Manuscript Letter to Aberdeen University from Charles Dickens

Item author: Charles Dickens (1812-1870)
Item date: November 1869
Grant Value: £1,248
Item cost: £2,495
Item date acquired: 2021
Item institution: Aberdeen University Library
Town/City: Aberdeen
County: Aberdeenshire

Dr Keith O’Sullivan, Senior Rare Books Librarian, writes: The Friends have been exceptionally generous donors to the University of Aberdeen over the years. This year, we are very grateful for their assistance to Museums & Special Collections in acquiring a manuscript letter and accompanying envelope from the eminent English novelist (1812-70). 

The University of Aberdeen has one of the UK’s largest collections of materials by and about Dickens, containing, for example, first bound editions of all 15 of his novels. In his chapter for The Library and Archive Collections of the University of Aberdeen: An Introduction and Description (2011), world authority on Dickens Dr Paul Schlicke had commented that “only three libraries in Britain (the Victorian and Albert Museum, the British Library, and the Charles Dickens Museum) and a handful of institutions outside Britain have more extensive holdings. Although not widely known or consulted, the collection is one of the jewels in the crown of Aberdeen, and merits far greater recognition than it has ever received.” 

The letter exemplifies Dickens’ perhaps surprising but consistent link with Aberdeen. The novelist visited the ‘Granite city’ twice on his famous lecture tours. John Thomson Gordon, variously High Sheriff of Aberdeen and Edinburgh and one time Rector of Marischal College, one of the University's two antecedent institutions, was among his closest Scottish friends. Moreover, Dickens was also twice approached by students to stand for the Rectorship of Marischal himself, in 1849 (against Gordon as incumbent), and 1869. On both occasions he declined. Dickens was in failing health by the time of the second overture and died less than eight months later. Although brief, the letter to law student Johnston Watson bears Dickens’s distinctive florid signature. It constitutes a significant addition to the archive, complementing our print holdings, and will enhance future public programming events.