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David Copperfield

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

To my knowledge, there is not a single statue of Charles Dickens in any of the fine parks of Minneapolis, Minnesota. There ought to be. Without Dickens, there may well have never been a Minneapolis.

It was the winter of 1850. The few hardy pioneer families who had arrived in September and October to settle around the Falls of St. Anthony were hard put to form a community. Coming from Europe, from Ohio, from new England and the South, they were hardly a homogenous group.

They had little time to worry about community at all, isolated as they were in the new Territory of Minnesota. There were no railroads or roads, no telegraph. Their only connection with the outside world was the Mississippi and a rare steamboat now and then. They missed the opera, churches, art galleries, and libraries back East. Here, they made do with scattered copies of Harper’s Monthly and the Home Journal.

They had arrived with little idea of the nature of Minnesota winters. Wind blew through their crude wooden houses and the Mississippi froze solid as the temperature dropped to 30 below zero. Their food supply consisted of a cask of Chicago salt pork, dried cod, white beans, flour, and corn meal. It was enough to convince even the hardy to turn around and head back to civilization.

Charles Dickens never knew that he had come to the rescue of these would-be Minnesotans. In November, on one of the last boats to reach the falls, there arrived a copy of Dickens’ new novel, David Copperfield. The news passed from homestead to homestead—“Dickens’ new novel has come!”

All that long Minnesota winter, David Copperfield passed from household to household. Through blizzards and drifts, through January and February, David Copperfield fell into the clutches of Mr. Murdstone, ran away, became friends with Steerforth, met Mr. Micawber and Mrs. Gummidge, is blind to Agnes’ love for him and married empty-headed Dora. By March, Dora had died, and David rediscovered Agnes, whose father was in the clutches of Uriah Heep. By the time the ice melted and the Mississippi opened, David and Agnes had married, Heep had been found out, and everyone lived happily ever after, including the families around St. Anthony’s Falls, who had come together through Charles Dickens, and were on their way to becoming Minneapolis.

Rock Island Lines is underwritten by the Illinois Humanities Council and Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, with additional funding from Humanities Iowa, the Iowa Arts Council, and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.