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In 1851, Charles Dickens flees hot and noisy London for a meditative trip to the English seaside.
Memorial Day weekend signals the start of summer, and for many that means packing the car for a three-day weekend in a quaint seaside town. Charles Dickens was no stranger to the warm-weather getaway, and in 1851 he enjoyed a beach holiday far away from the busy London crowd.

Vacation Stories

1851: When the great metropolis is so much hotter, so much noisier, so much more dusty or so much more water-carted, so much more crowded, so much more disturbing and distracting in all respects than it usually is, a quiet sea beach becomes indeed a blessed spot. Half-awake and half-asleep, this idle morning in our sunny window on the edge of a chalk cliff in the old-fashioned watering place to which we are a faithful resorter, we feel a lazy inclination to sketch its picture.

Sky, sea, beach, and village lie as still before us as if they were sitting for the picture. It is dead low-water. A ripple plays among the ripening corn upon the cliff as if it were faintly trying from recollection to imitate the sea, and the world of butterflies hovering over the crop of radish seed are as restless in their little way as the gulls are in their larger manner when the wind blows. But the ocean lies winking in the sunlight like a drowsy lion—its glassy waters scarcely curve upon the shore—the fishing boats in the tiny harbor are all stranded in the mud—our two colliers (our watering place has a maritime trade employing that amount of shipping) have not an inch of water within a quarter of a mile of them, and they turn, exhausted, on their sides, like faint fish of an antediluvian species. Rusty cables and chains, ropes and rings, under-most parts of posts and piles and confused timber defenses against the waves lie strewn about in a brown litter of tangled seaweed and fallen cliff which looks as if a family of giants had been making tea here for ages and had observed an untidy custom of throwing their tea leaves on the shore.
 
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The Sea
Summer 2013
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From “Our English Watering Place.” When this essay appeared, Dickens had in the previous few years published Dombey and Son and David Copperfield. In a companion essay entitled “Our French Watering Place,” he judged that “the very neckcloths and hats of your elderly compatriots cry to you from the stones of the streets, ‘We are bores—avoid us!’”
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