Read an Excerpt
By Gerald Charles Dickens
My great-great-grandfather wrote The Life of Our Lord for a very special reason he wrote it for his family. He wanted his children to learn about the life and teachings of Jesus Christ in as plain and simple a way as possible, and he decided the best way to achieve that was to write it himself and give it to his family as a gift.
Charles Dickens was extremely protective of The Life of Our Lord. He was well aware that anything from his pen would be snapped up, published, distributed, and then become part of the Dickens legend; he was determined that this one work would receive no such treatment. When Charles Dickens said that The Life of Our Lord was purely for his family, he meant it. Georgina Hogarth, Charles's sister-in-law, wrote this about his refusal to publish The Life of Our Lord:
I must now tell you about the beautiful little New Testament, which he wrote for his children. I am sorry to say it is never to be published...He would never have it printed, and I used to read it to the little boys in manuscript before they were old enough to read writing themselves...I asked Charles if he did not think it would be well to have it printed, at all events for private circulation, if he would not publish it. He said he would look over the manuscript and take a week or two to consider. At the end of the time he gave it back to me and said he had decided never to publish it, or even to have it privately printed. He said I might make a copy of it for Peggy (Mrs. Dickens) or any one of his children, but for no one else, and he also begged that we would never even hand themanuscript, or a copy of it, to anyone to take out of the house.
The Dickens family felt that in return for such a wonderful gift, they must honor their father's wishes. The clan closed ranks and protected their secret with great zeal.
On Dickens's death, in 1870, the manuscript passed, along with all of his private papers, to Georgina Hogarth and, from her, to my great-grandfather, Henry Fielding Dickens. His wife, Marie (or Mumsey, as she was known in the family), carefully hid it under her mattress and my father tells me that marks from her bedsprings are clearly visible!
At the time, Henry, a well-respected lawyer, was somewhat torn because he was a great protector of his father's legacy Charles's wishes must be honored and there was no question of publishing The Life of Our Lord. However, Henry was also justly proud of his father's works, and I believe that he wanted this short volume to be more widely read. He put his legal mind to the problem and came up with a solution. In his will, Henry wrote:
I give and bequeath to my wife the original manuscript of my father's "Life of Our Lord" which was bequeathed to my aunt Georgina Hogarth in my father's will, and given by her to me to hold, on the following trusts:
Being his son I have felt constrained to act upon my father's expressed desire that it should not be published, but I do not think it right that I should bind my children by any such view, especially as I can find no specific injunction against such publication.
I therefore direct that my wife and children should consider this question quite unfettered by any view of mine, and if by majority they decide that the manuscript should not be published, I direct my wife to deposit it with the trustees of the British Museum upon the usual terms, but if they decide by a majority that it should be published, then I direct my wife to sell the same in trust, to divide the net proceeds of such sale among my wife and all my children in equal shares.
Upon Henry's death in 1933, the family thought long and hard over the question of The Life of Our Lord and decided that the time was now right to publish it. Thus, in 1934, the last published work of Charles Dickens became available to a wider audience, one hundred years after his very first piece, "A Dinner at Poplar Walk," the first of the Sketches by Boz, was published.
The Life of Our Lord tells us so much about Charles Dickens. It outlines his faith, which was simple and deeply held, but, for me, above all else it tells of his relationship with his family my family. When I read the first line of The Life of Our Lord, "My Dear Children, I am very anxious that you should know something about the History of Jesus Christ," I picture the scene in the Dickenses' nursery vividly: Charley, age twelve; Mamie, eleven; Katie, ten; and Walter, eight; all listening intently as their father explains the miracles of Christ. I envision Francis, five; Alfred, four; and Sydney, two; playing happily as their father reads, changing the narrative now and then to keep their interest. "You never saw a locust, because they belong to that country near Jerusalem, which is a great way off. So do camels, but I think you have seen a camel. At all events, they are brought over here, sometimes; and if you would like to see one, I will show you one."
And then, in the corner is a baby, not even a year old: Henry Fielding Dickens. My great-grandfather hearing, but not listening to, the voice of Dickens.
Now we have come full circle. I have three children: Georgia, eight; Jasmine, six; and Cameron, seven months. My children are almost of the same age as Walter, Francis, and Henry. My daughters are learning about Jesus Christ, and they are as fascinated by the miracles and parables as were their counterparts exactly one hundred and fifty years ago. It is time for me to read to them, "My Dear Children, I am very anxious that you should know something about the History of Jesus Christ..." And I invite you to become part of this wonderful family. Read The Life of Our Lord not as a Dickens novel that is the last thing my great-great-grandfather would have wanted. Read it as an honorary family member and draw from it the rich meaning that Charles Dickens intended when he first presented this gift to us.
Burwash, East Sussex, England
Copyright © 1999 by Gerald Charles Dickens
Chapter the First.
My Dear Children,
I am very anxious that you should know something about the History of Jesus Christ. For everybody ought to know about Him. No one ever lived who was so good, so kind, so gentle, and so sorry for all people who did wrong, or were in any way ill or miserable, as He was. And as He is now in Heaven, where we hope to go, and all to meet each other after we are dead, and there be happy always together, you never can think what a good place Heaven is, without knowing who He was and what He did.
He was born, a long long time ago nearly two thousand years ago at a place called Bethlehem. His father and mother lived in a city called Nazareth, but they were forced by business to travel to Bethlehem. His father's name was Joseph, and His mother's name was Mary. And the town being very full of people, also brought there by business, there was no room for Joseph and Mary in the Inn or in any house; so they went into a stable to lodge, and in this stable Jesus Christ was born. There was no cradle or anything of that kind there, so Mary laid her pretty little boy in what is called the manger, which is the place the horses eat out of. And there He fell asleep.
While He was asleep, some shepherds who were watching sheep in the fields, saw an Angel from God, all light and beautiful, come moving over the grass towards them. At first they were afraid and fell down and hid their faces. But it said, "There is a child born to-day in the city of Bethlehem near here, who will grow up to be so good that God will love Him as His own Son; and He will teach men to love one another, and not to quarrel and hurt one another; and His name will be Jesus Christ; and people will put that name in their prayers, because they will know God loves it, and will know that they should love it too." And then the Angel told the shepherds to go to that stable, and look at that little child in the manger. Which they did; and they kneeled down by it in its sleep, and said, "God bless this child!"
Now the great place of all that country was Jerusalem just as London is the great place in England and at Jerusalem the King lived, whose name was King Herod. Some wise men came one day, from a country a long way off in the East, and said to the King, "We have seen a star in the sky, which teaches us to know that a child is born in Bethlehem, who will live to be a man whom all people will love." When King Herod heard this, he was jealous, for he was a wicked man. But he pretended not to be, and said to the wise men, "Whereabouts is this child?" And the wise men said: "We don't know. But we think the star will show us; for the star has been moving on before us, all the way here, and is now standing still in the sky." Then Herod asked them to see if the star would show them where the child lived, and ordered them, if they found the child, to come back to him. So they went out, and the star went on, over their heads a little way before them, until it stopped over the house where the child was. This was very wonderful, but God ordered it to be so.
When the star stopped, the wise men went in, and saw the child with Mary His mother. They loved Him very much, and gave Him some presents. Then they went away. But they did not go back to King Herod; for they thought he was jealous, though he had not said so. So they went away, by night, back into their own country. And an Angel came, and told Joseph and Mary to take the child into a country called Egypt, or Herod would kill Him. So they escaped, too, in the night the father, the mother, and the child and arrived there, safely.
But when this cruel Herod found that the wise men did not come back to him, and that he could not, therefore, find out where this child, Jesus Christ, lived, he called his soldiers and captains to him, and told them to go and kill all the children in his dominions that were not more than two years old. The wicked men did so. The mothers of the children ran up and down the streets with them in their arms, trying to save them, and hide them in caves and cellars, but it was of no use. The soldiers with their swords killed all the children they could find. This dreadful murder was called the Murder of the Innocents, because the little children were so innocent.
King Herod hoped that Jesus Christ was one of them. But He was not, as you know, for He had escaped safely into Egypt. And He lived there, with His father and mother, until bad King Herod died.
Copyright © 1999 by Gerald Charles Dickens
Chapter the Second.
When King Herod was dead, an angel came to Joseph again, and said he might now go to Jerusalem, and not be afraid for the child's sake. So Joseph and Mary, and her Son Jesus Christ (who are commonly called the Holy Family) travelled towards Jerusalem; but, hearing on the way that King Herod's son was the new King, and fearing that he, too, might want to hurt the child, they turned out of the way, and went to live in Nazareth. They lived there until Jesus Christ was twelve years old.
Then Joseph and Mary went to Jerusalem to attend a religious feast which used to be held in those days, in the Temple of Jerusalem, which was a great church or cathedral; and they took Jesus Christ with them. And when the feast was over, they travelled away from Jerusalem, back towards their own home in Nazareth, with a great many of their friends and neighbours. For people used, then, to travel a great many together, for fear of robbers; the roads not being so safe and well guarded as they are now, and travelling being much more difficult altogether, than it now is.
They travelled on for a whole day, and never knew that Jesus Christ was not with them; for the company being so large, they thought He was somewhere among the people, though they did not see Him. But finding that He was not there, and fearing that He was lost, they turned back to Jerusalem in great anxiety to look for Him. They found Him, sitting in the temple, talking about the goodness of God, and how we should all pray to Him, with some learned men who were called doctors. They were not what you understand by the word "doctors" now; they did not attend sick people; they were scholars and clever men. And Jesus Christ showed such knowledge in what He said to them, and in the questions He asked them, that they were all astonished.
He went, with Joseph and Mary, home to Nazareth, when they had found Him, and lived there until He was thirty or thirty-five years old.
At that time there was a very good man indeed, named John, who was the son of a woman named Elizabeth the cousin of Mary. And people being wicked, and violent, and killing each other, and not minding their duty towards God, John (to teach them better) went about the country, preaching to them, and entreating them to be better men and women. And because he loved them more than himself, and didn't mind himself when he was doing them good, he was poorly dressed in the skin of a camel, and ate little but some insects called locusts, which he found as he travelled, and wild honey, which the bees left in the hollow trees. You never saw a locust, because they belong to that country near Jerusalem, which is a great way off. So do camels, but I think you have seen a camel. At all events, they are brought over here, sometimes; and if you would like to see one, I will show you one.
There was a river, not very far from Jerusalem, called the River Jordan; and in this water John baptized those people who would come to him, and promise to be better. A great many people went to him in crowds. Jesus Christ went too. But when John saw, John said, "Why should I baptize you, who are so much better than I!" Jesus Christ made answer, "Suffer it to be so now." So John baptized Him. And when He was baptized, the sky opened, and a beautiful bird like a dove came flying down, and the voice of God, speaking up in Heaven, was heard to say, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased!"
Jesus Christ then went into a wild and lonely country called the wilderness, and stayed there forty days and forty nights, praying that He might be of use to men and women, and teach them to be better, so that after their deaths, they might be happy in Heaven.
When He came out of the wilderness, He began to cure sick people by only laying His hand upon them; for God had given Him power to heal the sick, and to give sight to the blind, and to do many wonderful and solemn things of which I shall tell you more bye and bye, and which are called the Miracles of Christ. I wish you would remember that word, because I shall use it again, and I should like you to know that it means something which is very wonderful and which could not be done without God's leave and assistance.
The first miracle which Jesus Christ did, was at a place called Cana, where He went to a marriage-feast with Mary His mother. There was no wine; and Mary told Him so. There were only six stone water-pots filled with water. But Jesus turned this water into wine, by only lifting up His hand; and all who were there drank of it.
For God had given Jesus Christ the power to do such wonders; and He did them, that people might know He was not a common man, and might believe what He taught them, and also believe that God had sent Him. And many people, hearing this, and hearing that He cured the sick, did begin to believe in Him; and great crowds followed Him in the streets and on the roads, wherever He went.
Copyright © 1999 by Gerald Charles Dickens