For many of us, our strongest memory and image of Charles Dickens, is through no less a personage than his great grandson Mr. Cedric Charles Dickens. Unlike Brother Mordlin who had the good fortune to meet him while honeymooning with his lovely wife Sue in London, my first meeting with Cedric was here in the hallowed halls of the Dark Horse Tavern.� Meeting Cedric to me was like stepping into a Dickens story�.He was the personification of a true Pickwickian. �For those of us who try to emulate those qualities�.Not only did he set the bar very high, but on a few occasions he got high at the bar, �
In April 2005, I had the pleasure of presenting our beloved Cedric Dickens with a ceremonial Liberty Bell from the City of Philadelphia. �Cedric was in our fair city to attend our Pickwick Club meeting, and visit along with his wife Elizabeth, daughter Jane, and representatives of the Somerset Pickwick Club.
Our own Mr. Pickwick, Rick Bravo, opted to have the presentation outdoors in front of Cedric�s great grandfather�s statue at Clark Park in West Philadelphia.
Being April, and Springtime, how could Mr. Pickwick possibly expect the rainy, 40 degree weather. Oh, did I mention we were all transported from Christ Church to
the park in a topless double decker Big Red English Bus? (Aside)� �Easy there Mr. Weller, I said a topless bus, not a topless bust!� Nevertheless our contagious Pickwickian good cheer and laughter overcame any feelings of discomfort.
Some interesting facts:
The City of Philadelphia has the largest collection of public art in the United States. Paris is the only city in the world with a larger collection.
�As many of you know, Philadelphia has the distinction of having the only full sized statue of Charles Dickens in the world. How this beloved, but illegitimate artwork came to be here is a rather interesting story. Dickens� will specifically directed that no monument or memorial would ever be erected in his honor by his family and friends. He preferred to be remembered through his published works
Unfortunately, (yet fortunately for some as it later turned out), the artist Frank Elwell, unaware of the restrictive clause in the will, created the statue of Dickens
and Little Nell. This he did without the blessing of the Dickens� estate and heirs. Upon its completion, the statue was shipped off to be shown in Chicago for the
1894 World�s Fair. Following the Fair, the statue was sent off to England as a gift from the American people. But when the author�s son, Sir Henry Dickens heard of this prohibited piece of statuary landing on British soil, he was incensed that the generally clueless Americans had ignored his father�s legally binding wishes. Without unpacking this likeness of his father, he ordered that the statue be promptly and unceremoniously returned. It subsequently found it�s way to Philadelphia, where the statue languished in a warehouse for several years. At last it was installed at
its present peaceful, location, within the green and shady Clark Park in West Philadelphia.
Early this year, I walked into the Rare Book department of the Philadelphia Free Library with a singular purpose in mind. I had heard about him, and now had come to see him. Perched on a log, preserved with arsenic, frozen inside a
shadow box, he stands as a strange piece of history. Though he has been dead since 1841, his legacy is longer than most people�s, much less other animals. Grip the Clever, Grip the Wicked, Grip the Knowing. I had come to see Grip, a
literary landmark, whose remains reside here in Philadelphia.
A letter accompanies Ol� Grip:
�Mr. Dear Maclise,� it reads.
�You will be greatly shocked and grieved to hear that the Raven is no more� On the clock striking twelve he appeared slightly agitated, but he soon recovered,
walked twice or thrice along the coach-house, stopped to bark, staggered, exclaimed �Halloa old girl!� (his favorite expression) and died.�
So wrote Charles Dickens to Daniel Maclise on March 12th 1841, adding �The children seem rather glad of it. He bit their ankles but that was play��
Dickens� overblown letter has a humorous tone, but his pet raven, Grip, and his death from eating lead paint chips, was quite real. This was not the first raven Dickens had owned as a pet, but it was his most beloved, and when it died the
author had it professionally taxidermied and mounted.
Despite the ankle biting, Dickens children loved Grip as well. They begged their father to put the talkative pet raven into the newest story he was working on. An obliging father, Dickens did just that. Ravens are surprisingly human-like. Terrific mimics, common ravens can
reproduce almost any sound from their environment, including human speech.
�Polly, put the kettle on. Hurrah! Polly, put the kettle on and we�ll all have tea.
Grip, Grip, Grip,---Grip the Clever, Grip the Wicked, Grip the Knowing.�
So says the talkative raven, Grip, in Barnaby Rudge, Dickens� (somewhat less esteemed) historical novel about the �no-popery� riots of 1780. While Dickens may have made his children happy, one young man was left unsatisfied. The young critic wrote that although he liked the book,
�[the raven's] croaking might have been prophetically heard in the course of the drama.�
But there was something about the raven�s character that stuck with the young critic. That and a single line from the book that read �What was that � him tapping at the door?�
Following this, the struggling writer, Edgar Allen Poe, wrote a new poem. He called it �The Raven.�
Poe gained great popularity from his poem but along with it he was also accused of plagiarism. Writer James Russell Lowell, a contemporary of Poe�s, clearly saw
the debt Poe owed to Dickens and wrote what he called �A Fable for Critics� in which he says,
�Here comes Poe with his Raven, like Barnaby Rudge, / Three fifths of him genius, two fifths sheer fudge.�
Today, Grip the Raven, the now famous Covus Corax who inspired both Dickens and Poe can still be seen, proud as ever, in the Philadelphia Free Library Rare Book Department.
Gentlemen, I began today�s Immortal Memory by referencing Cedric, whose spirit is in our thoughts today, and I�d like to close the same way. As a follow up to his being honored by the City with a ceremonial Liberty Bell, I received the following Postcard from Cedric which I�d like to share with you.�
My dear Michael,
I was thrilled with that wonderful
model of the Bell and to receive
it from you as a gift from the Mayor.�
This is but a token Thank You�the
real one from me to you and Mayor Street will come at the end of the month when it will take center stage at our Annual Grand Meeting of the Old Somerset Pickwick Club.� We will ���drink many Toasts to you, the mayor and to my favorite City�the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia�where I walk a block and� get at least three smiles on the way.� Try in New York or London�there you get pushed off the sidewalk!
�� �������������������������������������������� Thank you, with best wishes
Cedric Charles Dickens
��������� -April 6, 2005-
My fellow Pickwickians, if you would all please rise and raise your glasses�..here�s a toast to Mr. Cedric Charles Dickens!!!� Huzzah!!!
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