The gift of the claret jug is recorded in a letter from Dickens to Wills dated 5 April 1862, which was later published by Wills' great nephew Rudolph Chambers Lehmann in Charles Dickens as Editor, London, 1912, pp. 307-308. The letter reads:
'16, Hyde Park Gate, South
Kensington Gore, W.,
Saturday, Fifth April, 1862.
My Dear Wills:-
A little packet will come to you to-day from Hunt and Roskell's: almost at the same time, I think, as this note.
The packet will contain a Claret Jug. I hope it is a pretty thing in itself for your table, and I know that you and Mrs Wills will like it none the worse because it comes from me.
It is not made of perishable material, and is so far expressive of our friendship. I have had your name and mine set upon it, in token of our many years of mutual reliance and trustfulness. It will never be so full of wine, as it is to-day of affectionate regard.
Ever faithfully yours,
Lehmann in an editor's footnote records that 'This claret jug, fashioned in silver after the model of an Etruscan jug, is now in my possession, having been bequeathed to me by Mrs. Wills.'
William Henry Wills (1810-1880) and Charles Dickens (1812-1870)
Wills was born in Plymouth, the son of a ship owner. The family moved to London around 1819. Wills later reminisced about the journey and his first impressions of London in an article he published 'Forty Years On' in All the Year Round, 8 April 1865. After the death of his father he became a journalist although Lehmann is hazy as to his exact career progression. He comments that he contributed to the Penny and Saturday Magazines and it was as a potential contributor that he first encountered Charles Dickens.
Dickens was the newly appointed editor of a recently established monthly magazine Bentley's Miscellany, having made his name in popular literary circle with his Pickwick Papers. Wills sent Dickens some articles, one of which was accepted and others followed. Wills was asked to join Punch when it was first published in 1841. In 1842 he became assistant editor at the Chambers Journal based in Edinburgh whilst still contributing to Punch. On leaving the Chambers Journal in 1845 he was to cross paths with Dickens a second time when he joined the Daily News as sub editor with Dickens as the editor. The first edition appeared in January 1846 but Dickens resigned his editorship soon after. Wills stayed with the paper for a number of years working for John Forster, Dickens' successor. Wills' professionalism and his excellent working relationship with his editor led Forster to suggest that Wills join the partnership which started the weekly journal Household Words. The journal was partly owned by Dickens' printers and publishers Bradbury and Hall, Forster, Dickens and Wills. It was the start of a professional relationship and friendship that was to last until Dickens' death twenty years later. The gift of the claret jug to Wills came after a particularly difficult time for Dickens. He had separated from his wife in 1859 and the ensuing scandal in which both his sister-in-law Georgina Hogarth and the young actress Nelly Ternan were implicated caused the author a great deal of distress. The refusal of Bradbury and Evans as publishers of Punch to include a statement from Dickens on the state of his marriage led him to dissolve the partnership which produced Household Words. As a result of this he started All the Year Round, this time with Wills having twenty-five percent of the equity and Dickens seventy-five percent. The gift of the claret jug to Wills and his wife no doubt signifies the strength of both the professional support Wills provided and a friendship which endured the turbulent break up of Dickens' marriage.