Scared the Dickens Out of Him?

Why was Charles Dickens afraid of trains?

Charles Dickens

When you hear the name of Charles Dickens, you may think of Christmas carols or even orphans named Oliver, but you probably do not think of trains. Turns out, trains had an extraordinary impact on Charles Dickens’ life.

On June 9th of 1865, Dickens was returning to London from his trip to Paris. The track close to Staplehurst in Kent, England was under repair and there was a 42-foot-long gap in the tracks over a bridge. Unfortunately, workman did not signal to oncoming trains and the train continued to rush forward. The engineer realized the issue too late, and force carried the engine and a few cars, including one first-class car, over the gap safely. The first-class car that did make it over the gap was carrying Dickens and his travelling party.

The Staplehurst railway accident as depicted in the Illustrated London News

Dickens emerged from his first-class car, filled his hat with water, grabbed a flask of brandy, and set out to comfort the injured passengers. Dickens saw unimaginable horrors that day as 10 people died and over 40 were injured in accident. Dickens worked to aid people for three hours until help arrived. Once the scene was being evacuated, Dickens ventured back into his first-class car to retrieve a copy of the book he was currently working on, Our Mutual Friend.

Once printed, the postscript to Our Mutual Friend read:

On Friday the Ninth of June in the present year, Mr. and Mrs. Boffin (in their manuscript dress of receiving Mr. and Mrs. Lammle at breakfast) were on the South Eastern Railway with me, in a terribly destructive accident. When I had done what I could to help others, I climbed back into my carriage–nearly turned over a viaduct, and caught aslant upon the turn–to extricate the worthy couple. They were much soiled, but otherwise unhurt. The same happy result attended Miss Bella Wilfer on her wedding day, and Mr. Riderhood inspecting Bradley Headstone’s red neckerchief as he lay asleep. I remember with devout thankfulness that I can never be much nearer parting company with my readers for ever, than I was then, until there shall be written against my life, the two words with which I have this day closed this book:–THE END.

Dickens experienced episodes of panic while travelling by rail after the Staplehurst railway accident. Oddly enough, Dickens died 5 years later to the day on June 9, 1870.

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