148 Charles Street

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The famous walking match he arranged is another example of the way Dickens generated fun and excitement out of ordinary material. The match was a walking race between his manager, Dolby, and Fields’ young partner, Osgood. Dickens laid out a course covering six and a half miles to Newton Centre and the same distance back to Boston. He then wrote a clever “contract” between “The Boston Bantam” (Osgood), who was seconded by “Massachusetts Jemmy” (Fields), and “The Man of Ross” (Dolby), who was seconded by the “Gad’s Hill Gasper” (Dickens). He also arranged for an elegant dinner at the Parker House to follow the completion of the contest- which was lost by Dolby, who was, according to Dickens’ “official” account, “a thought and a half too fleshy.”

This energetic embracing of life was bound to arouse an enthusiastic response from James and Annie Fields, who themselves found life exhilarating and enjoyable. Dickens died in 1870, but they saw their beloved friend once more before his death, when they went to England in 1869. Let another great novelist, Henry James, have the final word on Dickens’ visit to the United States and his stay at 148 Charles Street: “I liked to think of the house, I couldn’t do without thinking of it, as the great man’s safest harborage through the tremendous gale of those even more leave-taking appearances, as fate was to appoint, than we then understood.”

No one else, appropriately enough, ever received guests at 148 Charles Street, for soon after Annie died in 1915, the building was torn down. There is now a garage on the site; when the doors are open, one can just manage to glimpse the river through the traffic along Storrow Drive where the Fieldses’ garden used to grow.