Charles Dickens

Kathleen Mary Tillotson, Graham Storey, 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, 2 MAY 1855

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

Tavistock House, London | Wednesday Second May, 1855

My Dear Miss Coutts.

I looked carefully at the Highgate piece of ground the other day,1 and I think it on the whole very eligible for preservation as an open space.

These are my reasons.

  1. 1. It abuts immediately on the lane2 as you go up to the Cemetery, and consequently never could be diminished or built in upon that margin.

  2. 2. If the field opposite to it and below your large summer-house belongs to you, that West side of the ground is wonderfully free.

  3. 3. The ground itself is so shaped that it seems scarcely feasible to build anything there outside the top wall but one or two Villas on the top of the rise, with lawns or gardens sloping downward to the piece of ground. Which would not at all detract from its beauty, and would not too closely hem it in.

  4. 4. The plan of building now carrying out on the East or Small Pox Hospital3 side, suggests that in that direction also, the piece of ground will have gardens turned towards it.

Lastly the ground itself is of a wonderfully appropriate shape for an open space,4 and is so high in the most ornamental part that the view must always remain. The bottom would make an admirable children's play ground, and the upper part with a few seats and a few more trees would be a beautiful little Park in itself.

When you happen to be at Highgate and to think of it, will you be so kind as to ask your gardener to go and look at my grave5—see where he could plant that tree you proposed to give me (outside the railing, so that it never need be disturbed)—and then explain to the Manager on the ground what he wants to do, and to see how he can get leave to do it? If they want me to pay any more for the spot in which the tree is planted, he can conclude that done. I ask you this favor, because the Manager and I, without the tree or the gardener, might talk about it till Doomsday and get no nearer to a result.

Remind Mr. Brown that the beginning of the fulfilment of my prophecy of yesterday, is the Sheffield Meeting reported in to-days Times.6 I begin to hope the pg 606Country is waking up. Its doing so, is the only safety for you and me and all well-disposed people.

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

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Notes

Editor’s Note
1 Presumably 27 Apr, after Frank Lemon's funeral.
Editor’s Note
2 Swain's Lane.
Editor’s Note
3 The Smallpox and Vaccination Hospital, 1850, later St Pancras Infirmary and incorporated with Whittington Hospital.
Editor’s Note
4 West of Swain's Lane, now part of the Holly Lodge estate. Miss Coutts often opened her grounds for local functions, but did not give an open space at this date.
Editor’s Note
5 CD's family grave, in the western cemetery: see To Miss Coutts, 23 and 30 May 54 and Vol. vi, p. 622 and n.
Editor’s Note
6 A public meeting at the Town Hall, Sheffield, 30 Apr, to consider petitioning Parliament for Army reform: Layard was praised and the Roebuck committee witnesses said to have "proved the utter incapacity of the aristocracy". The motion was carried and formation of an Administrative Reform Association proposed. CD's prophecy clearly centred on the urgency of Britain's need to act, to avert disaster.
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