Charles Dickens

Kathleen Mary Tillotson (ed.), The British Academy/The Pilgrim Edition of the Letters of Charles Dickens, Vol. 4: 1844–1846

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Extracts in F, iv, iii, 319–20, 320. Date: first extract 21 Feb according to Forster; second extract said to be on his return from Liverpool and Binningham, but clearly 21 Feb, the day after his visit to the Adelphi: see To Fred Dickens, 19 Feb.

Advise me on the following point. And as I must write to-night, having already lost a post, advise me by bearer. This Liverpool Institution, which is wealthy and has a high grammar-school1 the masters of which receive in salaries upwards of £2000 a year (indeed its extent horrifies me; I am struggling through its papers this morning), writes me yesterday by its secretary a business letter about the order of the proceedings on Monday; and it begins thus. "I beg to send you prefixed, with the best respects of our committee, a bank order for twenty pounds in payment of the expenses contingent on your visit to Liverpool."—And there, sure enough, it is. Now my impulse was, and is, decidedly to return it. Twenty pounds is not of moment to me; and any sacrifice of independence is worth it twenty times' twenty times told. But haggling in my mind is a doubt whether that would be proper, and not boastful (in an inexplicable way); and whether as an author, I have a right to put myself on a basis which the professors of literature in other forms connected with the Institution cannot afford to occupy. Don't you see? But of course you do. The case stands thus. The Manchester Institution, being in debt, appeals to me as it were in formâ pauperis, and makes no such provision as I have named. The Birmingham Institution, just struggling into life with great difficulty, applies to me on the same grounds. But the Leeds people (thriving) write to me, making the expenses a distinct matter of business;2 and the Liverpool, as a point of delicacy, say nothing about it to the last minute, and then send the money. Now, what in the name of goodness ought I to do?—I am as much puzzled with the cheque as Colonel Jack was with his gold.3 If it would have settled the matter to put it in the fire pg 50yesterday, I should certainly have done it. Your opinion is requested.1 I think I shall have grounds for a very good speech at Brummagem; but I am not sure about Liverpool; having misgivings of over-gentility.

I saw the Carol2 last night. Better than usual, and Wright3 seems to enjoy Bob Cratchit, but heart-breaking to me. Oh Heaven! if any forecast of this was ever in my mind! Yet O. Smith4 was drearily better than I expected. It is a great comfort to have that kind of meat underdone; and his face is quite perfect.

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Editor’s Note
1 Few Mechanics' Institutions had schools. The Liverpool school opened in 1838, offering a six-year course beginning at the age of 8–10. There were four principal masters, in charge of the departments of classics, English, mathematics and commercial subjects; in 1845 W. B. Hodgson became headmaster as well as Principal of the Institution. This and the girls' school (referred to by CD in his speech, and opened later in 1844) were eventually handed over to the City.
Editor’s Note
2 The Leeds Mechanics' Institution and Literary Society must have asked CD to speak at the Soiree held on 14 Feb. In 1843 one of the subjects discussed at the Soirée was "The Influence of the Writings of Boz".
Editor’s Note
3 In Defoe's Colonel Jack, 1722, early in the narrative, when the hero as a boy is being trained in pickpocketing, his "Instructor" steals a "Goldsmith's bill" for £12.10 which is changed into gold and shared between them; Jack, in rags and homeless, is greatly perplexed about where to hide the money.
Editor’s Note
1 "My opinion was clearly for sending the money back, which accordingly was done" (F, iv, iii, 320).
Editor’s Note
2 This was Edward Stirling's dramatization at the Adelphi (5 Feb-29 Mar 44), A Christmas Carol "in three staves", with added songs by G. H. Rodwell; O. Smith played Scrooge. Stirling announced the piece as "the only dramatic version sanctioned by C. Dickens, Esqre.", and according to his reminiscences CD attended several rehearsals and made "valuable suggestions" (Old Drury Lane, 1881, 1,186–7; quoted by Ley in F, iv, iii, 328n). It was reviewed favourably in the Examiner, 10 Feb: the musical arrangement was "excellent", and "there never was a scene better put upon the stage, in the best days of this theatre, than the Clare Market on Christmas Eve". Two other dramatic versions were also produced on 5 Feb: C. Z. Barnett's (A Christmas Carol; or, The Miser's Warning) at the Surrey Theatre, and Charles Webb's (Scrooge, the Miser's Dream) at Sadler's Wells; variants of Webb's version were also played at the Strand, Britannia, and Victoria, and anonymous versions at the City of London, and the Queen's (Malcolm Morley, "Curtain up on A Christmas Carol", D, xlvii [1951], 159–64).
Editor’s Note
3 Edward Richard Wright (1813–59; DNB); the Examiner said he played the part with "humorous indulgence" but "occasional exaggeration".
Editor’s Note
4 Richard John Smith (1786–1855; DNB), actor, called "O" since 1829 when he played Obi in a melodrama; generally played villains, but also Newman Noggs in the Adelphi's Nickleby. Probably also known to CD as a member of the Shakespeare Society.
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