“Of all my books, I like this the best,” wrote Charles Dickens the year before he died. “It will be easily believed that I am a fond parent to every child of my fancy, and that no one can ever love that family as dearly as I love them. But, like many fond parents, I have in my heart of hearts a favourite child. And his name is DAVID COPPERFIELD.”
In July of 1981, I chased the ghost of Dickens’ “favourite child” through London, Canterbury, and Dover.
I nearly found him at the House of Agnes hotel (the building Dickens used as the model for the Wickfield house), but management wouldn’t let me stay. They required double occupancy, and I stood alone.
I nearly found him while looking over the white cliffs to the chilled waters of the Strait of Dover listening to the whispers of the wind, but did not recognize the voice.
I nearly found him in Canterbury Cathedral, but the scaffolding for repairing the damage from World War II, reminding me of a body cast, kept me in present day.
I found him where I always have, at least once a year since 1977, leaping from the pages into the light and shadow of my imagination.
While sitting at an outside table at a Canterbury restaurant, I read…
'I am so blest, Trotwood [David] - my heart is so overcharged - but there is one thing I must say.'
She laid her gentle hands upon my shoulders, and looked calmly in my face.
'Do you know, yet, what it is?'
'I am afraid to speculate on what it is. Tell me, my dear.'
'I have loved you all my life!'
… and tears cascaded down my face. Romantically, perhaps, but oh so unmanly.
A lady walking by stopped and asked, “Are you all right, young man?”
I wiped my eyes, nodded and held up the ghost of Dickens’ favourite child.
She smiled and patted me on the shoulder. “I understand.”
Of every sentence I've ever read, be it prose or poetry, "I have loved you all my life" is my favorite.