Charles Dickens was a fundraiser – did you know? He may have poked fun at our profession in Our Mutual Friend, but he was rather skilled when it came to generating support for his chosen cause, The Hospital of Sick Children (which became Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital).
Founded by Dr Charles West, the first hospital for children in the UK depended on voluntary donations. Funds were raised by subscriptions, donations and fundraising events, the most important of which was an annual dinner.
When Charles Dickens did a reading and a rousing speech at a Christmas fundraising event, he raised enough money to buy a new property for the hospital – more than tripling its capacity.
Not bad. It’s a shame we don’t know what he said. We do know what he wrote in support of the new hospital though.
In April 1852, Charles Dickens published an article called ‘Drooping Buds’, which appeared in his magazine ‘Household Works’. Excitingly, you can see the original scanned in here.
Its subject is child mortality, but that’s an example of jargon which Dickens took care to avoid.
Instead he works hard to make the facts meaningful to the reader. As you’ll see, he starts by using statistics to drive home the high loss of life. For every one hundred children born, only sixty five remain after eight years.
“Of this great city of London – which, until a few weeks ago, contained no hospital wherein to treat and study the diseases of children – more than a third of the population perishes in infancy and childhood. Twenty-four in a hundred die, during the first two years of life, and during the next eight years, eleven die out of the remaining seventy six.”
Well, that’s fairly convincing. But Dickens doesn’t leave it there.
“Think of it again. Of all the coffins that are made in London, one in every three is made for a small child: a child that has not yet two figures to its age.”
He starts talking about little coffins – a horrifying image. And still he pushes it further, imagining the words of a lost child.
“…I,” said another shadow, “Am the lame mis-shapen boy who read so much by this fireside, and suffered so much pain so patiently, and might have been as active and straight as you, if anyone had understood my malady…”
So what does Charles Dickens teach us about statistics?
- Numbers can be a powerful way of providing evidence of need or success.
- But what do the numbers represent? Charles Dickens asks his readers to ‘think again’ and realize that each death is a small coffin.
- Finally, as the third quotation shows, it's one child’s story that reaches the reader emotionally.