Heroes - Lives to Learn From
Each month on the Core Virtues website, we feature the life of a hero or heroine – men and women who have tirelessly pursued excellence in their lives and helped improve the lives of others. We tie each month’s biography to the virtue of the month or to a theme suggested by the particular time of the year.
Genorosity, Charity and Service
Charles Dickens (1812-1870)
“Make me kind to my nurses and servants, and to all beggars and poor people…charitable and gentle to all.” Such was the prayer Charles Dickens wrote for his own young children to recite each day. A concern for the “least among us” pervaded this English writer’s life and suffused his novels. It shines with particular clarity in his classic, “A Christmas Carol,” beloved by generations of readers this season.
Charles Dickens grew up in industrializing London of the early nineteenth century. As a young boy, he knew both well-being and poverty. When his spend-thrift father ended up in debtor’s prison, so did the rest of the family – except Charles. Twelve-year-old Charles was sent into the London workforce and labored ten hour days at a shoe blacking factory to help make ends meet. He never forgot the degrading working conditions and the scorn for the poor that he experienced. He also came to know first-hand the crime-ridden life in London’s slums.
Later, Dickens was fortunate enough to be left a modest inheritance by his paternal grandmother, and receive an education. But his concern for the impoverished, for those who lived in his city’s bleak slums never left him. He fought for the poor and abandoned with what became his sharpest weapon – the pen. His novels, from Oliver Twist (1839) to Great Expectations (1861) artfully memorialized many of the characters and situations he had lived as a boy. Some of his books were responsible for actual legislation and action to improve conditions for the poor.
The lesson of Charles Dickens’ life for children is that generosity, charity, and service can be practiced in many ways – and should depend on one’s talents. Some may go into the slums and attempt to improve lives through better education, housing, or nutrition. Others may donate funds. Still others should pick up their pens!
Excellent children’s biographies are:
Charles Dickens: Scenes From an Extraordinary Life
Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom.
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2011 (K-3)