Charles Dickens and Fire Science
KeywordsFire Fighting Fire Occurrence Prose Fire Brigade Building Fire
I would like to bring to the attention of our community two very stunning pieces of ‘anonymous’ literature that I recently had the pleasure to read. Apart from their remarkable prose, I feel their content may be of interest to those studying the history of fire safety science. The papers, written in 1850, deal with progresses in fire fighting technology, fire chemistry, behaviour of building materials in fire, fire dynamics, and education of fire science. Remarkably, both papers were influenced (if not written) by the famous Charles Dickens. Each paper appeared in Dickens’ magazine Household Words. Although Charles Dickens is not remembered as a fire scientist, his fascination with the subject and the popularity of his magazine evidently had a significant influence on the public perception of fire science.
The above papers are not Dickens’ only remarks on fire science (see his speech on the parliament building fires of 1834 for example ). However, these particular papers attempted to communicate fire science to a broad spectrum of society to generate interest in the subject. With each paper appearing authorless in print the actual involvement of Dickens in writing is debatable, there is however no question that he influenced these papers (Dickens is given credit for writing The Fire Brigade of London in George Little’s Fireman’s Own Handbook , but Anne Lohril attributes the writing to Richard Horne for The Fire Brigade of London and to Percival Leigh for The Chemistry of a Candle ). And they are truly beautiful pieces of literature which I would encourage everyone with an interest in the history of fire science to read. The papers may be downloaded as open access .
- 1.Horne R (1850) The Fire Brigade of London. Household Words 1(7):145–151Google Scholar
- 2.Braidwood J (1830) On the construction of fire-engines and apparatus—the training of firemen, and the method of proceeding in cases of fire, 1st edn. Oliver & BoydGoogle Scholar
- 3.Charles Dickens letter to Michael Faraday May 28th 1850Google Scholar
- 4.Leigh P (1850) The Chemistry of a Candle. Household Words 1(19):439–444Google Scholar
- 5.Faraday M (1861) A course of six lectures on the Chemical History of a Candle. Bohn and Company, GriffinGoogle Scholar
- 6.Sheppard R (1884) The speeches of Charles Dickens (1841–1870). Chatto and Wind PiccadillyGoogle Scholar
- 7.Little G (1860) The Fireman’s Own book: plans for securing buildings against fire. Dillingham and Brag, New YorkGoogle Scholar
- 8.Lohrli A (1973) Household words, a weekly Journal 1850–1859 conducted by Charles Dickens: table of contents, list of contributors and their contributions. Toronto: University of Toronto PressGoogle Scholar
- 9.Dickens C, Horne R, Leigh P (1850) Charles Dickens' Household Words 1850 Fire Science articles. Household Words. https://www.era.lib.ed.ac.uk/handle/1842/9379. Accessed 17 July 2014