Born in Portsmouth, England, on February 7, 1812, the second of John and Elizabeth Dickens's eight children, Charles was raised with the assumption that he would receive an education and, if he worked hard, might some day come to live at Gad's Hill Place, the finest house on the main road between Rochester and Gravesend. But John Dickens, on whom Mr. Micawber is based, moved the family to London in 1823, fell into financial disaster, was arrested for debt and imprisoned in the Marshalsea Debtors' Prison. Charles was forced to go to work at Warren's Blacking Factory at Hungerford Stairs labeling bottles. In his Life of Charles Dickens, John Forster shares the fragment of Dickens's autobiography upon which David Copperfield's Murdstone and Grinby experiences are based:
It is wonderful to me how I could have been so easily cast away at such an age. It is wonderful to me, that, even after my descent into the poor little drudge I had been since we came to London, no one had compassion on me -- a child of singular abilities, quick, eager, delicate, and soon hurt, bodily or mentally -- to suggest that something might have been spared, as certainly it might have been, to place me at any common school. Our friends, I take it, were tired out. No one made any sign. My father and mother were quite satisfied. They could hardly have been more so, if I had been twenty years of age, distinguished at a grammar-school, and going to Cambridge.