Charles Dickens had a pet raven named Grip, and the great author would read to his children at night with the bird on his shoulder or nearby in the room. By all accounts his children were terrified of the raven, which is reputed to have been raucous and aggressive. It is also documented that Grip had developed a habit of tearing sections off painted surfaces and even drinking paint from an open tin.
When the bird died, Dickens had it taxidermied and mounted in the impressive and elaborate case, as shown here.
The lively character of the bird provided inspiration to Dickens, particularly in his novel Barnaby Rudge, where the raven is a prominent feature. He also had one of his favourite illustrators Daniel Maclise do a portrait of the bird, which Dickens took with him to America in 1842. It was during this visit that Dickens met the poet Edgar Allan Poe.
Poe at the time was an advocate of Dickens work and, following the visit, the two authors wrote to each other often. Poe went on to write a review of Barnaby Rudge where he described Grip in the novel as ‘intensely amusing’. While Dickens and Poe did not continue a friendship throughout their life, it is widely believed that Grip was the inspiration for Poe’s 1845 poem The Raven, which brought him much success.
Dickens’ death in 1870, the taxidermied bird was sold at auction and purchased
by the American collector Colonel Richard Gimbel, which can been still be seen
today in the Free Library in Philadelphia.
Sepia photograph of Grip the Raven, from the museum collection.