Charles Dickens

Kathleen Mary Tillotson (ed.), The British Academy/The Pilgrim Edition of the Letters of Charles Dickens, Vol. 4: 1844–1846

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pg 316To JOHN FORSTER, [1 and 2 JUNE 1845]

Extracts in F, iv, vii, 374–5 ; F, 1872–4, ii, v, 89n; F, iv, vii, 375. Date: according to Forster, first extract 1 June; second extract 2 June; third extract, ending of same letter as first extract.

He began by saying that his letter had been twice begun and twice flung into the basket, so great was his indisposition to write as the time for departure came.

He described how an English ship of war, the Fantôme, appeared in the harbour; and from her commander, Sir Frederick Nicolson,1 he received, among attentions very pleasant to him, an invitation to lunch on board and bring his wife, for whom, at a time appointed, a boat was to be sent to the Ponte Reale. But no boat being there at the time, CD sent off his servant in another boat to the ship to say he feared some mistake. While we were walking up and down a neighbouring piazza in his absence, a brilliant fellow in a dark blue shirt with a white hem to it all round the collar, regular corkscrew curls, and a face as brown as a berry, comes up to me and says, "Beg your pardon sir—Mr. Dickens?" "Yes." "Beg your pardon sir, but I'm one of the ship's company of the Phantom sir, cox'en of the cap'en's gig sir, she's a lying off the pint sir—been there half an hour." "Well but my good fellow," I said, "you're at the wrong place!" "Beg your pardon sir, I was afeerd it was the wrong place sir, but I've asked them Genoese here sir, twenty times if it was Port Real; and they knows no more than a dead jackass !"—Isn't it a good thing to have made a regular Portsmouth name of it?

I saw last night an old palazzo of the Doria,2 six miles from here, upon the sea, which De la Rue urged Fletcher to take for us, when he was bent on that detestable villa Bagnerello; which villa the Genoese have hired, time out of mind, for one fourth of what I paid, as they told him again and again before he made the agreement. This is one of the strangest old palaces in Italy, surrounded by beautiful woods of great trees (an immense rarity here) some miles in extent: and has upon the terrace a high tower, formerly a prison for offenders against the family, and a defence against the pirates. The present Doria lets it as it stands for £40 English—for the year … And the grounds are no expense; being proudly maintained by the Doria, who spends this rent, when he gets it, in repairing the roof and windows. It is a wonderful house;3 full of the most unaccountable pictures and most incredible furniture: every room in it like the most quaint and fanciful of Cattermole's pictures; and how many rooms I am afraid to say.

pg 317The fire-flies at night now, are miraculously splendid; making another firmament among the rocks on the sea-shore, and the vines inland. They get into the bedrooms, and fly about, all night, like beautiful little lamps. … I have surrendered much I had fixed my heart upon, as you know, admitting you have had reason for not coming to us here: but I stand by the hope that you and Mac will come and meet us at Brussels; it being so very easy. A day or two there, and at Antwerp, would be very happy for us;1 and we could still dine in Lincoln's-inn-fields on the day of arrival.

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Editor’s Note
1 "the Phantom", and "Sir Henry Nicholson", in F, 1872–4, ii, viii, 168; corrected by Forster, iii, 519. Sir Frederick William Erskine Nicolson, Bart (1815–99), commander, RN, commanded the 16-gun Fantôme from Dec 44 to May 46.
Editor’s Note
2 Not the Palazzo Doria Pamfili, situated within the Porta della Lanterna, which was uninhabitable, but the Villa Doria at Pegli, on the coast road about six miles off.
Editor’s Note
3 The Villa Doria was built by Adamo Centurione; house and surroundings are clearly recalled in "To be Read at Dusk", contributed by CD to the Keepsake, 1852: "on the road to Nice … an old palace, with great gardens … a little dark and gloomy, being close surrounded by trees; but … spacious, ancient, grand, on the sea shore"—an appropriate setting for the eerie story related by the Genoese courier Giovanni Baptista.
Editor’s Note
1 For the week spent there, see To de la Rue, 29 June 45 and fn. CD had been there with Catherine and Browne in July 37: see Vol. i, pp. 280–1.
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