The bird that inspired Dickens and Poe

Sometime in the 1830’s, Charles Dickens purchased a raven and brought it home. It quickly became a hit with his wife and children. Ravens have an astonishing vocal ability and this one, which they named “Grip”, was able to say many short phrases.

The children so adored their pet that they begged their famous father to include it as a character in his new novel. And so it was that a raven was featured in one of the works by the creator of “A Christmas Carol”, “Great Expectations” and “Oliver Twist.”

The new novel was entitled “Barnaby Rudge” and here is a paragraph in which the raven takes center stage.

“After a short survey of the ground, and a few sidelong looks at the ceiling and at everybody present in turn, he fluttered to the floor, and went to Barnaby – not in a hop, or walk, or run, but in a pace like that of a very particular gentleman with exceedingly tight boots on, trying to walk fast over loose pebbles. Then, stepping into his extended hand, and condescending to be held out an arm’s length, he gave vent to a succession of sounds, not unlike the drawing of some eight or ten dozen of long corks, and again asserted his brimstone birth and parentage with great distinctness.”

Poor Grip died in 1841 from ingesting lead paint chips and Dickens had him mounted. In the far- off United States, a young writer named Edgar Allan Poe reviewed “Barnaby Rudge” and commented that the raven should have been given a larger part. It is thought to have inspired Poe to write his most famous poem “The Raven.”

In later years, a wealthy American collector of all things Poe, purchased the mounted raven and to this day, it sits in the rare book room of the Philadelphia Free Library.

Here is Dickens’ tongue-in-cheek description on the final moments of Grip.  “On the clock striking twelve he appeared slightly agitated, but he soon recovered, walked twice or thrice along the coach house, stopped to bark, staggered, exclaimed `Halloa old girl!’ (his favorite expression) and died.”



Miles Hearn


1 thought on “The bird that inspired Dickens and Poe

  1. Patricia Lund

    I love this article. I love the connections between Dickens and Poe and present day. Thank you Miles for Dickens’ wonderful description of the pet Raven.


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