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Charles Dickens

Madeline House and Graham Storey (eds), The British Academy/The Pilgrim Edition of the Letters of Charles Dickens, Vol. 1: 1820–1839

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Composite text from MS Victoria & Albert Museum and F, ii, iv, 124–5. Date: Fri 23 Nov on assumption that CD and Forster went to the Adelphi to see Stirling's Nickleby on the 21st (as proposed in To Forster, 20 Nov), and that the account of the performance in this letter was what CD had failed to send Forster the previous day.

On Friday morning [23 Nov] he explains the sudden failure of something that had been promised for the previous day: I was writing incessantly until it was time to dress; and have not yet got the subject of my last chapter, which must be finished to-night.

He goes on to describe the performance, praising the skilful management and dressing of the boys, the capital manner and speech of Fanny Squeers, the dramatic representation of her card-party in Squeers's parlour and the careful making-up of all the people … Mrs. Keeley's1 first appearance beside the fire2 (see wollum3), and all the rest of Smike, was excellent; pg 460bating sundry choice sentiments and rubbish regarding the little robins in the fields1 which have been put in the boy's mouth by Mr. Stirling2 the adapter.

a- - - and the rest you saw3—and Ralph you did not see, there being nothing of him but a wig, a spencer,4 and a pair of boots.

The tableaux from Browne's Sketches exceedingly good.

I have a rich account to give you of last night5—quite glorious. Our procrastinating friend6 was there, and in great force. He tells me you are probably going down tomorrow with a Mr. — Something or other beginning with an L, I think. Only let me know in time what you mean to do, that I may arrange accordingly.

Don't forget Cruikshank's box for tomorrow night, regarding which he is in an agony of suspence.

  •                                              Always Faithfully Yours
  • John Forster Esquire                              Charles Dickensa

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
1 Mary Ann Goward (?1805–99; DNB), wife of the actor Robert Keeley. She played in many adaptations of CD's works: as Oliver; Smike again in The Fortunes of Smike, which Stirling dedicated to her; Little Nell; Dot in The Cricket on the Hearth (dramatized at CD's request in Dec 45 for the Keeleys, then managing the Lyceum); and Clemency in The Battle of Life (Dec 46).
Editor’s Note
2 See Nickleby, Ch. 7. Smike's first appearance is in fact outside the house, but to have him discovered by the fire saved a change of scene.
Editor’s Note
3 i.e., volume (although Nickleby was not published in book-form until Oct 39); whether a facetious reference by CD to the May No. or a later interpolation by Forster is uncertain.
Editor’s Note
1 "I've heard that good people that live away from this place feed the pretty harmless robins when the cold days and dark nights are on—perhaps they would feed me too, for I am very harmless—very. I'll run to them at once, and ask them" (i, iii). Mrs Keeley is reported as saying: "I shall never forget Dickens's face when he heard me repeating these lines. Turning to the prompter he said, 'Damn the robins; cut them out'" (Westminster Gazette, 13 Mar 99).
Editor’s Note
2 Edward Stirling (1807–94), playwright and theatre manager. The most popular of his other adaptations of CD's novels included The Pickwick Club, 1837, Oliver Twisty 1838, and Martin Chuzzlewit, 1844. Stage-manager of the City of London Theatre; manager of Covent Garden 1845 and 1858–64, and of Drury Lane 1852–4 and again after 1866. Author of Old Drury LaneFifty Years Recollections, 2 vols, 1881.
Editor’s Note
aa From MS.
Editor’s Note
3 Forster was reviewing both Oliver Twist at the Surrey Theatre and Nicholas Nickleby at the Adelphi for the Examiner (25 Nov 38) and appears to have arrived late for Nickleby. Hence this letter, giving him what he had missed, and also two suggestions for the part he had seen, which Forster used as follows: "We missed Ralph Nickleby, but there was a wig, a spencer, and a pair of boots which we could have sworn to be his"; and "the tableaux, from the happiest sketches of Phiz, are also excellent". As only the last part of CD's letter survives, it is possible that Forster sent the first part, with his revisions, direct to the printer. In his notice he described the adaptation as the first "which cannot be said to have subjected the adapter to an action of heavy damages for libel", and CD himself wrote to Yates (?29 Nov) praising the adaptation; yet Forster later referred to the play as an "indecent assault" and attributed CD's approval to little more than tolerant politeness (F, ii, iv, 125).
Editor’s Note
4 A short double-breasted overcoat.
Editor’s Note
5 Presumably the dinner given by Bentley that week at which the guests included CD, Ainsworth, Barham, Campbell, Jerdan, Lover and Moore: see Moore, Journal, 1853–6, vii , 244–5. Moore records that the dinner (its "company all the very haut ton of the literature of the day") took place on Wed 21 Nov, but is almost certainly one day out (confirmed by Barham to Bentley, 20 Nov 38, "I shall be happy to join your party on Thursday": R. H. D. Barham, Life and Letters of the Rev. R. H. Barham, 1870, ii, 66). The order of events seems clearly to have been: 21 Nov CD's visit to the Adelphi; 22 Nov Bentley's dinner; 23 Nov CD's letter to Forster referring to both.
Editor’s Note
6 Perhaps Ainsworth (cf. Bentley's complaints about him).
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