[Dickens published this laudatory obituary of his friend Sir Thomas Noon Talfourd (1795-1854) in Household Words on pp. 117-118 of the issue of 25 March 1854. Philip V. Allingham, Contributing Editor, Canada; Associate Professor, Lakehead University, provided this text.]

The readers of these pages will have known, many days before the present number can come into their hands, that on Monday the thirteenth of March, this upright judge and good man died suddenly at Stafford in the discharge of his duties. Mercifully spared protracted pain and mental decay, he passed away in a moment, with words of Christian eloquence of brotherly tenderness and kindness towards all men, yet unfinished on his lips.

As he died, he had always lived. So amiable a man, so gentle, so sweet-tempered, and of such noble simplicity, so perfectly unspoiled by his labours, and their rewards, is very rare indeed upon this earth. These lines are traced by the faltering hand of a friend; but none can so fully know how true they are, as those who knew him under all circumstances, and found him ever the same.

In his public aspects; in his poems, in his speeches, on the bench, at the bar, in Parliament; he was widely appreciated, honored, and beloved. Inseparable as his great and varied abilities were from himself in life, it is yet to himself and not to them, that affection in its first grief naturally turns. They remain, but he is lost.

The chief delight of his life was to give delight to others. His nature was so exquisitely kind, that to be kind was its highest happiness. Those who had the privilege of seeing him in his own home when his public successes were greatest, — so modest, so contended with little things, so interested in humble persons and humble efforts, so surrounded by children and young people, so adored in remembrance of a domestic generosity and greatness of heart too sacred to be unveiled here, can never forget the pleasure of that sight.

If ever there were a house in England justly celebrated for the reverse of the picture, where every art was honoured for its own sake, and where every visitor was received for his own claims and merits, that house was his. It was in this respect a great example, as sorely needed as it will be sorely missed. Rendering all legitimate deference to rank and riches, there never was a man more composedly, unaffectedly, quietly, immovable by such considerations than the subject of this sorrowing remembrance, On the other hand, nothing would have astonished him so much as the suggestion that he was anybody's patron or protector. His dignity was ever of that highest and purest sort which has no occasion to proclaim itself, and which is not in the least afraid of losing itself.

In the first joy of his appointment to the judicial bench, he made a summer-visit to the sea-shore, "to share his exultation in the gratification of his long-cherished ambition, with the friend" — now among the many friends who mourn his death and lovingly recall his virtues. Lingering in the bright moonlight at the close of a happy day, he spoke of his new functions, of his sense of the great responsibility he undertook, and of his placid belief that the habits of his professional life rendered him equal to their efficient discharge; but, above all, he spoke with an earnestness never more to be separated in his friend's mind from the murmur of the sea upon a moonlight night, of his reliance on the strength of his desire to do right before God and man. He spoke with his own singleness of heart, and his solitary hearer knew how deep and true his purpose was. They passed, before parting for the night, into a playful dispute at what age he should retire, and what he would do at three-score years and ten. And ah! within five short years, it is all ended like a dream!

But, by the strength of his desire to do right, he was animated to the last moment of his existence. Who, knowing England at this time, would wish to utter with his last breath a more righteous warning than that its curse is ignorance, or a miscalled education which is as bad or worse, and a want of the exchange of innumerable graces and sympathies among the various orders of society, each hardened unto each and holding itself aloof? Well will it be for us and for our children, if those dying words be never henceforth forgotten on the Judgment Seat.

An example in his social intercourse to those who are born to station, an example equally to those who win it for themselves; teaching the one class to abate its stupid pride: the other, to stand upon its eminence, not forgetting the road by which it got [117/118] there and fawning upon no one; the conscientious judge, the charming writer and accomplished speaker, the gentle-hearted, guileless, affectionate man, has entered on a brighter world. Very, very many have lost a friend; nothing in Creation has lost an enemy.

The hand that lays this poor flower on his grave was a mere boy's when he first clasped it — newly come from the work in which he himself began life — little used to the plough it has followed since — obscure enough, with much to correct and learn. Each of its successive tasks through many intervening years has been cheered by his warmest interest, and the friendship then begun has ripened to maturity in the passage of time; but there was no more self-assertion or condescension in his winning goodness at first than at last. The success of other men made as little change in him as his own.

Related Material


Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Checkmark and Facts on File, 1998.

Dickens, Charles. "The Late Mr. Justice Talfourd." Household Words 25 March 1854 [No. 6, Whole No. 209]: 117-118.

Ley, J. W. T. The Dickens Circle: A Narrative of the Novelist's Friendships. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1918.

Pugh, Edwin. The Charles Dickens Originals. London & Edinburgh: T. N. Foulis, 1912.

Slater, Michael. "Talfourd, Thomas Noon." Oxford Reader's Companion to Dickens, ed. Schlicke, Paul. Oxford and New York: Oxford U. P., 1999. P. 548.

Last modified 2 February 2010