Charles Dickens letter of advice to his son 54



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Born on the 7th Feb 1812, yesterday was Charles Dickens birthday and the world was talking about him a little more than usual.  In discussions about him, we came across this beautiful letter he wrote to his son who left for Australia on September 26th 1868 to attend University.  His son, Edward Dickens, believed to be his favourite, went by the nickname of “Plorn”.

Famous writers have given us some beautiful letters of advice to their children over the centuries.  This may go down as one of the most emotive of them.  The advice is certainly not the same as advice would give a child travelling overseas today, but it is father to son advice that touches a soul, that I am sure many have received in their own lives, and treasured (or resented).  In fact, share with us an important piece of advice given to you by your own father if you have one.  


Numerous correspondence pieces after his departure helped us see that Dickens really missed his son, and as letters were the communication of the time, they were kept by all.  They were later published in the book, Selected Letters of Charles Dickens.

I can honestly report that he went away, poor dear fellow, as well as could possibly be expected. He was pale, and had been crying, and (Harry said) had broken down in the railway carriage after leaving Higham station; but only for a short time.

Just before the train started he cried a good deal, but not painfully. … These are hard, hard things, but they might have to be done without means or influence, and then they would be far harder. God bless him!

He wrote a long piece of advice to his son at Christmas that year which is a beautiful thing to read. It read:

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.

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.

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. 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.

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.

Edward “Plorn” Dickens

What advice did your father give you when you left home?

Rebecca Wilson

Rebecca Wilson is the founder and publisher of Starts at Sixty. The daughter of two baby boomers, she has built the online community for over 60s by listening carefully to the issues and seeking out answers, insights and information for over 60s throughout Australia. Rebecca is an experienced marketer, a trained journalist and has a degree in politics. A mother of 3, she passionately facilitates and leads our over 60s community, bringing the community opinions, needs and interests to the fore and making Starts at Sixty a fun place to be.

  1. Even his letter was well written. I wonder if his sone went back to the UK after attending university here. Or, did he remain in Australia.

  2. Ah! The art of letter writing! Beautiful. Nowadays I expect there would be a quick SMS with don’t forget to wear your raincoat! Lol

  3. “He opened a stock and station agency, was elected as an alderman of Bourke Shire Council and bought a share in Yanda station near Bourke. He lost heavily from bad seasons and in 1886 he was appointed government inspector of runs in the Bourke District.

    Dickens nominated for the seat of Wentworth at the 1882 by-election, but withdrew before the polls, won by fellow pastoralist Edward Quin, then was elected member for Wilcannia in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly in 1889 and held the seat until defeated by the Labor Party candidate, Richard Sleath in 1894.”

    1 REPLY
    • I got all interested in the seat of Wentworth in 1882 – Our Malcolm’s seat and the richest per capita electorate in Australia. But then I realized – there was no federal seat of Wentworth until after Federation in 1901. Never mind. I love history for history’s sake. Thanks for the synopsis and the link Angela.

  4. I so loved this! Life was hard in many ways in those times, but blissfully simple in others, full of spiritual comfort that was still around during my childhood. Not so much now I think. Thank you for sharing this. One thing that puzzles me, what University in Australia did he go to?

  5. Great read.My Father was a role model to me very hard working,loving, minded & wise.Very sadly died at 63.I had 4 younger siblings.When I left home at 13 to start secondary school he advised me he had taught me the best he could & I was to make my own decisions as to what was right & wrong based on his example.I was on my own & that inspired me to never shame my Father

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