Thursday, February 7, 2013

Charles Dickens' Dogs

It’s said that a good writer writes what he knows, and Charles Dickens knew dogs.

His sympathetic characters Oliver Twist and David Copperfield may be more well-known, but no more three-dimensional than their stories’ fictional dogs, Bulls-Eye and Jip, that Dickens sketched with pathos and personality.  Dickens’ canine characters were based on the rich material he gathered from observing his own menagerie which included among others, a Pomeranian, Havanese Spaniel, Mastiff, St. Bernard, Newfoundland, St. Bernard x Bloodhound hybrid and two St. Bernard x Newfoundland hybrids.

Dickens took long walks in the afternoon, 
ten miles or more, with the dogs as his sole companions. 
Illustration from Princes, Authors, and Statesmen of Our Time,
Henry Bill Publishing Co., 1885
Within his many books, Dickens included a great number of major dog characters that, according to Cumberland Clark’s 1926 book, The Dogs in Dickens, often determined the course of events in his stories:  The vicious Bulls-Eye, as brutal and loathsome as his master Bill Sikes in Oliver Twist but so devoted that he died trying to save his life; sagacious Diogenes, companion to the lonely Florence Dombey who lived in the gloomy home of father, in Dombey and Sons; good natured affectionate Boxer, from the Cricket and the Hearth; Jip, a little spaniel dog, “not of the friendly sort,” who belonged to David Copperfield’s love Dora Spenlow, and whom David had to woo to win Dora’s heart;  Merrylegs, the trained circus dog of Signor Jupe, a clown in Hard Times; and the less-than-handsome Poodles, from the Uncommercial Traveler who was found starving on the steps of the East London Children’s’ Hospital where he eventually made his home and who wore a collar bearing the inscription, “Judge not Poodles by external appearances.”

A dog collar worn by one of Dickens' dogs
sold at auction for $11,590 in 2010.
The following letter was written by Dickens on May 25, 1868, to the wife of his publisher Thomas Fields, describing his return home after an extended visit to America:

Mr. Dear Mrs. Fields, 
As you ask me about the dogs, I begin with them.  When I came down first, I came to Gravesend, five miles off.  The two Newfoundland dogs [Newfoundland x St. Bernard hybrids], coming to meet me with the usual carriage and the usual driver, and beholding me coming in my usual dress out at the usual door, it struck me that their recollection of my having been absent for any unusual time was at once cancelled. They behaved (they are both young dogs) exactly in their usual manner; coming behind the basket phaeton as we trotted along, and lifting their heads to have their ears pulled – a special attention which they receive from no one else.  But when I drove into the stable-yard, Linda [St. Bernard] was greatly excited; weeping profusely, and throwing herself on her back that she might caress my foot with her great fore-paws.  Mamie’s little dog, too, Mrs. Bouncer [Pomeranian], barked in the greatest agitation on being called down and asked by Mamie, “Who is this?” and tore round and round me…"

Today is the 201st anniversary of Dickens' birth. Click here to read an article I wrote about Dickens' Dogs.


  1. Wonderful posting and piece about Charles Dickens and you can see by his writings, that he truly loved his dogs.


  2. Enjoyed reading your article very much! I didn't know that Dickens had this great love of dogs!!! Loved the poem too in that article!!!

  3. I couldn't fit all of the anecdotes I've found about Dicken's love of dogs in the post. He was a true dog lover and once he was successful enough to have a large home (Gad's Hill) he filled the house with dogs. He loved Mastiffs and had several. One particular favorite he named Turk. Linda was his beloved St. Bernard. Sultan was an Irish Bloodhound (a popular cross between and St. Bernard and Bloodhound). Mamie was a large spitz type Pomeranian that belonged to his daughter. He was given a Newfoundland while in America, that he named Don. Don and Linda produced Bumble. Imagine Dickens strolling through parks, village churchyards and stopping in pubs with four formidable looking giant dogs, Don, Lind, Bumble and Turk.

  4. he also had a dog that wasnt a macho man's mans dog- it was a lapdog ,the havanese, and they arent tough but they are compaionship dogs ad one of the funniest breeds. I lovily own a havanese named chester and like his havanese named tim they both share breed and dorky names

  5. Really a nice blog you have created the main important fact is that it provides lots of information about the pets which helps me to try something new.Havanese puppies New York

    1. Thanks for your kind words. It's always nice to get an atta' girl.

    2. JIP in David Copperfield was not a Spaniel, he was a Pomeranian.

  6. Wondeful post, thanks. I've just written some flash fiction based on Oliver Twist and mentioned your blog