Charles Dickens

Dundee Evening Telegraph, April 1928 by Ex-Bailie J.H. Martin

his article was entitled –


What Charles Dickens thought of Dundee”     


“An odd place” – But the people did “wake up surprisingly.”

…In speaking of Dickens and Dundee, one wonders what could have been on his mind when, writing the “Pickwick Papers” and recounting the story of the Bagman’s Uncle, he expatiated on the bibulous powers of what he calls “the Dundee people,” and specially mentioned a Glasgow man and a Dundee man who, drinking against each other for 15 hours at a sitting, were both suffocated at the same moment, but were not a bit the worse for it.

    Nor can one omit a reference to the visit which the novelist paid to Dundee in 1858, when he gave “Readings” in the “new Public Hall,” subsequently known as the Corn Exchange and later as the Kinnaird Hall.

    In his diary Dickens describes Dundee as “an odd place,” something like Wapping, and referring to the hall he says, “the room is an immense new one, something between the Crystal Palace and Westminster Hall – who wants it in this place I can’t imagine.”

   Of the people he thought that in respect of taste and intelligence they were below any other of his Scottish audiences, although he adds, “they wake up surprisingly.”

   Dickens’ remarks seem a little barbed but his readings in Dundee, in this massive hall, on the evenings of Friday and Saturday 1st and 2nd October 1858 were not universally praised.

   On the Friday evening he read the “Christmas Carol” to a large and fashionable audience, which, it was reported, had met to see and to hear the most popular novelist of the day, and, in introducing himself, expressed the hope that they would be as a family party and place no restraint of any kind upon their feelings.

   On the Saturday evening he read the “Poor Traveller,” “Sairey Gamp,” and other tales. The attendance on the Saturday, though good, was much smaller than on the Friday evening. The falling off was accounted for from the fact that, on Friday, Dickens was scarcely heard at all by those in the back seats and that many of those in the reserved seats heard very indistinctly, and only those who were acquainted with the readings previously were able to follow any word as it was uttered.

   Some correspondence took place in the local newspapers after the visit, and one writer, assuming the character of “Sairey Gamp,” publicly thanked her friend “Mrs Harris” for the present of a ticket, but expressed her regret at not having heard and not getting as she expected a soft velvet covered seat. She had been obliged to sit upon a hard unplanned plank, and if Mrs Harris had only spent the 4/- on blisters and placed them over her (Sairey’s) body, she would have had the same result.

   The Kinnaird Hall was opened five months prior to the visit of Dickens, but it was a month later (11th November) that it was completed and inaugurated with a series of brilliant functions.


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