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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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To J. H. CARLETON,3 27 MARCH 1839*

MS Harvard College Library. Address: Mr. James Henry Carleton | Bangor | Maine | United States.

48 Doughty Street London | March 27th. 1839.

Dear Sir.

Your letter has occasioned me very great embarrassment. I am most anxious to respond to the frank and confiding feeling in which it is written, and to answer it in the gentlest and kindest tone. And yet I fear I shall offend you—for the moment merely—or disappoint you, which I should regret even more.

To tell you that your self-education and perseverance under such circumstances as you describe, are most honorable and praiseworthy, would be merely to tell you what you know and very properly feel already. But to tack to this tardy encouragement, an earnest caution that you consider well before you mistake your future course in life and struggle through a troublesome and thorny track in which the tombs of many great and adventurous spirits like the stone-stricken adventurers in the Eastern Tale warn you to recede4—to remind you how many men who have gone before, have confounded thoughts and impulses with the power of realizing them, pg 535and languished in hopeless obscurity and chilling neglect—to entreat you to consider that in quitting your own country for England, bound on that most precarious and uncertain voyage, the quest of literary fame, you are deserting a certainty which might be comfort and content for an uncertainty which may be all bitterness and sorrow—to point out to you the numerous obstacles in the way, to which even your eyes are now partially opened—these are most unpalatable hints I know, but, notwithstanding, I feel it my bounden duty to lay them thus briefly before you and to beg you to reflect upon them seriously and often.

I am not, of course, so good a Judge as you should be of the degree of encouragement which America affords to her own Citizens. At the same time I cannot but think that good tales—especially such as you describe, connected with the customs and history of her aboriginal inhabitants who every day become more interesting as their numbers diminish—would surely find some patrons and readers in her great Cities. If they do not, I should very nigh despair of their ever being read or appreciated here. I can call no parallel case to mind, to which this argument does not strongly apply. I see your newspapers and Magazines—usually the readiest channels for beginners here—crowded with contributions from American Writers. It may be that interest, influence, good fortune, or a thousand things may be necessary to give a reasonable chance of success, and that a young and unknown man has great impediments and difficulties to contend against. Believe me that this is not peculiar to America, and that in England his difficulties are most mighty and gigantic.

You wish to know whether, in the event of your coming to England, you might command me as a friend. My inability to answer that question, is in exact proportion to the great weight I attach to the name, and the care with which I bestow it upon but a few out of troops of acquainta[nces.]1 I have some friends who have been my friends from boys, and others—more intimate still—whom I have known but a few months or years. I hope that most young men who have appealed to me, have had such sympathy and assistance as I could render them. But they have not been among my "friends" for all that; and to pledge myself to find a friend in a man whom I have never seen and with the whole tenor of whose thoughts and feelings I am unacquainted—save as I find them expressed in one enthusiastic letter—would be to prostitute the term, and not, I am convinced, to advance myself in your estimation when you came to consider the subject more dispassionately and calmly.

Advise you as a countryman and [a brother, I will.]2 And my advice is, that you satisfy yourself beyond all doubt that you are qualified for the course to which you now aspire—that you employ that perseverance of which you speak, in the sphere that is open to you—that you try to achieve something in your own land before you venture on a strange one—and that 'ere you wander from home you feel quite sure that you are neglected pg 536at home, and are really summoned elsewhere. Otherwise, the more enthusiastic, the more lofty the more fervent your aspirations, the more certain and complete will be the dejection and disappointment of your after-life.

  • I am, Dear Sir,
  •        Yours very truly
  •                  Charles Dickens

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
3 James Henry Carleton (1814–73), American Army officer. Promoted major for bravery in the Mexican War; major-general, Volunteers, 1865. Wrote several books about his campaigns. When CD's letter arrived, Carleton was absent on duty at Fort Fairfield, where an English invasion was expected. See Aurora Hunt, Major General J. H. Carleton, Western Frontier Dragoon, California, 1956.
Editor’s Note
4 Probably a reference to the adventurers turned into black stones in "The Story of the Sisters Who Envied their Younger Sister" (The Arabian Nights' Entertainments). CD may well have read it in J. Scott's edition, 1811 (v, 342), which was in the Gad's Hill library at his death.
Editor’s Note
1 End of word missing where paper torn at seal.
Editor’s Note
2 These words written in an unknown hand where comer of paper torn away.
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