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Augustus Dickens Tribute

Following are a eulogy and brief tribute to Augustus Dickens, Charles Dickens' brother,given at the Dickens monument dedication on September 25, 2004 at Graceland Cemetery, Chicago.

Eulogy for Augustus Dickens and Bertha Phillips

Prepared by Bernie Rost, of the Chicago Dickens Fellowship

With selections from the book, Charles Dickens & His Chicago Relatives
by Sidney P. Moss & Carolyn, J. Moss

There is 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.

Characteristics and traits of his numerous family, friends and associates appear in the marvelous characters in his books.

Charles Dickens 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.

There were 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 in Chicago.

Augustus 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 Dickens’s theatricals while working for Chapman & Co. In 1848 Charles Dickens invited Chapman, his brother’s employer, to Augustus’ wedding and "to breakfast with us on the day of Augustus’ marriage to Harriette Lovell on Dec. 5.

Bertha Phillips 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."

One solution 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.

Amboy, Illinois 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 "People’s 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.

Frederick 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."

Barnard also 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."

Apart from 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.

A former 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 Chicago’s first mayor, William B. Ogden, he --Augustus --left the church and afterwards they all repaired to Mr. Ogden’s home." Mr. Cobden was a representative of English owners of Illinois Central stock.

Augustus 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."

Bertha Phillips died on Christmas Eve, Dec. 25, 1868. On Dec. 27 the Chicago Tribune reports that "Mrs. Dickens’ funeral will take place at 2 o’clock this Sunday afternoon from her residence, now 1413 North Clark Street."

Simon Callow's tribute to Augustus Dickens.
Callow is a British Actor, performer of Peter Ackroyd's The Mystery of Charles Dickens at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

Greatness 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.

The life 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, ....

Today we 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 city.

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.

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