• Poe, Dickens, & Grip

  • Charles Dickens by Mark Redfield
    'Charles Dickens' by Mark Redfield

    When Charles Dickens visited America in 1842, one of the authors who called upon him was Edgar Allan Poe.  Dickens had stopped in Philadelphia for a few days of banquets and sightseeing (including the then operational Eastern State Penitentiary—yes, in the 19th Century, visiting prisons could be part of your travel itinerary) and Poe called on the British author at the United States Hotel.  The two talked of copyright issues (international copyright did not yet exist), literature and their works (oh, to be a fly on that wall).  Poe had already favorably reviewed a few of Dickens’ novels (all pirated versions, of course) and was keen to impress Dickens with his ability to guess the ending of his fifth novel, Barnaby Rudge, before the second volume had even been printed. 

    Charles Dickens owned a pet talking raven named Grip, which he had included as a character in Barnaby Rudge.  Of Grip in the novel, Poe remarked in his review:

    “The raven, too, intensely amusing as it is, might have been made, more than we now see it, a portion of the conception of the fantastic Barnaby. Its croakings might have been prophetically heard in the course of the drama.”

    In one passage of Dickens’ novel Rudge has a conversation with his pet Grip:

    'You hope! Ay, but your hoping will not undo these chains. I hope, but they don't mind that. Grip hopes, but who cares for Grip?'

    The raven gave a short, dull, melancholy croak. It said 'Nobody,' as plainly as a croak could speak.

    'Who cares for Grip, except you and me?' said Barnaby, smoothing the bird's rumpled feathers with his hand. 'He never speaks in this place; he never says a word in jail; he sits and mopes all day in his dark corner, dozing sometimes, and sometimes looking at the light that creeps in through the bars, and shines in his bright eye as if a spark from those great fires had fallen into the room and was burning yet. But who cares for Grip?'

    The raven croaked again—Nobody.

    Of course, a few short years later , Poe wrote his most famous work, “The Raven,” making much of a prophetic bird, who muttered not “nobody,” but “Nevermore.” 

    It’s a curious story: a talking pet raven inspires a writer to include him as a character in a novel, then another writer takes that inspiration to create an iconic poetic image of everlasting melancholy. 

    Dickens so loved Grip that he had the raven stuffed and it eventually made its way into the Poe collection of Richard Gimbel.  You can see him in his glass case in the Rare Book Room of the Free Library of Philadelphia, which is currently celebrating the Bicentenary of Charles Dickens’ birth with exhibitions and events throughout 2012. 

    The Dickens 2012 Bicentenary at FLP

    Reading Charles Dickens in one year:

    Dickens and Poe in the Washington Post