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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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pg 530Editor’s NoteTo W. HARRISON AINSWORTH, 26 MARCH 1839

MS Comtesse de Suzannet.

Doughty Street. | Tuesday Morning March 26th. 1839.

My dear Ainsworth.

If the subject of this letter, or anything contained in it, should eventually become the occasion of any disagreement between you and me, it would cause me very deep and sincere regret. But with this contingency—even this—before me, I feel that I must speak out without reserve and that every manly honest and just consideration impels me to do so.

By some means—by what means in the first instance I scarcely know—the late negociation's1 between yourself myself and Mr. Bentley, have placed a mutual friend of ours in a false position and one in which he has no right to stand; and exposed him to an accusation—very rife and current indeed, just now—equally untrue and undeserved, namely that he, who a short time before had pledged himself to Mr. Bentley (in the presence of Mr. Follett) to see my last agreement with that person executed and carried out, counselled me to break it and in fact entangled and entrapped the innocent and unsuspecting bookseller—who being all honesty himself had a child-like confidence in others—into taking such steps as led to that result.

Now I wish to remind you—afor a purpose which I will tell you presentlya—that even by me no agreement whatever was broken; that I demanded a postponement of my agreement for the term of six months—that Forster (to whom I have been alluding of course) expressly and positively said when you pressed upon me the hardship of my relations with that noblest work of God, in New Burlington Street, that he could not and would not be any party to a new disruption between us—that he was bound to see the old agreement performed2—that he wrote to Mr. Bentley warning him of my dissatisfaction—that he saw Mr. Bentley for a full hour, in his own rooms b(a man must be in earnest to do that)b—read to him a letter of mine3 in which I had expressed my feelings on the subject and strongly urged upon him the necessity and propriety of some concession—that Mr. Bentley went away thanking him and appointing to call again—that he never called again—that he wrote me an insulting letter dictated by his lawyers4—that Forster then washed his hands of any further interference between us—that Mr. Bentley then went out to you at Kensal Green—and that you and he, between you, and without any previous consultation or advising with Forster settled upon certain terms and conditions5 which were afterwards pg 531Editor’s Noteproposed to me through you, and communicated to Forster, for the first time and to his unbounded astonishment, by both of us.1

I remind you of all this because Mr. Bentley is going about town stating in every quarter what may or may not be his real impression of Forster's course—cbecause Mr. Bentley does appeal as an authority to you—because you do countenance Mr. Bentley in these proceedings by hearing him express his opinion of Forster and not contradicting him—and have aggravated him, indeed, by such thoughtless acts as first procuring an unfavorable notice of the Miscellany in the Examiner2 (by dint of urgent solicitation) and then shewing it to him with assumed vexation and displeasure.c I remind you of all this, because Forster must and shall be set right—not with Mr. Bentley, but with the men to whom these stories are carried, and his friends as well as foes—because there are but two persons who can set him right—and because I wish to know distinctly from you who shall do so, without the delay of an instant—You or I.

There is another reason which renders this absolutely necessary. Forster, acting for Mr. Savage Landor, arranged with Mr. Bentley for the publication of two tragedies by that gentleman,3 which were proceeding rapidly through the Press when these matters occurred, and have since been taken from the printers by Mr. Bentley—not published, though the time agreed upon is long past; not advertized though they should have been long ago4—their existence not recognized in any way—dand all this as a means of annoyance and revenge against Forster who is placed in the most painful situation with regard to Mr. Landor, that it is possible to conceive. pg 532Mr. Landor who holds such men as Mr. Bentley in as little consideration as the mud of the streets, andd who is violent and reckless when exasperated, is as certain by some public act to punish the bookseller for this treatment (if he be not prevented by an immediate atonement) as the Sun is to rise tomorrow. This would entail upon me the immediate necessity, in explanation of the circumstances which led to it, of laying a full history of these proceedings before the public, eand the consequence would be that we and our private affairs would be dragged into newspaper notoriety and involved in controversy and discussion, for the pain of which nothing could ever compensate.e

But however painful it will be to me to put myself in communication once again with Mr. Bentley, and openly appeal to you to confirm what I shall tell him, I have no alternative unless you will frankly and openly and for the sake of your old friend as well as my intimate and valued one, avow to Mr. Bentley yourself that he is not to blame, that you heard him again and again refuse to interfere although deeply impressed with the hardship of my case—and that you proposed concessions which he—feeling the position in which he stood—could not have suggested. Believe me Ainsworth that for your sake no less than on Forster's account, this should be done.1 fYou do not see it I know, you do not mean it I am persuaded, but he is impressed with the idea, and nine men out of ten would be (if these matters were stated by anybody but you) that to enable yourself to gain your object and stand in your present relations towards Mr. Bentley, you have used him as an instrument by suppressing that which would have shewn his conduct in the best and truest light, and have shrunk from the friendly and manly avowal of feeling which your own impulses and freer and less worldly considerations so generously prompted.

Once more let me say thatf I do not mean to hurt or offend you by anything I have said, and that I should be truly grieved to find I have done so. But I must speak strongly because I feel strongly, and because I have a misgiving that even now I have been silent too long.

  •                                         My Dear Ainsworth I am
  •                                              Faithfully Yours
  • William Ainsworth Esquire                         Charles Dickens

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
530 line 26 God, fn Pope, Essay on Man, IV, 248.
Editor’s Note
1 Thus in MS. They were over CD's resignation as editor of the Miscellany and Ainsworth's appointment.
Editor’s Note
aa, bb, cc, dd passages not published in N.
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2 This is supported by To Forster, 21 Jan 39.
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3 To Forster, 21 Jan 39. But if the letter as given by Forster is as CD wrote it, Forster can hardly have read the whole of it aloud to Bentley.
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5 For Ainsworth's taking over the editorship of the Miscellany from CD.
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531 n. 3 line 7 for 1,360. read 11, 360.
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1 On hearing the terms, Forster wrote to Ainsworth, urging him not to accept them: "I foresee the result if you do: you will be in Bentley's power … I could not sleep last night for thinking of the misery you were wilfully incurring … You can get all you wish from him, and hold a superiority over him, if you do not wilfully and willingly put yourself beneath his feet. | Your friend as you know me" (given in Ellis, Ainsworth and his Friends, i, 387 n, who infers from it that Ainsworth had consulted Forster first).
Editor’s Note
2 Clearly CD must have been told this by Forster. The Examiner notice (3 Mar) charged Bentley with being responsible for past piracies from American and French magazines, and for one in the March issue. It absolved Ainsworth from having written the "Address" on his taking over the editorship—which it characterized as cheap self-advertisement; and it accused Bentley of treating Ainsworth as a puppet. Apparently CD was unaware of the rumour that he had written the notice himself: "Somebody connected with the Examiner Office", wrote Barham to an unknown correspondent, 14 Mar 39, "has given him [presumably Bentley] to understand that Boz himself wrote the article in the Examiner. He is very irate about it, and told Jerdan and myself of it in very strong terms" (Sotheby's catalogue, 1903). Bentley stopped advertising in the Examiner after 3 Mar.
Editor’s Note
3 Andrea of Hungary and Giovanna of Naples. Bentley published them in one vol., 29 May 39. Landor gave the profits to Grace Darling, heroine of the wreck of the steam-boat Forfarshire in 1838. See Forster, Walter Savage Landor, 1876, i, 360.
Editor’s Note
4 On 25 Jan Bentley had promised Forster to send paper to Bradbury & Evans for the printing of the tragedies, and to advertise them "forthwith"; but no advertisement has been found either before or after publication.
Editor’s Note
ee, ff Passages not published in N.
Editor’s Note
1 Ainsworth apparently went straight to Barham for advice and left him the reply to CD's letter he had drafted. Barham wrote to him the same afternoon: "… I have read your letter which I think an exceedingly good one and containing a plain manly goodtempered statement which together with the offer contained at its close will I have no doubt satisfy all parties. I confess I hate all these protocols and always think that where any difference arises among friends half an hours conversation settles matters better than a whole volume of correspondence in which we are sometimes exposed to great temptation through mere pride of diplomacy. However after so candid an explanation I am sure all unpleasant feelings between you and so warm a friend as Mr Dickens must be removed" (MS Berg). The "offer" was presumably to urge Bentley to write to Forster at once, exonerating him; and Ainsworth called on Bentley the same evening. For the outcome, see To Ainsworth, 1 Apr 39, fn.
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