Read 1843. of The Letters of Charles Dickens Vol. 1 (1833-1856), free online book, by Charles Dickens, on ReadCentral.com.

NARRATIVE.

We have, unfortunately, very few letters of interest in this year.  But we are able to give the commencement of Charles Dickens’s correspondence with his beloved friends, Mr. Douglas Jerrold and Mr. Clarkson Stanfield; with Lord Morpeth (afterwards Lord Carlisle), for whom he always entertained the highest regard; and with Mr. Charles Babbage.

He was at work upon “Martin Chuzzlewit” until the end of the year, when he also wrote and published the first of his Christmas stories ­“The Christmas Carol.”

He was much distressed by the sad fate of Mr. Elton (a respected actor), who was lost in the wreck of the Pegasus, and was very eager and earnest in his endeavours to raise a fund on behalf of Mr. Elton’s children.

We are sorry to be unable to give any explanation as to the nature of the Cockspur Street Society, mentioned in this first letter to Mr. Charles Babbage.  But we publish it notwithstanding, considering it to be one of general interest.

The “Little History of England” was never finished ­not, that is to say, the one alluded to in the letter to Mr. Jerrold.

Mr. David Dickson kindly furnishes us with an explanation of the letter dated 10th May.  “It was,” he says, “in answer to a letter from me, pointing out that the ‘Shepherd’ in ‘Pickwick’ was apparently reflecting on the scriptural doctrine of the new birth.”

The beginning of the letter to Mr. Jerrold (15th June) is, as will be readily understood, an imaginary cast of a purely imaginary play.  A portion of this letter has already been published, in Mr. Blanchard Jerrold’s life of his father.  It originated in a proposal of Mr. Webster’s ­the manager of the Haymarket Theatre ­to give five hundred pounds for a prize comedy by an English author.

The opera referred to in the letter to Mr. R. H. Horne was called “The Village Coquettes,” and the farce was “The Strange Gentleman,” already alluded to by us, in connection with a letter to Mr. Harley.

Mr. Charles Babbage.

DEVONSHIRE TERRACE, April 27th, 1843.

MY DEAR SIR,

I write to you, confidentially, in answer to your note of last night, and the tenor of mine will tell you why.

You may suppose, from seeing my name in the printed letter you have received, that I am favourable to the proposed society.  I am decidedly opposed to it.  I went there on the day I was in the chair, after much solicitation; and being put into it, opened the proceedings by telling the meeting that I approved of the design in theory, but in practice considered it hopeless.  I may tell you ­I did not tell them ­that the nature of the meeting, and the character and position of many of the men attending it, cried “Failure” trumpet-tongued in my ears.  To quote an expression from Tennyson, I may say that if it were the best society in the world, the grossness of some natures in it would have weight to drag it down.

In the wisdom of all you urge in the notes you have sent me, taking them as statements of theory, I entirely concur.  But in practice, I feel sure that the present publishing system cannot be overset until authors are different men.  The first step to be taken is to move as a body in the question of copyright, enforce the existing laws, and try to obtain better.  For that purpose I hold that the authors and publishers must unite, as the wealth, business habits, and interest of that latter class are of great importance to such an end.  The Longmans and Murray have been with me proposing such an association.  That I shall support.  But having seen the Cockspur Street Society, I am as well convinced of its invincible hopelessness as if I saw it written by a celestial penman in the Book of Fate.

My dear Sir,
Always faithfully yours.

Mr. Douglas Jerrold.

DEVONSHIRE TERRACE, May 3rd, 1843.

MY DEAR JERROLD,

Let me thank you most cordially for your books, not only for their own sakes (and I have read them with perfect delight), but also for this hearty and most welcome mark of your recollection of the friendship we have established; in which light I know I may regard and prize them.

I am greatly pleased with your opening paper in the Illuminated.  It is very wise, and capital; written with the finest end of that iron pen of yours; witty, much needed, and full of truth.  I vow to God that I think the parrots of society are more intolerable and mischievous than its birds of prey.  If ever I destroy myself, it will be in the bitterness of hearing those infernal and damnably good old times extolled.  Once, in a fit of madness, after having been to a public dinner which took place just as this Ministry came in, I wrote the parody I send you enclosed, for Fonblanque.  There is nothing in it but wrath; but that’s wholesome, so I send it you.

I am writing a little history of England for my boy, which I will send you when it is printed for him, though your boys are too old to profit by it.  It is curious that I have tried to impress upon him (writing, I daresay, at the same moment with you) the exact spirit of your paper, for I don’t know what I should do if he were to get hold of any Conservative or High Church notions; and the best way of guarding against any such horrible result is, I take it, to wring the parrots’ necks in his very cradle.

Oh Heaven, if you could have been with me at a hospital dinner last Monday!  There were men there who made such speeches and expressed such sentiments as any moderately intelligent dustman would have blushed through his cindery bloom to have thought of.  Sleek, slobbering, bow-paunched, over-fed, apoplectic, snorting cattle, and the auditory leaping up in their delight!  I never saw such an illustration of the power of purse, or felt so degraded and debased by its contemplation, since I have had eyes and ears.  The absurdity of the thing was too horrible to laugh at.  It was perfectly overwhelming.  But if I could have partaken it with anybody who would have felt it as you would have done, it would have had quite another aspect; or would at least, like a “classic mask” (oh d ­ that word!) have had one funny side to relieve its dismal features.

Supposing fifty families were to emigrate into the wilds of North America ­yours, mine, and forty-eight others ­picked for their concurrence of opinion on all important subjects and for their resolution to found a colony of common-sense, how soon would that devil, Cant, present itself among them in one shape or other?  The day they landed, do you say, or the day after?

That is a great mistake (almost the only one I know) in the “Arabian Nights,” when the princess restores people to their original beauty by sprinkling them with the golden water.  It is quite clear that she must have made monsters of them by such a christening as that.

My dear Jerrold,
Faithfully your Friend.

Mr. David Dickson.

1, DEVONSHIRE TERRACE, YORK GATE, REGENT’S PARK,
May 10th, 1843.

SIR,

Permit me to say, in reply to your letter, that you do not understand the intention (I daresay the fault is mine) of that passage in the “Pickwick Papers” which has given you offence.  The design of “the Shepherd” and of this and every other allusion to him is, to show how sacred things are degraded, vulgarised, and rendered absurd when persons who are utterly incompetent to teach the commonest things take upon themselves to expound such mysteries, and how, in making mere cant phrases of divine words, these persons miss the spirit in which they had their origin.  I have seen a great deal of this sort of thing in many parts of England, and I never knew it lead to charity or good deeds.

Whether the great Creator of the world and the creature of his hands, moulded in his own image, be quite so opposite in character as you believe, is a question which it would profit us little to discuss.  I like the frankness and candour of your letter, and thank you for it.  That every man who seeks heaven must be born again, in good thoughts of his Maker, I sincerely believe.  That it is expedient for every hound to say so in a certain snuffling form of words, to which he attaches no good meaning, I do not believe.  I take it there is no difference between us.

Faithfully yours.

Mr. Douglas Jerrold.

DEVONSHIRE TERRACE, June 13th, 1843.

MY DEAR JERROLD,

Yes, you have anticipated my occupation.  Chuzzlewit be d ­d.  High comedy and five hundred pounds are the only matters I can think of.  I call it “The One Thing Needful; or, A Part is Better than the Whole.”  Here are the characters: 

Servants, Gamblers, Visitors, etc.

One scene, where Old Febrile tickles Lady Tip in the ribs, and afterwards dances out with his hat behind him, his stick before, and his eye on the pit, I expect will bring the house down.  There is also another point, where Old Febrile, at the conclusion of his disclosure to Swig, rises and says:  “And now, Swig, tell me, have I acted well?” And Swig says:  “Well, Mr. Febrile, have you ever acted ill?” which will carry off the piece.

Herne Bay.  Hum.  I suppose it’s no worse than any other place in this weather, but it is watery rather ­isn’t it?  In my mind’s eye, I have the sea in a perpetual state of smallpox; and the chalk running downhill like town milk.  But I know the comfort of getting to work in a fresh place, and proposing pious projects to one’s self, and having the more substantial advantage of going to bed early and getting up ditto, and walking about alone.  I should like to deprive you of the last-named happiness, and to take a good long stroll, terminating in a public-house, and whatever they chanced to have in it.  But fine days are over, I think.  The horrible misery of London in this weather, with not even a fire to make it cheerful, is hideous.

But I have my comedy to fly to.  My only comfort!  I walk up and down the street at the back of the theatre every night, and peep in at the green-room window, thinking of the time when “Dick ­ins” will be called for by excited hundreds, and won’t come till Mr. Webster (half Swig and half himself) shall enter from his dressing-room, and quelling the tempest with a smile, beseech that wizard, if he be in the house (here he looks up at my box), to accept the congratulations of the audience, and indulge them with a sight of the man who has got five hundred pounds in money, and it’s impossible to say how much in laurel.  Then I shall come forward, and bow once ­twice ­thrice ­roars of approbation ­Brayvo ­brarvo ­hooray ­hoorar ­hooroar ­one cheer more; and asking Webster home to supper, shall declare eternal friendship for that public-spirited individual.

They have not sent me the “Illustrated Magazine.”  What do they mean by that?  You don’t say your daughter is better, so I hope you mean that she is quite well.  My wife desires her best regards.

I am always, my dear Jerrold,
Faithfully your Friend,
THE CONGREVE OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
(which I mean to be called in the Sunday papers).

P.S. ­I shall dedicate it to Webster, beginning:  “My dear Sir, ­When you first proposed to stimulate the slumbering dramatic talent of England, I assure you I had not the least idea” ­etc. etc. etc.

Mr. Clarkson Stanfield.

1, DEVONSHIRE TERRACE, July 26th, 1843.

MY DEAR STANFIELD,

I am chairman of a committee, whose object is to open a subscription, and arrange a benefit for the relief of the seven destitute children of poor Elton the actor, who was drowned in the Pegasus.  They are exceedingly anxious to have the great assistance of your name; and if you will allow yourself to be announced as one of the body, I do assure you you will help a very melancholy and distressful cause.

Faithfully always.

P.S. ­The committee meet to-night at the Freemasons’, at eight o’clock.

Lord Morpeth.

1, DEVONSHIRE TERRACE, YORK GATE, REGENT’S PARK,
August 3rd, 1843.

DEAR LORD MORPETH,

In acknowledging the safe receipt of your kind donation in behalf of poor Mr. Elton’s orphan children, I hope you will suffer me to address you with little ceremony, as the best proof I can give you of my cordial reciprocation of all you say in your most welcome note.  I have long esteemed you and been your distant but very truthful admirer; and trust me that it is a real pleasure and happiness to me to anticipate the time when we shall have a nearer intercourse.

Believe me, with sincere regard,
Faithfully your Servant.

Mr. William Harrison Ainsworth.

DEVONSHIRE TERRACE, October 13th, 1843.

MY DEAR AINSWORTH,

I want very much to see you, not having had that old pleasure for a long time.  I am at this moment deaf in the ears, hoarse in the throat, red in the nose, green in the gills, damp in the eyes, twitchy in the joints, and fractious in the temper from a most intolerable and oppressive cold, caught the other day, I suspect, at Liverpool, where I got exceedingly wet; but I will make prodigious efforts to get the better of it to-night by resorting to all conceivable remedies, and if I succeed so as to be only negatively disgusting to-morrow, I will joyfully present myself at six, and bring my womankind along with me.

Cordially yours.

Mr. R. H. Horne.

DEVONSHIRE TERRACE, November 13th, 1843.

Pray tell that besotted ­ to let the opera sink into its native obscurity.  I did it in a fit of d ­blé good nature long ago, for Hullah, who wrote some very pretty music to it.  I just put down for everybody what everybody at the St. James’s Theatre wanted to say and do, and that they could say and do best, and I have been most sincerely repentant ever since.  The farce I also did as a sort of practical joke, for Harley, whom I have known a long time.  It was funny ­adapted from one of the published sketches called the “Great Winglebury Duel,” and was published by Chapman and Hall.  But I have no copy of it now, nor should I think they have.  But both these things were done without the least consideration or regard to reputation.

I wouldn’t repeat them for a thousand pounds apiece, and devoutly wish them to be forgotten.  If you will impress this on the waxy mind of ­ I shall be truly and unaffectedly obliged to you.

Always faithfully yours.