Several notable Dickens "originals" — characters clearly based upon people Dickens knew well — appear in David Copperfield (1849-50): For instance, his father John Dickens becomes Wilkins Micawber, Maria Beadnell Dora Spenlow, and Sir Thomas Noon Talfourd Tommy Traddles). Edwin Pugh in The Charles Dickens Originals (1912) and J. W. T. Ley in The Dickens Circle: A Narrative of the Novelist's Friendships (1918) confrm these identifications. According to Ley,
Pickwick appeared in volume form in the autumn of 1837, with a dedication to Thomas Noon Talfourd, with whom a close friendship had been formed while the book was appearing in parts. Dickens had first been drawn to Talfourd by the latter's activity in the cause of copyright. Sitting in the Press Gallery of the old House of Commons, he looked down, as we know, with something very like contempt upon the nation's legislators. But for a couple of Sessions before he left, he had the opportunity of watching the young barrister who had entered the House in 1835, and had been enthusiastic in the copyright cause. As a young author — not, of course, dreaming of the greatness that lay before him, but still conscious of abilities and hopeful for success — he welcomed Talfourd's efforts, and we may at least accept it as probable that his appreciation of those efforts led him to seek the acquaintance of the Member for Reading, who had just gained some fame as the author of "Ion," which Macready had staged. [Ley 41]
Sir Thomas Noon Talfourd (1795-1854) — barrister, jurist, Member of Parliament for Reading, Berkshire (1835-1841, 1847-1849), and playwright — was promoted to the bench the same year (1849) that Dickens began writing his fictionalized autobiography. Although the pair met in 1836 through the agency of novelist Harrison Ainsworth (who also introduced Dickens to both John Forster and Count d'Orsay), their relationship was cemented by their common interest in the May 1837 draft of his copyright bill, which finally passed into law five years later. In his copyright suit against Peter Parley's Illuminated Library for its piracy of A Christmas Carol (1843), Talfourd represented Dickens, who beat the pirate but found it was a mere Pyrrhic victory as Talfourd was unable to collect any damages from the bankrupt publishers.
A mark of the strength of their early friendship was Dickens's dedicating the September 1837 volume edition of The Pickwick Papers. Some seventeen years older than Dickens, Talfourd was a friend of the great literary lights of the Romantic era: actor-manager William Macready, poets Coleridge and Wordsworth, and the essayist Lamb. By the autumn of 1836 Talfourd was moving in a younger circle of artists and writers, including the painters Maclise and Stanfield, critics Jerdan and Forster, Dickens, and that Romantic hold-over, the editor Leigh Hunt. Talfourd's attempts to re-establish blank verse drama with such tragedies as Ion (1836, Covent Garden) and The Athenian Captive two years later (The Haymarket), and Glencoe, or the Fate of the Macdonalds (1840, The Haymarket) failed, despite the support of both Dickens and Macready. Talfourd proposed Dickens for membership in the Athenaeum Club, and brought him into the established London literary circles of Holland and Gore House.
In 1846 he and his wife visited the Dickenses in Lausanne, Switzerland, and in 1849 Talfourd met Dickens at Bonchurch, a seaside visit to which Dickens alludes fondly in his final reminiscence of the kindly lawyer. Although his own generation remembered Talfourd as a brilliant writer on legal issues and the editor of The Letters of Charles Lamb with a Sketch of His Life (1837), Final Memorials of Charles Lamb (1849-50), and his 1838 copyright bill, Proposed New Law of Copyright of the Highest Importance to Authors, those who read David Copperfield unwittingly celebrated his sterling qualities in the character of Tommy Traddles. Despite any substantive evidence to support the identification, it is universally recognized that the novelist based the character of Tommy Traddles on Talfourd, for whom Dickens published a laudatory obituary in Household Words on 25 March 1854.
In Ch. 13 of The Charles Dickens Originals, "Some Dickens' Contemporaries," Pew asserts that "In Tommy Traddles, however, Dickens did indicate something of the fine pathetic quality of his friend, Judge Talfourd" (315). Although Dickens and Talfourd were not contemporaries or schoolmates as were David Copperfield and Tommy Traddles, in his personal diligence, gentle disposition, and journalistic output, Talfourd does indeed seem to resemble Traddles. At the age of 18 he went to London to study law; for the next eight years, until he was called to the bar and became a member of the Oxford circuit, Talfourd supplemented his meagre income by contributing to The London Magazine, The Quarterly Review, The Edinburgh Review, and The New Monthly Magazine; even after 1821, he contributed regularly to The Times on legal matters. Appropriately, as Dickens implies in his obituary, Talfourd was seized with an apoplectic fit while addressing a Stafford jury from the judge's bench, and died shortly afterward. He was buried at West Norwood Cemetery; among the local dignitaries and lawyers who formed the body of mourners was 42-year-old Charles Dickens. Perhaps the following lines from Ion should serve as Talfourd's epitaph:
So his life has flowed
From its mysterious urn a sacred stream,
In whose calm depth the beautiful and pure
Alone are mirrored; which, though shapes of ill
May hover round its surface, glides in light,
And takes no shadow from them. [Act 1, Sc. 1]
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