Weekend at Gad's Hill

George Augustus Sala (1828-1895) was a journalist and novelist. He was a regular contributor to Household Words and All The Year Round and well known to Dickens and Collins. He founded The Train and edited Temple Bar. This first hand account of a weekend at Gadís Hill, at which Wilkie was present, was published in Phil Mayís Summer Annual in 1892.

Life at Gadís Hill was pleasant, but peculiar. Dickens was a phenomenally punctual man. He was exact, even to the painful stage of exactitude, in every transaction of life; and he expected his guests to be as punctual and exact as he himself was. In November, 1863, on the eve of my departure for New York, I missed bidding him farewell because I was seven and a half minutes late in keeping an appointment which he had made for a final hand-shake. When I was at Gadís Hill I had come to know my hostís ways better, and was as punctual as the income tax collector. We kept "military time" at all our meals; but it was between breakfast and luncheon that Dickensís love of method most strongly asserted itself. He expected all and every one of his guests who earned a livelihood by their pen to do some kind of literary work in the interval just mentioned. Our party during my stay at Gadís Hill only comprised, in addition to our host and the members of his family, Wilkie and Charles Collins, Andrew Halliday, the dramatist, and your humble servant We were all told off to work at 10.30 a.m., and expected to keep at it till 1.45 p.m. The day on which I arrived was Saturday, and I abominate working on the last day of the week, which, these five-and-thirty years, has been my Sabbath. Fortunately, I had brought down with me a double set of proofs of a book on the Paris Exhibition, which I was bringing out. One set I had fully corrected before leaving London; so during my three hours and odd segregation from society I trifled with the blank proofs and drew skeletons of the "Traddlesíí order in the margins. Dickens had put me in his own study, preferring to work, himself, that morning in a pretty Swiss chalet in the grounds, the gift of his friend Charles Fechter; and when I tore up my spare set of proofs with the bogus corrections, I succeeded in more than half filling that famous waste-paper basket you wot of. Where Wilkie and Charles Collins and Andrew Halliday were lodged, and what manner of "work" they accomplished, I have forgotten. After luncheon came the equally famous ten miles walkófive miles out and five miles in. From that pedestrian toil you were excused on showing good and proper cause; but I had been ordered walking exercise by my doctor, and was valid enough to perform with Dickens and his sister-in-law, Miss Georgiana Hogarth, a tramp from Gadís Hill to Rochester, Strood, and back. When you returned you were expected to drink a liqueur-glass of orange-brandy, and very good orange-brandy it was. I do not think that the institution known as five oíclock tea was known in those days. At about 11 p.m., after cigars and billiards, you were expected, as a "night-cap," to consume a moderate amount of hot gin punch brewed in inimitable style by the hands of Dickens himself. I can see him now, eyeing with a fondly paternal glance the jug of punch, swathed in a snowy napkin on the hob. There was no compulsion as to imbibing the steaming compound; but if you passed it by, your host looked hurt. There! My prattle is over, but my eyes are dim with something more than age as I lift Luke Fildesí drawing of Charles Dickensís Study at Gadís Hill from the easy, chair, and place it reverently by the side of Edgar Boehmís figure of William Makepeace Thackeray.

From ĎCharles Dickens at Gadís Hillí in Phil Mayís Summer Annual 1892 p85.

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