Horse bit Charles Dickens preventing him from writing

A mysterious injury which prevented Charles Dickens from continuing writing for what appears to have been a couple of weeks has now been revealed: a horse bit his righting arm (presumed as he was right-handed) at a stables. It was a serious bite which harmed him quite severely. Note: I add some comments in this article.

Charles Dickens as created by an AI computer
Charles Dickens as created by an AI computer. This is not bad. But we have to accept some poetic license 😃😎🧲
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The bite put one of his stories in jeopardy. He was commissioned to write a serialised novel called Dombey and Son. He was due to create another episode but he couldn’t start it because of his injury.

The injury was revealed in previously unpublished correspondence by Charles Dickens. He described the “sudden attack” at a stables in Chertsey, Surrey, UK.

He describes it in graphic detail actually in this letter to Patrick Robertson on May 6, 1847 three days after the incident.

He wrote as follows:

“One of the horses I drove [to Chertsey] took it to his head (I believe under the impression that I had gone into his stall to steal his corn, which upon my honour I had no intention of doing) to make a sudden attack upon me in the stable, tear my coat-sleeve and my shirt-sleeve off, and very nearly take the great muscle of my arm with it.”

It appears that the horse bit his right arm with force but his clothes protected him leaving deep bruising. He continued, “As it was, however he merely struck the arm with his teeth and head, but bruised it so, that I have worn a poultice ever since, and I’m still invested with that decoration.” Note: a ‘poultice’ is a piece of cloth with a soft, often hot, substance such as clay or a mixture of herbs on it. It is put over a painful or swollen part of someone’s body in order to reduce the pain or swelling – Collins Dictionary.

The language is interesting and I guess what you’d expect from Charles Dickens. The letter is being displayed for the first time at the Charles Dickens Museum which is at his former residents in Doughty Street, Central London. And it solves a puzzle which has concerned scholars for a long time.

He had alluded to an injury in four other letters over the following weeks but he didn’t mention the cause.

For example, seven days after the horse attacked him, he wrote to a friend saying that he felt “a low dull nervousness of the most distressing kind”. And to another friend he said that he was “hideously queer”. The word “queer” in those days did not mean what it means today! 😃 It means that he felt ill.

And he wrote that when he woke up in the morning his “speaking nerves are all unstrung”.

By May 16 he was still suffering from the effects of his injury and at that time he wrote to his friend Angela Burdett-Coutts as follows: “I have been so very unwell from an accident, that I have not been able to write.”

It’s interesting that he refers to it as an accident. I don’t think people would not describe it as an accident today as it was an unprovoked attack on him by a horse. An unfortunate incident certainly but hardly an accident.

He told his brother-in-law, Henry Austin, on May 23 that he had been very ill and had not “the heart to go at my Number”. The reference to “Number” is to the next instalment, the ninth, of his series Dombey and Son.

The museum acquired the letter in 2019 and are displaying the letter until January 2025 with the display “Faithful Companions: Charles Dickens & His Pets”.

Charles Dickens was fond of animals including horses.

Source: The Times of 28th May 2024.

Charles’ Dickens’ pets

Sources for this section:, londontopia,info,,,

Charles Dickens had quite an array of pets. His interest in animals was described as “inexhaustible,” and these furry and feathered companions often fueled his imagination. Here are some fascinating details about Dickens’ pets:

Grip the Talking Raven: Dickens owned several ravens, all named Grip (perhaps a nod to Babylon 5’s Kosh). These birds were known for their ability to mimic speech. One of these ravens even caught the attention of Edgar Allan Poe. Grip’s presence inspired Dickens and appeared in some of his stories.

Bull Terrier Dog: Dickens had a bull terrier dog, which also served as inspiration for characters with animal-like traits. The dog’s mischievous behavior likely influenced Dickens’ writing.

Eagle: The family briefly owned an eagle, although it didn’t stay with them for long. Unfortunately, the eagle’s care was entrusted to a supposed friend who didn’t take proper care of it.

Cat Troubles: Dickens was a prolific letter writer, but his cat often interrupted him by extinguishing the flame of his rushlight (a type of candle). Anyone who has experienced a cat demanding attention while working can sympathize with Dickens!

RELATED: 123 celebrated ailurophiles (cat lovers)

Horse Riding: Despite having a horse for riding, Dickens was not a skilled rider.

To protect his public image, he refused to mount the horse in public, keeping his lack of riding prowess a secret.

Pet Ownership in Victorian Times: During the Victorian era, pet ownership was becoming more popular as people urbanized and lost their connection with nature. Dickens’ household was filled with various pets, reflecting this changing attitude toward animals.

The Charles Dickens Museum in London has an exhibition called “Faithful Companions: Charles Dickens & his Pets,” where you can learn more about these delightful animal companions. It’s a clever way to explore the lesser-known aspects of Dickens’ life beyond his famous writings. 🐾📜

RELATED: Brilliant, compassionate Ai Weiwei loves cats and finds them more interesting than humans

From Reddit

Orwell’s essay on Charles Dickens is my favorite writing on literature I’ve read in ages (shared from r/books)
byu/milly_toons incharlesdickens

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