This month I have come across an incredible treasure—the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s VIP and Visitors' books—held in our archives. These remarkable objects, which are rarely on public display, help to establish the Trust as an important pilgrimage for those dedicated to the life and works of William Shakespeare. Since 1847 many guests have walked through our doors, however, these special books record those famous names who have gathered here to pay their respects to the world’s greatest playwright and gain inspiration for their own works. The VIP books include signatures from prominent Shakespearian actors and actresses, such as Sarah Siddons and Ellen Terry, well-known artists such as William Holman Hunt as well as members of the Royal Family and International Dignitaries.
One signature that stands-out is that of the son of the great Victorian writer Charles Dickens―Charles Dickens Jr―who did not simply sign and date his entry but left an inscription that reads ‘All the Year Round’. This inscription is significant as it recalls a literary journal created by Charles Dickens in 1859. ‘All the Year Round’ succeeded Dickens’ famous periodical ‘Household Words’ and similar to the latter it published both fictional and non-fictional pieces of literature relating to everyday Victorian life. It became extremely popular in the late nineteenth century and was owned and edited by Charles Dickens Jr after his father’s death in 1870. Charles Dickens Jr’s inclusion of the periodical’s title in our VIP book reinforces the original connection between the magazine and the works of Shakespeare, as the title and subtitle, ‘The story of our lives, from year to year’, derives from a quote in Act I, scene iii of Othello. Here, Othello explains to the Duke how he wooed Desdemona and won the friendship of her father:
Her father loved me; oft invited me;
Still question'd me the story of my life,
From year to year, the battles, sieges, fortunes,
That I have passed.
By naming a journal dedicated to the everyday life of the Victorian after Shakespeare’s work and quoting this title in our VIP book, both Charles Dickens and his son declare their reverence towards the Bard and encourage the inclusion of Shakespeare in everyday activities. The addition of this inscription in the date field also suggests a metaphorical meaning in that Charles Dickens Jr was not only at the birthplace of the Bard for a single day but rather his heart was with the property ‘all year round’.