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Charles Dickens
by [?]

It’s only Gower Street now and the houses have been renumbered, so Number Four is a matter of conjecture; but my guide showed me a door where were the marks of a full-grown plate that evidently had long since disappeared. Some days afterward I found this identical brass plate at an old bookshop in Cheapside. The plate read: “Mrs. Dickens’ Establishment.” The man who kept the place advertised himself as a “Bibliopole.” He offered to sell me the plate for one pun ten; but I did not purchase, for I knew where I could get its mate with a deal more verdigris–all for six and eight.

Dickens has recorded that he can not recollect of any pupils coming to the Establishment. But he remembers when his father was taken, like Mr. Dorrit, to the Debtors’ Prison. He was lodged in the top story but one, in the very same room where his son afterwards put the Dorrits. It’s a queer thing to know that a book-writer can imprison folks without a warrant and even kill them and yet go unpunished–which thought was suggested to me by my philosophic guide.

From this house in Gower Street, Charles used to go daily to the Marshalsea to visit Micawber, who not so many years later was to act as the proud amanuensis of his son.

The next morning after I first met Bobby he was off duty. I met him by appointment at the Three Jolly Beggars (a place pernicious snug). He was dressed in a fashionable, light-colored suit, the coat a trifle short, and a high silk hat. His large, red neckscarf–set off by his bright, brick-dust complexion–caused me to mistake him at first for a friend of mine who drives a Holborn bus.

Mr. ‘Awkins (for it was he) greeted me cordially, pulled gently at his neck-whiskers, and, when he addressed me as Me Lud, the barmaid served us with much alacrity and things.

We went first to the church of Saint George; then we found Angel Court leading to Bermondsey, also Marshalsea Place. Here is the site of the prison, where the crowded ghosts of misery still hover; but small trace could we find of the prison itself, neither did we see the ghosts. We, however, saw a very pretty barmaid at the public in Angel Court. I think she is still prettier than the one to whom Bobby introduced me at the Sign of the Meat-Axe, which is saying a good deal. Angel Court is rightly named.

The blacking-warehouse at Old Hungerford Stairs, Strand, in which Charles Dickens was shown by Bob Fagin how to tie up the pots of paste, has rotted down and been carted away. The coal-barges in the muddy river are still there, just as they were when Charles, Poll Green and Bob Fagin played on them during the dinner-hour. I saw Bob and several other boys, grimy with blacking, chasing each other across the flatboats, but Dickens was not there.

Down the river aways there is a crazy, old warehouse with a rotten wharf of its own, abutting on the water when the tide is in, and on the mud when the tide is out–the whole place literally overrun with rats that scuffle and squeal on the moldy stairs. I asked Bobby if it could not be that this was the blacking-factory; but he said, No, for this one allus wuz.

Dickens found lodgings in Lant Street while his father was awaiting in the Marshalsea for something to turn up. Bob Sawyer afterward had the same quarters. When Sawyer invited Mr. Pickwick “and the other chaps” to dine with him, he failed to give his number, so we can not locate the house. But I found the street and saw a big, wooden Pickwick on wheels standing as a sign for a tobacco-shop. The old gentleman who runs the place, and runs the sign in every night, assured me that Bob Sawyer’s room was the first floor back. I looked in at it, but seeing no one there whom I knew, I bought tuppence worth of pigtail in lieu of fee, and came away.