for Augustus Dickens and Bertha Phillips
by Bernie Rost, of the Chicago Dickens Fellowship
from the book, Charles Dickens & His Chicago Relatives
by Sidney P. Moss & Carolyn, J. Moss
an incredible amount of information available about Charles Dickens,
the English author. Many biographies have been written about him.
There are numerous critical studies of his novels.
and traits of his numerous family, friends and associates appear
in the marvelous characters in his books.
was a theatrical person.He was always on stage and aware of his
image. Anyone who was associated with him is viewed with interest
as to how he influenced the great author.
few much closer to Charles Dickens than his brother, Augustus
Dickens in his early years. Thus, Augustus brief life has
been of intense interest especially since he lived and died here
Newnham Dickens was born in London in 1827. The exact date is
unknown. His brother Charles was 15 at the time. In 1844 Charles
wrote to Chapman & Co. "I have a young brother recently
come up from a good school at Exeter, and now living, with his
father, at Greenwich...He is quick and clever: has never given
trouble to anybody: and has been well brought up."
In 1845 and
continuing in 1847 Augustus performed in Charles Dickenss
theatricals while working for Chapman & Co. In 1848 Charles
Dickens invited Chapman, his brothers employer, to Augustus
wedding and "to breakfast with us on the day of Augustus
marriage to Harriette Lovell on Dec. 5.
was born in 1829. She may have met Augustus through her brother
who worked with Augustus brother Frederick. Her first born,
Bertram, wrote that his mother was "a daughter of Charles
Phillips..." a London barrister. A Chicago Tribune reporter
wrote that Bertha was the "daughter of Mr. J.W. Phillips,
a retired London merchant." In 1868 Horace White, the editor
of the Chicago Tribune, stated that Bertha "was the daughter
of an insurance agent in London."
to intolerable marriages, apart from separation and gynecide,
was to live in defiant adultery and suffer disgrace, as George
Eliot and George Henry Lewes did beginning in 1854. Another was
to lead a double life, as Charles Dickens did with Ellen Ternan,
beginning in 1859. A third solution was to effect a so-called
migratory divorce, which may explain in part the number of men
who emigrated to America.
is a town about 100 miles southwest of Chicago. Amboy became the
Headquarters of the Northern Division of the Illinois Central
Railroad. Augustus and Bertha left England together. The first
mention of their being in Amboy occurs in the Amboy Times of June
4, 1857 when an ad was placed by Augustus to announce the opening
of his "Peoples Cheap Store." He later sold out
and purchased a nearby small farm.
In June of
1860 Augustus journeyed to Chicago. He obtained a job with the
Illinois Central land department, which was located in the Great,
Central Passenger Station at South Water Street. He then sent
for his family. His newfound position paid well and he enjoyed
his role in the history-making events of the Illinois Central.
Barnard was a neighbor of the Dickenses. "I remember Augustus
Dickens well," he said. "A more genial and whole-souled
man never lived. His face bore a remarkable resemblance to portraits
of his brother that I have seen. Augustus was small and spare
and not at all striking in appearance. But his ready humor, his
brilliant conversation, made him the life of whatever company
he happened to be in, and he was probably the most popular man
in the land office. His manners were most polished and he gave
the impression of having had a splendid education."
remembered that the Dickenses house "was the frequent
gathering place of a coterie of people of refinement and culture
and of musicians...of great ability. Mrs. Dickens playing
of classical music on the piano was grand...She was familiar with
the music of all the great composers, and to hear her play at
evening receptions and parties at her home was a great treat for
her guests. She would often sing as she played, and I can remember
clearly the rich, mellow sweetness of her voice. Mrs. Dickens
was an exemplary wife, a woman of gentle breeding and fine education."
her dinners and parties and musical evenings, and her household
chores and shopping, Bertha had three children to raise, all healthy,
playful, intelligent, and handsome.
Chicago newsman reminisced in 1913 that, some 50 years ago, he
had seen Augustus in Chicago. "It was at the conclusion of
the morning service at St. James Episcopal Church. With Richard
Cobden , the great English statesman, and Chicagos first
mayor, William B. Ogden, he --Augustus --left the church and afterwards
they all repaired to Mr. Ogdens home." Mr. Cobden was
a representative of English owners of Illinois Central stock.
died on Oct. 4, 1866 from TB. His obituary notice in the Chicago
Tribune said, "...His loss is sincerely mourned by a large
circle of friends. The funeral will take place on Sunday from
his residence...to the place of interment."
died on Christmas Eve, Dec. 25, 1868. On Dec. 27 the Chicago Tribune
reports that "Mrs. Dickens funeral will take place
at 2 oclock this Sunday afternoon from her residence, now
1413 North Clark Street."
Callow's tribute to Augustus Dickens.
is a British Actor, performer of Peter Ackroyd's The Mystery of
Charles Dickens at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
can be a mixed blessing, especially for those in its immediate
vicinity. The bright, fierce intensity of Charles Dickens's genius
tended to make all around him, especially perhaps his own family,
feel rather pallid. His terrifying will power left them feeling
incapable; his vastness of spirit made them feel small. Many of
them ran away from him, avoided him as much as possible. He knewthis;
he was sympathetic, but impatient.
of his brother Augustus was unremarkable in the world's terms,
and he ended up in an unmarked grave. But on its own terms, it
was a rich and complex life, beset with tragedy and doomed enterprise;
he was surrounded by thosehe loved, many of whom predeceased him,
and whose loss broke his heart; he did what he could with the
hand dealt him by life. And he found Chicago, and finally Graceland,
celebrate the Mystery of Augustus Dickens, now at last given a
little of the honour that so eluded him in life. His brother blazes
away, ever brighter in the darkling skies of the 21st century:
Augustus has never been dimmer, until today, that is, thanks to
the gentle and persistent efforts of so many people in his adopted
On his behalf,
I give thanks to you all, and I have no doubt that Charles, quickly
moved by goodness and kindness as he always was, would have wiped
a tear from his eye. Many thanks indeed, and God bless us all.