December 2018: Dickens & the Inn

For many, Christmas just isn't Christmas without a dose of Dickens, so this month we look at the man himself, arguably Middle Temple's most prominent literary member, and his relationship with the Inn and its members.

Portrait of Charles Dickens (MT.19/POR/196)

Charles Dickens was born in 1812, and had a complex and somewhat haphazard childhood, including a spell in a shoe-blacking factory following his father's incarceration in the Marshalsea debtor's prison. He worked as a political journalist from the early 1830s, and during this period occupied chambers in Furnival's Inn, one of the old Inns of Chancery, in Holborn (on the site of the present-day Holborn Bars building). The Inns of Chancery were small institutions, which had traditionally served as preparatory schools for the Inns of Court, although Furnival's Inn had, by this point, been disbanded as an institution and survived only as a group of chambers buildings. A lantern slide in the archive illustrates Dickens's building (since destroyed), and the Inn is described in Martin Chuzzlewit as 'a shady, quiet place... rather monotonous and gloomy on summer evenings'.

Lantern slide of Dickens's chambers in Furnival's Inn (MT.19/SLI/123)

By the time Dickens was joined the Inn, he had already achieved an appreciable degree of literary success, having published The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby, to increasing acclaim. Despite this growing prominence in the world of letters, he was admitted to the Inn on 6 December 1839 for a 'fine' of £4. His true intentions regarding the legal profession remain unclear, as it was nearly a decade before he even began to eat the dinners requisite for Call to the Bar, but some desire to emulate Henry Fielding, an earlier literary Middle Templar, and become a magistrate has been suggested.