The Raven is English!
Grip was Charles Dickens’ beloved pet raven: Grip the Clever, Grip the Knowing, Grip the Wicked. This mischievous bird with an impressive vocabulary was the great writer’s boon companion.
Sadly, one night in 1841, Grip died after a brief and violent illness, probably caused the bird’s propensity to eat paint. (At that time, paints were especially toxic, with some containing high levels of arsenic–a fact that comes into play in my supernatural mystery The Murderer’s Apprentice.)
Dickens’ account of the raven’s final hours is heartrending. In a letter to a friend, he related how Grip spent his last moments repeating his favorite phrase: Hello, old girl. When Grip croaked his last, Dickens was grief-stricken.
A Kind of Immortality?
Remembering is an integral part of grieving. Upon Grip’s death, Dickens was so distraught he had the raven stuffed and mounted. But he also bequeathed another kind of immortality upon his friend–a literary one—when Dickens wrote the talking raven Grip into his novel Barnaby Rudge.
And this is when the plot thickens.
On to America
Though Edgar Allan Poe is best known as a poet and scribbler of weird tales, he was also a renowned literary critic, perhaps the finest this country has ever produced. As such, he reviewed Mr. Dickens’ latest book Barnaby Rudge.
For those unfamiliar with Dickens’ story, the simple-minded title character drops in and out of the narrative but is always accompanied by his raven Grip. In one telling passage, Barnaby says: “Any time of night, you may see his (Grip) eyes in my dark room, shining like two sparks. And every night, and all night too, he’s broad awake, talking to himself, thinking what he shall do to-morrow, where we shall go, and what he shall steal, and hide, and bury.”
At any rate, in his review, Poe complains that the raven is not featured in the story nearly enough, suggesting that Grip might have been Poe’s favorite character. He also observes that the bird’s “croakings are to be frequently, appropriately, and prophetically heard in the course of the narrative.” As Poe wrote those words, were the first glimmers of his Raven already coming to life in his fevered brain?
Poe’s “The Raven”
A short time later, Poe published his immortal poem “The Raven,” which earned him fame and admiration, but no money. Within four short years, Poe would be dead. Found dying on a Baltimore street in the cold dawn of the lonesome October.
After Poe and Dickens were turned to dust, Grip’s remains found their way to American. Today Grip the Raven, muse to Dickens and Poe, perches proudly in the Free Library of Philadelphia Rare Book Department. He is kept company by a great collection of original editions, some of which were penned by the men who loved him best: Charles Dickens and Edgar Allan Poe.