The letters are highly relevant to the novel. They were written from the Bowes Academy, a school in Yorkshire, between 1825–26. Both are to the parents of George Brooks, one from the boy himself and the other from the headmaster, William Shaw. Brooks writes he 'feels very happy and comfortable' and that he has not needed to see a doctor; tragically, the letter from Shaw just three months later breaks the news of Brooks's failing health and imminent death. The facts surrounding Brooks's illness and death are unknown.
In 1823, Shaw had been prosecuted for beatings and neglect that led to the blinding of two of his pupils. Dickens visited the school in 1838. He found matters little improved and used William Shaw as his model for the hateful Wackford Squeers.
[in pencil] (the boy George Brooks died 10.55 pm the same night).
Bowes, Feb[ruar]y 2nd 1824
It is with feelings indescribable, I
again inform you respecting your dear boy, who I
am sorry to say continues gradually hastening away
from us, and I am afraid my next Letter will have
to state his final departure, as this morning he
has begun with convulsion fits, and has not
left us any hope; the feelings of a Parent I can
bear with, having experienced a loss myself, but I hope
and trust on receipt of this or yesterdays Letter you will
immediately come to our house, and arrange as you
think proper, which will be much more satisfactory
[in pencil] A 20 [or A-C-O ?]
and very much relieve us, tho’ I would not have
considered any thing an impediment, provided
it would have been useful to him, - I must say
he always attracted my particular attention being
so very peaceable and clean in his person. In hopes
of seeing you on Sunday, and that Mrs Brookes and
yourself may long be spared to each other
I am, Dear Sir
Your h[um]ble Serv[ant]
[postmark] L E E D S
Isle of Ely
Bowes, November 14th, 1825
I write you these few lines to inform
you on Saturday 5th of November we had a jovial and
merry day and night in burning old Guy upon the
hills, and I am happy to say without one of my school
fellows happening any misfortune whatever, and I am
glad to say I have enjoyed the best of health
since I last wrote to you, which I hope is the same
with you and all my dear Brothers and Sisters,
Uncles, Aunts and Cousins and all my other dear
parcel may be brought us. I have 10s " 6d left of my mo-
ney, but my Master thinks I had better wear my shoes
sliding than skates, for fear of a misfortune by them.
I now beg to remain in love and duty to yourselves
not forgetting Mr and Mrs Shaws compliments who
are very kind to me,
Your affectionate Son
- Full title:
- Two letters bound with the manuscript draft of the first part of chapter 15 of 'Nicholas Nickleby'
- 2 February 1826; 14 November 1825, now Dotheboys Hall, Bowes, formerly North Yorkshire, now County Durham
- Manuscript / Letter / Ephemera
- William Shaw, George Brooks
- © Mark Charles Dickens, Head of the Dickens Family
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- Article by:
- John Sutherland
- Poverty and the working classes, The novel 1832–1880, London
Professor John Sutherland considers how Dickens’s A Christmas Carol engages with Victorian attitudes towards poverty, labour and the Christmas spirit.
- Article by:
- John Sutherland
- The novel 1832–1880
Since the 18th century, parents had been sending their children to notoriously brutal Yorkshire boarding schools. Here Professor John Sutherland examines the depiction of these schools in Dickens’s ‘social problem novel’, Nicholas Nickleby.