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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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pg 370To W. C. MACREADY, 12 NOVEMBER 1842

MS Morgan Library.

Devonshire Terrace | Saturday Twelfth Novr. 1842.

My Dear Macready

You pass this house every day, on your way to, or from, the Theatre, I wish you would call once as you go by—and soon, that you may have plenty of time to deliberate on what I wish to suggest to you. The more I think of Marston's1 Play,2 the more sure I feel that a Prologue, to the purpose, would help it materially,3 and almost decide the fate of any ticklish point on the first night.4 Now I have an idea (not easily explainable in writing, but told in five words) which would take the prologue out of the conventional dress of prologues—quite—get the curtain up with a dash—and begin the play with a sledge hammer pg 371blow. If, on consideration, you should think with me, I will write the Prologue, heartily.1

  •                                              Faithfully Yours ever
  • W. C. Macready Esquire                              Charles Dickens

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
1 John Westland Marston (1819–90; DNB), poet and dramatist; for many years one of the mainstays of poetic drama on the English stage. His 14 plays, performed 1842–69 (most of them published in his Dramatic and Poetical Works, 2 vols, 1876), included seven tragedies and historical dramas in verse.
Editor’s Note
2 The Patrician's Daughter, Marston's first play, a verse tragedy in 5 Acts, published 1841, with dedication to Macready; republished, "enlarged and adapted for representation", 1842. In his Preface to the 1st edn Marston said that his intention was to "write a Tragedy entirely indebted for its incident, and passion, to the habits and spirit of the age". The play is set in 1842, and its plot is very simple: Mordaunt, the hero, a successful politician of low birth, obtains the hand of Lady Mabel Lynterne, only to repudiate her before her assembled family and friends, to avenge an earlier slight engineered by her maiden aunt, Lady Lydia. Mabel dies brokenhearted. Macready on first reading it, Oct 41, thought it "most powerful", and on rereading it, Aug 42, "most interesting and touching … I will act it, if I am prosperous" (Diaries, ii, 145, 182). In production, according to Marston, he "was anxious—perhaps more anxious than the author—to invest the action with every detail of the most modern realism"— including in one Act, since the season was summer, parasols for the actresses. "'Blank verse and parasols,' said Mrs Warner [who was playing Lady Lydia] … 'Is not that quite a new combination?'" (Our Recent Actors, ii, 285–6). CD obviously heard much of the venture from Forster or Macready himself; moreover Marston had dedicated to him his Gerald, and Other Poems, published Oct 42. The play (the first new play of Macready's season) was given 11 performances at Drury Lane between 10 Dec and 20 Jan 43,
Editor’s Note
3 By preparing the audience for the play's contemporary setting.
Editor’s Note
4 The play was well received by the audience, and most of the reviews were favourable. The Times and Morning Chronicle (both 12 Dec) praised the contemporary setting and mentioned the prologue with approval, the Chronicle linking Marston's experiment with "the change which, as to poetry generally, has been achieved by Wordsworth and his coadjutors". The Examiner's notice of 17 Dec (probably by Forster) gave great praise to the production, décor and acting, and considered that the prologue, by "impressing the audience strongly with the scope and purpose of what they had come to see, thoroughly prepared them for welcome and applause". But the Morning Post attacked both the play (in which it saw Whig or Radical propaganda) and CD's prologue ("milk and water"; "doubtless a very pretty academical exercise"). For the Monthly Magazine's criticism, see To Macready, 25 Nov (afternoon), fn. The play when performed at the Theatre Royal, Edinburgh, in Dec 43, was a great success and a triumph for Helen Faucit; the Theatrical Journal, 9 Dec, felt that justice had not been done to it in London.
Editor’s Note
1 A remarkable offer in the light of what CD wrote about his work to Miss Coutts the same day; but in the course of the next fortnight he produced a first draft. Three versions in his hand are known: the MS of this preliminary draft (now in the Morgan Library), a corrected version (photostat in the Morgan Library), and the MS of a later fair-copy (MS Morgan). The preliminary draft is printed in MDGH, I, 77–8, and reprinted in F. G. Kitton, The Poems and Verses of CD, 1903, with the mistaken statement by Georgina Hogarth that this was "the revised and only correct version". The prologue consists of 48 lines in heroic couplets.
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