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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. 2: 1840–1841

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To BASIL HALL, 26 MAY [1841]

MS Brotherton Library, Leeds. Date: The death of Hall's youngest son, Frederick Richard, aged 4, was announced in The Times of 25 May.

Devonshire Terrace. | Wednesday May The Twenty Sixth.

My Dear Hall.

I saw the paper yesterday, and had sorrowful thoughts of you.

The traveller from this World to the next, found the Infant Child he had lost many years before, wreathing him a bower in Heaven.2 It must be something to you, even in your grief, to know, that one of the Angels called you father upon Earth.3

God bless you, and send you in the comforting presence of your other children and the impression of this calamity upon their minds, a lasting source of consolation.4

  • Your faithful friend
  •                          Charles Dickens

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
2 See Fielding, A Journey from this World to the Next, Ch. 8.
Editor’s Note
3 "Your idea of little Freddy playing among the angels & calling me his pups [thus] … !", Hall commented on 28 May; and on 28 June he wrote: "Your charming idea my friend of the angels playing about & talking of their earthly Papas, has often helped assuage my grief" (MS Huntington)—which was not quite what CD had said.
Editor’s Note
4 Hall did not open CD's letter until the 28th, but he wrote on the 27th to tell him this and explain it: "The truth is—that during the whole of the last fortnight—by far the most anxious & interesting—albeit the most melancholy of my life—you have been mixed up with the whole proceedings in the most singular manner—& my wish is—or rather has been—to give you some notion of this. … At every turn of these harassing incidents I caught myself saying 'Oh here is a point for Dickens'—'how will he value this!' 'here is nature laid actually bare' & so on,—till, at length, even moments of the deepest distress took a personal sort of character in connexion with you. … There was fever, no doubt, in all this— but I dont suppose it was less true to nature, or less fit for your great purposes, on that account. | I fear much, however, that I shall not be able to accomplish my purpose—for three reasons,—first—& chiefly, I am in such real distress in consequence of this loss, that I feel weakened in powers of expression & description—2ndly. I cannot write at all to the purpose unless I have rest at night—& my remaining children are all still so ill with the hooping cough—& as two of them sleep in the same room with me—or rather cough in the same room in which I lie awake— & one in the same bed—I am exhausted for want of sleep—& 3rdly. as I before hinted, I feel even the most remarkable passages gliding away from my memory in such a way that I question if I shall now be able to catch hold even of their traces. | But as I very much wish to give them a chance—& as I have a sort of a notion that your unopened letter may contain something to disturb the remarkable trains of thought & sentiment alluded to, I refrain from opening it at present" (MS Huntington). The following day, having opened CD's letter, he wrote: "I find it totally out of the question my giving you … a picture of the last fortnight. But … as the tendency of all you do is good—I should feel very happy if I could contribute any pencil sketches from nature which you might turn to account for the improvement of dispositions disposed to good but not very well knowing how to set about it" (MS Huntington). CD apparently did not answer either of these letters. But in a letter to D. M. Moir, 17 June 48 (N, ii, 102–3), apropos of the response of bereft parents to the death of Nell, he wrote: "Poor Basil Hall lost a little boy for whom he had a great love.—I think his insanity began about that time—, and he wrote out all the secret grief and trial of his heart to me, wherever he went afterwards, always referring to the same work" (not in fact quite true). On 28 June Hall wrote again, at enormous length, first telling CD he would be in London from 5 to 12 July and would like to discuss with him whether he should accept an offer to write for Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, to augment his "miserable half-pay"; next describing in great detail his child's funeral and grave, and where he took his wife and children (still ill) for change of air; finally mentioning his thoughts of wintering in Malta (MS Huntington). CD was in Scotland when Hall was to be in London, so they did not meet. One more letter from Hall has survived in the Huntington Library, written on "H.M.S. Indus Off Algiers" on 3 Sep 41, to ask if CD would return "a devil of a long letter" he had written him from Trafalgar, because he wanted it for his Journal which he had decided in future to write for publication. He described his family as "half dead with anxiety to know how Mr. Haredale is to deal with the murderer whom he succeeded in getting down", and enclosed a small sketch he had made of Mount Etna for Catherine's Album. This was the end of the correspondence. No answers from CD to Hall's last four letters are known.
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