Read 1865. of The Letters of Charles Dickens Vol. 2 (1857-1870), free online book, by Charles Dickens, on ReadCentral.com.

NARRATIVE.

For this spring a furnished house in Somer’s Place, Hyde Park, had been taken, which Charles Dickens occupied, with his sister-in-law and daughter, from the beginning of March until June.

During the year he paid two short visits to France.

He was still at work upon “Our Mutual Friend,” two numbers of which had been issued in January and February, when the first volume was published, with dedication to Sir James Emerson Tennent.  The remaining numbers were issued between March and November, when the complete work was published in two volumes.

The Christmas number, to which Charles Dickens contributed three stories, was called “Doctor Marigold’s Prescriptions.”

Being out of health, and much overworked, Charles Dickens, at the end of May, took his first short holiday trip into France.  And on his way home, and on a day afterwards so fatal to him, the 9th of June, he was in that most terrible railway accident at Staplehurst.  Many of our letters for this year have reference to this awful experience ­an experience from the effects of which his nerves never wholly recovered.  His letters to Mr. Thomas Mitton and to Mrs. Hulkes (an esteemed friend and neighbour) are graphic descriptions of this disaster.  But they do NOT tell of the wonderful presence of mind and energy shown by Charles Dickens when most of the terrified passengers were incapable of thought or action, or of his gentleness and goodness to the dead and dying.  The Mr. Dickenson mentioned in the letter to Mrs. Hulkes soon recovered.  He always considers that he owes his life to Charles Dickens, the latter having discovered and extricated him from beneath a carriage before it was too late.

Our first letter to Mr. Kent is one of congratulation upon his having become the proprietor of The Sun newspaper.

Professor Owen has been so kind as to give us some notes, which we publish for the sake of his great name.  Charles Dickens had not much correspondence with Professor Owen, but there was a firm friendship and great mutual admiration between them.

The letter to Mrs. Procter is in answer to one from her, asking Charles Dickens to write a memoir of her daughter Adelaide, as a preface to a collected edition of her poems.

Mr. William Charles Kent.

GAD’S HILL PLACE, HIGHAM BY ROCHESTER, KENT,
Tuesday, Jath, 1865.

MY DEAR KENT,

I meant to have written instantly on the appearance of your paper in its beautiful freshness, to congratulate you on its handsome appearance, and to send you my heartiest good wishes for its thriving and prosperous career.  Through a mistake of the postman’s, that remarkable letter has been tesselated into the Infernal Pavement instead of being delivered in the Strand.

We have been looking and waiting for your being well enough to propose yourself for a mouthful of fresh air.  Are you well enough to come on Sunday?  We shall be coming down from Charing Cross on Sunday morning, and I shall be going up again at nine on Monday morning.

It amuses me to find that you don’t see your way with a certain “Mutual Friend” of ours.  I have a horrible suspicion that you may begin to be fearfully knowing at somewhere about N or 13.  But you shan’t if I can help it.

Your note delighted me because it dwelt upon the places in the number that I dwell on.  Not that that is anything new in your case, but it is always new to me in the pleasure I derive from it, which is truly inexpressible.

Ever cordially yours.

Mrs. Procter.

GAD’S HILL PLACE, HIGHAM BY ROCHESTER, KENT,
Wednesday, Feth, 1865.

MY DEAR MRS. PROCTER,

Of course I will do it, and of course I will do it for the love of you and Procter.  You can give me my brief, and we can speak about its details.  Once again, of course I will do it, and with all my heart.

I have registered a vow (in which there is not the least merit, for I couldn’t help it) that when I am, as I am now, very hard at work upon a book, I never will dine out more than one day in a week.  Why didn’t you ask me for the Wednesday, before I stood engaged to Lady Molesworth for the Tuesday?

It is so delightful to me to sit by your side anywhere and be brightened up, that I lay a handsome sacrifice upon the altar of “Our Mutual Friend” in writing this note, very much against my will.  But for as many years as can be made consistent with my present juvenility, I always have given my work the first place in my life, and what can I do now at 35! ­or at least at the two figures, never mind their order.

I send my love to Procter, hoping you may appropriate a little of it by the way.

Affectionately yours.

Mr. W. C. Macready.

OFFICE OF “ALL THE YEAR ROUND,”
Wednesday, March 1st, 1865.

MY DEAREST MACREADY,

I have been laid up here with a frost-bitten foot (from hard walking in the snow), or you would have heard from me sooner.

My reply to Professor Agassiz is short, but conclusive.  Daily seeing improper uses made of confidential letters in the addressing of them to a public audience that have no business with them, I made not long ago a great fire in my field at Gad’s Hill, and burnt every letter I possessed.  And now I always destroy every letter I receive not on absolute business, and my mind is so far at ease.  Poor dear Felton’s letters went up into the air with the rest, or his highly distinguished representative should have had them most willingly.

We never fail to drink old P.’s health on his birthday, or to make him the subject of a thousand loving remembrances.  With best love to Mrs. Macready and Katie,

                          Ever, my dearest Macready,
                                        Your most affectionate Friend.

16, SOMER’S PLACE, HYDE PARK,
Saturday Night, April 22nd, 1865.

MY DEAREST MACREADY,

A thousand thanks for your kind letter, most heartily welcome.

My frost-bitten foot, after causing me great inconvenience and much pain, has begun to conduct itself amiably.  I can now again walk my ten miles in the morning without inconvenience, but am absurdly obliged to sit shoeless all the evening ­a very slight penalty, as I detest going out to dinner (which killed the original old Parr by-the-bye).

I am working like a dragon at my book, and am a terror to the household, likewise to all the organs and brass bands in this quarter.  Gad’s Hill is being gorgeously painted, and we are here until the 1st of June.  I wish I might hope you would be there any time this summer; I really have made the place comfortable and pretty by this time.

It is delightful to us to hear such good news of Butty.  She made so deep an impression on Fechter that he always asks me what Ceylon has done for her, and always beams when I tell him how thoroughly well it has made her.  As to you, you are the youngest man (worth mentioning as a thorough man) that I know.  Oh, let me be as young when I am as ­did you think I was going to write “old?” No, sir ­withdrawn from the wear and tear of busy life is my expression.

Poole still holds out at Kentish Town, and says he is dying of solitude.  His memory is astoundingly good.  I see him about once in two or three months, and in the meantime he makes notes of questions to ask me when I come.  Having fallen in arrear of the time, these generally refer to unknown words he has encountered in the newspapers.  His three last (he always reads them with tremendous difficulty through an enormous magnifying-glass) were as follows: 

        1.  What’s croquet?
        2.  What’s an Albert chain?
        3.  Let me know the state of mind of the Queen.

When I had delivered a neat exposition on these heads, he turned back to his memoranda, and came to something that the utmost power of the enormous magnifying-glass couldn’t render legible.  After a quarter of an hour or so, he said:  “O yes, I know.”  And then rose and clasped his hands above his head, and said:  “Thank God, I am not a dram-drinker.”

Do think of coming to Gad’s in the summer; and do give my love to Mrs. Macready, and tell her I know she can make you come if she will.  Mary and Georgy send best and dearest loves to her, to you, and to Katie, and to baby.  Johnny we suppose to be climbing the tree of knowledge elsewhere.

My dearest Macready, ever yours most affectionately.

GAD’S HILL, Monday, June 12th, 1865.

MY DEAREST MACREADY,

[So far in his own writing.]

Many thanks for your kind words of remembrance. This is not all in my own hand, because I am too much shaken to write many notes.  Not by the beating and dragging of the carriage in which I was ­it did not go over, but was caught on the turn, among the ruins of the bridge ­but by the work afterwards to get out the dying and dead, which was terrible.

[The rest in his own writing.]

Ever your affectionate Friend.

P.S. ­My love to Mrs. Macready.

Mr. Thomas Mitton.

GAD’S HILL PLACE, HIGHAM BY ROCHESTER, KENT,
Tuesday, June 13th, 1865.

MY DEAR MITTON,

I should have written to you yesterday or the day before, if I had been quite up to writing.

I was in the only carriage that did not go over into the stream.  It was caught upon the turn by some of the ruin of the bridge, and hung suspended and balanced in an apparently impossible manner.  Two ladies were my fellow-passengers, an old one and a young one.  This is exactly what passed.  You may judge from it the precise length of the suspense:  Suddenly we were off the rail, and beating the ground as the car of a half-emptied balloon might.  The old lady cried out, “My God!” and the young one screamed.  I caught hold of them both (the old lady sat opposite and the young one on my left), and said:  “We can’t help ourselves, but we can be quiet and composed.  Pray don’t cry out.”  The old lady immediately answered:  “Thank you.  Rely upon me.  Upon my soul I will be quiet.”  We were then all tilted down together in a corner of the carriage, and stopped.  I said to them thereupon:  “You may be sure nothing worse can happen.  Our danger must be over.  Will you remain here without stirring, while I get out of the window?” They both answered quite collectedly, “Yes,” and I got out without the least notion what had happened.  Fortunately I got out with great caution and stood upon the step.  Looking down I saw the bridge gone, and nothing below me but the line of rail.  Some people in the two other compartments were madly trying to plunge out at window, and had no idea that there was an open swampy field fifteen feet down below them, and nothing else!  The two guards (one with his face cut) were running up and down on the down side of the bridge (which was not torn up) quite wildly.  I called out to them:  “Look at me.  Do stop an instant and look at me, and tell me whether you don’t know me.”  One of them answered:  “We know you very well, Mr. Dickens.”  “Then,” I said, “my good fellow, for God’s sake give me your key, and send one of those labourers here, and I’ll empty this carriage.”  We did it quite safely, by means of a plank or two, and when it was done I saw all the rest of the train, except the two baggage vans, down in the stream.  I got into the carriage again for my brandy flask, took off my travelling hat for a basin, climbed down the brickwork, and filled my hat with water.

Suddenly I came upon a staggering man covered with blood (I think he must have been flung clean out of his carriage), with such a frightful cut across the skull that I couldn’t bear to look at him.  I poured some water over his face and gave him some to drink, then gave him some brandy, and laid him down on the grass, and he said, “I am gone,” and died afterwards.  Then I stumbled over a lady lying on her back against a little pollard-tree, with the blood streaming over her face (which was lead colour) in a number of distinct little streams from the head.  I asked her if she could swallow a little brandy and she just nodded, and I gave her some and left her for somebody else.  The next time I passed her she was dead.  Then a man, examined at the inquest yesterday (who evidently had not the least remembrance of what really passed), came running up to me and implored me to help him find his wife, who was afterwards found dead.  No imagination can conceive the ruin of the carriages, or the extraordinary weights under which the people were lying, or the complications into which they were twisted up among iron and wood, and mud and water.

I don’t want to be examined at the inquest, and I don’t want to write about it.  I could do no good either way, and I could only seem to speak about myself, which, of course, I would rather not do.  I am keeping very quiet here.  I have a ­I don’t know what to call it ­constitutional (I suppose) presence of mind, and was not in the least fluttered at the time.  I instantly remembered that I had the MS. of a number with me, and clambered back into the carriage for it.  But in writing these scanty words of recollection I feel the shake and am obliged to stop.

Ever faithfully.

Mr. Walter Jones.

GAD’S HILL PLACE, HIGHAM BY ROCHESTER, KENT,
Saturday, June 17th, 1865.

SIR,

I beg you to assure the Committee of the Newsvendors’ Benevolent and Provident Institution, that I have been deeply affected by their special remembrance of me in my late escape from death or mutilation, and that I thank them with my whole heart.

Faithfully yours and theirs.

Mrs. Hulkes.

GAD’S HILL, Sunday, June 18th, 1865.

MY DEAR MRS. HULKES,

I return the Examiner with many thanks.  The account is true, except that I had brandy.  By an extraordinary chance I had a bottle and a half with me.  I slung the half-bottle round my neck, and carried my hat full of water in my hands.  But I can understand the describer (whoever he is) making the mistake in perfect good faith, and supposing that I called for brandy, when I really called to the others who were helping:  “I have brandy here.”  The Mr. Dickenson mentioned had changed places with a Frenchman, who did not like the window down, a few minutes before the accident.  The Frenchman was killed, and a labourer and I got Mr. Dickenson out of a most extraordinary heap of dark ruins, in which he was jammed upside down.  He was bleeding at the eyes, ears, nose, and mouth; but he didn’t seem to know that afterwards, and of course I didn’t tell him.  In the moment of going over the viaduct the whole of his pockets were shaken empty!  He had no watch, no chain, no money, no pocket-book, no handkerchief, when we got him out.  He had been choking a quarter of an hour when I heard him groaning.  If I had not had the brandy to give him at the moment, I think he would have been done for.  As it was, I brought him up to London in the carriage with me, and couldn’t make him believe he was hurt.  He was the first person whom the brandy saved.  As I ran back to the carriage for the whole full bottle, I saw the first two people I had helped lying dead.  A bit of shade from the hot sun, into which we got the unhurt ladies, soon had as many dead in it as living.

Faithfully yours always.

Mr. Arthur Ryland.

GAD’S HILL PLACE, HIGHAM BY ROCHESTER, KENT,
Wednesday, June 21st, 1865.

MY DEAR MR. RYLAND,

I need not assure you that I regard the unanimous desire of the Town Council Committee as a great honour, and that I feel the strongest interest in the occasion, and the strongest wish to associate myself with it.

But, after careful consideration, I most unwillingly come to the conclusion that I must decline.  At the time in question I shall, please God, either have just finished, or be just finishing, my present book.  Country rest and reflection will then be invaluable to me, before casting about for Christmas.  I am a little shaken in my nervous system by the terrible and affecting incidents of the late railway accident, from which I bodily escaped.  I am withdrawing myself from engagements of all kinds, in order that I may pursue my story with the comfortable sense of being perfectly free while it is a-doing, and when it is done.  The consciousness of having made this engagement would, if I were to make it, render such sense incomplete, and so open the way to others.  This is the real state of the case, and the whole reason for my declining.

Faithfully yours always.

Mrs. Lehmann.

GAD’S HILL PLACE, HIGHAM BY ROCHESTER, KENT,
Tuesday, June 29th, 1865.

DEAR MRS. LEHMANN,

Come (with self and partner) on either of the days you name, and you will be heartily welcomed by the humble youth who now addresses you, and will then cast himself at your feet.

I am quite right again, I thank God, and have even got my voice back; I most unaccountably brought somebody else’s out of that terrible scene.  The directors have sent me a Resolution of Thanks for assistance to the unhappy passengers.

With kind regards to Lehmann, ever yours.

Mr. Percy Fitzgerald.

OFFICE OF “ALL THE YEAR ROUND,”
Friday, July 7th, 1865.

MY DEAR FITZGERALD,

I shall be delighted to see you at Gad’s Hill on Sunday, and I hope you will bring a bag with you and will not think of returning to London at night.

We are a small party just now, for my daughter Mary has been decoyed to Andover for the election week, in the Conservative interest; think of my feelings as a Radical parent!  The wrong-headed member and his wife are the friends with whom she hunts, and she helps to receive (and deceive) the voters, which is very awful!

But in the week after next we shall be in great croquet force.  I shall hope to persuade you to come back to us then for a few days, and we will try to make you some amends for a dull Sunday.  Turn it over in your mind and try to manage it.

Sincerely yours ever.

Professor Owen‚ F.R.S.

GAD’S HILL, Wednesday, July 12th, 1865.

MY DEAR OWEN,

Studying the gorilla last night for the twentieth time, it suddenly came into my head that I had never thanked you for that admirable treatise.  This is to bear witness to my blushes and repentance.  If you knew how much interest it has awakened in me, and how often it has set me a-thinking, you would consider me a more thankless beast than any gorilla that ever lived.  But happily you do not know, and I am not going to tell you.

Believe me, ever faithfully yours.

The Earl Russell.

GAD’S HILL PLACE, HIGHAM BY ROCHESTER, KENT,
Wednesday, Auth, 1865.

MY DEAR LORD RUSSELL,

Mr. Dallas, who is a candidate for the Scotch professional chair left vacant by Aytoun’s death, has asked me if I would object to introduce to you the first volume of a book he has in the press with my publishers, on “The Gay Science of Art and Criticism.”  I have replied I would not object, as I have read as many of the sheets as I could get, with extreme pleasure, and as I know you will find it a very winning and brilliant piece of writing.  Therefore he will send the proofs of the volume to you as soon as he can get them from the printer (at about the end of this week I take it), and if you read them you will not be hard upon me for bearing the responsibility of his doing so, I feel assured.

I suppose Mr. Dallas to have some impression that his pleasing you with his book might advance his Scottish suit.  But all I know is, that he is a gentleman of great attainments and erudition, much distinguished as the writer of the best critical literary pieces in The Times, and thoroughly versed in the subjects which Professor Aytoun represented officially.

I beg to send my regard to Lady Russell and all the house, and am ever, my dear Lord Russell,

Your faithful and obliged.

P.S. ­I am happy to report that my sailor-boy’s captain, relinquishing his ship on sick leave, departs from the mere form of certificate given to all the rest, and adds that his obedience to orders is remarkable, and that he is a highly intelligent and promising young officer.

Mr. Marcus Stone.

HOTEL DU HELDER, PARIS, Wednesday, Septh, 1865.

MY DEAR MARCUS,

I leave here to-morrow, and propose going to the office by tidal train next Saturday evening.  Through the whole of next week, on and off, I shall be at the office; when not there, at Gad’s; but much oftener at the office.  The sooner I can know about the subjects you take for illustration the better, as I can then fill the list of illustrations to the second volume for the printer, and enable him to make up his last sheet.  Necessarily that list is now left blank, as I cannot give him the titles of the subjects, not knowing them myself.

It has been fearfully hot on this side, but is something cooler.

Ever affectionately yours.

P.S. ­On glancing over this note, I find it very like the king’s love-letter in “Ruy Blas.”  “Madam, there is a high wind.  I have shot six wolves.”

I think the frontispiece to the second volume should be the dustyard with the three mounds, and Mr. Boffin digging up the Dutch bottle, and Venus restraining Wegg’s ardour to get at him.  Or Mr. Boffin might be coming down with the bottle, and Venus might be dragging Wegg out of the way as described.

Mr. Percy Fitzgerald.

OFFICE OF “ALL THE YEAR ROUND,”
Saturday, Seprd, 1865.

MY DEAR FITZGERALD,

I cannot thank you too much for Sultan.  He is a noble fellow, has fallen into the ways of the family with a grace and dignity that denote the gentleman, and came down to the railway a day or two since to welcome me home (it was our first meeting), with a profound absence of interest in my individual opinion of him which captivated me completely.  I am going home to-day to take him about the country, and improve his acquaintance.  You will find a perfect understanding between us, I hope, when you next come to Gad’s Hill. (He has only swallowed Bouncer once, and temporarily.)

Your hint that you were getting on with your story and liked it was more than golden intelligence to me in foreign parts.  The intensity of the heat, both in Paris and the provinces, was such that I found nothing else so refreshing in the course of my rambles.

With many more thanks for the dog than my sheet of paper would hold,

Believe me, ever very faithfully yours.

Mrs. Procter.

GAD’S HILL PLACE, HIGHAM BY ROCHESTER, KENT,
Septh, 1865.

MY DEAR MRS. PROCTER,

I have written the little introduction, and have sent it to my printer, in order that you may read it without trouble.  But if you would like to keep the few pages of MS., of course they are yours.

It is brief, and I have aimed at perfect simplicity, and an avoidance of all that your beloved Adelaide would have wished avoided.  Do not expect too much from it.  If there should be anything wrong in fact, or anything that you would like changed for any reason, of course you will tell me so, and of course you will not deem it possible that you can trouble me by making any such request most freely.

You will probably receive the proof either on Friday or Saturday.  Don’t write to me until you have read it.  In the meantime I send you back the two books, with the two letters in the bound one.

                           With love to Procter,
                                        Ever your affectionate Friend.

Mr. Edmund Yates.

HOTEL DU HELDER, PARIS, Wednesday, Septh, 1865.

MY DEAR EDMUND,

I leave here to-morrow and purpose being at the office on Saturday night; all next week I shall be there, off and on ­“off” meaning Gad’s Hill; the office will be my last address.  The heat has been excessive on this side of the Channel, and I got a slight sunstroke last Thursday, and was obliged to be doctored and put to bed for a day; but, thank God, I am all right again.  The man who sells the tisane on the Boulevards can’t keep the flies out of his glasses, and as he wears them on his red velvet bands, the flies work themselves into the ends of the tumblers, trying to get through and tickle the man.  If fly life were long enough, I think they would at last.  Three paving blouses came to work at the corner of this street last Monday, pulled up a bit of road, sat down to look at it, and fell asleep.  On Tuesday one of the blouses spat on his hands and seemed to be going to begin, but didn’t.  The other two have shown no sign of life whatever.  This morning the industrious one ate a loaf.  You may rely upon this as the latest news from the French capital.

Faithfully ever.

Mr. William Charles Kent.

26, WELLINGTON STREET, Monday, Noth, 1865.

MY DEAR KENT,

No, I won’t write in this book, because I have sent another to the binder’s for you.

I have been unwell with a relaxed throat, or I should have written to you sooner to thank you for your dedication, to assure you that it heartily, most heartily, gratifies me, as the sincere tribute of a true and generous heart, and to tell you that I have been charmed with your book itself.  I am proud of having given a name to anything so picturesque, so sympathetic and spirited.

I hope and believe the “Doctor” is nothing but a good ’un.  He has perfectly astonished Forster, who writes:  “Neither good, gooder, nor goodest, but super-excellent; all through there is such a relish of you at your best, as I could not have believed in, after a long story.”

I shall be charmed to see you to-night.

Ever affectionately.

M. de Cerjat.

                    GAD’S HILL PLACE, HIGHAM BY ROCHESTER, KENT,
                                                November 13th, 1865.

EXTRACT.

MY DEAR CERJAT,

Having achieved my book and my Christmas number, and having shaken myself after two years’ work, I send you my annual greeting.  How are you?  Asthmatic, I know you will reply; but as my poor father (who was asthmatic, too, and the jolliest of men) used philosophically to say, “one must have something wrong, I suppose, and I like to know what it is.”

In England we are groaning under the brigandage of the butcher, which is being carried to that height that I think I foresee resistance on the part of the middle-class, and some combination in perspective for abolishing the middleman, whensoever he turns up (which is everywhere) between producer and consumer.  The cattle plague is the butcher’s stalking-horse, and it is unquestionably worse than it was; but seeing that the great majority of creatures lost or destroyed have been cows, and likewise that the rise in butchers’ meat bears no reasonable proportion to the market prices of the beasts, one comes to the conclusion that the public is done.  The commission has ended very weakly and ineffectually, as such things in England rather frequently do; and everybody writes to The Times, and nobody does anything else.

If the Americans don’t embroil us in a war before long it will not be their fault.  What with their swagger and bombast, what with their claims for indemnification, what with Ireland and Fenianism, and what with Canada, I have strong apprehensions.  With a settled animosity towards the French usurper, I believe him to have always been sound in his desire to divide the States against themselves, and that we were unsound and wrong in “letting I dare not wait upon I would.”  The Jamaica insurrection is another hopeful piece of business.  That platform-sympathy with the black ­or the native, or the devil ­afar off, and that platform indifference to our own countrymen at enormous odds in the midst of bloodshed and savagery, makes me stark wild.  Only the other day, here was a meeting of jawbones of asses at Manchester, to censure the Jamaica Governor for his manner of putting down the insurrection!  So we are badgered about New Zealanders and Hottentots, as if they were identical with men in clean shirts at Camberwell, and were to be bound by pen and ink accordingly.  So Exeter Hall holds us in mortal submission to missionaries, who (Livingstone always excepted) are perfect nuisances, and leave every place worse than they found it.

Of all the many evidences that are visible of our being ill-governed, no one is so remarkable to me as our ignorance of what is going on under our Government.  What will future generations think of that enormous Indian Mutiny being ripened without suspicion, until whole regiments arose and killed their officers?  A week ago, red tape, half-bouncing and half pooh-poohing what it bounced at, would have scouted the idea of a Dublin jail not being able to hold a political prisoner.  But for the blacks in Jamaica being over-impatient and before their time, the whites might have been exterminated, without a previous hint or suspicion that there was anything amiss. Laissez aller, and Britons never, never, never! ­

Meantime, if your honour were in London, you would see a great embankment rising high and dry out of the Thames on the Middlesex shore, from Westminster Bridge to Blackfriars.  A really fine work, and really getting on.  Moreover, a great system of drainage.  Another really fine work, and likewise really getting on.  Lastly, a muddle of railways in all directions possible and impossible, with no general public scheme, no general public supervision, enormous waste of money, no fixable responsibility, no accountability but under Lord Campbell’s Act.  I think of that accident in which I was preserved.  Before the most furious and notable train in the four-and-twenty hours, the head of a gang of workmen takes up the rails.  That train changes its time every day as the tide changes, and that head workman is not provided by the railway company with any clock or watch!  Lord Shaftesbury wrote to me to ask me what I thought of an obligation on railway companies to put strong walls to all bridges and viaducts.  I told him, of course, that the force of such a shock would carry away anything that any company could set up, and I added:  “Ask the minister what he thinks about the votes of the railway interest in the House of Commons, and about his being afraid to lay a finger on it with an eye to his majority.”

I seem to be grumbling, but I am in the best of humours.  All goes well with me and mine, thank God.

Last night my gardener came upon a man in the garden and fired.  The man returned the compliment by kicking him in the groin and causing him great pain.  I set off, with a great mastiff-bloodhound I have, in pursuit.  Couldn’t find the evil-doer, but had the greatest difficulty in preventing the dog from tearing two policemen down.  They were coming towards us with professional mystery, and he was in the air on his way to the throat of an eminently respectable constable when I caught him.

My daughter Mary and her aunt Georgina send kindest regard and remembrance.  Katey and her husband are going to try London this winter, but I rather doubt (for they are both delicate) their being able to weather it out.  It has been blowing here tremendously for a fortnight, but to-day is like a spring day, and plenty of roses are growing over the labourers’ cottages.  The Great Eastern lies at her moorings beyond the window where I write these words; looks very dull and unpromising.  A dark column of smoke from Chatham Dockyard, where the iron shipbuilding is in progress, has a greater significance in it, I fancy.

Miss Dickens.

GAD’S HILL PLACE, HIGHAM BY ROCHESTER, KENT,
Tuesday, Noth, 1865.

MY DEAREST MAMIE,

As you want to know my views of the Sphinx, here they are.  But I have only seen it once; and it is so extraordinarily well done, that it ought to be observed closely several times.

Anyone who attentively notices the flower trick will see that the two little high tables hung with drapery cover each a trap.  Each of those tables, during that trick, hides a confederate, who changes the paper cone twice.  When the cone has been changed as often as is required, the trap is closed and the table can be moved.

When the curtain is removed for the performance of the Sphinx trick, there is a covered, that is, draped table on the stage, which is never seen before or afterwards.  In front of the middle of it, and between it and the audience, stands one of those little draped tables covering a trap; this is a third trap in the centre of the stage.  The box for the head is then upon IT, and the conjuror takes it off and shows it.  The man whose head is afterwards shown in that box is, I conceive, in the table; that is to say, is lying on his chest in the thickness of the table, in an extremely constrained attitude.  To get him into the table, and to enable him to use the trap in the table through which his head comes into the box, the two hands of a confederate are necessary.  That confederate comes up a trap, and stands in the space afforded by the interval below the stage and the height of the little draped table! his back is towards the audience.  The moment he has assisted the hidden man sufficiently, he closes the trap, and the conjuror then immediately removes the little draped table, and also the drapery of the larger table; when he places the box on the last-named table with the slide on for the head to come into it, he stands with his back to the audience and his face to the box, and masks the box considerably to facilitate the insertion of the head.  As soon as he knows the head to be in its place, he undraws the slide.  When the verses have been spoken and the trick is done, he loses no time in replacing the slide.  The curtain is then immediately dropped, because the man cannot otherwise be got out of the table, and has no doubt had quite enough of it.  With kindest regards to all at Penton,

Ever your most affectionate.