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Our School

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Author Charles Dickens
Genres Prose: Autobiography; Biography; Memoirs; Obituary; Anecdotes i
Prose: Leading Article i
Subjects Education—Great Britain; Universities and Colleges; Schools
Other Details
Printed : 11/10/1851
Journal : Household Words
Volume : Volume IV
Magazine : No. 81
Office Book Notes
MemoSchoolboy reminiscences.
Views : 1007

For two years (1824–6) Dickens attended William Jones's graciously named school, Wellington House Classical and Commercial Academy, in the Hampstead Road. The school was a separate building from the main house and was 'sliced off' when a deep railway cutting needed to be made for the London and North Western Railway, running north from Euston Square. Dickens had already drawn on his memories of Jones, his ignorance, his truckling to wealth, and his sadistic pleasure in caning little boys, in his portrait of Mr Creakle and Salem House in David Copperfield (Mr Mell in the same novel must have been drawn from the gentle, exploted usher with his forlorn musical instrument); and condemned Jones more directly six years after writing 'Our School' in a speech on behalf of the Warehousemen and Clerks' School.

He called Jones 'by far the most ignorant man I have ever had the pleasure to know' and 'one of the worst-tempered men perhaps that ever lived', and described the school itself as 'a pernicious and abominable humbug altogether' (Speeches of Charles Dickens [1960], pp. 240–1). When Forster comes to describe this part of Dickens's youth, he quotes extensively from 'Our School' and cites the testimony of two of Dickens's former schoolfellows that 'the general features of the place are reproduced with wonderful accuracy' (Book 1, Ch. 3). See Philip Collins, Dickens and Education (1963), pp. 12–13. 

Literary allusions

  • 'the Dog of Montargis': The Dog of Montargis; or the Forest of Bondy was a hugely popular melodrama, translated (1814) from the French of Pixérécourt, in which the faithful dog tracks down his master's murderer;
  • 'solemn as the ghost in Hamlet': Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 1; 
  • 'So fades and languishes...proud of': William Wordsworth, The Excursion (1814), Book VII, II. 976, 978 (slightly misquoted). 
Author: Michael Slater; © J. M. Dent/Orion Publishing Group, Dickens' Journalism Volume III: 'Gone Astray' and Other Papers from Household Words, 1851–59 (1998). DJO gratefully acknowledges permission to reproduce this material.

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