Wilkins Micawber

Wilkins Micawber

For other uses of Micawber, please see Micawber.

Wilkins Micawber is a fictional character from Charles Dickens' novel David Copperfield. He was modelled on Dickens' father, John Dickens, who also ended up in a debtor's prison (the King's Bench Prison) after failing to meet the demands of his creditors.

His long-suffering wife, Emma, stood by him through thick and thin, despite the fact that her deceased father had had to bail him out on many occasions, and his circumstances forces her to pawn all her family heirlooms. The maxims she lives by were: "I will never desert Mr. Micawber!" and "Experientia does it (from Experientia docet, One learns by experience)". In Hablot Knight Browne's illustrations for the first edition, he is shown wearing knee-breeches, a top hat and a monocle.

Popular culture

He is famous for frequently asserting of his faith that "something will turn up". His name has become synonymous with someone who lives in hopeful expectation. This has formed the basis for the "Micawber Principle", based upon his observation:
"Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery."

England's pre decimal currency was pounds, shillings and pence, abbreviated to £sd. So, "nineteen nineteen six" or £19/19/6d is six pence less than twenty pounds. Likewise, "Twenty pounds ought and six" or £20/0/6d is six pence more than twenty pounds.

The character was played by W.C. Fields in the 1935 screen classic, Personal History, Adventures, Experience, and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger. Another actor of note to have played him was Bob Hoskins, in a 1999 BBC serial.

In addition, the character formed the basis of Micawber, a 2001 ITV drama series written by John Sullivan and starring David Jason in the title leading role.

Entry into general English

The character of Wilkins Micawber has given rise to the English noun "Micawber" and the adjective "Micawberish". The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a Micawber as "one who is poor but lives in optimistic expectation of better fortune.


Besides the Micawber Principle, Micawber is notable for a number of memorable quotations:

  • I have no doubt I shall, please Heaven, begin to be more beforehand with the world, and to live in a perfectly new manner, if -if, in short, anything turns up. - (Chapter 11)
  • Every happiness and prosperity! If, in the progress of revolving years, I could persuade myself that my blighted destiny had been a warning to you, I should feel that I had not occupied another man's place altogether in vain. - (Chapter 12)
  • You HEEP of infamy! - (Chapter 52)
  • I trust that the labour and hazard of an investigation -of which the smallest results have been slowly pieced together, in the pressure of arduous avocations, under grinding penurious apprehensions, at rise of morn, at dewy eve, in the shadows of night, under the watchful eye of one whom it were superfluous to call Demon, combined with the struggle of parental Poverty to turn it, when completed, to the right account, may be as the sprinkling of a few drops of sweet water on my funeral pyre. I ask no more. Let it be, in justice, merely said of me, as of a gallant and eminent Naval Hero, with whom I have no pretensions to cope, that what I have done, I did, in despite of mercenary and selfish objectives, "FOR ENGLAND, HOME AND BEAUTY." Remaining always, &c, &c, Wilkins Micawber.
  • Welcome poverty!..Welcome misery, welcome houselessness, welcome hunger, rags, tempest, and beggary! Mutual confidence will sustain us to the end!

Quotations from the 1935 film

  • Boy, as I have frequently had occasion to observe: "When the stomach is empty, the spirits are low!"
  • Remember my motto "Nil Desperandum! -Never despair!"

Quotation from the BBC TV/Masterpiece Theatre production

  • (featuring Simon Callow as Micawber) "I could not depart this metropolis without paying a valedictory visit to my dear friend Copperfield, in whose debt I shall forever remain (I speak metaphorically of course!)


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