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Charles Dickens

Madeline House, Graham Storey, and Kathleen Mary Tillotson (eds), The British Academy/The Pilgrim Edition of the Letters of Charles Dickens, Vol. 3: 1842–1843

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MS Maine Historical Society. Address: Paid | Charles Sumner Esquire | 4 Court Street | Boston.

Montreal—Canada. | Monday Sixteenth May 1842.

My Dear Sumner.

I received your last, at Niagara; where we enjoyed nine days of perfect repose; and where we were most comfortable and happy.

Directly we arrived at the end of the Railroad7 I hurried off: bearing Kate with me, as though General Swett were behind us8—ran down the slope (it was pg 239raining hard, and was very slippery) ordered out the Ferryman—got into the boat—and crossed straightway; previously, I should have said, getting wet through, to the skin, by clambering over the rocks under the American Fall. I had a vague sense of the greatness of the scene, as we crossed; but it was not until I got upon Table Rock, that I was able to comprehend it—for I was in a kind of whirl up to that time, and should have been rather at a loss if I had been suddenly called upon to state what part of me I regarded as my head, and what as my heels. But when I had looked at the Great Horse Shoe Fall for a few minutes, from this point, I comprehended the whole scene.

I was never for a moment disappointed in any respect, except in the noise, which is preposterously exaggerated, and which really did not strike me at any time as being very loud,—except when one stands in the basin, and upon a level with the river, in front of the Horse Shoe Fall. Every other expectation I had formed, was fully and entirely realized. From the first, the impression on my mind was one of Beauty, unmixed with any sense of Terror. In the Vale of Glencoe in the Highlands of Scotland, I lost all count of time, and was exalted above every other reflection in the tremendous gloom and horror of the place, which filled me with the grandest sensations I have ever known.1 At Niagara, I never for a moment forgot that I was at Niagara, although from the first to the last of my stay there, I never looked at the Falling Water, without having the same train of thought awakened by it. It was always Peaceful Eternity; without the least admixture of trouble or commotion.

We idled about this Great Place, as I have said, for nine days—morning, noon, and night. And I think it would be difficult for any visitors to contemplate it under better circumstances than we did.

My wrath is kindled, past all human powers of extinction, by the disgusting entries in the books which are kept at the Guide's house;2 and which, made in such a spot, and preserved afterwards, are a disgrace and degradation to our nature. If I were a despot, I would force these Hogs to live for the rest of their lives on all Fours, and to wallow in filth expressly provided for them by Scavengers who should be maintained at the Public expence. Their drink should be the stagnant ditch, and their food the rankest garbage; and every morning they should each receive as many stripes as there are letters in their detestable obscenities.

I don't quite know what I would do with Mr. James Silk Buckingham,3 who pg 240writes blank verse in praise of the scene, and has it hung up framed and glazed, in the same chamber.1 Solitary confinement; lukewarm milk and water; very damp, clammy sop; and his own books to read; would perhaps be a sufficient punishment.

The extraordinary kindness and attention we experience here, in Canada, no words can express. I believe all the carriages, horses, boats, yachts, boats crews, and servants, in the Colony (whether belonging to Government or Private Individuals) are, or have been, at our disposal.

Let me thank you heartily, for the consultation you held with Felton about the copyright matter. It was impossible to take a more judicious course.

I am afraid and ashamed to give you trouble, but with regard to those books and things which were left in your charge at Boston.—My factotum reports that at the Dry Goods Stores there are old boxes to be bought for five and twenty cents or so, one of which wod. be a Masterpiece of art to pack them in. May I ask you to send them to New York, in such a Package, directed to me at the Carlton ? And as soon as you please?—If I thought you would ever retaliate on me, I would invent fifty useless commissions for you to discharge, that I might have the pleasure of doing something for you.

Kate sends her best regards. And I am always (with cordiall2 remembrances to all friends)

  • Affectionately Yours | My Dear Sumner
  •                          Charles Dickens

I was quite charmed with Hillard's lines on Longfellow's departure.3 Their Music is of the heart, and it goes to mine.4

I shall walk into the Bostonians when I get home, for their precious Memorial, and its extravagant dishonesty. I have thought of a rod with tingling ends; and have put it in Pickle.

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
7 From Buffalo to Niagara.
Editor’s Note
8 The allusion is probably to Samuel Swett (1782–1866), Colonel in the Volunteers and first Commander of the New England Guards, whom CD had no doubt met with his daughter Mrs Alexander. The joke presumably refers to Swett's Sketch of the Bunker Hill Battle, 1818, which describes the British retreat from Bunker Hill (visited by CD with Sumner 30 Jan).
Editor’s Note
2 On Table Rock. In American Notes, Ch. 15, he describes the entries as "the vilest and the filthiest ribaldry that ever human hogs delighted in", and protested that they were "a disgrace to the English language …, and a reproach to the English side"—though he hoped few of the entries had been made by Englishmen. J. S. Buckingham (see below) merely found them "frivolous and contemptible in the extreme" (America: Historical, Statistic, and Descriptive, 1841, II, 512).
Editor’s Note
3 James Silk Buckingham (1786–1855; DNB), author, traveller, and lecturer. Established the Calcutta Journal 1818 (whose censure of governmental abuses led to his expulsion from India 1823); the Oriental Herald & Colonial Review (1824–9); the weekly Sphinx (1827–9); and the Athenæum 1828—which he soon relinquished to John Sterling. Published 1822–30 four books on his travels in the Middle East. Radical MP for Sheffield 1832–7. Toured America 1837–40, lecturing as he went on temperance and other reforms, and was warmly received by religious bodies and temperance societies. By the end of 1842 had published three detailed and unbiased books on America—America: Historical, Statistic, and Descriptive, 3 vols, 1841, The Slave States of America, 2 vols, 1842, and The Eastern and Western States of America, 3 vols, 1842. Had married Elizabeth Jennings 1806; their youngest son, Leicester Silk Buckingham, became a dramatist. Buckingham was active and benevolent, but vain and self-important and undertook many more schemes than he could carry through.
Editor’s Note
1 Buckingham, who had spent five days at Niagara, devoted a chapter of his America, Vol. ii, to its description and praise (pp. 498–514), and in an Appendix included a poem of 10 stanzas, written "at the first sight of its Falls—August 12th, 1838"; but it is in fourteeners, not blank verse. It begins: "Hail! Sovereign of the World of Floods!—whose majesty and might | First dazzles—then enraptures—then o'erawes the aching sight".
Editor’s Note
2 Thus (or "cordiale") in MS.
Editor’s Note
3 "Lines Addressed to the Ship Ville de Lyons, which Sails from New York for Havre, Tomorrow, April 24th"; published in the Boston Daily Advertiser, 23 Apr (the sailing was in fact delayed until the 27th, owing to head-winds). Longfellow was leaving for Marienberg, to take the waters. Sumner wrote to him on the 23rd: "[The lines] excite universal admiration. Judge Story, Quincy, Prescott, Greenleaf, all admire them" (E. L. Pierce, Memoir and Letters of Charles Sumner, II, 206).
Editor’s Note
4 The first stanza (out of seven) begins: "O, ship, beneath whose cleaving prow | The deep sea soon shall roar, | Were wishes winds, how soon thy keel | Would graze thy destined shore."
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