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, 25 JANUARY 1855

MS Morgan Library. Address: Miss Burdett Coutts | The Admiralty House | Portsmouth.

Tavistock House | Thursday Night | Twenty Fifth January 1855

My Dear Miss Coutts.

Your letter having come in while I was reading by my fire, I have shut up my book, to come to my table and answer it at once.

I am told there cannot possibly be a better person for our purpose than Mr. Bates. If you will send me a letter to him (with his address5 upon it), mentioning that I wish to place my son who has been at Eton and in Germany, in their universally respected house, I will lose not a moment in leaving it for him with my card. And, since you so kindly mention the point, I have no doubt that a line (I should be inclined to say, at once) from yourself to Baring, would be of incalculable service. I have not the least doubt of that.

The drying apparatus, I will immediately proceed with—cautiously. And I will in the first place signify to the Artist that a distinct specification and contract are pg 511essential to any further consideration of the subject. I am quite of your opinion as to the expediency of sending a workman with it. Let me add that Tracey's opinion on all such points is an undoubtedly good one, and he says "he does not believe it to be possible to send to Scutari, a more thoroughly serviceable thing".

In the main, there is very little difference (if any) between you "politically" on the War subject, and me politically. I think Lord Raglan's position, tongue-tied as he is, a very painful one;1 but I think the stern necessity of preventing a repetition of these dreadful—and altogether needless—disasters, over-rides every other consideration. To be sure—that does not justify the Times in being hard on himself,2 but the reverse! Looking to the other newspaper correspondents, and seeing them at last forced upon confirmation of the Times accounts after so long denying them, I have a dreadful belief that the Army will be really (virtually) no more in another six weeks. I become particularly uneasy when I find the Public so apathetic to the inefficiency of the Government.3 It is a new and unhealthy symptom—the kind of unnatural lull that precedes an earthquake—and I mistrust there being something sullen working among the people, which we don't at all understand. It is manifest that the system of our Service anywhere, civil or warlike, is not to rally the best men round the national standard, or to know where to find them;4 and there is no safety for us until we do begin to cruize about in the Victoria and Albert,5 far out of the official cordons6 in which we are all in danger of perishing together. I have made up pg 512my mind that what one can do in print to wake the sleepers, one is bound to do at such a serious juncture. And I have fired off a small volley of red hot shot, in Household Words next week.1

Enclosed, are all the Mrs. Thompson papers that I have: including two notes from herself2 which you have not seen.

As to the good old Admiral,3 what he has got to do, is the most difficult thing he (or any Napier) can be required to do—keep quiet.4 I don't think there is any disposition in the public mind to do him an injustice,5 but quite the contrary. There has been a slight re-action occasioned by the injudicious friends he had before he went away;6 but I believe there is a great general fondness for him and trust in him. I should like to see and hear him, very much.

I have been ploughing daily, through deep Snow about Highgate, Hampstead, and Hendon—and saw Holly Lodge the day before yesterday with a powdered7 head, and a great white fur-cloak on. The condition of the streets to day, is inconceivable—mud and mire, in many places a foot deep. Mr. Stanfield and I were going down Wellington Street North, the other night, in his little Carriage, on one of our Theatrical Expeditions8 to undiscovered Theatres,9 when I took occasion to protest against the infamous paving there, and the jobbing little local boards,10 and to say that so many horses fell down opposite Household Words that I hardly ever saw the office door without a horse in it. He laughed at this, and next moment both our horses plunged head-foremost at that establishment, like impatient contributors. The crowd seemed to think it was our doing, and, when we got out to help, said "they should have thought we were hearty enough to walk."

aWe unite in remembrances to Mr. and Mrs. Brown. I feel a certain equanimity in your being at my birthplace,11 though I can't say I usually care much about it. I was taken away from there when I was two years old and went back when I was thirty; but I had certainly carried a little picture of it, wonderfully accurate, away with me, pg 513and knew a particular Parade-ground1 (my nurse must have been fond of soldiers) minutely. This reminds me to observe that the intelligence of the Baby is becoming miraculous.

  • Dear Miss Coutts | Ever Most Faithfully Yrs.
  •                                                                 CD.a

Notes Settings

Notes

Editor’s Note
5 42 Stanhope St, Hampstead Road.
Editor’s Note
1 Raglan had not seen active service for 40 years and his age, health, and previous experience in the very different conditions of the Peninsular War were all against him. He was secretive even in communication with the Government (see J. B. Conacher, The Aberdeen Coalition 1852–1855, pp. 483–6) and was criticized by both the army and the press for failing to make his presence felt with the army. Although Kinglake later defended him (The Invasion of the Crimea, vii, 239), the effect on morale was bad. As commander-in-chief, Raglan by convention could not answer for himself.
Editor’s Note
2 CD presumably has specifically in mind The Times's 1st Leader, 22 Jan, on the best way to save the remnant of the army: whether to leave it in the present hands; to put it under Canrobert, the French commander-in-chief; "or whether to appoint a commander with some more direct recommendation for his post than high rank, admirable manners, and some recollections of war softened by half a century of penmanship and peace". Raglan was respected and The Times's obituary, 2 July 55, dwelt on his high personal character: see Correspondence of Henry Taylor, ed. Edward Dowden, 1888, p. 204.
Editor’s Note
3 The Times, 1 Jan 55, lamented that even if everyone believed how bad matters were, "there nevertheless exists a certain fatal prepossession adverse to any active remedial measures. The prepossession is only a form of our incurable national self-complacency." On 18 Jan the paper commented how "everybody views the war from without and seems the helpless spectator of a frightful catastrophe".
Editor’s Note
4 CD's response here, part of the climate of opinion that led to the formation of the Administrative Reform Association, with its call for the Right Man in the Right Place, had already been articulated by Layard in the Commons, Dec 54, when, having reviewed the progress of the war, he declared, "This is not a moment to waver at—he spoke it boldly, we must alter our whole system" (The Times, 13 Dec 54). The Times itself having demanded, 1 Jan 55, that every officer be sent home who is not "thoroughly up to his work", declared, 25 Jan, that "the House of Commons … will betray the trust it has received from [the] people if it permits the war to proceed under a management that leads to ruin by a certain inevitable law".
Editor’s Note
5 The name of the royal yacht, but figuratively a govt under the monarchy, free of the old aristocracy.
Editor’s Note
6 "Limits" or "restrictions", with the idea of binding (cf. red tape). The Times spoke of those people, not without patriotism, who would rather Britain perished "than that one iota of the official system, of patronage, of seniority … should be rudely swept away or reformed" (30 Dec 54) and itself used an image of being tied, 1 Jan 55, for a campaign hampered not by war's inexorable conditions, "but by the silken bonds of class, clique, and kin".
Editor’s Note
1 "That other Public", HW, 3 Feb 55, xi, 1–4.
Editor’s Note
2 Presumably Caroline Thompson's letters, 8 and 11 Jan, referred to in To Miss Coutts, 12 Jan 55.
Editor’s Note
3 Sir Charles Napier, Commander of the Baltic Fleet. Like Raglan, he was criticized for his age and inactivity; Crabb Robinson, who met him occasionally at Miss Coutts's, thought him "a sort of Cross between a hero & a ruffian" (Diary, 27 Oct 55, MS Dr Williams's Library).
Editor’s Note
4 Sir Charles had roused controversy by his speech before the Baltic Fleet sailed (see below); of his cousins, Sir Charles James Napier (1782–1853; DNB) was hot-tempered and impetuous and Sir William Napier (1785–1860; DNB) an insatiable controversialist.
Editor’s Note
5 The Baltic Fleet reached England, 17 Dec 54, ice having closed the year's campaign, with little accomplished beyond the seizure of merchant shipping defying the blockade of Russia.
Editor’s Note
6 CD presumably refers to the dinner given for Napier at the Reform Club, 7 Mar 54, before he sailed and before war had been declared, when Palmerston, Graham and Molesworth made warlike speeches. Napier's biographer reprints the Admiral's speech to exonerate him from the charge of bombast (H. N. Williams, The Life and Letters of Admiral Sir Charles Napier, 1917, pp. 255–6).
Editor’s Note
7 MS reads "powdred".
Editor’s Note
8 Possibly the visit to the Marylebone Theatre, proposed in To Collins, 20 Jan.
Editor’s Note
9 Perhaps echoing Hamlet's "undiscovered country" (iii, i, 79).
Editor’s Note
10 i.e. vestry or parish boards, whose responsibility included upkeep of roads and pavements; commonly held to be corrupt and inefficient in putting work out to contractors.
Editor’s Note
aa Written inside envelope.
Editor’s Note
11 Portsea.
Editor’s Note
1 "He was carried from the garden one day to see the soldiers exercise … on our being at Portsmouth together while he was writing Nickleby, he recognized the exact shape of the military parade seen by him as a very infant" (F. i, i, 2).
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