AS Britain today celebrates the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Dickens, reader Gerry Wolstenholme looks back on the great English novelist’s solitary visit to Blackpool.
Gerry says: “Dickens was in the latter stages of his farewell reading tour that had begun on October 6, 1868, and for which he was being paid £8,000.
“The final readings were to take place at Blackburn, Bolton and Preston, before a return to London for a series at St James’s Hall. But Dickens’ manager George Dolby was worried, for he felt Dickens, ‘whose sufferings from fatigue of mind and body gave him such exquisite pain’, was not really well enough to complete the tour.Dickens completed the readings at Blackburn and Bolton, and was ready to move on to Preston, but he did not like the town, so he and Dolby decided to stay instead at Blackpool, and travel to Preston on the day of the reading, scheduled for April 22, 1869.
“Dolby telegraphed ahead to book rooms at the Imperial Hotel, ‘which on our arrival there we found most comfortable’. Dolby wrote to a friend, ‘We had arranged to pass a quiet day’, while Dickens wrote to his sister-in-law, Georgina Hogarth, who ran the family home at Gads Hill, Kent.”
He wrote on Imperial Hotel headed notepaper on April 21, 1869: “I send you this hasty line to let you know that I have come to this sea beach hotel (charming) for a day’s rest. I am much better than I was on Sunday, but shall want careful looking to, to get through the readings. My weakness and deadness are all on the left side, and if I don’t look at anything I try to touch with my left hand, I don’t know where it is. I have had a delicious walk by the sea today, and I sleep soundly, and have picked up amazingly in appetite. My foot is greatly better, and I wear my own boot.”
Gerry says: “Local people reported they had seen Dickens on the sands at Blackpool ‘kicking his hat about as if he had been a boy’ and, refreshed by their day at Blackpool, Dolby reported that Dickens’ appetite had returned, and that his spirits had risen. They both travelled to Preston at midday on April 22, but his doctor spent half an hour with Dickens, and advised against continuing with the reading.”
Excessive travelling and fatigue rendered it impossible for Dickens to fulfil his engagement and, back in London, the author slowly recovered, and undertook six readings in London, with his final one at St James’s Hall on March 15, 1870, when he finished with words of farewell, ‘from these garish lights I vanish now for evermore, with a heartfelt, grateful, respectful, and affectionate farewell’.”
He died at Gads Hill on June 9, 1870.