Limerick Chronicle files: Dickens historic visit to Limerick


Sharon Slater, Limerick Chronicle Historian


Sharon Slater, Limerick Chronicle Historian


Limerick Chronicle files: Dickens historic visit to Limerick

Charles Dickens arrived in Dublin on August 21, 1858. He was taking part in a nationwide book tour.

At the same time, news also broke that Dickens had separated from his wife. Dickens travelled from Dublin, to Cork and then to Limerick.

He was due to perform in the Theatre Royal in Limerick on two nights, Wednesday, September 1, and Thursday September 2, 1858.

On the Wednesday morning, the following story appeared in the Chronicle. “Mr Charles Dickens has separated from his wife on consequence of their tempers not agreeing, and in an explanatory letter returns thanks to her sister, who has lived with them 15 years, for her care and attention to their children.

He denies that any attachment exists between him and a young lady spoken of.”

The “young lady spoken of” was eighteen-year-old actress Ellen Tern. The pair met in 1857, when Dickens hired Tern to take part in his play The Frozen Deep.

Although Dickens denied the relationship the couple stayed together for the rest of his life.

Dickens arrived in Limerick on the Tuesday night and stayed in the Cruise’s Royal Hotel where he wrote to his nephew “This is the oddest place of which nobody in any other part of Ireland seems to know anything. Nobody could answer a single question we asked about it.”

It is not known if Dickens picked up the Chronicle, as he made no mention of it in his letters. Perhaps he was busy practicing for his Wednesday night performance.

Dickens described the Theatre Royal as “There is one large room, and I read in the Theatre – a charming Theatre. The best I ever saw, to see and hear in.” Joseph Fogerty built the theatre in 1841 and in 1858 it was owned by Charles Swan. It was destroyed in a fire in January 1922.

Dickens also reviewed his first night as a surprising event, as when an assistant “opened the doors last night, there was a rush of three Ducks! We expect a Pig to-night.”

Despite this, he was “very glad we came though we could have made heaps of money by going to Dublin instead.”

As for reviews in Limerick, a journalist from the Chronicle attended both performances and gave a report on September 4 that was scathing in parts.

“A practice which was necessary in olden times, when printing was unknown, for literary men to bring their works under notice by reading them before the public has been revived in modern times by Mr Russell, the historian of the Crimean war, and by Mr Charles Dickens, the great novelist, the immortal “Boz” and the inimitable delineation of Pickwicken characters. Mr Dickens has been reading his works in Limerick on Wednesday and Thursday evenings before crowded and fashionable audiences. His merits as a writer – clothing the common incidents of every day life with a touching interest – and ever leaning to the side of the weak and injured – are universally known and appreciated by the reading public. As a general reader, we cannot give him unqualified praises, for though he undoubtedly presents dramatic talents for a first rate order for personifying characters, yet he recited several passages of a descriptive nature in a sing-song, school boy style that was below par. On Wednesday evening, Mr Dickens read his Christmas Carol, and this production of his genius is, we trust, too well known to need any recapitulation.

On Thursday evening, Mr Dickens read 'The Poor Traveller', 'Boots at the Hollytree Inn' and 'Mrs Gamp'. 'The Poor Traveller' is a story of a reckless man, who for his ill conduct had been discarded by the woman whose affections he had won, and who therefore enlisted in the line in the year, 1799. Private Richard Doubledick, as he called himself, became the worst character in the regiment, and was on a fair way to the triangles when his captain, who alone possessed influence over him, brought about a change, Doubledick became the best and bravest soldier in the army, rose from the ranks, and so the tale ends happily for him, and not without a lesson for those who heard it. 'Boots at the Hollytree Inn' is a capital contract to the story of Richard Doubledick. Boots is his own historian, and the account of Mr Dickens as he peronated (sic) that individual was a fruitful source of laughter. 'Sairy Gamp' was however, the strong point of the evening. It was a little comedy in two chapters, in which all the characters were performed by the reader. The oily hypocrite Picksniff; the piping imbecile, Chuffey; the voluble undertaker, Molds ; and the inimitable Gamp herself, were distinct personations, and as far as voice and accent were concerned, became distinct relatives.”

In the days following his departure from the city, the Chronicle continued to tell of the scandal, which was following Dickens around the country. They published in full a letter by Dickens explaining why his marriage failed. The Chronicle journalists were not shy about posting their displeasure at seeing his private life brought into the public light. The September 8, 1858 issue stated

“If, in defiance of good taste and common sense, Mr Dickens will persist in obtruding his matrimonial troubles before the public, he must need take the consequences. And these consequences are likely to be very different from those which the accomplished author may think himself likely to expect… A celebrated writer – especially a writer of fiction – should not ever be visible to the public eye. His movements, his occupations, his very person, should be enshrouded in a misty haze. Even a passing glimpse of his passing physiognomy takes away more or less of the prestige of his works… It was, therefore, even in a professional point of view, highly imprudent in MR Dickens to thrust himself and his family dispute before the eyes of the public. The world at large did not know – did not care – whether he had a wife at all… We have already expressed our opinion of the depravity of taste which dictated this ill-advised step; and we should not advert to so disagreeable a subject again.”

Although, the writer of this piece stated that they would say no more on the subject, they managed to continue for a quarter of a page berating Dickens on his letter and siding firmly with his wife.

Charles Dickens died in 1870 at the age of 58 and is buried in Poet's Corner at London's Westminster Abbey.