On this day … 24 April 1869

The Preston Chronicle reported that Charles Dickens, who was due to give a farewell reading in the town, had been taken ill and had not been able to appear. An account of that 1869 visit and Dickens’ illness was provided by his tour manager, George Dolby, in his book, Charles Dickens As I Knew Him, in which he was far from flattering about the town, ‘Preston (described by one of the most astute and successful theatrical managers in London, as the “rock on which many a dramatic ship has been wrecked”), was if possible more dirty and melancholy than usual’.

Charles Dickens, English author

Clearly unwell, Dickens had ‘fought manfully’ to complete his previous engagement in Blackburn:

Early the following morning we left Blackburn for Blackpool, where (having no Reading that evening), we had arranged to pass a quiet day.

This was rather a sudden determination on our part, but we deemed it preferable to remaining in the smoky and oppressive atmosphere of Blackburn, or of Preston, our next town.

I telegraphed to the Imperial Hotel for apartments, which on our arrival there we found most comfortable, and the fresh breeze blowing from the sea was most invigorating, and beneficial to Mr. Dickens, who revived in a wonderful manner. He gave me much hope that he would be enabled to get through the two remaining Readings of the week, in Preston and Warrington.

Arriving in Preston, where they were staying at the Bull Hotel (now Bull and Royal), they learned that Dickens’ doctor was hurrying north to carry out an examination

The doctor’s verdict was devastating:

‘All I have to say is this,’ answered the doctor; ‘if you insist on Dickens taking the platform to-night, I will not guarantee but that he goes through life dragging a foot after him.

‘Big tears were now rolling down Dickens’s face, and, crossing the room to me, he threw himself on my neck,’ Dolby recalled. He and the doctor decided that Dickens must leave Preston straight away. Dolby now faced the unenviable task of cancelling a sell-out performance with less than two hours to spare.

It being now after five in the afternoon, and the doors being announced to open at seven, it became a matter of serious consideration with me, how to prevent persons living at a distance from coming to the Guildhall only to be disappointed; and, if they should all come, how to get sufficient money in sovereigns, half-sovereigns, half-crowns, and shillings, to return to them in exchange for their tickets.

Our local agent had paid all the money he had received into the bank, and at that hour the banks were closed.

The landlord of the Bull Hotel (Mr. Townsend), who had formerly been station-master at Preston, gave me with the utmost kindness all the money he had in the hotel; and borrowing all he could from the gentlemen in the commercial room, we contrived between us to make up about £120, which, being converted into change, made me feel easy on that score.

Mr Townsend went to the railway station and telegraphed the news of the cancellation to every place within twenty miles of Preston. Next, the mayor summoned the chief constable, who sent out mounted police along the roads leading into town, alerting carriages and cabs coming to the reading of its cancellation.

The mayor helped Dolby to return the money to those who turned up ‘and instead of the anticipated confusion and grumbling, nothing was heard but words expressive of deep sympathy for Mr. Dickens in his illness’.

Charles Dickens died the following year.

Source: https://www.google.co.uk/books/edition/Charles_Dickens_as_I_Knew_Him/y7I8AAAAYAAJ?hl=en

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