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
To C. C. FELTON, 2 MARCH 1843†
MS Berg Collection. Address: By Mail Steamer | Professor Felton | Cambridge | Massachusetts | United States.
1 Devonshire Terrace York Gate Regents Park London
Second March 1843.
My Dear Felton.
I don't know where to begin, but plunge headlong with a terrible splash into this letter, on the chance of turning up somewhere.
Hurrah! Up like a Cork again—with the North American Review5 in my pg 452hand. Like you, my dear Felton. And I can say no more in praise of it, though I go on to the end of the sheet. You cannot think how much notice it has attracted here. Brougham called the other day with the No. (thinking I might not have seen it) and I being out at the time, he left a note, speaking of it, and of the writer, in terms that warmed my heart. Lord Ashburton (one of whose people wrote a Notice in the Edinburgh, which they have since publicly contradicted)1 also wrote to me about it in just the same strain. And many others have done the like.
I am in great health and spirits, and powdering away at Chuzzlewit, with all manner of facetiousness rising up before me as I go on. As to news, I have really none, saving that Forster (who never took any exercise in his life) has been laid up with the rheumatism for weeks past, but is now, I hope, getting better. My little captain,2 as I call him—he who took me out, I mean, and with whom I had that adventure of the cork soles3—has been in London too, and seeing all the lions under my escort. Good Heavens! I wish you could have seen certain other mahogany faced men (also Captains) who used to call here for him in the morning, and bear him off to Docks and Rivers and all sorts of queer places, whence he always returned late at night, with rum and water tear-drops in his eyes, and a complication of Punchy smells in his mouth! He was better than a Comedy to us—having marvellous ways of tying his pocket hand kerchief round his neck at dinner time in a kind of jolly embarrasment4—and then forgetting what he had done with it. Also of singing songs to wrong tunes, and calling land objects by sea names, and never knowing what o'Clock it was, but taking midnight for seven in the evening; with many other sailor oddities, all full of honesty, manliness, and good temper. We took him to Drury Lane Theatre to see Much Ado About Nothing.5 But I never could find out what he meant by turning round to Kate after he had watched the first two scenes with great attention; and enquiring "whether it was a Polish piece?"!
aForster must make haste and get well, for this day month, the second of April, is our wedding day and his birthday; on which high festival, we always go down in great state to Richmond (an exquisite place upon the River Thames: some twelve miles off) and hold a solemn dinner, whereat we empty our glasses, you may believe.a On the fourth, I am going to preside at a Public Dinner for pg 453the benefit of the Printers;1 and if you were a guest at that table, wouldn't I smite you on the shoulder, harder than ever I rapped the well-beloved back of Washington Irving at the City Hotel in New York!2
You were asking me—I love to say, asking—as if we could talk together—about Maclise. He is such a discursive fellow, and so eccentric in his might, that on a mental review of his pictures I can hardly tell you of them as leading to any one strong purpose. But the Annual Exhibition at the Royal Academy comes off in May,3 and then I will endeavour to give you some notion of him. He is a tremendous creature, and might do anything. But like all tremendous creatures, he takes his own way, and flies off at unexpected breaches in the conventional wall.
You know Hone's4 Every Day Book, I dare say. Ah! I saw a scene of mingled comicality and seriousness at his funeral some weeks ago,5 which has choked me at dinner-time ever since. George Cruikshank and I, went as Mourners;6 and as he lived, poor fellow, five miles out of town, I drove George down. It was such a day as I hope for the credit of Nature is seldom seen in any parts but these—muddy, foggy, wet, dark, cold, and unutterably wretched in every possible respect. Now, George has enormous whiskers which straggle all down his throat in such weather, and stick out in front of him, like a partially unravelled bird's-nest; so that he looks queer enough at the best, but when he is very wet, and in a state between jollity (he is always very jolly with me) and the deepest gravity (going to a funeral, you know) it is utterly impossible to resist him: especially as he makes the strangest remarks the mind of man can conceive, without any intention of being funny, but rather meaning to be philosophical. I really cried with an irresistible sense of his comicality, all the way, but when he was drest out in a black cloak and a very long black hatband by an undertaker, who (as he whispered me with tears in his eyes—for he had known Hone many years—was "a character, and he would like to sketch him") I thought I should have been obliged to go away. However, we went into a little parlor where the funeral party was, and God knows it was miserable enough, for the pg 454widow and children were crying bitterly in one comer, and the other mourners—mere people of ceremony, who cared no more for the Dead Man than the hearse did—were talking quite coolly and carelessly together in another; and the contrast was as painful and distressing as anything I ever saw. There was an Independent clergyman1 present, with his bands on and a bible under his arm who as soon as we were seated, addressed George thus, in a loud emphatic voice—"Mr. Cruikshank. Have you seen a paragraph respecting our departed friend, which has gone the round of the morning papers?"2—"Yes Sir", says George, "I" have—looking very hard at me the while, for he had told me with some pride, coming down, that it was his composition. "Oh!" said the clergyman. "Then you will agree with me Mr. Cruikshank that it is not only an insult to me who am the servant of the Almighty, but an insult to the Almighty whose servant I am"—"How's that Sir?" says George. "It is stated, Mr. Cruikshank, in that paragraph", says the Minister, "that when Mr. Hone failed in business as a bookseller, he was persuaded by me to try the Pulpit, which is false, incorrect, unchristian, in a manner blasphemous, and in all respects contemptible. Let us pray." With which, my dear Felton—and in the same breath I give you my word—he knelt down, as we all did, and began a very miserable [jumble]3 of an extemporary prayer. I was really penetrated with sorrow for the family, but when George (upon his knees, and sobbing for the loss of an old friend) whispered me "that if that wasn't a clergyman, and it wasn't a funeral, he'd have punched his head", I felt as if nothing but convulsions could possibly relieve me.4
pg 455bTell Longfellow that I can't find that book of his, but that I have some others from the Shakespeare Society1 for him; and that I want to know whether I shall send them to Hillard.2 Remember me heartily to our Hillard, and to Sumner, and all friends. We have been greatly concerned at Mrs. Felton's not being well,3 but hope your next accounts will be more favorable. Our united loves to her. Tell me something in your next, about Dr. Channing's family. Disgusted with our Established Church, and its Puseyisms,4 and daily outrages on common sense and humanity, I have carried into effect an old idea of mine, and joined the Unitarians,5 who would do something for human improvement, pg 456if they could; and who practise Charity and Toleration. The Tories will love me better than ever, if this gets wind. My children shall return the compliment, please God!b
- Faithfully Always My Dear Felton