Charles Dickens

Graham Storey, Kathleen Mary Tillotson, and Angus Easson (eds), The British Academy/The Pilgrim Edition of the Letters of Charles Dickens, Vol. 7: 1853–1855

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To MISS BURDETT COUTTS, 15 MAY 1855

MS Morgan Library. Address: Miss Burdett Coutts | Stratton Street.

Tavistock House | Tuesday Fifteenth May 1855

My Dear Miss Coutts.

Shortly to resume the Ninevite question:5

As I said before, Layard made a mistake—was too much ill treated and insulted to be able to repair it then6 (which would have required a man with great presence of mind and perfectly free from impetuosity—say, for instance, myself)—and so gave his enemies a handle against him, which they use. I differ from you altogether, as to his setting class against class. He finds them already set in opposition. And I think you hardly bear in mind that as there are two great classes looking at each other in this question, so there are two sides to the question itself. You assume that the popular class take the initiative. Now as I read the story, the aristocratic class did that, pg 620years and years ago, and it is they who have put their class in opposition to the country—not the country which puts itself in opposition to them.

My present position with Layard is exactly this. I felt (before the mistake—as I remember, a week or ten days before), that he needed support; I was struck, at your house, to see him so changed and anxious; I happened to come into the knowledge of bitter endeavours and private influences that were at work to put him down; and I wrote to him,1 urging him not to be discouraged, telling him that I thought him, in the circumstances of the time, the most useful man in the house; and that I considered it a positive duty to render him all the help I could, short of going there myself.2 Such help as I could give him then, I did give him immediately; and he was very sensible of it. He shewed me his resolutions,3 some days before he made them known in the house, and in the main I approved. Then came the mistake. We dined together on the very next day4 after it, and I besought him for Heaven's sake to be careful. In another day or two, came the City Administrative Reform Meeting, and proposal for establishing an Association. I resolved to become a Member of it, and to give (as a kind of example to a large class), Twenty Pounds. I felt that Layard wanted, and I considered in spite of his error that he deserved, some little backing, and I wrote him a note5 saying "Do you tell Mr. Lindsay that the Association may rely upon me to this extent." Last Saturday, in pursuance of an old engagement made weeks before the mistake, he and I dined at Greenwich, with Paxton and some others. Layard then asked me, Had I heard from Mr. Morley,6 the Chairman of that City Association, because Mr. Morley had asked him whether he thought I could by any means be got to speak at a Meeting in Drury Lane Theatre,7 if they should decide to hold one there? I considered about it, and said, my impression was that I would speak on such an occasion; but that before I could pledge myself, I must first know everything that was intended to be done, and be sure that I approved of it. I made this a text for again impressing upon him the necessity of being careful under so great a responsibility (putting it as my own feeling about myself), and he earnestly assented; adding "If you go, I will go; but not otherwise, I think."

I am anxious to have a perfect confidence with you on the subject; and now you know all I know. If I can exercise any influence with him, I hope it will be to keep him cooler and steadier. No man can move me on such a matter, beyond what I have made up my mind is right. And as to my ever being tempted into any hot public assertion, I believe if you had ever seen me under speechifying circumstances, you would have a perfect confidence in my composure—in short, in my having left that impetuosity—say in Stratton Street.

I should like to consider your deeply interesting idea,8 a little longer. I meant pg 621this to have been a short note! Enclosed is one from Mr. Carlyle1 you may like to see.

  • Ever Dear Miss Coutts | Most Faithfully Yours
  • CD.

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Notes

Editor’s Note
5 Layard, his attitude to reform, and CD's.
Editor’s Note
6 In the Commons, 27 Apr; one reporter said that Layard became flustered: "a man of veritable intellect would not have made such a shocking mistake as to fight with such an audience" (Gordon Waterfield, Layard of Nineveh, p. 269).
Editor’s Note
1 To Layard, 3 Apr. The Layard Papers (MSS BL) include letters of support, Mar–May, many of them after the Commons attack.
Editor’s Note
2 CD had always declined standing for Parliament. The most recent invitation had been in 1852 (twice): see Vol. vi, p. 692 and n.
Editor’s Note
4 28 Apr; possibly at Verrey's, with Forster and Lemon (Forster To Lemon, 14 Apr, MS Myers).
Editor’s Note
6 Samuel Morley: see To Morley, 11 June, fn.
Editor’s Note
7 The first meeting of the Association was at Drury Lane Theatre, 13 June; CD spoke at the meeting of 27 June (see To Forster, 29 June).
Editor’s Note
8 No doubt her "plan", which he was considering on 24 May.
Editor’s Note
1 Presumably his response to Miss Coutts's donation for the Miss Lowes: see To Carlyle, 12 May.
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