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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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Extract in F, iii, viii, 280. Date: 7 Aug according to Forster.

I have been reading Tennyson6 all this morning on the seashore. Among other trifling effects, the waters have dried up as they did of old, and shown me pg 307all the mermen and mermaids, at the bottom of the ocean;1 together with millions of queer creatures, half-fish and half-fungus, looking down into all manner of coral caves and seaweed conservatories; and staring in with their great dull eyes at every open nook and loophole.2 Who else, too, could conjure up such a close to the extraordinary and as Landor would say "most woonderful" series of pictures in the "dream of fair women," as—

  • Squadrons and squares of men in brazen plates,
  •   Scaffolds, still sheets of water, divers woes,
  • Ranges of glimmering vaults with iron grates,
  •   And hushed seraglios!3

I am getting on pretty well, but it was so glittering and sunshiny yesterday that I was forced to make holiday.

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Editor’s Note
6 See To Tennyson, 9 Mar 43, fn. Poems, in two vols (the first chiefly poems published 1830 and 1833, though often revised), had been published by Moxon on 14 May 42; by August widely and favourably reviewed, in contrast to earlier vols (E. F. Shannon, Tennyson and the Reviewers, Cambridge, Mass., 1952, pp. 60–81); Tennyson was now regarded as a poet of the first rank. On 8 Sep 42 he wrote to Edmund Lushington: "500 of my books are sold: according to Moxon's brother I have made a sensation!" (the 1833 volume had taken two years to sell 300). Forster's enthusiastic review (four columns) in the Examiner of 28 May was perhaps the earliest; he was also very probably the fervent reviewer of Poems, 1833, in the True Sun, 19 Jan 33 (E. F. Shannon, op. cit., p. 18). The volumes were much talked of: Elizabeth Barrett on 21 May said they had "rapt [her] in Elysium" (Elizabeth Barrett to Miss Mitford, ed. Betty Miller, 1954, p. 117); Carlyle wrote to Tennyson, 7 Dec, that it was long since he had felt in an English book "the pulse of a real man's heart … strong as a lion's, yet gentle, loving and full of music … a genuine singer's heart ! there are tones as of the nightingale" (Alfred Lord Tennyson, a Memoir, by his Son, 1897, i, 213), and he used his authority to spread his view abroad: see for instance his letter to Jane Wilson, 9 Dec 42 (Nineteenth Century, lxxxix [1921], 811).
Editor’s Note
1 Poems, 1842, included "The Merman" and "The Mermaid" (first published 1830).
Editor’s Note
2 Cf., in "The Mermaid", the great snake who would "look in at the gate | With his large calm eyes"; and, in "The Merman", "the pale-green sea-groves straight and high".
Editor’s Note
3 Stanza ix of "A Dream of Fair Women" (first published 1832).
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