CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In 1842, Charles Dickens was a literary star in England when he boarded the steamer Britannia in Liverpool for his first visit to the United States.
Coming to America on that same voyage was 21-year-old Joseph H. Diss Debar.
Diss Debar's accounts of the Atlantic crossing differ somewhat from what Dickens recorded in his travelogue "American Notes."
Diss Debar later wrote that his memory "enjoyed a commercial training and is a reliable authority in such matters," whereas Dickens described an incident "from one of those imaginary points of view in which he was so perfectly at home."
By then, Dickens had already published "The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club" (aka "The Pickwick Papers"), "Oliver Twist," "Nicholas Nickleby" and "The Old Curiosity Shop."
Diss Debar knew he was in the company of someone important by the sendoff Dickens received from a festive group who had obviously been drinking -- or were, in Diss Debar's words, "glowing with facial symptoms of green seal and wire-fastened corks."
Writing years later, Diss Debar concedes he had at the time just a vague idea of Dickens' importance. Referring to Dickens by his nickname, Diss Debar noted, "At that time, although Boz had fairly made his mark among the reading public of the English tongue, relatively few nations on the continent more than knew him by fame. ...