Wilkins Micawber

November 30, 2020

Tim Clark, Friends of the Dickens Project Board Member and Dickens Universe auctioneer, reprises his role of Wilkins Micawber.



Hello. My name is Tim Clark, and I am the chairman of the greater Riverside area, Dickens Fellowship in Southern California. I'm also on the board for the [Friends of the] Dickens Project for our wonderful Dickens Universe, which I look forward to attending every single year, so I can see all of you and exchange, smiles and pleasantries and get caught up.

I have chosen a little segment from the very conclusion of chapter 49 of David Copperfield. “I am involved in a mystery”. This is for our Dickens-To-Go, which I have really enjoyed watching my peers offer their favorite passages from their favorite books and explain why. Now, my reason for choosing this little extract from chapter 49, has to be pretty obvious.

It involves Mr. Wilkins Micawber, and for those of you that have been around long enough, back in 2009, when John Glavin was writing and producing our reader's theater productions for Thursday night, I was cast as Wilkins Micawber, and it was a blast; and some of our cast members from that time, still attend. Who could forget the lovely Sandy as my wife, Mrs. Micawber? Who can forget Ricardo and Tommy as the braying donkeys? Yes. It was a lot of fun. And of course, John Glavin, who hasn't been attending for the last couple of years. He is just a brilliant, brilliant man.

I have always enjoyed Copperfield. I'm glad that we chose it again after just an 11-year absence, and now it'll be 12 by the time we really get around to it next July. And I love Wilkins Micawber. You might see on the bookshelf behind me, I have one of Frank Reynolds, little characters of him resting on the top there. So let's go into this chapter 49, "I am Involved in a Mystery," and if you’d like to read along, it's near the end of the chapter, go back a couple of pages from the end. And the one quote you want to look for is Micawber's, where he says, "My dear Copperfield... this is an occupation”.

Okay. But let me give you a little a prelude. So you know what's going on, what has built up to this implosion. Mr. Micawber is visiting David, Betsey, and Mr. Dick in Betsey Trotwood's home. He has obviously been preoccupied and agitated with his thoughts throughout the occasion. Despite the light banter during supper. It is obvious to all of them that Micawber is having a very difficult time containing his emotions:

My aunt leaned her elbow on the little round table that she usually kept beside her, and eyed him attentively. Notwithstanding the aversion with which I regarded the idea of entrapping him into any disclosure he was not prepared to make voluntarily, I should have taken him up at this point, but for the strange proceedings in which I saw him engaged; whereof his putting the lemon-peel into the kettle, the sugar into the snuffer-tray, the spirit into the empty jug, and confidently attempting to pour boiling water out of a candlestick, were among the most remarkable. I saw that a crisis was at hand, and it came. He clattered all his means and implements together, rose from his chair, pulled out his pocket-handkerchief, and burst into tears.

‘My dear Copperfield,’ said Mr. Micawber, behind his handkerchief, ‘this is an occupation, of all others, requiring an untroubled mind, and self-respect. I cannot perform it. It is out of the question.’

‘Mr. Micawber,’ said I, ‘what is the matter? Pray speak out. You are among friends.’

‘Among friends, sir!’ repeated Mr. Micawber; and all he had reserved came breaking out of him. ‘Good heavens, it is principally because I AM among friends that my state of mind is what it is. What is the matter, gentlemen? What is NOT the matter? Villainy is the matter; baseness is the matter; deception, fraud, conspiracy, are the matter; and the name of the whole atrocious mass is—HEEP!’

My aunt clapped her hands, and we all started up as if we were possessed.

‘The struggle is over!’ said Mr. Micawber violently gesticulating with his pocket-handkerchief, and fairly striking out from time to time with both arms, as if he were swimming under superhuman difficulties. ‘I will lead this life no longer. I am a wretched being, cut off from everything that makes life tolerable. I have been under a Taboo in that infernal scoundrel’s service. Give me back my wife, give me back my family, substitute Micawber for the petty wretch who walks about in the boots at present on my feet, and call upon me to swallow a sword tomorrow, and I’ll do it. With an appetite!’

I never saw a man so hot in my life. I tried to calm him, that we might come to something rational; but he got hotter and hotter, and wouldn’t hear a word.

‘I’ll put my hand in no man’s hand,’ said Mr. Micawber, gasping, puffing, and sobbing, to that degree that he was like a man fighting with cold water, ‘until I have—blown to fragments—the—a—detestable—serpent—HEEP! I’ll partake of no one’s hospitality, until I have—a—moved Mount Vesuvius—to eruption—on—a—the abandoned rascal—HEEP! Refreshment—a—underneath this roof—particularly punch—would—a—choke me—unless—I had—previously—choked the eyes—out of the head—a—of—interminable cheat, and liar—HEEP! I—a—I’ll know nobody—and—a—say nothing—and—a—live nowhere—until I have crushed—to—a—undiscoverable atoms—the—transcendent and immortal hypocrite and perjurer—HEEP!’

I really had some fear of Mr. Micawber’s dying on the spot. The manner in which he struggled through these inarticulate sentences, and, whenever he found himself getting near the name of Heep, fought his way on to it, dashed at it in a fainting state, and brought it out with a vehemence little less than marvellous, was frightful; but now, when he sank into a chair, steaming, and looked at us, with every possible colour in his face that had no business there, and an endless procession of lumps following one another in hot haste up his throat, whence they seemed to shoot into his forehead, he had the appearance of being in the last extremity. I would have gone to his assistance, but he waved me off, and wouldn’t hear a word.

‘No, Copperfield!—No communication—a—until—Miss Wickfield—a—redress from wrongs inflicted by consummate scoundrel—HEEP!’ (I am quite convinced he could not have uttered three words, but for the amazing energy with which this word inspired him when he felt it coming.) ‘Inviolable secret—a—from the whole world—a—no exceptions—this day week—a—at breakfast-time—a—everybody present—including aunt—a—and extremely friendly gentleman—to be at the hotel at Canterbury—a—where—Mrs. Micawber and myself—Auld Lang Syne in chorus—and—a—will expose intolerable ruffian—HEEP! No more to say—a—or listen to persuasion—go immediately—not capable—a—bear society—upon the track of devoted and doomed traitor—HEEP!’

With this last repetition of the magic word that had kept him going at all, and in which he surpassed all his previous efforts, Mr. Micawber rushed out of the house; leaving us in a state of excitement, hope, and wonder, that reduced us to a condition little better than his own. But even then his passion for writing letters was too strong to be resisted; for while we were yet in the height of our excitement, hope, and wonder, the following pastoral note was brought to me from a neighbouring tavern, at which he had called to write it:—

          ‘Most secret and confidential.

‘I beg to be allowed to convey, through you, my apologies to your excellent aunt for my late excitement. An explosion of a smouldering volcano long suppressed, was the result of an internal contest more easily conceived than described.

‘I trust I rendered tolerably intelligible my appointment for the morning of this day week, at the house of public entertainment at Canterbury, where Mrs. Micawber and myself had once the honour of uniting our voices to yours, in the well-known strain of the Immortal exciseman nurtured beyond the Tweed.

‘The duty done, and act of reparation performed, which can alone enable me to contemplate my fellow mortal, I shall be known no more. I shall simply require to be deposited in that place of universal resort, where

     Each in his narrow cell for ever laid,
     The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep,

                    ‘—With the plain Inscription,

                         ‘WILKINS MICAWBER.’

Thank you very much. And please check back again so you can see more episodes from our peers of Dickens-To-Go. Have a wonderful day, everybody.


Courtney Mahaney and Tim Clark
Courtney Mahaney and Tim Clark

Tim holds various positions in his community. In addition to being a board member of the Friends of the Dickens Project, he is a board member of the Edgar Rice Burroughs Los Angeles Bibliophiles. Tim is also chairman of the Greater Riverside Dickens Fellowship and advisor to Centennial High School's International Thespian Society.


Dickens-to-Go is a weekly program of short videos designed to whet the viewers' appetite for "more" of their favorite author. You can join Dickens Project faculty, friends, and students as they share a favorite passage from Dickens and say a few words about why they selected it.

What are your favorite passages? We hope you will make a video too! Email Courtney Mahaney for video submission guidelines.