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Charles Dickens Once Recited ‘A Christmas Carol’ From Memory in Boston

(The New York Times)

On this day in the year 1867, English author Charles Dickens did something impressive: He recited much of his 1843 book A Christmas Carol from memory to the gathered and rapt citizens of Boston, Massachusetts.

The New York Times described the gala event:

…Mr. Dickens proceeded to read his “Christmas Carol,” which occupied about one hour and a half. The novelist did not confine himself to the printed page, but rather spoke from memory. During the rendering of this reading his audience was completely spell-bound, so happily and so true to nature did he acquit himself in all its parts. His wonderful power of delineation, versatility of voice and power of gesture excited the admiration of all.

That’s what passed for entertainment in those days, and it would probably pass for entertainment these days, too. Dickens also read selections from The Pickwick Papers, all diligently memorized. “The audience went away declaring that never before had they experienced so rich a literary treat as was presented on this occasion,” said the Times.

Dickens turned 55 that year, and was at the height of his fame. The Boston talk was the start of a four-month speaking tour of America that netted him £19,000, the equivalent of $2 million today. (He’d come a long way from Camden Town.) His life’s work was already done: his last novel, Our Mutual Friend, was published in 1865, and his last real biggie, Great Expectations, came out in 1861.

(Charles Dickens’s death certificate. Courtesy of Simon Burchell via Wikimedia Commons)

Dickens died less than three years later, in 1870, after a series of strokes (or “apoplexy” as they called it in those days). He ended up in pretty good company in Poet’s Corner at Westminster Abbey, near Chaucer and Rudyard Kipling.

There’s still a Tremont Temple at the same site on Tremont Street, not far from the Boston Common, though it’s now called the Tremont Temple Baptist Church. It’s a new building, constructed in 1896; the Dickens version was destroyed by a fire. The Parker House, where Dickens stayed during his visit, remains right next door.

See our full biography of Charles Dickens »

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