Read TWO LAST LETTERS. of The Letters of Charles Dickens Vol. 2 (1857-1870), free online book, by Charles Dickens, on

HW:  Wednesday Eighth June 1870

HW:  Dear Kent

Tomorrow is a very bad day for me to make a call, as, in addition to my usual office business, I have a mass of accounts to settle with Wills.  But I hope I may be ready for you at 3 o’clock.  If I can’t be ­why, then I shan’t be.

You must really get rid of those Opal enjoyments.  They are too overpowering: 

“These violent delights have violent ends.”

I think it was a father of your churches who made the wise remark to a young gentleman who got up early (or stayed out late) at Verona?

Ever affectionately
Signature:  ChD]

=Gad’s Hill Place,=
=Higham by Rochester, Kent.=

Dear Sir

It would be quite inconceivable I think ­but for your letter ­that any reasonable reader could possibly attach a scriptural reference to a passage in a book of mine, reproducing a much abused social figure of speech, impressed into all sorts of service on all sorts of inappropriate occasions, without the faintest connexion of it with its original source.  I am truly shocked to find that any reader can make the mistake

I have always striven in my writings to express veneration for the life and lessons of our Saviour; because I feel it; and because I re-wrote that history for my children ­every one of whom knew it from having it repeated to them ­long before they could read, and almost as soon as they could speak.

But I have never made proclamation of this from the house tops

                                          Faithfully Yours,
                                                       Charles Dickens

John M. Markham Esq.]

All through this spring in London, Charles Dickens had been ailing in health, and it was remarked by many friends that he had a weary look, and was “aged” and altered.  But he was generally in good spirits, and his family had no uneasiness about him, relying upon the country quiet and comparative rest at Gad’s Hill to have their usual influence in restoring his health and strength.  On the 2nd June he attended a private play at the house of Mr. and Mrs. Freake, where his two daughters were among the actresses.  The next day he went back to Gad’s Hill.  His daughter Kate (whose home was there at all times when she chose, and almost always through the summer months) went down on Sunday, the 5th June, for a day’s visit, to see the “great improvement of the conservatory.”  Her father laughingly assured her she had now seen “the last” improvement at Gad’s Hill.  At this time he was tolerably well, but she remarked to her sister and aunt how strangely he was tired, and what a curious grey colour he had in his face after a very short walk on that Sunday afternoon.  However, he seemed quite himself again in the evening.  The next day his daughter Kate went back, accompanied by her sister, who was to pay her a short visit, to London.

Charles Dickens was very hard at work on the sixth number of “Edwin Drood.”  On the Monday and Tuesday he was well, but he was unequal to much exercise.  His last walk was one of his greatest favourites ­through Cobham Park and Wood ­on the afternoon of Tuesday.

On the morning of Wednesday, the 8th (one of the loveliest days of a lovely summer), he was very well; in excellent spirits about his book, of which he said he must finish his number that day ­the next (Thursday) being the day of his weekly visit to “All the Year Round” office.  Therefore, he would write all day in the Chalet, and take no walk or drive until the evening.  In the middle of the day he came to the house for an hour’s rest, and smoked a cigar in the conservatory ­out of which new addition to the house he was taking the greatest personal enjoyment ­and seemed perfectly well, and exceedingly cheerful and hopeful.  When he came again to the house, about an hour before the time fixed for the early dinner, he seemed very tired, silent, and absorbed.  But this was so usual with him after a day of engrossing work, that it caused no alarm or surprise to his sister-in-law ­the only member of his household who happened to be at home.  He wrote some letters ­among them, these last letters which we give ­in the library of the house, and also arranged many trifling business matters, with a view to his departure for London the next morning.  He was to be accompanied, on his return at the end of the week, by Mr. Fildes, to introduce the “new illustrator” to the neighbourhood in which many of the scenes of this last book of Charles Dickens, as of his first, were laid.

It was not until they were seated at the dinner-table that a striking change in the colour and expression of his face startled his sister-in-law, and on her asking him if he was ill, he said, “Yes, very ill; I have been very ill for the last hour.”  But on her expressing an intention of sending instantly for a doctor, he stopped her, and said:  “No, he would go on with dinner, and go afterwards to London.”  And then he made an effort to struggle against the fit that was fast coming on him, and talked, but incoherently, and soon very indistinctly.  It being now evident that he was ill, and very seriously ill, his sister-in-law begged him to come to his own room before she sent off for medical help.  “Come and lie down,” she entreated.  “Yes, on the ground,” he said, very distinctly ­these were the last words he spoke ­and he slid from her arm, and fell upon the floor.

The servants brought a couch into the dining-room, where he was laid.  A messenger was despatched for Mr. Steele, the Rochester doctor, and with a telegram to his doctor in London, and to his daughters.  This was a few minutes after six o’clock.

His daughters arrived, with Mr. Frank Beard, this same evening.  His eldest son the next morning, and his son Henry and his sister Letitia in the evening of the 9th ­too late, alas!

All through the night, Charles Dickens never opened his eyes, or showed a sign of consciousness.  In the afternoon of the 9th, Dr. Russell Reynolds arrived at Gad’s Hill, having been summoned by Mr. Frank Beard to meet himself and Mr. Steele.  But he could only confirm their hopeless verdict, and made his opinion known with much kind sympathy, to the family, before returning to London.

Charles Dickens remained in the same unconscious state until the evening of this day, when, at ten minutes past six, the watchers saw a shudder pass over him, heard him give a deep sigh, saw one tear roll down his cheek, and he was gone from them.  And as they saw the dark shadow steal across his calm, beautiful face, not one among them ­could they have been given such a power ­would have recalled his sweet spirit back to earth.

As his family were aware that Charles Dickens had a wish to be buried near Gad’s Hill, arrangements were made for his burial in the pretty churchyard of Shorne, a neighbouring village, of which he was very fond.  But this intention was abandoned in consequence of a pressing request from the Dean and Chapter of Rochester Cathedral that his remains might be placed there.  A grave was prepared and everything arranged, when it was made known to the family, through Dean Stanley, that there was a general and very earnest desire that Charles Dickens should find his resting-place in Westminster Abbey.  To such a fitting tribute to his memory they could make no possible objection, although it was with great regret that they relinquished the idea of laying him in a place so closely identified with his life and his works.  His name, notwithstanding, is associated with Rochester, a tablet to his memory having been placed by his executors on the wall of Rochester Cathedral.

With regard to Westminster Abbey, his family only stipulated that the funeral might be made as private as possible, and that the words of his will, “I emphatically direct that I be buried in an inexpensive, unostentatious, and strictly private manner,” should be religiously adhered to.  And so they were.  The solemn service in the vast cathedral being as private as the most thoughtful consideration could make it.

The family of Charles Dickens were deeply grateful to all in authority who so carried out his wishes.  And more especially to Dean Stanley and to the (late) Lady Augusta Stanley, for the tender sympathy shown by them to the mourners on this day, and also on Sunday, the 19th, when the Dean preached his beautiful funeral sermon.

As during his life Charles Dickens’s fondness for air, light, and gay colours amounted almost to a passion, so when he lay dead in the home he had so dearly loved, these things were not forgotten.

The pretty room opening into the conservatory (from which he had never been removed since his seizure) was kept bright with the most beautiful of all kinds of flowers, and flooded with the summer sun: 

“And nothing stirred in the room.  The old, old fashion.  The fashion that came in with our first garments, and will last unchanged until our race has run its course, and the wide firmament is rolled up like a scroll.  The old, old fashion ­death!

        “Oh, thank God, all who see it, for that older
        fashion yet, of immortality!”