Augustus Newnham Dickens
|Born||10 November 1827|
|Died||4 October 1866 (aged 38)|
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
|Resting place||Graceland Cemetery|
|Known for||Brother of novelist Charles Dickens|
Bertha Phillips (common-law wife)
|Relatives||Charles Dickens (brother)|
Frederick Dickens (brother)
Alfred Lamert Dickens (brother)
Augustus Newnham Dickens (10 November 1827 – 4 October 1866) was the youngest brother of English novelist Charles Dickens, and the inspiration for Charles's pen name 'Boz'.
Augustus Dickens was the son of Elizabeth (née Barrow) and John Dickens, a clerk in the Navy Pay Office at Portsmouth. Charles Dickens's pen name, 'Boz', was actually taken from his youngest brother's family nickname 'Moses', given to him in honour of one of the brothers in The Vicar of Wakefield (one of the most widely read novels in the early 19th century), which when playfully pronounced through the nose became corrupted as 'Boses', and later shortened to 'Boz' – pronounced with a long vowel 'o' through the nose.
In 1844, Charles Dickens wrote to Chapman & Co., a shipping merchant, trying to obtain a position for Augustus, saying "I have a young brother recently come up from a good school at Exeter, and now living, with his father, at Greenwich...He is quick and clever: has never given trouble to anybody: and has been well brought up."
In 1845 and 1847, Augustus performed in Charles Dickens's amateur theatricals while continuing to work for Chapman & Co. In 1848, Charles Dickens invited Thomas Chapman, his brother's employer, to Augustus's wedding and "to breakfast with us on the day of Augustus' marriage to Harriett Lovell at Trinity Church, Marylebone, on 5 December 1848.
He joined the Freemasons in London, being initiated into Universal Lodge No.212 on November 23rd, 1855, and was present at two further meetings on December 28th, 1855 and January 25th, 1856. At the third meeting, he proposed his elder brother Alfred Lamerte [sic] Dickens for membership. He is also recorded In the Minutes as present on November 28th, 1856, but after this, there is no clear record of his attending the Lodge. The Minute Book only refers to "Bro Dickens", which the context suggests is more likely to be Alfred.
This episode suggests that after giving up the editorship of the "Lee County Times" (see below) he returned to England for about a year.
Later, when his wife became blind, Augustus callously left her, moving to Chicago in the United States with Bertha Phillips (1827–1868), the daughter of James Phillips, an English solicitor. They lived together as man and wife. Moving to Amboy, Illinois, in February 1855 he became the editor of the 'Lee County Times', a position he only held until 1 August of that year, when it passed into the hands of H. B. Judkins. Augustus Dickens placed an advert in the Amboy Times of 4 June 1857 announcing the opening of his "People's Cheap Store." He later sold the store and bought a small farm in the same area.
In June 1860 Dickens moved back to Chicago where he obtained a job with the Illinois Central Land Department. Once settled he sent for Bertha and his three children, Bertram, Adrian, and Amy Bertha Dickens. Frederick Barnard, a neighbour of Augustus Dickens at this time later wrote:
I remember Augustus Dickens well," he said. "A more genial and whole-souled man never lived. His face bore a remarkable resemblance to portraits of his brother that I have seen. Augustus was small and spare and not at all striking in appearance. But his ready humor, his brilliant conversation, made him the life of whatever company he happened to be in, and he was probably the most popular man in the land office. His manners were most polished and he gave the impression of having had a splendid education... their house was the frequent gathering place of a coterie of people of refinement and culture and of musicians...of great ability. Mrs. Dickens' playing of classical music on the piano was grand...She was familiar with the music of all the great composers, and to hear her play at evening receptions and parties at her home was a great treat for her guests. She would often sing as she played, and I can remember clearly the rich, mellow sweetness of her voice. Mrs. Dickens was an exemplary wife, a woman of gentle breeding and fine education.
An article in The Chicago Herald in 1895 described Augustus as "inert, indifferent and thriftless. He was competent enough, but he was addicted to intemperance to a degree that practically blighted his usefulness. What he might have become, if of correct habits, no one dared to predict. As it was, he wasted his slender income on liquor". The paper claimed that several letters were written begging Dickens to come to Chicago to see his brother's plight, but that, to avoid having to meet his brother and his family, Charles Dickens avoided Chicago when he visited the United States on his reading tours. In reality, though, Augustus was already dead by the time Dickens' American tour was even announced.
Augustus Dickens died from tuberculosis in America aged 39 and was buried in Graceland Cemetery in Chicago. His older brother Charles Dickens supported both of Augustus's wives financially.
His mistress, Bertha Phillips, was said to have committed suicide on 24 December 1868 by taking an overdose of morphine, although she was taking morphine for a medical condition and probably took an overdose by mistake.
Siblings of Augustus Dickens
- Frances (Fanny) Elizabeth Dickens (1810–1848)
- Charles John Huffam Dickens (1812–1870)
- Letitia Dickens (1816–1893)
- Harriet Dickens (1819–1824)
- Frederick William Dickens (1820–1868)
- Alfred Lamert Dickens (1822–1860)
- Dickens Family Tree website
- "Augustus Dickens" in The Chicago Herald, 19 February 1895
- Dickens on the Midwest Antiquarian Booksellers Association website
- 'Eulogy for Augustus Dickens and Bertha Phillips', the Chicago Dickens Fellowship
- 'THE STORY OF MRS AUGUSTUS DICKENS' Timaru Herald, Rōrahi X, Putanga 414, 15 Haratua 1869, Page 4
- The Chicago Times 30 December 1868
- Augustus Dickens on Charles Dickens Biography[permanent dead link]
- History of Amboy Township and City, Il. Encyclopedia of Illinois and the History of Lee County Edited by: Mr. A. C. Bardwell. Munsell Publishing Company Chicago 1904
- The Chicago Herald 'DICKENS'S WAYWARD BROTHER; CAUSE OF THE NOVELIST'S SEEMINGLY HEARTLESS CONDUCT. Why the Pet of His Young Manhood Came to This Country and Prevented Him from Visiting Chicago' 19 February 1895
- Dickens's grave in Graceland Cemetery in Chicago
- Historical sketch of Graceland Cemetery, Chicago
- U.S. National Register of Historic Places
- The Chicago Herald 19 February 1895
- The Dickens-Kolle letters (1910) University of California Libraries