Whole World Reading “The Darwin Affair” Thanks To Big Read Library (Now Through Aug. 17)

I had just finished The Last Days Of Night when I noticed a special promotion on Libby.  A digital book is being offered for instant download around the world (through August 17) in an effort to unite people at a time of pandemic when so many feel so isolated.  And the book is perfect escapism from the times we now find ourselves.


The Darwin Affair by Tim Mason is richly placed in London in 1860, with tones of Charles Dickens and layered with intrigue such as an assassination attempt on Queen Victoria.  Within the opening pages, a petty thief is gruesomely murdered moments following the shots fired at the Queen. Chief Detective Inspector Charles Field quickly surmises that these crimes are connected to an even more sinister plot. Soon, his investigation exposes a shocking conspiracy in which the publication of Charles Darwin’s controversial On the Origin of Species sets off a string of murders, arson, kidnapping, and the pursuit of a madman.  Mason has created a rousing page-turner that both Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would relish and envy.

You can read it too, and now!

Big Library Read, facilitated by OverDrive, is a global reading program that connects readers around the world with the same ebook at the same time without any waitlists or holds. This worldwide digital version of a book club is available for free through your local library or school and all you need to get started reading is a library card.

I have read the first ten chapters in about an hour, and am much enjoying the rousing adventure and like the idea that this book is being read at the same time in India and Seattle and even perhaps in my hometown!

Humphrey’s History Video: Charles Dickens And The Lusitania

During Wisconsin’s Stay At Home order, so to combat COVID-19, I am recording a series of 60-second grand stories from history.  Today the Lusitania and a rare book.


Madison Newscast (WKOW) Needed A Bit Of Help That Only Charles Dickens Could Provide

Monday evening at 6 P.M. WKOW-TV in Madison presented a newscast which made for some smiles and amazement in this home.

First up, came a report from Montello where the flooding situation has made for some difficulties due to the inability of motorists being able to use a bridge.  But in describing the situation, as the on-scene reporter did as akin to a tale of two cities, seemed far from the mark.   Charles Dickens would have been amused.

But the news quality fell way down the hole when a report was shown concerning the awards presented this morning to the top Ironman competitors.  The sporting event was held yesterday in the city.  But not one single mention was made of who crossed the finish line first, or the fastest time for either a man or woman.  Simply nothing was said of consequence as video rolled of athletes standing in the front of a convention room filled with people.

I guess the answers we seek about the winners is being knitted by Madam Defarge on the Montello bridge.

Details at 10 PM?

Is This Not Life Best Described?

The day wore on, and all these bright colours subsided, and assumed a quieter tint, like young hopes softened down by time, or youthful features by degrees resolving into the calm and serenity of age.  But they were scarcely less beautiful in their slow decline, then they had been in their prime: for nature gives to every time and season some beauties of its own; and from morning to night, as from the cradle to the grave, it is but a succession of changes so gentle and easy, that we can scarcely mark their progress.

Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens

Political Humor With Nicholas Nickleby–Thanks To Charles Dickens

Much is said about politicians on this blog.  Much of it in strong terms.  I mention that fact as it struck me recently during a city council meeting how seldom mirth is allowed in these tense and highly partisan divided times in which we live.

David Blaska, a local conservative, prior to adding public comments for the council, looked at Mayor Soglin, a liberal seeking higher office, and smiled when saying he hoped that the mayor would be in his current office for many years.  Witty, kind, very much needed levity during a tense meeting.

One of my goals this year is to read more classics.  As I read a portion of Chapter 16 from Charles Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby it made such an impression upon me when thinking about politicians and humor that I felt a desire to share the following.    I think we all need a dose of laughter about politicians as only Dickens can write.

Gregsbury is  a member of Parliament who had posted for a secretary……Nicholas has walked to interview for the job.  Gregsbury is leery of the press—consumed with his own importance—really needs a wet nurse….(Anyone who has ever interviewed for a job in a legislative office will see the resemblances.)

The last man being gone, Mr Gregsbury rubbed his hands and chuckled, as merry fellows will, when they think they have said or done a more than commonly good thing; he was so engrossed in this self-congratulation, that he did not observe that Nicholas had been left behind in the shadow of the window-curtains, until that young gentleman, fearing he might otherwise overhear some soliloquy intended to have no listeners, coughed twice or thrice, to attract the member’s notice.

‘What’s that?’ said Mr Gregsbury, in sharp accents.

Nicholas stepped forward, and bowed.

‘What do you do here, sir?’ asked Mr Gregsbury; ‘a spy upon my privacy! A concealed voter! You have heard my answer, sir. Pray follow the deputation.’

‘I should have done so, if I had belonged to it, but I do not,’ said Nicholas.

‘Then how came you here, sir?’ was the natural inquiry of Mr Gregsbury, MP. ‘And where the devil have you come from, sir?’ was the question which followed it.

‘I brought this card from the General Agency Office, sir,’ said Nicholas, ‘wishing to offer myself as your secretary, and understanding that you stood in need of one.’

‘That’s all you have come for, is it?’ said Mr Gregsbury, eyeing him in some doubt.

Nicholas replied in the affirmative.

‘You have no connection with any of those rascally papers have you?’ said Mr Gregsbury. ‘You didn’t get into the room, to hear what was going forward, and put it in print, eh?’

‘I have no connection, I am sorry to say, with anything at present,’ rejoined Nicholas,–politely enough, but quite at his ease.

‘Oh!’ said Mr Gregsbury. ‘How did you find your way up here, then?’

Nicholas related how he had been forced up by the deputation.

‘That was the way, was it?’ said Mr Gregsbury. ‘Sit down.’

Nicholas took a chair, and Mr Gregsbury stared at him for a long time, as if to make certain, before he asked any further questions, that there were no objections to his outward appearance.

‘You want to be my secretary, do you?’ he said at length.

‘I wish to be employed in that capacity, sir,’ replied Nicholas.

‘Well,’ said Mr Gregsbury; ‘now what can you do?’

‘I suppose,’ replied Nicholas, smiling, ‘that I can do what usually falls to the lot of other secretaries.’

‘What’s that?’ inquired Mr Gregsbury.

‘What is it?’ replied Nicholas.

‘Ah! What is it?’ retorted the member, looking shrewdly at him, with his head on one side.

‘A secretary’s duties are rather difficult to define, perhaps,’ said Nicholas, considering. ‘They include, I presume, correspondence?’

‘Good,’ interposed Mr Gregsbury.

‘The arrangement of papers and documents?’

‘Very good.’

‘Occasionally, perhaps, the writing from your dictation; and possibly, sir,’ said Nicholas, with a half-smile, ‘the copying of your speech for some public journal, when you have made one of more than usual importance.’

‘Certainly,’ rejoined Mr Gregsbury. ‘What else?’

‘Really,’ said Nicholas, after a moment’s reflection, ‘I am not able, at this instant, to recapitulate any other duty of a secretary, beyond the general one of making himself as agreeable and
useful to his employer as he can, consistently with his own respectability, and without overstepping that line of duties which he undertakes to perform, and which the designation of his office is usually understood to imply.’

Mr Gregsbury looked fixedly at Nicholas for a short time, and then glancing warily round the room, said in a suppressed voice:

‘This is all very well, Mr–what is your name?’


‘This is all very well, Mr Nickleby, and very proper, so far as it goes–so far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough. There are other duties, Mr Nickleby, which a secretary to a parliamentary
gentleman must never lose sight of. I should require to be crammed, sir.’

‘I beg your pardon,’ interposed Nicholas, doubtful whether he had heard aright.

‘–To be crammed, sir,’ repeated Mr Gregsbury.

‘May I beg your pardon again, if I inquire what you mean, sir?’ said Nicholas.

‘My meaning, sir, is perfectly plain,’ replied Mr Gregsbury with a solemn aspect. ‘My secretary would have to make himself master of the foreign policy of the world, as it is mirrored in the
newspapers; to run his eye over all accounts of public meetings, all leading articles, and accounts of the proceedings of public bodies; and to make notes of anything which it appeared to him might be made a point of, in any little speech upon the question of some petition lying on the table, or anything of that kind. Do you understand?’

‘I think I do, sir,’ replied Nicholas.

‘Then,’ said Mr Gregsbury, ‘it would be necessary for him to make himself acquainted, from day to day, with newspaper paragraphs on passing events; such as “Mysterious disappearance, and supposed suicide of a potboy,” or anything of that sort, upon which I might found a question to the Secretary of State for the Home Department. Then, he would have to copy the question, and as much as I remembered of the answer (including a little compliment about independence and good sense); and to send the manuscript in a frank to the local paper, with perhaps half-a-dozen lines of leader, to the effect, that I was always to be found in my place in parliament, and never shrunk from the responsible and arduous duties, and so forth. You see?’

Nicholas bowed.

‘Besides which,’ continued Mr Gregsbury, ‘I should expect him, now and then, to go through a few figures in the printed tables, and to pick out a few results, so that I might come out pretty well on timber duty questions, and finance questions, and so on; and I should like him to get up a few little arguments about the disastrous effects of a return to cash payments and a metallic
currency, with a touch now and then about the exportation of bullion, and the Emperor of Russia, and bank notes, and all that kind of thing, which it’s only necessary to talk fluently about,
because nobody understands it. Do you take me?’

‘I think I understand,’ said Nicholas.

‘With regard to such questions as are not political,’ continued Mr Gregsbury, warming; ‘and which one can’t be expected to care a curse about, beyond the natural care of not allowing inferior people to be as well off as ourselves–else where are our privileges?–I should wish my secretary to get together a few little flourishing speeches, of a patriotic cast. For instance, if any preposterous bill were brought forward, for giving poor grubbing devils of authors a right to their own property, I should like to say, that I for one would never consent to opposing an insurmountable bar to the diffusion of literature among THE PEOPLE,–you understand?–that the creations of the pocket, being man’s, might belong to one man, or one family;but that the creations of the brain, being God’s, ought as a matter of course to belong to the people at large–and if I was pleasantly disposed, I should like to make a joke about posterity, and say that those who wrote for posterity should be content to be rewarded by the approbation OF posterity; it might take with the house, and could never do me any harm, because posterity can’t be expected to know anything about me or my jokes either–do you see?’

‘I see that, sir,’ replied Nicholas.

‘You must always bear in mind, in such cases as this, where our interests are not affected,’ said Mr Gregsbury, ‘to put it very strong about the people, because it comes out very well at election-time; and you could be as funny as you liked about the authors; because I believe the greater part of them live in lodgings, and are not voters. This is a hasty outline of the chief things you’d have to do, except waiting in the lobby every night, in case I forgot anything, and should want fresh cramming; and, now and then, during great debates, sitting in the front row of the gallery, and saying to the people about–‘You see that gentleman, with his hand to his face, and his arm twisted round the pillar–that’s Mr Gregsbury–the celebrated Mr Gregsbury,’–with any other little eulogium that might strike you at the moment. And for salary,’ said Mr Gregsbury, winding up with great rapidity; for he was out of breath–‘and for salary, I don’t mind saying at once in round numbers, to prevent any dissatisfaction–though it’s more than I’ve been accustomed to give –fifteen shillings a week, and find yourself. There!’

With this handsome offer, Mr Gregsbury once more threw himself back in his chair, and looked like a man who had been most profligately liberal, but is determined not to repent of it notwithstanding.

‘Fifteen shillings a week is not much,’ said Nicholas, mildly.

‘Not much! Fifteen shillings a week not much, young man?’ cried Mr Gregsbury. ‘Fifteen shillings a–‘

‘Pray do not suppose that I quarrel with the sum, sir,’ replied Nicholas; ‘for I am not ashamed to confess, that whatever it may be in itself, to me it is a great deal. But the duties and
responsibilities make the recompense small, and they are so very heavy that I fear to undertake them.’

Valentine’s Day And Charles Dickens

This is a great story.

On Valentine’s Day, 1842, New York hosted one of the grandest events the city had ever seen – a ball in honour of the English novelist Charles Dickens.

Dickens was only 30, but works such as Oliver Twist and the Pickwick Papers had already made him the most famous writer in the world.

The cream of New York society hired the grandest venue in the city – the Park Theatre – and decorated it with wreaths and paintings in honour of the illustrious visitor.

There was even a bust of Dickens hanging from one of the theatre balconies, with an eagle appearing to soar over his head.

Dickens and his wife, Catherine, danced most of the night in the company of around 3,000 guests.

“If I should live to grow old,” the novelist told a dinner the following night, “the scenes of this and other evenings will shine as brightly to my dull eyes 50 years hence as now”.

But a visit which had started so well quickly turned into a bitter dispute, known as the “Quarrel with America”.

As Paul Harvey would say, click here for the rest of the story.