31st January 1826

Heavy rain last night, making a sluggish walk both to and from school, the streets thick with the blackest mud. The crossing-sweeper on the High Street, a bald man with only one arm and a tattered old military coat, blesses every copper thrown his way with ‘thank’ee! Lor’, ain’t it enough to suck off yer boots!’ The roads certainly are in a foul state and no-one has seen the parish contractor for weeks. Papa says he will write a strongly-worded letter to the vestry, once he has paid the rates. When I got home, I gave my boots to Skillet, but she said ‘if you wants your own personal varlet (!), young Master Dickens, to clean up after your every shortcomings and goings, then you had better come into some money, and get a coach and horses and two footmen in powder while you are at it!’ Sometimes I do not know why we even keep a (so-called) servant.

30th January 1826

Thought of consulting Pa about how to woo a young lady; but I fear it would inevitably involve walnut cake, which is not suited to all tastes. Muzzle is no use; he still has not even spoken to his barmaid. I raised the subject in a general and roundabout way with Sykes, but he said that ‘any self-respecting young gent has no use for bits of skirt, except for warming his supper and washing his smalls.’

Who else is there?

Nine o’clock p.m.

Could I ask Fanny? I will think on it.


A quarter past nine o’clock p.m.

I have thought upon it. 

No.

 

29th January 1826

(No church this morning – hurrah! – as we went to the Royal Surrey last night and were back v. late.)

Our trip to the theatre was a jolly outing. Unfortunately, Pa only had orders for the uppermost tier, a balcony full of the coarsest specimens of humanity. Half the people were noisily devouring oranges; the other half gorging on immense tumbling rounds of ham sandwiches. Moreover, when Mama took out her opera-glasses, a Cockney matron, wearing an enormous sprouting confusion of a feathery bonnet – a sparrow short of a bird’s nest – remarked loudly, ‘Oi! Oi! I see no ships!’ Poor Mama blushed bright red and put them straight back in her reticule.

But such a play – Murder and Madness; or The Horrors of Constantinople – and a juggler and rope-dancer in the interval! I have kept my own copy of the playbill.

The scenes were:

I.  A Rendez-vous at the Benighted Millpond

II. Crossing the Heady Bosphorus

III.  The Sorry Eunuch and the Hareem at Midnight

IV.  The Accursed Sands of Anchora

V. Doomed in a Dungeon

VI.  The Amative Caliph’s Castle

The best actress was Miss Catherine Calthrop – ‘Lady Jessamima’ – who was kidnapped twice (once by pirates, once by the Caliph), drowned once, and sang a comic song about a camel.

(She is not as beautiful as S., though.)

[note to self: might the Duke of Albemarlia own a giraffe?]

We walked back through Covent Garden and mingled promiscuously with the great crowds pouring out of the Lyceum and Drury Lane. Saw two suspicious-looking fellows whom I will wager were pickpockets; several ladies of dubious virtue; and a very drunken old chap making passionate advances to a lamppost. Mama jabbed me in the arm and nodded towards him, as if to say, ‘Look upon the Wages of Sin!’ My own mother now seems to think I am some sort of confirmed lushington!


28th January 1826

Alfred now has a complete and unreasoning horror of jam, which rather spoiled breakfast.

27th January 1826

Sykes came round in the evening to read all about the human sacrifices in The Terrific Register. He was very keen on the Mexicans ripping out the hearts of vanquished prisoners. After he had read the article through a couple of times, we made a jolly good game of it with Fred and Alfred. But then Alf started to cry when Will jumped on top of him and pretended to tear open his chest with a butter knife. Will is a surprisingly good actor. I was rather inspired and immediately wrote some new lines for my play:

Pistacchio: Halt, villain! What foul infamy is this?

Mexican: You have stumbled upon the altar on which this rogue is bound to die, sir! The gods demand vengeance!

Pistacchio: Hold fast! What was this fellow’s crime?

Mexican: An awful murder which merits the most awful punishment! Theretofore I shall scoop out his heart and spread his blood like damson jam!

Will read them through out loud – a little too loud, perhaps – and said they were very good lines, especially about the jam. I think I am already becoming skilled at playwriting, as they only took me ten minutes.


11 o’clock p.m.

Thinking about the ins and outs of human sacrifice will only distract you for so long.

SELENA!

You have unwittingly scooped out my heart and sacrificed me on the altar of your love.


26th January 1826

After school, I stood outside in the street, hoping that I might catch a solitary glimpse of HER. Then it began to rain. My HOPES and DREAMS were dissolved in the drops which tumbled like tears from the heavens – like TEARS for MY LOVE – and I went back indoors, feeling thoroughly wretched. HOW CAN I WIN HER AFFECTIONS? (NB. It does not help matters that one of my boots lets in water.)

There is some good news. Papa has managed to secure orders for the Royal Surrey Theatre on Saturday, gratis (he met a fellow in Stray Cat who shifts scenery). This set me to thinking about the theatre and so I told Pa all about the first scene of my play, The Gadabout Duke (which I completed this very evening!). The hero, Pistacchio, pursues a mysterious dark-eyed, olive-skinned beauty from Italy, called Maria-Theresa St. Cristophero. She carries a locket containing within it a picture of the true Duke of Albemarlia. Harried at every turn and pursued, in turn, by an evil uncle (Count Morphoso), she confounds everyone by disguising herself as a nun and fleeing from danger. Pa said it all sounded very promising – especially the nun – and he thoroughly expected to see it performed at Drury Lane before the year was out (haha!).

It is quite good, though.


Midnight.

Struggling to sleep.

Not sure about Maria-Theresa; it lacks poetry. I may call her Selenia.


25th January 1826

Fanny asked what was wrong with me today; and Mama asked if it was my bowels.

They know nothing. But what shall I do about this agony?

[nb. it is love, not bowels]