Monday, 9 June 2014

The Empty Chair

On this day in 1870, Charles Dickens died, at the age of 58, having effectively worked himself to death with a punishing schedule of tours and public performances. He had been working on Edwin Drood when he had his final and fatal stroke, in his house at Gad's Hill.
 Dickens's last words were 'On the ground' (when his sister-in-law and 'best and truest friend' Georgina Hogarth suggested that he lie down. In the event, he breathed his last on a sofa in the dining room). The torrents of verbiage that followed Dickens's death more than made up for that meagre final utterance. In a similar spirit, his stated wish to be buried at Rochester Cathedral in 'an inexpensive, unostentatious and strictly private manner' was overriden in favour of the pomp and ceremony of a Poets' Corner interment. He - or the idea of him - was, it seems, too important to the nation for him to be allowed to have his own way.
 The sense of loss and mood of national mourning - surely unparalleled for any author before or since - also found expression in what became a hugely popular print: The Empty Chair by Samuel Luke Fildes, the illustrator of Edwin Drood. That's it above.Vincent Van Gogh is known to have admired this print, and it surely fed into his own eloquent paintings of empty chairs.

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