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 W. H. WILLS, 21 NOVEMBER 1853

Text from MDGH, i, 334–7.

Florence, Monday, Nov. 21st, 1853.

My dear Wills,

h.w.

I sent you by post from Rome, on Wednesday last, a little story for the Christmas number, called "The Schoolboy's Story." I have an idea of another short one, to be called "Nobody's Story," which I hope to be able to do at Venice, and to send you straight home before this month is out. I trust you have received the first safely.

Edward continues to do extremely well. He is always, early and late, what you have seen him. He is a very steady fellow, a little too bashful for a courier even; settles prices of everything now, as soon as we come into an hotel; and improves fast. His knowledge of Italian is painfully defective, and, in the midst of a howling crowd at a post-house or railway station, this deficiency perfectly stuns him. I was obliged last night to get out of the carriage, and pluck him from a crowd of porters who were putting our baggage into wrong conveyances—by cursing and ordering about in all directions. I should think about ten substantives, the names of ten common objects, form his whole Italian stock. It matters very little at the hotels, where a great deal of French is spoken now; but, on the road, if none of his party knew Italian, it would be a very serious inconvenience indeed.

Will you write to Ryland if you have not heard from him, and ask him what the Birmingham reading-nights are really to be?1 For it is ridiculous enough that I positively don't know. Can't a Saturday Night in a Truck District, or a Sunday Morning among the Ironworkers (a fine subject) be knocked out in the course of the same visit?2

If you should see any managing man you know in the Oriental and Peninsular Company, I wish you would very gravely mention to him from me that if they are not careful what they are about with their steamship Valetta, between Marseilles and Naples, they will suddenly find that they will receive a blow one fine day in The Times, which it will be a very hard matter for them ever to recover. When I sailed in her from Genoa, there had been taken on board, with no caution in most cases from the agent, or hint of discomfort, at least forty people of both sexes for whom there was no room whatever. I am a pretty old traveller as you know, but I never saw anything like the manner in which pretty women were compelled to lie among the men in the great cabin and on the bare decks. The good humour was beyond all praise, but the natural indignation very great; and I was repeatedly urged to stand up for the public pg 207in "Household Words," and to write a plain description of the facts to The Times.1 If I had done either, and merely mentioned that all these people paid heavy first-class fares, I will answer for it that they would have been beaten off the station in a couple of months. I did neither, because I was the best of friends with the captain and all the officers, and never saw such a fine set of men; so admirable in the discharge of their duty, and so zealous to do their best by everybody. It is impossible to praise them too highly. But there is a strong desire at all the ports along the coast to throw impediments in the way of the English service, and to favour the French and Italian boats. In those boats (which I know very well) great care is taken of the passengers, and the accommodation is very good. If the Peninsula and Oriental add to all this the risk of such an exposure as they are certain to get (if they go on so) in The Times, they are dead sure to get a blow from the public which will make them stagger again. I say nothing of the number of the passengers and the room in the ship's boats, though the frightful consideration the contrast presented must have been in more minds than mine. I speak only of the taking people for whom there is no sort of accommodation as the most decided swindle, and the coolest, I ever did with my eyes behold.

Kindest regards from fellow-travellers.

  • Ever, my dear Wills, faithfully yours
  •                           [CD]

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Notes

Editor’s Note
2 i.e. as an article for HW. CD's "Fire and Snow" (HW, 21 Jan 54, viii, 481) was an account of a railway trip in the snow he made to Wolverhampton during his Birmingham visit; he refers in it to the Ironmasters' dinner there.
Editor’s Note
1 CD did not carry out this threat to write to The Times, if conditions did not improve.
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