New book on Dickens’ Wearside letters

FILE - In this undated file photo, novelist Charles Dickens poses for a photograph. Britain's Prince Charles will lay a wreath Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012 on the writer's grave in Westminster Abbey's Poet's Corner to mark his 200th of birthday. (AP Photo, File)
FILE - In this undated file photo, novelist Charles Dickens poses for a photograph. Britain's Prince Charles will lay a wreath Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012 on the writer's grave in Westminster Abbey's Poet's Corner to mark his 200th of birthday. (AP Photo, File)
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LETTERS written by Charles Dickens to a Wearside artist friend are featured in a new book.

Whenever the author wanted someone to paint the scenery for one of the amateur theatrical productions he often staged at his London home, he brought in one of his closest friends, Clarkson Stanfield, who was from Sunderland.

Dickens and Stanfield, one of Wearside’s greatest artists, were close friends for about 30 years.

Now a collection of 450 of Dickens’ letters – including several to Stanfield – has been published to mark the 200th anniversary of the writer’s birth.

On May 20, 1855, Dickens wrote to Stanfield: “My Dear Stanny, I have a little Lark in contemplation, if you will help it fly.

“Collins has done a melodrama ... in which there is a very good notion. I am going to act it, as an experiment, in the children’s theatre here (Tavistock House, Dickens’ London home).

“Now, there is only one scene in the piece, and that – my Tarry lad – is the inside of a lighthouse. Will you come and paint it for us one night and we’ll all turn to and help?”

Dickens’ letters to Stanfield are sprinkled with nautical slang and jokes, as Stanfield spent time at sea before he became an artist.

On August 24, 1844, Dickens’ affection for Stanfield was confirmed when he wrote to him from Italy.

He said: “My dear Stanfield, I love you so truly and have such pride and joy of heart in your friendship that I don’t know how to begin writing to you.”

The letters to Stanfield are contained in the new book, The Selected Letters of Charles Dickens, published by Oxford University Press

In her new biography of Dickens, author Claire Tomalin said: “Dickens always felt comfortable with artists – none of them was rich, most had struggled to educate themselves and all of them worked hard.

“Stanfield had started life as a child actor, been apprenticed to a coach painter, pressed into the Navy and sailed halfway around the world before he got to work as a London scene painter and at last found his metier as a marine artist.”