Charles Dickens Turns 200

Happy Birthday, Mr Dickens!


Charles Dickens


Two hundred years ago today Charles Dickens is born in Landport, Portsmouth, England. What kind of world was he born into?

England is at war with France as it has been for most the past twenty-two years. King George III, now 74 years old, sits on the throne. However, because of the king’s mental imbalance, his son, George, has been ruling as the Prince Regent for the last two years. As the year begins, the Prime Minister is Spencer Perceval, a Tory. On May 11th Perceval is assassinated in the House of Commons and the Premiership passes to Robert Jenkinson, the 2nd Earl of Liverpool. Elections in the fall give the Tories a majority in the House of Commons. The Duke of Wellington is busily making a name for himself by winning victories over French forces in Spain and making changes in military tactics which will influence armed conflicts for the next 100 years. Wellington’s operations are secretly financed by the Rothschild family of Frankfurt. They will expand this operation so that when the Napoleonic wars end in 1815, the Rothschilds will be the first, and very successful, international bank clearing house. Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage by George Gordon Lord Byron is published and that nobleman delivers his first speech in Parliament’s House of Lords. Byron speaks in defense of the Luddites. Luddite agitation against industrialization, which includes vandalism of factories and machines, spreads around England. Support for the agitators grows when soldiers shoot some of the demonstrators. The cost of wheat in Britain reaches a new record high, making bread increasingly expensive. The Scottish engineer Henry Bell introduces the first steamboat service anywhere in Europe by beginning service on the River Clyde with his steamboat called The Comet.

 On the European continent France invades Russia. Napoleon wins a battle at Borodino, enters Moscow, begins a retreat and is defeated, both by winter and a crafty old Russian general. The campaign costs the French well over 450,000 casualties. While Napoleon is campaigning in Russia a General Claude Malet attempts a coup to return France to a monarchy. He fails, is arrested and executed. Ludwig von Beethoven’s Symphonies #7 and #8 receive premiers. Coffee is banned in Sweden. A painting of a nude woman by the American artist John Vanderlyn shocks Americans but is well received in Paris. [Three years ago Vanderlyn’s work was praised by Napoleon.] France’s La Surete is founded by detective Francois Eugene Vidocq who hires only ex-convicts to work as plain-clothes detectives. He finds their work exemplary. A book by the French scientist Baron Georges Cuvier marks the beginnings of the systematic study of paleontology.

In the Middle East,the Swiss explorer John Burckhardt finds the ruins of the ancient city of Petra in what is now modern Jordan.

 Spurred on by a combination of anti-British sentiment for British impressment of American sailors, anger at British attempts to disrupt trade with France, the industrial interests of the North, the desire to expand slave territory in the South and the West’s desire to acquire more land for settlement, Congress passes a declaration of war against Great Britain on June 8th and President Madison signs it on June 18th. [Yes, dear reader, in the 19th century American presidents actually did follow the constitutional mandate and ask Congress for a declaration of war!] Interestingly, on June 23rd Britain’s Parliament, as yet unaware of the United States declaration of war, repeals the orders regarding American shipping and impressment of American sailors. The United States invades Canada and is defeated. Native Americans exact a terrible vengeance on white settlers and soldiers as the white Americans evacuate Fort Dearborn in what is now Chicago. Almost from the beginning of the war, the United States loses a series of land battles. However, on the sea a warship, the USS Constitution wins two major engagements with the British. As ineffective British canon balls bounce off the side of the American ship with its unique design and re-enforced oak planks, her crew nickname her “Old Ironsides.” Sleeker and faster than the British opponents, the ship earns fame. One of the crew is a Nicolas Baker who in reality is a woman named Lucy Brewer. Cross-dressed as Baker she serves on the Constitution for three years without being discovered. In Boston a 32 year old Unitarian minister named William Ellery Channing finds growing support as he preaches against the war. James Madison wins re-election. In no small part he owes his political success and popularity to his wife, Dolley Payne Madison whose grace and skill as a hostess win friends across sectional and political lines.

 Parts of Venezuela are shaken by a large earthquake. Catholic priests tell the people that the quake is God’s punishment for the on-going revolutionary efforts against the Spanish. The revolution in Chile is fractured by a serious rift between Bernardo O’Higgins and Jose Miguel Carrera. Spanish auxiliary troops suppress revolutionary efforts in San Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Guatemala. However, revolutionaries in Mexico led by Jose Maria Morelos win important battles.

 Pioneers establish the Red River Settlement in Manitoba, Canada.

 Dr Benjamin Rush publishes Medical Inquiries and Observations upon the Diseases of the Mind in Philadelphia, the first textbook issued in the United States on what will later be called psychiatry. The New England Journal of Medicine is founded in Boston, Massachusetts, by Dr John Collins Warren.

 Books published in 1812 in addition to Byron’s work include:

Amelia Beauclerc – The Castle of Tariffa

Bridget Bluemantle – The Vindictive Spirit

Maria Edgeworth – The Absentee

Grimm’s Fairy Tales, volume 1

Charles Robert Maturin – The Milesian Chief

Henrietta Rouviere Mosse – Arrivals from India

Rebecca Rush – Kelroy

George Soane – The Eve of San Marco

Louisa Stanhope – The Confessional of Valombre

Elizabeth Thomas – The Vindictive Spirit

Jane West – The Loyalists: An Historical Novel

[West is quite conservative. While this novel attacks the American Revolution, she has published other books attacking the French Revolution, atheism and Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Women.]

Johann David Wyss – The Swiss Family Robinson

John Galt – Cursory Reflections on Political and Commercial Topics

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel – Die objektive Logik

John Nichols – The Literary Anecdotes of the 18th Century, volume 1

Percy Bysshe Shelley – Declaration of Rights

Percy Bysshe Shelley – The Devil’s Walk: A Ballad

Anna Laetitia Barbauld – Eighteen Hundred and Eleven

[With this book which criticizes the British war against Napoleon, Barbauld ruins her career and suffers social ostracism.]

James Kirke Paulding – The Diverting History of John Bull and Brother Jonathan [The book makes great sport of British politics and manners.]

John Melish – Travels in the United States

 In the backwoods of Kentucky, a youngster who will become a life-long avid reader turns 3 years of age. His name is Abraham Lincoln. He will love the novels of Charles Dickens.

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