Charles Dickens was, as usual, at Gad’s Hill, with a family and friendly party, at the opening of this year, and had been much shocked and distressed by the news of the sudden death of Mr. Thackeray, brought to him by friends arriving from London on the Christmas Eve of 1863, the day on which the sad event happened. He writes of it, in the first letter of the year, to Mr. Wilkie Collins, who was passing the winter in Italy. He tells him, also, of his having got well to work upon a new serial story, the first number of which (“Our Mutual Friend”) was published on the 1st of May.
The year began very sadly for Charles Dickens. On the 7th of February (his own birthday) he received the mournful announcement of the death of his second son, Walter Landor (a lieutenant in the 42nd Royal Highlanders), who had died quite suddenly at Calcutta, on the last night of the year of 1863, at the age of twenty-three. His third son, Francis Jeffrey, had started for India at the end of January.
His annual letter to M. de Cerjat contains an allusion to “another generation beginning to peep above the table”—the children of his son Charles, who had been married three years before, to Miss Bessie Evans.
In the middle of February he removed to a house in London (57, Gloucester Place, Hyde Park), where he made a stay of the usual duration, up to the middle of June, all the time being hard at work upon “Our Mutual Friend” and “All the Year Round.” Mr. Marcus Stone was the illustrator of the new monthly work, and we give a specimen of one of many letters which he wrote to him about his “subjects.”
His old friend, Mr. Charles Knight, with whom for many years Charles Dickens had dined on his birthday, was staying, this spring, in the Isle of Wight. To him he writes of the death of Walter, and of another sad death which happened at this time, and which affected him almost as much. Clara, the last surviving daughter of Mr. and Mrs. White, who had been happily married to Mr. Gordon, of Cluny, not more than two years, had just died at Bonchurch. Her father, as will be seen by the touching allusion to him in this letter, had died a short time after this daughter’s marriage.
A letter to Mr. Edmund Ollier has reference to certain additions which Charles Dickens wished him to make to an article (by Mr. Ollier) on Working Men’s Clubs, published in “All the Year Round.”
We are glad to have one letter to the Lord Chief Baron, Sir Frederick Pollock, which shows the great friendship and regard Charles Dickens had for him, and his admiration of his qualities in his judicial capacity.
We give a pleasant letter to Mrs. Storrar, for whom, and for her husband, Dr. Storrar, Charles Dickens had affectionate regard, because we are glad to have their names in our book. The letter speaks for itself and needs no explanation.
The latter part of the year was uneventful. Hard at work, he passed the summer and autumn at Gad’s Hill, taking holidays by receiving visitors at home (among them, this year, Sir J. Emerson Tennent, his wife and daughter, who were kindly urgent for his paying them a return visit in Ireland) and occasional “runs” into France. The last letters we give are his annual one to M. de Cerjat, and a graceful little New Year’s note to his dear old friend “Barry Cornwall.”
The Christmas number was “Mrs. Lirriper’s Legacy,” the first and last part written by himself, as in the case of the previous year’s “Mrs. Lirriper.”
Mr. W. Wilkie Collins.
Gad’s Hill, Monday, Jan. 24th, 1864.
My dear Wilkie,
I am horribly behindhand in answering your welcome letter; but I have been so busy, and have had the house so full for Christmas and the New Year, and have had so much to see to in getting Frank out to India, that I have not been able to settle down to a regular long letter, which I mean this to be, but which it may not turn out to be, after all.
First, I will answer your enquiries about the Christmas number and the new book. The Christmas number has been the greatest success of all; has shot ahead of last year; has sold about two hundred and twenty thousand; and has made the name of Mrs. Lirriper so swiftly and domestically famous as never was. I had a very strong belief in her when I wrote about her, finding that she made a great effect upon me; but she certainly has gone beyond my hopes. (Probably you know nothing about her? which is a very unpleasant consideration.) Of the new book, I have done the two first numbers, and am now beginning the third. It is a combination of drollery with romance which requires a great deal of pains and a perfect throwing away of points that might be amplified; but I hope it is very good. I confess, in short, that I think it is. Strange to say, I felt at first quite dazed in getting back to the large canvas and the big brushes; and even now, I have a sensation as of acting at the San Carlo after Tavistock House, which I could hardly have supposed would have come upon so old a stager.
You will have read about poor Thackeray’s death—sudden, and yet not sudden, for he had long been alarmingly ill. At the solicitation of Mr. Smith and some of his friends, I have done what I would most gladly have excused myself from doing, if I felt I could—written a couple of pages about him in what was his own magazine.
Concerning the Italian experiment, De la Rue is more hopeful than you. He and his bank are closely leagued with the powers at Turin, and he has long been devoted to Cavour; but he gave me the strongest assurances (with illustrations) of the fusion between place and place, and of the blending of small mutually antagonistic characters into one national character, progressing cheeringly and certainly. Of course there must be discouragements and discrepancies in the first struggles of a country previously so degraded and enslaved, and the time, as yet, has been very short.
I should like to have a day with you at the Coliseum, and on the Appian Way, and among the tombs, and with the Orvieto. But Rome and I are wide asunder, physically as well as morally. I wonder whether the dramatic stable, where we saw the marionettes, still receives the Roman public? And Lord! when I think of you in that hotel, how I think of poor dear Egg in the long front drawing-room, giving on to the piazza, posting up that wonderful necromantic volume which we never shall see opened!
Mr. Marcus Stone.
57, Gloucester Place, Hyde Park,
Tuesday, Feb. 23rd, 1864.
My dear Marcus,
I think the design for the cover excellent, and do not doubt its coming out to perfection. The slight alteration I am going to suggest originates in a business consideration not to be overlooked.
The word “Our” in the title must be out in the open like “Mutual Friend,” making the title three distinct large lines—”Our” as big as “Mutual Friend.” This would give you too much design at the bottom. I would therefore take out the dustman, and put the Wegg and Boffin composition (which is capital) in its place. I don’t want Mr. Inspector or the murder reward bill, because these points are sufficiently indicated in the river at the top. Therefore you can have an indication of the dustman in Mr. Inspector’s place. Note, that the dustman’s face should be droll, and not horrible. Twemlow’s elbow will still go out of the frame as it does now, and the same with Lizzie’s skirts on the opposite side. With these changes, work away!
Mrs. Boffin, as I judge of her from the sketch, “very good, indeed.” I want Boffin’s oddity, without being at all blinked, to be an oddity of a very honest kind, that people will like.
The doll’s dressmaker is immensely better than she was. I think she should now come extremely well. A weird sharpness not without beauty is the thing I want.
Mr. Charles Knight.
57, Gloucester Place, W., Tuesday, March 1st, 1864.
My dear Knight,
We knew of your being in the Isle of Wight, and had said that we should have this year to drink your health in your absence. Rely on my being always ready and happy to renew our old friendship in the flesh. In the spirit it needs no renewal, because it has no break.
Ah, poor Mrs. White! A sad, sad story! It is better for poor White that that little churchyard by the sea received his ashes a while ago, than that he should have lived to this time.
My poor boy was on his way home from an up-country station, on sick leave. He had been very ill, but was not so at the time. He was talking to some brother-officers in the Calcutta hospital about his preparations for home, when he suddenly became excited, had a rush of blood from the mouth, and was dead. His brother Frank would arrive out at Calcutta, expecting to see him after six years, and he would have been dead a month.
My “working life” is resolving itself at the present into another book, in twenty green leaves. You work like a Trojan at Ventnor, but you do that everywhere; and that’s why you are so young.
Mary and Georgina unite in kindest regard to you, and to Mrs. Knight, and to your daughters. So do I. And I am ever, my dear Knight,
P.S.—Serene View! What a placid address!
Mr. Edmund Ollier.
“All the Year Round” Office, March, 1864.
I want the article on “Working Men’s Clubs” to refer back to “The Poor Man and his Beer” in No. 1, and to maintain the principle involved in that effort.
Also, emphatically, to show that trustfulness is at the bottom of all social institutions, and that to trust a man, as one of a body of men, is to place him under a wholesome restraint of social opinion, and is a very much better thing than to make a baby of him.
Also, to point out that the rejection of beer in this club, tobacco in that club, dancing or what-not in another club, are instances that such clubs are founded on mere whims, and therefore cannot successfully address human nature in the general, and hope to last.
Also, again to urge that patronage is the curse and blight of all such endeavours, and to impress upon the working men that they must originate and manage for themselves. And to ask them the question, can they possibly show their detestation of drunkenness better, or better strive to get rid of it from among them, than to make it a hopeless disqualification in all their clubs, and a reason for expulsion.
Also, to encourage them to declare to themselves and their fellow working men that they want social rest and social recreation for themselves and their families; and that these clubs are intended for that laudable and necessary purpose, and do not need educational pretences or flourishes. Do not let them be afraid or ashamed of wanting to be amused and pleased.
The Lord Chief Baron.
57, Gloucester Place, Tuesday, March 15th, 1864.
My dear Chief Baron,
Many thanks for your kind letter, which I find on my return from a week’s holiday.
Your answer concerning poor Thackeray I will duly make known to the active spirit in that matter, Mr. Shirley Brooks.
Your kind invitation to me to come and see you and yours, and hear the nightingales, I shall not fail to discuss with Forster, and with an eye to spring. I expect to see him presently; the rather as I found a note from him when I came back yesterday, describing himself somewhat gloomily as not having been well, and as feeling a little out of heart.
It is not out of order, I hope, to remark that you have been much in my thoughts and on my lips lately? For I really have not been able to repress my admiration of the vigorous dignity and sense and spirit, with which one of the best of judges set right one of the dullest of juries in a recent case.
Believe me ever, very faithfully yours.
Mr. John Forster.
57, Gloucester Place, Tuesday, March 29th, 1864.
My dear Forster,
I meant to write to you last night, but to enable Wills to get away I had to read a book of Fitzgerald’s through before I went to bed.
Concerning Eliot, I sat down, as I told you, and read the book through with the strangest interest and the highest admiration. I believe it to be as honest, spirited, patient, reliable, and gallant a piece of biography as ever was written, the care and pains of it astonishing, the completeness of it masterly; and what I particularly feel about it is that the dignity of the man, and the dignity of the book that tells about the man, always go together, and fit each other. This same quality has always impressed me as the great leading speciality of the Goldsmith, and enjoins sympathy with the subject, knowledge of it, and pursuit of it in its own spirit; but I think it even more remarkable here. I declare that apart from the interest of having been so put into the time, and enabled to understand it, I personally feel quite as much the credit and honour done to literature by such a book. It quite clears out of the remembrance a thousand pitiful things, and sets one up in heart again. I am not surprised in the least by Bulwer’s enthusiasm. I was as confident about the effect of the book when I closed the first volume, as I was when I closed the second with a full heart. No man less in earnest than Eliot himself could have done it, and I make bold to add that it never could have been done by a man who was so distinctly born to do the work as Eliot was to do his.
Saturday at Hastings I must give up. I have wavered and considered, and considered and wavered, but if I take that sort of holiday, I must have a day to spare after it, and at this critical time I have not. If I were to lose a page of the five numbers I have purposed to myself to be ready by the publication day, I should feel that I had fallen short. I have grown hard to satisfy, and write very slowly, and I have so much bad fiction, that will be thought of when I don’t want to think of it, that I am forced to take more care than I ever took.
Gad’s Hill Place, Higham by Rochester, Kent,
Sunday Morning, May 15th, 1864.
My dear Mrs. Storrar,
Our family dinner must come off at Gad’s Hill, where I have improvements to exhibit, and where I shall be truly pleased to see you and the doctor again. I have deferred answering your note, while I have been scheming and scheming for a day between this time and our departure. But it is all in vain. My engagements have accumulated, and become such a whirl, that no day is left me. Nothing is left me but to get away. I look forward to my release from this dining life with an inexpressible longing after quiet and my own pursuits. What with public speechifying, private eating and drinking, and perpetual simmering in hot rooms, I have made London too hot to hold me and my work together. Mary and Georgina acknowledge the condition of imbecility to which we have become reduced in reference to your kind reminder. They say, when I stare at them in a forlorn way with your note in my hand: “What can you do!” To which I can only reply, implicating them: “See what you have brought me to!”
With our united kind regard to yourself and Dr. Storrar, I entreat your pity and compassion for an unfortunate wretch whom a too-confiding disposition has brought to this pass. If I had not allowed my “cheeild” to pledge me to all manner of fellow-creatures, I and my digestion might have been in a state of honourable independence this day.
Faithfully and penitently yours.
Mr. Percy Fitzgerald.
Office of “All the Year Round,” etc. etc. etc.
Wednesday, July 27th, 1864.
My dear Mr. Fitzgerald,
First, let me assure you that it gave us all real pleasure to see your sister and you at Gad’s Hill, and that we all hope you will both come and stay a day or two with us when you are next in England.
Next, let me convey to you the intelligence that I resolve to launch “Miss Manuel,” fully confiding in your conviction of the power of the story. On all business points, Wills will communicate with you. I purpose beginning its publication in our first September number, therefore there is no time to be lost.
The only suggestion I have to make as to the MS. in hand and type is, that Captain Fermor wants relief. It is a disagreeable character, as you mean it to be, and I should be afraid to do so much with him, if the case were mine, without taking the taste of him, here and there, out of the reader’s mouth. It is remarkable that if you do not administer a disagreeable character carefully, the public have a decided tendency to think that the story is disagreeable, and not merely the fictitious person.
What do you think of the title,
It is a good one in itself, would express the eldest sister’s pursuit, and glanced at now and then in the text, would hold the reader in suspense. I would propose to add the line,
By the Author of Bella Donna.
Let me know your opinion as to the title. I need not assure you that the greatest care will be taken of you here, and that we shall make you as thoroughly well and widely known as we possibly can.
Very faithfully yours.
Sir James Emerson Tennent.
Gad’s Hill Place, Higham by Rochester, Kent,
Friday, Aug. 26th, 1864.
My dear Tennent,
Believe me, I fully intended to come to you—did not doubt that I should come—and have greatly disappointed Mary and her aunt, as well as myself, by not coming. But I do not feel safe in going out for a visit. The mere knowledge that I had such a thing before me would put me out. It is not the length of time consumed, or the distance traversed, but it is the departure from a settled habit and a continuous sacrifice of pleasures that comes in question. This is an old story with me. I have never divided a book of my writing with anything else, but have always wrought at it to the exclusion of everything else; and it is now too late to change.
After receiving your kind note I resolved to make another trial. But the hot weather and a few other drawbacks did not mend the matter, for I have dropped astern this month instead of going ahead. So I have seen Forster, and shown him my chains, and am reduced to taking exercise in them, like Baron Trenck.
I am heartily pleased that you set so much store by the dedication. You may be sure that it does not make me the less anxious to take pains, and to work out well what I have in my mind.
Mary and Georgina unite with me in kindest regards to Lady Tennent and Miss Tennent, and wish me to report that while they are seriously disappointed, they still feel there is no help for it. I can testify that they had great pleasure in the anticipation of the visit, and that their faces were very long and blank indeed when I began to hint my doubts. They fought against them valiantly as long as there was a chance, but they see my difficulty as well as anyone not myself can.
Believe me, my dear Tennent, ever faithfully yours.
Mr. Clarkson Stanfield, R.A.
The Athenæum, Wednesday, Sept. 21st, 1864.
My dear Stanny,
I met George in the street a few days ago, and he gave me a wonderful account of the effect of your natural element upon you at Ramsgate. I expect you to come back looking about twenty-nine, and feeling about nineteen.
This morning I have looked in here to put down Fechter as a candidate, on the chance of the committee’s electing him some day or other. He is a most devoted worshipper of yours, and would take it as a great honour if you would second him. Supposing you to have not the least objection (of course, if you should have any, I can in a moment provide a substitute), will you write your name in the candidates’ book as his seconder when you are next in town and passing this way?
Lastly, if you should be in town on his opening night (a Saturday, and in all probability the 22nd of October), will you come and dine at the office and see his new piece? You have not yet “pronounced” in the matter of that new French stage of his, on which Calcott for the said new piece has built up all manner of villages, camps, Versailles gardens, etc. etc. etc. etc., with no wings, no flies, no looking off in any direction. If you tell me that you are to be in town by that time, I will not fail to refresh your memory as to the precise day.
With kind regard to Mrs. Stanfield,
Believe me, my dear old boy, ever your affectionate
M. de Cerjat.
Gad’s Hill Place, Higham by Rochester,
Tuesday, Oct. 25th, 1864.
My dear Cerjat,
Here is a limping brute of a reply to your always-welcome Christmas letter! But, as usual, when I have done my day’s work, I jump up from my desk and rush into air and exercise, and find letter-writing the most difficult thing in my daily life.
I hope that your asthmatic tendencies may not be strong just now; but Townshend’s account of the premature winter at Lausanne is not encouraging, and with us here in England all such disorders have been aggravated this autumn. However, a man of your dignity must have either asthma or gout, and I hope you have got the better of the two.
In London there is, as you see by the papers, extraordinarily little news. At present the apprehension (rather less than it was thought) of a commercial crisis, and the trial of Müller next Thursday, are the two chief sensations. I hope that gentleman will be hanged, and have hardly a doubt of it, though croakers contrariwise are not wanting. It is difficult to conceive any other line of defence than that the circumstances proved, taken separately, are slight. But a sound judge will immediately charge the jury that the strength of the circumstances lies in their being put together, and will thread them together on a fatal rope.
As to the Church, my friend, I am sick of it. The spectacle presented by the indecent squabbles of priests of most denominations, and the exemplary unfairness and rancour with which they conduct their differences, utterly repel me. And the idea of the Protestant establishment, in the face of its own history, seeking to trample out discussion and private judgment, is an enormity so cool, that I wonder the Right Reverends, Very Reverends, and all other Reverends, who commit it, can look in one another’s faces without laughing, as the old soothsayers did. Perhaps they can’t and don’t. How our sublime and so-different Christian religion is to be administered in the future I cannot pretend to say, but that the Church’s hand is at its own throat I am fully convinced. Here, more Popery, there, more Methodism—as many forms of consignment to eternal damnation as there are articles, and all in one forever quarrelling body—the Master of the New Testament put out of sight, and the rage and fury almost always turning on the letter of obscure parts of the Old Testament, which itself has been the subject of accommodation, adaptation, varying interpretation without end—these things cannot last. The Church that is to have its part in the coming time must be a more Christian one, with less arbitrary pretensions and a stronger hold upon the mantle of our Saviour, as He walked and talked upon this earth.
Of family intelligence I have very little. Charles Collins continuing in a very poor way, and showing no signs of amendment. He and my daughter Katie went to Wiesbaden and thence to Nice, where they are now. I have strong apprehensions that he will never recover, and that she will be left a young widow. All the rest are as they were. Mary neither married nor going to be; Georgina holding them all together and perpetually corresponding with the distant ones; occasional rallyings coming off here, in which another generation begins to peep above the table. I once used to think what a horrible thing it was to be a grandfather. Finding that the calamity falls upon me without my perceiving any other change in myself, I bear it like a man.
Mrs. Watson has bought a house in town, to which she repairs in the season, for the bringing out of her daughter. She is now at Rockingham. Her eldest son is said to be as good an eldest son as ever was, and to make her position there a perfectly independent and happy one. I have not seen him for some years; her I often see; but he ought to be a good fellow, and is very popular in his neighbourhood.
I have altered this place very much since you were here, and have made a pretty (I think an unusually pretty) drawing-room. I wish you would come back and see it. My being on the Dover line, and my being very fond of France, occasion me to cross the Channel perpetually. Whenever I feel that I have worked too much, or am on the eve of overdoing it, and want a change, away I go by the mail-train, and turn up in Paris or anywhere else that suits my humour, next morning. So I come back as fresh as a daisy, and preserve as ruddy a face as though I never leant over a sheet of paper. When I retire from a literary life I think of setting up as a Channel pilot.
Pray give my love to Mrs. Cerjat, and tell her that I should like to go up the Great St. Bernard again, and shall be glad to know if she is open to another ascent. Old days in Switzerland are ever fresh to me, and sometimes I walk with you again, after dark, outside the hotel at Martigny, while Lady Mary Taylour (wasn’t it?) sang within very prettily. Lord, how the time goes! How many years ago!
Wednesday, Nov. 16th, 1864.
I have received your letter with great pleasure, and hope to be (as I have always been at heart) the best of friends with the Jewish people. The error you point out to me had occurred to me, as most errors do to most people, when it was too late to correct it. But it will do no harm. The peculiarities of dress and manner are fused together for the sake of picturesqueness.
Dear Madam, faithfully yours.
Mr. B. W. Procter.
Gad’s Hill Place, Higham by Rochester, Kent,
Saturday, Dec. 31st, 1864.
My dear Procter,
I have reserved my acknowledgment of your delightful note (the youngest note I have had in all this year) until to-day, in order that I might send, most heartily and affectionately, all seasonable good wishes to you and to Mrs. Procter, and to those who are nearest and dearest to you. Take them from an old friend who loves you.
Mamie returns the tender compliments, and Georgina does what the Americans call “endorse them.” Mrs. Lirriper is proud to be so remembered, and says over and over again “that it’s worth twenty times the trouble she has taken with the narrative, since Barry Cornwall, Esquire, is pleased to like it.”
I got rid of a touch of neuralgia in France (as I always do there), but I found no old friends in my voyages of discovery on that side, such as I have left on this.
My dear Procter, ever your affectionate.