Saturday, March 17, 2012

Happy Birthday Charles Dickens, on your 200th year

Charles Dickens 1812-1870

Like most people, I find myself caught up in the whirlwind of information that pulses in a cosmic storm 24/7/365, and leaving many important milestones overlooked. A few days ago, I was reminded that this year 2012, is the bi-centennial of the birth of one of the greatest novelist in the English language, Charles Dickens, whose birthday was this past February 7th. Among Dickens most famous works are Oliver Twist which chronicled the life of a waif in grimy 19th century London. Dickens own early life had periods where he struggled as a child laborer under similar conditions, while his family was in debtors prison. Millions have, and will continue to enjoy the lessons of A Christmas Carol and the memorable characters of Tiny Tim and Ebenezer Scrooge. Many of Dickens novels first appeared as serials, like A Tale of Two Cities which ran over the course of 30 weeks from April to November in 1859, and has sold over 200 million copies since.

But a little know fact came out a few days ago while listening to the radio as I crept along a busy Southern California freeway. I happened upon an segment by radio personality Hugh Hewitt who had on, one of his frequent guests Dr. David Allen White, former professor of literature at the US Naval Academy. Dr. White like this post, was on Hewitt's show to offer a belated birthday acknowledgement of Dickens birth. Dr. White related as only he in his excellent prose, the connection between Charles Dickens, and of all things, the Baltimore Ravens NFL football team.

White told a revealing story that began with Dickens fifth novel, and first attempt at writing a historical novel, Barnaby Rudge.  After it was published in 1841, a young American, Edgar Allan Poe the editor of Graham's Magazine wrote a glowing review.  Poe noted in his review that a minor character, a raven named Grip, who's major contribution came in the fifth chapter, when after making a noise, elicits this response.  "What was that – him tapping at the door?" The response is, "'Tis someone knocking softly at the shutter." Poe, went on to write that the raven was such an interesting character, that it should have played a greater role in the novel.

Edgar Allan Poe

Four years later, Poe, penned his most famous poem, The Raven, based on the raven Grip, and incorporated the line from Dickens novel amid the prose.

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore —
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door —
Only this and nothing more."
             (The Raven)

One hundred and fifty one years later, the new Baltimore football franchise was seeking a name. After contest, the name Ravens was picked to honor Edgar Allen Poe who had once lived in Baltimore and is buried there.
Dickens raven "Grip"

So ends our little tribute to Charles Dickens, with a hat tip to Hugh Hewitt, Dr. White, Edgar Allen Poe, and finally Grip, who was actually Dickens pet raven which he had stuffed after it died, and currently resides at The Free Library of Philadelphia.

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