childhood extend’, he wrote, ‘that I have a vivid remembrance of the sensation of being carried down-stairs in a woman’s arms, and holding tight to her, in the terror of seeing the steep perspective below’. This has the ring of truthful memory, a recollected experience of anxiety, and so does the picture which greeted him when he peeped into the celebrations in the ground floor room - ‘. . . a very long row of ladies and gentlemen sitting against a wall, all drinking at once out of little glass cups with handles, like custard-cups. . . . There was no speech making, no quick movement and change of action, no demonstration of any kind. They were all sitting in a long row against the wall - very like my first idea of the good people in Heaven, as I derived it from a wretched picture in a Prayer-book - and they had all got their heads a little thrown back, and were drinking all at once. ’ This is an extraordinary picture; it was one that he said always haunted him when anyone talked of a New Year’s Day party. But in this vision of a row of strangely silent people, leaning against a wall with their heads thrown back, there also is revived the picture of a lost age, a vanished age - lost to Charles Dickens himself when he looks back, but also how much lost to us.
Peter Ackroyd, Dickens