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 JOHN FORSTER, 29 [JUNE] 1855

Composite text from MDGH, 1882, iii, 165–7, aa from F, 1872–4, iii, 49–50n. Date: Forster and MDGH both give March, obviously in error.

Tavistock House, Friday, 29th March, 1855.

My dear Forster,

aI have hope of Mr. Morley—whom one cannot see without knowing to be a straightforward, earnest man. Travers,1 too, I think a man of the Anti-corn-law-league order.2 I also think Higgins3 will materially help them. Generally I quite agree with you that they hardly know what to be at;4 but it is an immensely difficult subject to start, and they must have every allowance. At any rate, it is not by leaving them alone and giving them no help, that they can be urged on to success.a

Higgins told me, after the meeting on Monday5 night, that on the previous evening he had been closeted with [Lindsay],6 whose letter in that day's paper he had put right for The Times.7 He had never spoken to [Lindsay] before, he said, and pg 662found him a rather muddle-headed Scotchman as to his powers of conveying his ideas.1 He (Higgins) had gone over his documents judicially, and with the greatest attention; and not only was [Wood]2 wrong in every particular (except one very unimportant circumstance), but, in reading documents3 to the House, had stopped short in sentences where no stop was, and by so doing had utterly perverted their meaning.4

This is to come out, of course, when said [Lindsay] gets the matter on.5 I thought the case so changed, before I knew this, by his letter and that of the other shipowners,6 that I told Morley, when I went down to the theatre, that I felt myself called upon to relieve him from the condition I had imposed.7

For the rest, I am quite calmly confident that I only do justice to the strength of my opinions, and use the power which circumstances have given me, conscientiously and moderately, with a right object, and towards the prevention of nameless miseries. I should be now reproaching myself if I had not gone to the meeting, and, having been, I am very glad.8

pg 663A good illustration of a Government office. ————1very kindly wrote to me to suggest that "Houses of Parliament" illustration.2 After I had dined on Wednesday, and was going to jog slowly down to Drury Lane, it suddenly came into my head that perhaps his details were wrong. I had just time to turn to the "Annual Register,"3 and not one of them was correct!

This is, of course, in close confidence.

  • Ever affectionately
  •                          [CD]

Notes Settings

Notes

Editor’s Note
1 J. Ingram Travers, the Association's Treasurer.
Editor’s Note
2 MDGH and N give this sentence in brackets at end of first paragraph.
Editor’s Note
3 Matthew James Higgins (1810–68; DNB), political journalist; chief writer for the Peelite Morning Chronicle and frequent letter-writer to The Times, under pseudonyms, usually "Jacob Omnium", under which several letters on administrative and Army reform appeared about this time (e.g. The Times, 25 June and 27 July). His publications included A Letter on Administrative Reform, 1855. Friend of Thackeray; both on the platform at the Drury Lane Meeting of 13 June; Thackeray began to prepare a speech (not delivered) for the meeting of 11 July (Letters and Private Papers of W. M. Thackeray, ed. G. N. Ray, iii, 457 and Appx xvi ; see also iii, 459n).
Editor’s Note
4 Both supporters and opponents pointed to the vagueness of the Association's aims: this was noted at the Association's meeting to receive the Committee's report, 8 Aug (The Times, 9 Aug), and deterred W. E. Forster from starting a branch in Bradford (Olive Anderson, "The Janus Face of Mid-Nineteenth-Century English Radicalism: The Administrative Reform Association of 1855", Victorian Studies, viii (1965), 242n). The Association was outflanked by reform of the Civil Service, already being implemented, and by the Govt's improvements in Army administration. Morley resigned as Chairman in 1856 and John Roebuck, his successor, announced that the Association's aims would in future be pursued in Parliament.
Editor’s Note
5 A mistake, either by CD or in transcription, for Wednesday: the meeting was on 27 June, the day Lindsay's letter was published (there is no letter by Lindsay in The Times for Monday); this is confirmed by CD's reference below to his conversation with Morley before speaking to Higgins.
Editor’s Note
6 W. S. Lindsay. Name omitted in text, but clearly correct.
Editor’s Note
7 Lindsay's letter in The Times, 27 June, attempted to rebut an attack upon his accuracy and business efficiency that arose from technical charges he had detailed at the Association's meeting on 13 June. The businessmen responsible for forming the Association claimed that they could be more efficient than the Govt: Lindsay on 13 June had sought to show with reference to his own business of ship transport the official inefficiency and waste (The Times, 14 June). He was challenged in the Commons on 18 June to repeat those statements ("virulent mistruths") in the House; doing so on 22 June, he was answered devastatingly by Sir Charles Wood, First Lord of the Admiralty, who not only refuted Lindsay point by point but also attacked his own business efficiency; by the rules of the Commons, Lindsay was prevented from replying to Wood: his letter to The Times repeated his charges and challenged Wood's version.
Editor’s Note
1 Cf. Layard's private judgement of Lindsay (To Layard, 7 May, fn).
Editor’s Note
2 Sir Charles Wood, MP. Name omitted in text, but clearly correct.
Editor’s Note
3 On 22 June.
Editor’s Note
4 In the Commons on 10 July Lindsay alleged that Wood on 22 June had garbled extracts from letters: "he says", Wood observed in his reply, "that I stopped at a particular word in the letter, in order that I might not put the House in possession of the full truth of the matter. I repeat again that I read no letter at all" (The Times, 11 July). This instance turned on the height between decks of horse transports: Lindsay said a ship was rejected although half an inch more than required, while Wood referred to a statement by the shipowners that it was one foot less than required. Lindsay again replied through The Times (12 July) and in Aug published a complete and convincing refutation in a long pamphlet, Confirmation of Admiralty Mismanagement … with a Reply to the Charges of Sir C. Wood, 1855.
Editor’s Note
5 In the Commons, 10 July (see above). Wood's two replies of 22 June and 10 July appeared to be highly effective and carried the attack into the Association's camp: Wood clearly did damage by calling in question the accuracy of Lindsay's charges, compounded with Layard's mistake at Liverpool (see To Miss Coutts, 15 May). Samuel Morley, opening the meeting of 27 June, stressed that the Association was "extremely jealous as to the accuracy of the statements made in support of the object they desired to advance" (The Times, 28 June). Thackeray, asked by Gavan Duffy on 28 July about Lindsay, thought an excellent cause had been ruined; Wood "made pie" of Lindsay's allegations. Thackeray added that the "constitutional system was getting frightfully damaged in England"; Carlyle later said to Duffy that all the talk about administrative reform was "very idle and worthless" (Charles Gavan Duffy, Conversations with Carlyle, 1892, pp. 194, 196).
Editor’s Note
6 The Times, as well as Lindsay's letter, carried one on 27 June, from the shipping firm of Patrick Henderson & Co., Glasgow, rebutting Wood on two material points.
Editor’s Note
7 That he must first know everything that was intended to be done and be sure that he approved of it (To Miss Coutts, 15 May).
Editor’s Note
8 CD spoke first, followed by Torrens M'Cullagh (in place of Sir Joseph Paxton) and Francis Bennoch. The Times, 28 June, reported that he was "most warmly received" and W. A. Southern, then a reporter, recalled CD being hailed "with rapturous delight and expectation" (Speeches of CD, ed. K. J. Fielding, p. 207; Southern's account, which perhaps overemphasizes Layard's part in the evening, is also in F. G. Kitton, CD by Pen and Pencil, ii, 45). Southern described how CD, while "gravely in earnest", delivered his parallel between Parliament and the old woman with her pig "with a jump in the voice and an archness of expression" of the "consummate actor". Layard, not down to speak, was on the platform and, being called on, after alluding to CD, "whose writings … did not contain one immoral thought or an un-English sentence", wished every success for the efforts of the Association (The Times, 28 June).
Editor’s Note
1 MDGH 1893 gives initial "T". Unidentified; if from MS, might suggest Tom Taylor, though not known to be interested in Administrative Reform.
Editor’s Note
2 CD used the destruction of the Houses of Parliament in 1834 by fire when the medieval wooden accounting tallies were burnt, as a story, the moral of which was the consequences of blind and useless routine (Speeches, ed. K.J. Fielding, pp. 204–5).
Editor’s Note
3 For 1834.
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