On the 26 September 1868, Charles Dickens composed the following letter to his 15-year-old son, Edward, before seeing him off on a ship bound for Australia. Charles had an idyllic childhood, reading, playing outside and attending a private school. After years of living beyond his means, his father was sent to a debtors' prison with his wife and youngest children. At the age of ten, Charles went to work in a blacking factory. He eventually returned to school and worked as a junior clerk in a law office before starting his writing career.
Following in his older brother Alfred's footsteps, Edward settled in New South Wales and ran a number of largely unsuccessful stock and station agencies. He spent several years as a member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, before losing his seat. Edward spent his last years unemployed and in debt, before dying at the age of 49.
"My dearest Plorn,
I write this note to-day because your going away is much upon my mind, and because I want you to have a few parting words from me to think of now and then at quiet times. I need not tell you that I love you dearly, and am very, very sorry in my heart to part with you. But this life is half made up of partings, and these pains must be borne.
It is my comfort and my sincere conviction that you are going to try the life for which you are best fitted. I think its freedom and wildness more suited to you than any experiment in a study or office would ever have been; and without that training, you could have followed no other suitable occupation.
I think its freedom and wildness more suited to you than any experiment in a study or office would ever have been
What you have already wanted until now has been a set, steady, constant purpose. I therefore exhort you to persevere in a thorough determination to do whatever you have to do as well as you can do it. I was not so old as you are now when I first had to win my food, and do this out of this determination, and I have never slackened in it since.
Never take a mean advantage of anyone in any transaction, and never be hard upon people who are in your power. Try to do to others, as you would have them do to you, and do not be discouraged if they fail sometimes. It is much better for you that they should fail in obeying the greatest rule laid down by our Saviour, than that you should.
Try to do to others, as you would have them do to you, and do not be discouraged if they fail sometimes
I put a New Testament among your books, for the very same reasons, and with the very same hopes that made me write an easy account of it for you, when you were a little child; because it is the best book that ever was or will be known in the world, and because it teaches you the best lessons by which any human creature who tries to be truthful and faithful to duty can possibly be guided.
Edward in the Australian Town and Country Journal, 6 April 1889National Library of Australia
As your brothers have gone away, one by one, I have written to each such words as I am now writing to you, and have entreated them all to guide themselves by this book, putting aside the interpretations and inventions of men.
You will remember that you have never at home been wearied about religious observances or mere formalities. I have always been anxious not to weary my children with such things before they are old enough to form opinions respecting them. You will therefore understand the better that I now most solemnly impress upon you the truth and beauty of the Christian religion, as it came from Christ Himself, and the impossibility of your going far wrong if you humbly but heartily respect it.
I have always been anxious not to weary my children with such things before they are old enough to form opinions respecting them
Only one thing more on this head. The more we are in earnest as to feeling it, the less we are disposed to hold forth about it. Never abandon the wholesome practice of saying your own private prayers, night and morning. I have never abandoned it myself, and I know the comfort of it.
I hope you will always be able to say in after life, that you had a kind father. You cannot show your affection for him so well, or make him so happy, as by doing your duty.
Your affectionate Father"