Fuller’s Hotel, Washington, Monday, March 14th, 1842.
My dear Felton,
I was more delighted than I can possibly tell you, to receive (last Saturday night) your welcome letter. We and the oysters missed you terribly in New York. You carried away with you more than half the delight and pleasure of my New World; and I heartily wish you could bring it back again.
There are very interesting men in this place—highly interesting, of course—but it’s not a comfortable place; is it? If spittle could wait at table we should be nobly attended, but as that property has not been imparted to it in the present state of mechanical science, we are rather lonely and orphan-like, in respect of “being looked arter.” A blithe black was introduced on our arrival, as our peculiar and especial attendant. He is the only gentleman in the town who has a peculiar delicacy in intruding upon my valuable time. It usually takes seven rings and a threatening message from —— to produce him; and when he comes he goes to fetch something, and, forgetting it by the way, comes back no more.
We have been in great distress, really in distress, at the non-arrival of the Caledonia. You may conceive what our joy was, when, while we were dining out yesterday, H. arrived with the joyful intelligence of her safety. The very news of her having really arrived seemed to diminish the distance between ourselves and home, by one half at least.
And this morning (though we have not yet received our heap of despatches, for which we are looking eagerly forward to this night’s mail)—this morning there reached us unexpectedly, through the Government bag (Heaven knows how they came there!), two of our many and long-looked-for letters, wherein was a circumstantial account of the whole conduct and behaviour of our pets; with marvellous narrations of Charley’s precocity at a Twelfth Night juvenile party at Macready’s; and tremendous predictions of the governess, dimly suggesting his having got out of pot-hooks and hangers, and darkly insinuating the possibility of his writing us a letter before long; and many other workings of the same prophetic spirit, in reference to him and his sisters, very gladdening to their mother’s heart, and not at all depressing to their father’s. There was, also, the doctor’s report, which was a clean bill; and the nurse’s report, which was perfectly electrifying; showing as it did how Master Walter had been weaned, and had cut a double tooth, and done many other extraordinary things, quite worthy of his high descent. In short, we were made very happy and grateful; and felt as if the prodigal father and mother had got home again.
What do you think of this incendiary card being left at my door last night? “General G. sends compliments to Mr. Dickens, and called with two literary ladies. As the two L. L.’s are ambitious of the honour of a personal introduction to Mr. D., General G. requests the honour of an appointment for to-morrow.” I draw a veil over my sufferings. They are sacred. We shall be in Buffalo, please Heaven, on the 30th of April. If I don’t find a letter from you in the care of the postmaster at that place, I’ll never write to you from England.
But if I do find one, my right hand shall forget its cunning, before I forget to be your truthful and constant correspondent; not, dear Felton, because I promised it, nor because I have a natural tendency to correspond (which is far from being the case), nor because I am truly grateful to you for, and have been made truly proud by, that affectionate and elegant tribute which —— sent me, but because you are a man after my own heart, and I love you well. And for the love I bear you, and the pleasure with which I shall always think of you, and the glow I shall feel when I see your handwriting in my own home, I hereby enter into a solemn league and covenant to write as many letters to you as you write to me, at least. Amen.
Come to England! Come to England! Our oysters are small, I know; they are said by Americans to be coppery; but our hearts are of the largest size. We are thought to excel in shrimps, to be far from despicable in point of lobsters, and in periwinkles are considered to challenge the universe. Our oysters, small though they be, are not devoid of the refreshing influence which that species of fish is supposed to exercise in these latitudes. Try them and compare.
Mr. Washington Irving.
Washington, Monday Afternoon, March 21st, 1842.
My dear Irving,
We passed through—literally passed through—this place again to-day. I did not come to see you, for I really have not the heart to say “good-bye” again, and felt more than I can tell you when we shook hands last Wednesday.
You will not be at Baltimore, I fear? I thought, at the time, that you only said you might be there, to make our parting the gayer.
Wherever you go, God bless you! What pleasure I have had in seeing and talking with you, I will not attempt to say. I shall never forget it as long as I live. What would I give, if we could have but a quiet week together! Spain is a lazy place, and its climate an indolent one. But if you have ever leisure under its sunny skies to think of a man who loves you, and holds communion with your spirit oftener, perhaps, than any other person alive—leisure from listlessness, I mean—and will write to me in London, you will give me an inexpressible amount of pleasure.
Your affectionate friend.
Montreal, Saturday, 21st May, 1842.
My dear Felton,
I was delighted to receive your letter yesterday, and was well pleased with its contents. I anticipated objection to Carlyle’s letter. I called particular attention to it for three reasons. Firstly, because he boldly said what all the others think, and therefore deserved to be manfully supported. Secondly, because it is my deliberate opinion that I have been assailed on this subject in a manner in which no man with any pretensions to public respect or with the remotest right to express an opinion on a subject of universal literary interest would be assailed in any other country. . . . .
I really cannot sufficiently thank you, dear Felton, for your warm and hearty interest in these proceedings. But it would be idle to pursue that theme, so let it pass.
The wig and whiskers are in a state of the highest preservation. The play comes off next Wednesday night, the 25th. What would I give to see you in the front row of the centre box, your spectacles gleaming not unlike those of my dear friend Pickwick, your face radiant with as broad a grin as a staid professor may indulge in, and your very coat, waistcoat, and shoulders expressive of what we should take together when the performance was over! I would give something (not so much, but still a good round sum) if you could only stumble into that very dark and dusty theatre in the daytime (at any minute between twelve and three), and see me with my coat off, the stage manager and universal director, urging impracticable ladies and impossible gentlemen on to the very confines of insanity, shouting and driving about, in my own person, to an extent which would justify any philanthropic stranger in clapping me into a strait-waistcoat without further inquiry, endeavouring to goad H. into some dim and faint understanding of a prompter’s duties, and struggling in such a vortex of noise, dirt, bustle, confusion, and inextricable entanglement of speech and action as you would grow giddy in contemplating. We perform “A Roland for an Oliver,” “A Good Night’s Rest,” and “Deaf as a Post.” This kind of voluntary hard labour used to be my great delight. The furor has come strong upon me again, and I begin to be once more of opinion that nature intended me for the lessee of a national theatre, and that pen, ink, and paper have spoiled a manager.
Oh, how I look forward across that rolling water to home and its small tenantry! How I busy myself in thinking how my books look, and where the tables are, and in what positions the chairs stand relatively to the other furniture; and whether we shall get there in the night, or in the morning, or in the afternoon; and whether we shall be able to surprise them, or whether they will be too sharply looking out for us; and what our pets will say; and how they’ll look, and who will be the first to come and shake hands, and so forth! If I could but tell you how I have set my heart on rushing into Forster’s study (he is my great friend, and writes at the bottom of all his letters: “My love to Felton”), and into Maclise’s painting-room, and into Macready’s managerial ditto, without a moment’s warning, and how I picture every little trait and circumstance of our arrival to myself, down to the very colour of the bow on the cook’s cap, you would almost think I had changed places with my eldest son, and was still in pantaloons of the thinnest texture. I left all these things—God only knows what a love I have for them—as coolly and calmly as any animated cucumber; but when I come upon them again I shall have lost all power of self-restraint, and shall as certainly make a fool of myself (in the popular meaning of that expression) as ever Grimaldi did in his way, or George the Third in his.
And not the less so, dear Felton, for having found some warm hearts, and left some instalments of earnest and sincere affection, behind me on this continent. And whenever I turn my mental telescope hitherward, trust me that one of the first figures it will descry will wear spectacles so like yours that the maker couldn’t tell the difference, and shall address a Greek class in such an exact imitation of your voice, that the very students hearing it should cry, “That’s he! Three cheers. Hoo-ray-ay-ay-ay-ay!”
About those joints of yours, I think you are mistaken. They can’t be stiff. At the worst they merely want the air of New York, which, being impregnated with the flavour of last year’s oysters, has a surprising effect in rendering the human frame supple and flexible in all cases of rust.
A terrible idea occurred to me as I wrote those words. The oyster-cellars—what do they do when oysters are not in season? Is pickled salmon vended there? Do they sell crabs, shrimps, winkles, herrings? The oyster-openers—what do they do? Do they commit suicide in despair, or wrench open tight drawers and cupboards and hermetically-sealed bottles for practice? Perhaps they are dentists out of the oyster season. Who knows?
1, Devonshire Terrace, York Gate, Regent’s Park,
London, Sunday, July 31st, 1842.
My dear Felton,
Of all the monstrous and incalculable amount of occupation that ever beset one unfortunate man, mine has been the most stupendous since I came home. The dinners I have had to eat, the places I have had to go to, the letters I have had to answer, the sea of business and of pleasure in which I have been plunged, not even the genius of an —— or the pen of a —— could describe.
Wherefore I indite a monstrously short and wildly uninteresting epistle to the American Dando; but perhaps you don’t know who Dando was. He was an oyster-eater, my dear Felton. He used to go into oyster-shops, without a farthing of money, and stand at the counter eating natives, until the man who opened them grew pale, cast down his knife, staggered backward, struck his white forehead with his open hand, and cried, “You are Dando!!!” He has been known to eat twenty dozen at one sitting, and would have eaten forty, if the truth had not flashed upon the shopkeeper. For these offences he was constantly committed to the House of Correction. During his last imprisonment he was taken ill, got worse and worse, and at last began knocking violent double knocks at Death’s door. The doctor stood beside his bed, with his fingers on his pulse. “He is going,” says the doctor. “I see it in his eye. There is only one thing that would keep life in him for another hour, and that is—oysters.” They were immediately brought. Dando swallowed eight, and feebly took a ninth. He held it in his mouth and looked round the bed strangely. “Not a bad one, is it?” says the doctor. The patient shook his head, rubbed his trembling hand upon his stomach, bolted the oyster, and fell back—dead. They buried him in the prison-yard, and paved his grave with oyster-shells.
We are all well and hearty, and have already begun to wonder what time next year you and Mrs. Felton and Dr. Howe will come across the briny sea together. To-morrow we go to the seaside for two months. I am looking out for news of Longfellow, and shall be delighted when I know that he is on his way to London and this house.
I am bent upon striking at the piratical newspapers with the sharpest edge I can put upon my small axe, and hope in the next session of Parliament to stop their entrance into Canada. For the first time within the memory of man, the professors of English literature seem disposed to act together on this question. It is a good thing to aggravate a scoundrel, if one can do nothing else, and I think we can make them smart a little in this way. . . . .
I wish you had been at Greenwich the other day, where a party of friends gave me a private dinner; public ones I have refused. C—— was perfectly wild at the reunion, and, after singing all manner of marine songs, wound up the entertainment by coming home (six miles) in a little open phaeton of mine, on his head, to the mingled delight and indignation of the metropolitan police. We were very jovial indeed; and I assure you that I drank your health with fearful vigour and energy.
On board that ship coming home I established a club, called the United Vagabonds, to the large amusement of the rest of the passengers. This holy brotherhood committed all kinds of absurdities, and dined always, with a variety of solemn forms, at one end of the table, below the mast, away from all the rest. The captain being ill when we were three or four days out, I produced my medicine-chest and recovered him. We had a few more sick men after that, and I went round “the wards” every day in great state, accompanied by two Vagabonds, habited as Ben Allen and Bob Sawyer, bearing enormous rolls of plaster and huge pairs of scissors. We were really very merry all the way, breakfasted in one party at Liverpool, shook hands, and parted most cordially. . . . .
Affectionately your faithful friend.
P.S.—I have looked over my journal, and have decided to produce my American trip in two volumes. I have written about half the first since I came home, and hope to be out in October. This is “exclusive news,” to be communicated to any friends to whom you may like to intrust it, my dear F——.
1, Devonshire Terrace, York Gate, Regent’s Park,
London, September 1st, 1842.
My dear Felton,
Of course that letter in the papers was as foul a forgery as ever felon swung for. . . . . I have not contradicted it publicly, nor shall I. When I tilt at such wringings out of the dirtiest mortality, I shall be another man—indeed, almost the creature they would make me.
I gave your message to Forster, who sends a despatch-box full of kind remembrances in return. He is in a great state of delight with the first volume of my American book (which I have just finished), and swears loudly by it. It is True and Honourable I know, and I shall hope to send it you, complete, by the first steamer in November.
Your description of the porter and the carpet-bags prepares me for a first-rate facetious novel, brimful of the richest humour, on which I have no doubt you are engaged. What is it called? Sometimes I imagine the title-page thus:
As to the man putting the luggage on his head, as a sort of sign, I adopt it from this hour.
I date this from London, where I have come, as a good profligate, graceless bachelor, for a day or two; leaving my wife and babbies at the seaside. . . . . Heavens! if you were but here at this minute! A piece of salmon and a steak are cooking in the kitchen; it’s a very wet day, and I have had a fire lighted; the wine sparkles on a side table; the room looks the more snug from being the only undismantled one in the house; plates are warming for Forster and Maclise, whose knock I am momentarily expecting; that groom I told you of, who never comes into the house, except when we are all out of town, is walking about in his shirt-sleeves without the smallest consciousness of impropriety; a great mound of proofs are waiting to be read aloud, after dinner. With what a shout I would clap you down into the easiest chair, my genial Felton, if you could but appear, and order you a pair of slippers instantly!
Since I have written this, the aforesaid groom—a very small man (as the fashion is), with fiery red hair (as the fashion is not)—has looked very hard at me and fluttered about me at the same time, like a giant butterfly. After a pause, he says, in a Sam Wellerish kind of way: “I vent to the club this mornin’, sir. There vorn’t no letters, sir.” “Very good, Topping.” “How’s missis, sir?” “Pretty well, Topping.” “Glad to hear it, sir. My missis ain’t wery well, sir.” “No!” “No, sir, she’s a goin’, sir, to have a hincrease wery soon, and it makes her rather nervous, sir; and ven a young voman gets at all down at sich a time, sir, she goes down wery deep, sir.” To this sentiment I replied affirmatively, and then he adds, as he stirs the fire (as if he were thinking out loud): “Wot a mystery it is! Wot a go is natur’!” With which scrap of philosophy, he gradually gets nearer to the door, and so fades out of the room.
This same man asked me one day, soon after I came home, what Sir John Wilson was. This is a friend of mine, who took our house and servants, and everything as it stood, during our absence in America. I told him an officer. “A wot, sir?” “An officer.” And then, for fear he should think I meant a police-officer, I added, “An officer in the army.” “I beg your pardon, sir,” he said, touching his hat, “but the club as I always drove him to wos the United Servants.”
The real name of this club is the United Service, but I have no doubt he thought it was a high-life-below-stairs kind of resort, and that this gentleman was a retired butler or superannuated footman.
There’s the knock, and the Great Western sails, or steams rather, to-morrow. Write soon again, dear Felton, and ever believe me. . . . .
Your affectionate friend.
P.S.—All good angels prosper Dr. Howe! He, at least, will not like me the less, I hope, for what I shall say of Laura.
1, Devonshire Terrace, York Gate, Regent’s Park,
London, 31st December, 1842.
My dear Felton,
Many and many happy New Years to you and yours! As many happy children as may be quite convenient (no more!), and as many happy meetings between them and our children, and between you and us, as the kind fates in their utmost kindness shall favourably decree!
The American book (to begin with that) has been a most complete and thorough-going success. Four large editions have now been sold and paid for, and it has won golden opinions from all sorts of men, except our friend in F——, who is a miserable creature; a disappointed man in great poverty, to whom I have ever been most kind and considerate (I need scarcely say that); and another friend in B——, no less a person than an illustrious gentleman named ——, who wrote a story called ——. They have done no harm, and have fallen short of their mark, which, of course, was to annoy me. Now I am perfectly free from any diseased curiosity in such respects, and whenever I hear of a notice of this kind, I never read it; whereby I always conceive (don’t you?) that I get the victory. With regard to your slave-owners, they may cry, till they are as black in the face as their own slaves, that Dickens lies. Dickens does not write for their satisfaction, and Dickens will not explain for their comfort. Dickens has the name and date of every newspaper in which every one of those advertisements appeared, as they know perfectly well; but Dickens does not choose to give them, and will not at any time between this and the day of judgment. . . . .
I have been hard at work on my new book, of which the first number has just appeared. The Paul Joneses who pursue happiness and profit at other men’s cost will no doubt enable you to read it, almost as soon as you receive this. I hope you will like it. And I particularly commend, my dear Felton, one Mr. Pecksniff and his daughters to your tender regards. I have a kind of liking for them myself.
Blessed star of morning, such a trip as we had into Cornwall, just after Longfellow went away! The “we” means Forster, Maclise, Stanfield (the renowned marine painter), and the Inimitable Boz. We went down into Devonshire by the railroad, and there we hired an open carriage from an innkeeper, patriotic in all Pickwick matters, and went on with post-horses. Sometimes we travelled all night, sometimes all day, sometimes both. I kept the joint-stock purse, ordered all the dinners, paid all the turnpikes, conducted facetious conversations with the post-boys, and regulated the pace at which we travelled. Stanfield (an old sailor) consulted an enormous map on all disputed points of wayfaring; and referred, moreover, to a pocket-compass and other scientific instruments. The luggage was in Forster’s department; and Maclise, having nothing particular to do, sang songs. Heavens! If you could have seen the necks of bottles—distracting in their immense varieties of shape—peering out of the carriage pockets! If you could have witnessed the deep devotion of the post-boys, the wild attachment of the hostlers, the maniac glee of the waiters! If you could have followed us into the earthy old churches we visited, and into the strange caverns on the gloomy sea-shore, and down into the depths of mines, and up to the tops of giddy heights where the unspeakably green water was roaring, I don’t know how many hundred feet below! If you could have seen but one gleam of the bright fires by which we sat in the big rooms of ancient inns at night, until long after the small hours had come and gone, or smelt but one steam of the hot punch (not white, dear Felton, like that amazing compound I sent you a taste of, but a rich, genial, glowing brown) which came in every evening in a huge broad china bowl! I never laughed in my life as I did on this journey. It would have done you good to hear me. I was choking and gasping and bursting the buckle off the back of my stock, all the way. And Stanfield (who is very much of your figure and temperament, but fifteen years older) got into such apoplectic entanglements that we were often obliged to beat him on the back with portmanteaus before we could recover him. Seriously, I do believe there never was such a trip. And they made such sketches, those two men, in the most romantic of our halting-places, that you would have sworn we had the Spirit of Beauty with us, as well as the Spirit of Fun. But stop till you come to England—I say no more.
The actuary of the national debt couldn’t calculate the number of children who are coming here on Twelfth Night, in honour of Charley’s birthday, for which occasion I have provided a magic lantern and divers other tremendous engines of that nature. But the best of it is that Forster and I have purchased between us the entire stock-in-trade of a conjurer, the practice and display whereof is intrusted to me. And O my dear eyes, Felton, if you could see me conjuring the company’s watches into impossible tea-caddies, and causing pieces of money to fly, and burning pocket-handkerchiefs without hurting ’em, and practising in my own room, without anybody to admire, you would never forget it as long as you live. In those tricks which require a confederate, I am assisted (by reason of his imperturbable good humour) by Stanfield, who always does his part exactly the wrong way, to the unspeakable delight of all beholders. We come out on a small scale, to-night, at Forster’s, where we see the old year out and the new one in. Particulars shall be forwarded in my next.
I have quite made up my mind that F—— really believes he does know you personally, and has all his life. He talks to me about you with such gravity that I am afraid to grin, and feel it necessary to look quite serious. Sometimes he tells me things about you, doesn’t ask me, you know, so that I am occasionally perplexed beyond all telling, and begin to think it was he, and not I, who went to America. It’s the queerest thing in the world.
The book I was to have given Longfellow for you is not worth sending by itself, being only a Barnaby. But I will look up some manuscript for you (I think I have that of the American Notes complete), and will try to make the parcel better worth its long conveyance. With regard to Maclise’s pictures, you certainly are quite right in your impression of them; but he is “such a discursive devil” (as he says about himself) and flies off at such odd tangents, that I feel it difficult to convey to you any general notion of his purpose. I will try to do so when I write again. I want very much to know about —— and that charming girl. . . . . Give me full particulars. Will you remember me cordially to Sumner, and say I thank him for his welcome letter? The like to Hillard, with many regards to himself and his wife, with whom I had one night a little conversation which I shall not readily forget. The like to Washington Allston, and all friends who care for me and have outlived my book. . . . . Always, my dear Felton,
With true regard and affection, yours.
Mr. Tom Hood.
My dear Hood,
I can’t state in figures (not very well remembering how to get beyond a million) the number of candidates for the Sanatorium matronship, but if you will ask your little boy to trace figures in the beds of your garden, beginning at the front wall, going down to the cricket-ground, coming back to the wall again, and “carrying over” to the next door, and will then set a skilful accountant to add up the whole, the product, as the Tutor’s Assistants say, will give you the amount required. I have pledged myself (being assured of her capability) to support a near relation of Miss E——’s; otherwise, I need not say how glad I should have been to forward any wish of yours.
Very faithfully yours.