Robert Seymour was one of the most prominent illustrators of the early 19th century but ended up an unfortunate footnote in Dickens’s career.
His name is set to be restored to prominence when the Charles Dickens Museum unveils a commemorative plaque and puts his tombstone on display next week.
The stone was discovered by Stephen Jarvis, who is researching a biography of Seymour, in a giant collection of tombstones in the crypt of St Mary Magdalene Church in the London borough of Islington.
Mr. Jarvis said: “Everybody said the tombstone was missing.” Even church regulars thought it had probably been destroyed. But Mr Jarvis found a single line reference to the church’s crypt in papers at the Islington local history centre and went to investigate. After hours of trawling by torchlight through “thousands of tombstones that were just crumbling away in this spooky church crypt,” his wife, Elaine, spotted the 4ft-high stone. They have spent the past four years seeking permission from the Church of England to move it to the Dickens museum, where it will be unveiled next Tuesday.
Mr. Jarvis hopes it will restore the name of Seymour, who dreamt up the idea of a new monthly serial, the Nimrod Club, with sporting illustrations linked with sketches. A young Dickens, then writing as Boz, was approached by publishers to write and insisted on taking control of the project. The Nimrod Club became the Pickwick Club of The Pickwick Papers and propelled Dickens to international fame. But his success came at a price for Seymour.
Two days after visiting Dickens at home in April 1836, distressed that his idea had been usurped, Seymour was found dead: he had shot himself after completing a final Pickwick drawing. His widow claimed Dickens had effectively murdered him.
Mr. Jarvis said: “Everyone benefits from The Pickwick Papers apart from Robert Seymour, whose family was reduced to poverty by his suicide. Yet here was a man who was almost certainly the most prolific cartoonist of his time, the Shakespeare of caricature’. His tombstone is an incredibly resonant object.”