On June 14th 1870, the nation was in mourning for the loss of the greatest novelist of the era, Charles Dickens, whose funeral had taken place the previous day.
HIS WISHES IGNORED
Dickens had died at his house Gads Hill Place, in Gads Hill, just outside Rochester in Kent on the 9th June 1870.
He had been adamant that he wanted a simple funeral service, devoid of any pomp and ceremony, and had stated that he wished to be buried in Kent.
But, no sooner had he died, than it was decided that a more suitable resting place for him would be in Poets Corner, in Westminster Abbey, and thus in the early hours of the 13th June 1870, his body left Gads Hill for the journey to London, where he was to be buried in the Abbey, albeit the service was to be attended by only his closest friends and family.
Reporting on the solemn occasion in its issue of Saturday 16th June 1870, The Illustrated Police News had this to say:-
THE LATE MR. CHARLES DICKENS.
A NATION MOURNS
A nation mourns the loss of one of her greatest writers.
Enough has already been said upon the genius and generous nature of the man who has been so suddenly taken from us.
Charles Dickens is no more, but his works are imperishable and cannot pried away.
BURIED IN WESTMINSTER ABBEY
On Tuesday morning, a few minutes before ten, the mortal remains of the late Mr. Charles Dickens were consigned to their last resting place in Westminster Abbey.
The body was removed from Gadshill at six on Tuesday morning, and was conveyed in a special train to the Charing-cross terminus.
There the coffin was placed in a plain hearse, without feathers or trappings of any kind.
Following were three plain mourning coaches, containing the members of the family and a few friends, as follows:-
In the first coach were Mr. Charles Dickens ,jun, Mr. Harry Dickens, Miss Dickens, Mrs. Charles Collins.
In the second coach, Miss Hogarth, Mrs. Austin (Mr. Dickens’s sister), Mr. John Forster.
In the third coach, Mr. Frank Beard, Mr. Charles Collins, Mr. Ouvry, Mr. Wilkie Collins, Mr. Edmund Dickens.
THE JOURNEY TO THE ABBEY
At about a quarter past nine the simple cortege quitted the station, where it attracted little observation, only a few knowing whose funeral it was.
A brick grave had actually been prepared in the St. Mary’s Chapel at Rochester Cathedral; but all will feel glad that Mr. Dickens’s relatives consented to gratify what was assuredly a national desire.
THE BURIAL SERVICE
The Very Rev. Dean Stanley met the coffin at the cloisters, and preceded it into the nave, repeating meanwhile the introductory sentences of the Burial Service.
Arrived within the choir the body was placed upon a temporary bier prepared for the purpose, where it remained during the other portions of the service, no part of which was chanted.
The organ, however, filled every nook and cranny of the grand old Abbey with melodious but melancholy strains while the corpse was carried to the grave, which had been dug for it in Poet’s-corner, immediately below the statue of Addison.
The funeral was strictly private, and so secret were the arrangements kept that none but the highest of the Abbey officials knew until Tuesday morning that the great novelist was to be numbered with the illustrious’ dead who sleep their last sleep in Westminster Abbey.
The coffin was of polished oak, divided into panels, with brass mountings.
In the centre panel of the lid was a plain braid plate, bearing the simple inscription:-
BORN 7TH FEBRUARY, 1812.
DIED 9Th JUNE, 1870.
HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE ARRIVE
The ceremony was over before ten o’clock, the hour at which the public are usually admitted; and the news of the funeral having taken place spread very rapidly.
Hundreds of persons entered the Abbey to look at the coffin in the grave, and in anticipation of their arrival, a railing was erected to prevent crowding or confusion.
The sides of the grave were draped with black cloth to hide the neighbouring coffins, but it was not difficult to see that the foot of Handel’s coffin nearly touched the head of Dickens’s.
BURIED AMONGST THE FAMOUS
At the feet of Dickens lies Sheridan, and near neighbours are David Garrick, Samuel Johnson, Southey, Campbell. and Gray.
On the right lies Richard Cumberland, the dramatist, and on the left Macaulay and Addison.
From a small niche the bust of Thackeray looks down upon the newly made grave, while on the opposite wall is the monument to Shakespeare.
HANDEL IN EDWIN DROOD
A singular allusion to Handel occurs in one of the latest chapters of “Edwin Drood.”
Dickens gives a wonderful description of the contents of a cupboard which is surmounted by a bust of Handel, who is described as looking as if be were eager to turn into music the miscellaneous objects over which he is said to keep watch.
A FITTING RESTING PLACE
Fitter resting-place it would be difficult to find for one possessing a genius that had much in common with the most striking characteristics of many whose dust now mingles with his own.
Vivid painter of life and manners, subtle analyst of the deepest emotions of humanity, genial humourist, and unswerving believer in the true nobility of his race, he is fitly associated in death with so many silent representatives of the intellectual greatness of the past.