Charles Dickens Solves a Mystery 145 Years After His Death

Charles-Dickens_4This is the kind of discovery literary scholars dream of but never hope to find: a cache of notations in the handwriting of Charles Dickens that reveals lost works by major authors.

Bookseller Jeremy Parrott ordered a bound collection of All the Year Round, a publication edited by Charles Dickens, from an online book dealer. The listing didn’t mention any annotations, but when Parrott began looking at the volumes he realized that not only was he holding the set that belonged to Dickens himself, but that Dickens had made copious notes throughout.

Like many Victorian periodicals, pieces in All the Year Round often were published anonymously or pseudonymously. The only name that mattered, after all, was already at the top of each page: Charles Dickens. In his personal edition, however, Dickens wrote in each author’s name alongside their contribution. The discovery essentially rewrites the history of Victorian literature.

Among the discoveries are new works by Wilkie Collins, Elizabeth Gaskell, Lewis Carroll, and Dickens himself, along with many others. Here’s a summary of the key findings so far:

Elizabeth Gaskell: two new works have been discovered by the North and South author. The pair of articles on French song and poetry had been attributed to Henry Chorley.

Sydney and Frank Dickens: Charles commissioned his sons to write aged 16 and 17 despite their obvious lack of talent. The three articles on Lord Nelson, preachers and servants are ‘schoolboy essays’ according to Dr Parrott. ‘They’ve taken a book and plagiarised it heavily … there’s not much in the way of original thought or style.’

Wilkie Collins: the collection reveals eight pieces by author of The Moonstone which nobody has previously suggested were written by him. One is an article called ‘The Crusoe of the Snowy Desert’, telling the gripping true story of an explorer in the American Midwest who is stranded for a year in a barren snowy landscape and is eventually saved by a tribe of ‘savages’. In another, called ‘Hear The Postman,’ Collins argues postmen should be paid more because of their use to society.

Lewis Carroll: A possible new poem has been discovered by the Alice in Wonderland author, though its provenance is still under debate.

Eliza Linton: the first salaried woman journalist in Britain, is revealed to be far more prolific than first thought. Previously just a handful of pieces had been listed under her name for All The Year Round but Dickens’ notes show she wrote more than 100 articles.

Women: despite his reputation among some academics for misogyny, the list reveals that Dickens was very supportive of female writers. Parrott estimates that around 40 per cent of the list is women writers. ‘Cumulatively it’s very interesting how many women authors are there,’ he says. ‘Dickens is not generally recognised as having female protégés but you’ve got Queen Victoria’s favourite poet, Adelaide Proctor writing a lot and Hesba Stretton, as well as women writing on serious subjects, such as science.’

Misattributed: The list shows that scholars have wrongly assumed that pieces by his contemporaries were actually by Dickens. An article assigned in his collection to his son-in-law, Charles Collins, had previously been assumed to be by Dickens.

One funny footnote: “Academics in Australia developed computer software to help identify a writer by style, but this latest discovery suggests that many of the articles previously identified by the technology as written by Dickens were in fact by other authors.”


Dante: Mohammed in Hell

The attacks yesterday were meant to do more than just “punish” particular cartoonists and writers for insulting Mohammed. They were intended to make sure others think twice about ever doing something similar.

And they will be amazingly effective. The journalist class–with a few notable exceptions such as the people of Charlie Hebdo–are notorious cowards when it comes to calling out people who might actually harm them. Witness this stunning example:

habdoOther than craven cowardice, what possible reason could there be for blurring the Mohammed picture but not the offensive Jewish caricature?

And Charlie Hebdo’s work often was offensive. I don’t agree with their anti-religious agenda, but it’s one they certainly must be allowed to express without fear.

Mainstream outlets like the NY Daily News know they they can offend Jews and Christians with impunity, and so we can expect a bizarre disconnect between those criticized and mocked and held up as evil, intolerant, and violent by the elites (that would be Christians, and sometimes Jews) and the actual perpetrators of much of the mindless violence in the world (that would be Muslims). The Islamic world is certainly dominated by peace-loving people, but a statistically significant portion of them are violent savages, and we do civilization no favors by pandering to their hothouse feelings. They’re well overdue for some insensitivity training.

The attacks aim at changing our behavior. Because people react in the face of violence, many will change their behavior. But since we are agents with freewill, we can choose the nature of that reaction and that change.

And I choose to offend.

I don’t do it out of indifference to the deeply held beliefs of good people. I don’t care much when people offend my beliefs, but I do judge them and hold them in low regard, and Muslims are invited to do so with me. The anti-Catholic and anti-Christian cartoons of Charlie Hebdo say something about the cartoonists who drew them, but nothing at all about my faith. As CS Lewis wrote: “A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.”

So I offer today a selection from arguably the greatest work of literature ever created by the hand of man: The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri. In Canto 28, Dante places Mohammed and his son-in-law Ali in hell, where they are constantly split for the sin of sowing dissension and heresy. Islam was, in the time of Dante, considered a Christian heresy, with some believing Mohammad to be a renegade Cardinal who had created his own version of the faith. It wasn’t an unreasonable idea: most of what Islam has of value it took from Judaism and Christianity.

And so Dante offers this striking imagery (translation by Allen Mandelbaum):

   No barrel, even though it’s lost a hoop
or end-piece, ever gapes as one whom I
saw ripped right from his chin to where we fart:
his bowels hung between his legs, on saw
his vitals and the miserable sack
that makes of what we swallow excrement.
While I was all intent on watching him,
he looked at me, and with his hands he spread
his chest said, “See how I split myself!
See now how maimed Mohammed is! And he
who walks and weeps before me is Ali,
whose face is opened wide from chin to forelock,
And all the others here whom you can see
were, when alive, the sowers of dissension
and scandal, and for this they now are split.

The image has been illustrated for centuries:


Italian silent film L’Inferno. 1911










15th c. manuscript “Holkham misc. 48”

Is Mohammed in hell?

I hope not. I wouldn’t wish damnation on anyone, and with God all things are possible. Even the perpetrators of yesterday’s slaughter are capable of being forgiven when, God willing, they are swiftly found and just as swiftly sent on their way to the afterlife.

But as we face this endless war–and it is a war, with every computer and newspaper and city a battleground–we must not yield to intimidation and threats.

And for now, that we means we must offend.

Dickens on Hope and Despair: “The Chimes”

Charles Dickens’ deep Christian faith rings in all of his works, and especially so in his Christmas books. After the success of “A Christmas Carol,” Dickens published similar titles in the same format: novellas with supernatural elements and a clear Christian message. All of them were successes in their day, but none had the afterlife of “A Christmas Carol,” and few remember “The Chimes,” “Cricket on the Hearth,” “The Battle of Life” (the worst of the lot and, not incidentally, the only one without a supernatural element), and “The Haunted Man.” There are also a few oddball Christmas items to be found in the margins of his career, such as the fable “The Seven Poor Travellers,” which is bracketed by a nonfiction account of a Christmas celebration among the poor.

I try to make a habit of reading (or listening to audiobook versions of ) some or all of the Dickens Christmas’ tales each year during the season. You need to take them as they are: occasionally mawkish (and what Dickens isn’t?), melodramatic, and filled with certain stylistic tics. You also need to remember that these are sermons in story form.

Scrooge is given a lesson in caritas. Certainly, his sin is greed, but it steams from a more fundamental cause: he has lost a sense of loving charity, which is the root of all Christian virtues. Scrooge’s conversion is not from a greedy man to a generous man. It is the story of a man who killed the love in his heart in pursuit of the world, and who gets that love back.

“The Chimes” follows the exact same format. Instead of 4 “staves,” we get 4 “chimes,” each marking the quarter hour. Instead of a rich greedy man who is shown where his life as gone wrong, we get a poor man shown where the world will go wrong because of his despair. In place of a ghost and 3 spirits, we have the goblins of the church bells, their fairy attendants, and a haunting little girl.

But “The Chimes” has a much harder edge to it. Trotty Veck, the central character, is a message-runner living in grinding poverty with his perfect daughter (Dickens always idealized women), who is eager to marry a young man despite their poor circumstances. Trotty’s sin is despair, which is indeed a mortal sin. The chimes–the church bells–stand for time, and symbolize the voice of God urging people to make the best of their days and have hope for the future. Striking every quarter hour, they remind the faithful of God, and the way that time passes according to His will. When Trotty hears the chimes, he hears hope and love.

But then Trotty and his daughter encounter three rich men who make them feel as if they have no right to even exist. They sink into despair, and believe in their heart that these men are right: the poor are “born bad.” Trotty starts to hear this accusation in the sound of the chimes, it seems as though Dickens is saying this is the sin against the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:29). Trotty is attributing evil things to the work of the Holy Spirit. Only in this context does the bill of indictment leveled against Trotty by the bell gobin make sense:

‘Who puts into the mouth of Time, or of its servants,’ said the Goblin of the Bell, ‘a cry of lamentation for days which have had their trial and their failure, and have left deep traces of it which the blind may see—a cry that only serves the present time, by showing men how much it needs their help when any ears can listen to regrets for such a past—who does this, does a wrong. And you have done that wrong, to us, the Chimes.’

‘Who hears in us, the Chimes, one note bespeaking disregard, or stern regard, of any hope, or joy, or pain, or sorrow, of the many-sorrowed throng; who hears us make response to any creed that gauges human passions and affections, as it gauges the amount of miserable food on which humanity may pine and wither; does us wrong. That wrong you have done us!’ said the Bell.

It is, however, the rich and powerful who are left for the last and worst condemnation:

‘Lastly, and most of all,’ pursued the Bell. ‘Who turns his back upon the fallen and disfigured of his kind; abandons them as vile; and does not trace and track with pitying eyes the unfenced precipice by which they fell from good—grasping in their fall some tufts and shreds of that lost soil, and clinging to them still when bruised and dying in the gulf below; does wrong to Heaven and man, to time and to eternity. And you have done that wrong!’

That “lost soil” is the soil of Eden, and the earth made to fashion man in image and likeness of God, which we cling to in our fall. It is the image of God in man. Trotty has believed the evil accusations leveled against him by the rich and powerful, and in doing so has joined them in their sin. It is the task of the goblins to show him the true path of despair, in order to set him back on the path of hope.

The paternalistic do-gooder is also savaged, in the person of Sir Joseph:

‘Your only business, my good fellow,’ pursued Sir Joseph, looking abstractedly at Toby; ‘your only business in life is with me.  You needn’t trouble yourself to think about anything.  I will think for you; I know what is good for you; I am your perpetual parent.  Such is the dispensation of an all-wise Providence!  Now, the design of your creation is—not that you should swill, and guzzle, and associate your enjoyments, brutally, with food; Toby thought remorsefully of the tripe; ‘but that you should feel the Dignity of Labour.  Go forth erect into the cheerful morning air, and—and stop there.  Live hard and temperately, be respectful, exercise your self-denial, bring up your family on next to nothing, pay your rent as regularly as the clock strikes, be punctual in your dealings (I set you a good example; you will find Mr. Fish, my confidential secretary, with a cash-box before him at all times); and you may trust to me to be your Friend and Father.’

After Trotty gives in to misery and self-loathing, Dickens delivers a powerful series of vignettes showing the horrible fall from grace of Meg and all those Trotty knows and love. Remember the moment  in “A Christmas Carol,” when the Ghost of Christmas Present draws back his robes to reveal two feral children: Ignorance and Want? That moment has disturbed me since I first saw it in the Alaister Sim version as a kid.

Well, Trotty’s lesson takes that moment and stretches it to chapter length, grinding Trotty’s face in scene and after scene of wretched squalor and misery. If you give yourself over to it and put aside the modernist tendency to sneer at Victorian melodrama, it’s potent stuff, almost intolerable in the way it careens towards a grim but inevitable conclusion. Since everyone knows “A Christmas Carol,” you know what’s coming in the denouement, but it doesn’t make these visions any less powerful.

The Scrooges of this story don’t get their turnabout. It’s not about them. It’s about the grinding lot of the poor (particularly grinding in the time when Dickens was writing), our need to ease their lot, and the need of the poor to maintain hope in God in the face of the most wretched disappointments.

The “decent” men of “The Chimes” mouth various pieties, but their hearts are far from God. They don’t pause a moment to hear his voice in simple tolling of a church bell, or look for his image in the face of the poor. Because, much as we may not like it sometimes, that’s where Jesus told us to look for it. Unless we give ourselves over the gospel message and allow us to see Christ in the most wretched, or even unlikable, people of all, then we’re doing it wrong. It should be no surprise that the poor and suffering tend to have a stronger faith than the comfortable. God–hated by his own, torn on the cross–has always been near to the broken. As Oscar Wilde wrote, “How else but through a broken heart may Lord Christ enter in?”

* * *

You can read the story here, find a nice annotated collection of all the Christmas stories here, get the complete Dickens for Kindle here, or listen to Ruth Golden’s brilliant audio version here. I recommend the audio version. She does an incredible job, it’s free, and Dickens wrote these stories to be read aloud.

7 Quick Takes: Random Quotes Edition

You all keep a quote journal, right? If not, you should. I moved mine over to Evernote, which makes it easier to sort and search. Here are a few you might like:


“Let us, in heaven’s name, drag out the divine drama from under the dreadful accumulation of slipshod thinking and trashy sentiment heaped upon it, and set it on an open stage to startle the world into some sort of vigorous reaction. If the pious are the first to be shocked, so much the worse for the pious––others will enter the kingdom of heaven before them. If all men are offended because of Christ, let them be offended; but where is the sense of their being offended at something that is not Christ and is nothing like him? We do him singularly little honor by watering down till it could not offend a fly. Surely it is not the business of the Church to adapt Christ to men, but to adapt men to Christ” (Dorothy Sayers)


“If a man is not rising upwards to be an angel, depend upon it, he is sinking downwards to be a devil. He cannot stop at the beast. The most savage of men are not beasts; they are worse, a great deal worse.” (Samuel Taylor Coleridge)


“Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.” (C.S. Lewis)


“There is nothing in which deduction is so necessary as in religion. It can be built up as an exact science by the reasoner. Our highest assurance of the goodness of providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its color are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.” (Sherlock Holmes)


“The Church is not an association that wishes to promote a certain cause. It is not about a cause. It is about the person of Jesus Christ.”
(Pope Benedict XVI)


“You will find out that Charity is a heavy burden to carry, heavier than the kettle of soup and the full basket. But you will keep your gentleness and your smile. It is not enough to give soup and bread. This the rich can do. You are the servant of the poor, always smiling and good-humored. They are your masters, terribly sensitive and exacting master you will see. And the uglier and the dirtier they will be, the more unjust and insulting, the more love you must give them. It is only for your love alone that the poor will forgive you the bread you give to them.” (St. Vincent de Paul)


“The Jews would not willingly tread upon the smallest piece of paper in their way, but took it up; for possibly, said they, the name of God may be upon it. Though there was a little superstition in this, yet truly there is nothing but good religion in it if we apply it to man. Trample not on any; there may be some work of grace there, that thou knowest not of. The name of God may be written upon that soul thou treadest on; it may be a soul that Christ thought so much of as to give his precious blood for it; therefore, despise it not.” (Robert Leighton, via ST Coleridge)

Find more Quick Takes at Conversion Diary.

When WH Auden Helped Dorothy Day

Edward Mendelson, WH Auden’s executor, offers this anecdote in his article “The Secret Auden”:

At times, he went out of his way to seem selfish while doing something selfless. When NBC Television was producing a broadcast of The Magic Flute for which Auden, together with Chester Kallman, had translated the libretto, he stormed into the producer’s office demanding to be paid immediately, instead of on the date specified in his contract. He waited there, making himself unpleasant, until a check finally arrived. A few weeks later, when the canceled check came back to NBC, someone noticed that he had endorsed it, “Pay to the order of Dorothy Day.” The New York City Fire Department had recently ordered Day to make costly repairs to the homeless shelter she managed for the Catholic Worker Movement, and the shelter would have been shut down had she failed to come up with the money.

The article has many other examples of Auden’s secretive works of mercy.

Remember, it was Auden who said, “We are all here on earth to help others. What the others are here for, I don’t know.”

7 Book Takes

I’ve never done one of Jen Fulwiler’s 7 Quick Takes before, but I see that Leah Libresco has turned Darwin Catholic’s Immediate Book Meme (and BTW, Darwins, your pizza recipe CHANGED OUR ENTIRE LIVES!) into a quick take thingie, and I know an idea worth stealing when I read one, so…

— 1 — 

What book are you reading now?

As always, I’m reading a few at a time:

The History of the Catholic Church (James Hitchcock) as a quick review for upcoming comps for my masters. A good one volume overview.

Doctor Thorne (Anthony Trollope): Third of his Barsetshire novels.

Strange Histories: The Trial of the Pig, the Walking Dead, and Other Matters of Fact from the Medieval and Renaissance Worlds (Darren Oldridge) is a fascinating attempt to understand the medieval mind as it encountered the world, without condescending or assuming people were ignorant because they hold views many no longer accept. Beware of the Kindle version, which is missing text.

Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures (by various hands) is a suppliment to the landmark collections by James Charlesworth, and includes more Jewish and Christian texts.

 — 2 —

What book did you finish last?

Pickwick Papers (Dickens) was a treat to myself after finishing all my classes in December.

Eifelheim (Mike Flynn). I took a break from Pickwick after Sean Dailey and Mark Shea badgered me to read Mike Flynn. An absolutely wonderful novel about aliens encountering a medieval village during the plague years. The way he completely understands the working of the medieval mind is astonishing.

— 3 — 

What do you plan to read next?

Church History, Volume One: From Christ to Pre-Reformation: The Rise and Growth of the Church in Its Cultural, Intellectual, and Political Context (Everett Furgeson ) is more comp review.

Dombey & Sons (Dickens). Because Dickens

— 4 —

What book do you keep meaning to finish?

The Way of a Pilgrim and The Pilgrim Continues His Way are wonderful works of Eastern Christian spituality, but I stopped midway and haven’t gotten back to them yet. Try the sample and you’ll be impressed. 

— 5 —

What book do you keep meaning to start?

Don Quixote (Cervantes). I’ve never read it, and consider it a gap in my education. I picked up a new translation on Kindle, but I keep putting it off. 

— 6 —

What is your current reading trend?

Theology, history, 19th century literature. 

— 7 —

Bonus question to bring it up to 7: What is the most important book you’ve ever read?



More quick takes at Conversion Diary.
More book lists at Darwin Catholic.

Idea stolen from Unequally Yoked.

A New Poem By Sappho Discovered UPDATED

Prior to the new discoveries, this fragmentary 3rd century papyrus (published in 2004) was the most recent addition to works of Sappho.

This is pretty big news: there’s a major discovery of previously unknown poems by the great Greek poet Sappho. Few lines of her work have survived (some of them in our old friend the Oxyrhynchus dump), so each find is important. This new verses are on a scrap of papyrus in the hands of a private owner:

“The new Sappho is absolutely breath-taking,” said Albert Henrichs, a Harvard classics professor who examined the papyrus with Dr. [Dirk] Obbink. “It is the best preserved Sappho papyrus in existence, with just a few letters that had to be restored in the first poem, and not a single word that is in doubt. Its content is equally exciting.” One of the two recovered poems, Prof. Henrichs notes, speaks of a “Charaxos” and a “Larichos,” the names assigned by ancient sources to two of Sappho’s brothers but never before found in Sappho’s own writings. It has as a result been labeled the Brothers poem by Prof. Obbink.

“There will be endless discussion about Charaxos and Larichos, who may or may not be Sappho’s brothers,” Prof. Henrichs commented. One important point in that debate will be the Brothers poem’s clear implication that Charaxos was a sea-going trader. The historian Herodotus, writing about two centuries after Sappho, also describes Charaxos as a wayfarer—a man who traveled to Egypt, where he spent a fortune to buy the freedom of Rhodopis, a beautiful slave he had fallen in love with. Upon his return home, Herodotus relates, Sappho brutally mocked her brother’s lovestruck folly in one of her poems.

The Brothers poem contains no such mockery, but rather depicts an exchange between two people concerned about the success of Charaxos’ latest sea voyage. The speaker—perhaps Sappho herself, but the loss of the poem’s initial lines makes this unclear—advises that a prayer to Hera would be the best way to ensure this success, and expounds on the power of the gods to aid their favorites. The poem’s final stanza speaks of Larichos, presumably Sappho’s younger brother, “becoming a man…and freeing us [Sappho’s family?] from much heartache.”

And here it is, in a translation from Tom Payne of the Telegraph:

Still, you keep on twittering that Charaxos
comes, his boat full. That kind of thing I reckon
Zeus and his fellow gods know; and you mustn’t
make the assumption;
rather, command me, let me be an envoy
praying intensely to the throne of Hera
who could lead him, he and his boat arriving
here, my Charaxos,
finding me safely; let us then divert all
other concerns on to the lesser spirits;
after all, after hurricanes the clear skies
rapidly follow;
and the ones whose fate the Olympian ruler
wants to transform from troubles into better –
they are much blessed, they go about rejoicing
in their good fortune.
As for me, if Larichos reaches manhood,
[if he could manage to be rich and leisured,]
he would give me, so heavy-hearted, such a
swift liberation.

UPDATE: Ashes From Burnt Roses has much more.

Herman Melville to Sophia Hawthorne: “Life is a long Dardenelles”

From a letter, a beautiful metaphor for life and heaven.

[T]ho’ we know what we ought to be; & what it would be very sweet & beautiful to be; yet we can’t be it. That is most sad, too. Life is a long Dardenelles*, My Dear Madam, the shores whereof are bright with flowers, which we want to pluck, but the bank is too high; & so we float on & on, hoping to come to a landing-place at last—but swoop! we launch into the great sea! Yet the geographers say, even then we must not despair, because across the great sea, however desolate & vacant it may look, lies all Persia & the delicious lands roundabout Damascus.



*The Dardenelles is the Hellespont, a narrow strait leading to the Aegean Sea.

Storytelling With Maps

Here’s a fine site for map lovers. Storytelling With Maps uses annotated maps to explain and teach. I found it through the interactive map of the journey of Odysseus, but there are plenty of other interesting ones as well, such as Santas Around the World and the flight of Wiley Post.

They’re not deep, but they’re a good way to link facts and events to geography.