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Charles Dickens

Kathleen Mary Tillotson (ed.), The British Academy/The Pilgrim Edition of the Letters of Charles Dickens, Vol. 4: 1844–1846

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To T. J. THOMPSON, 11 MARCH 1844

Text from A Dickens Friendship, ed. W[ilfrid] M[eynell], privately printed, 1931, p. 18.

Devonshire Terrace. Monday, Eleventh March, 1844

My dear Thompson,

I swear to you that when I opened and read your letter this morning (I laid down my pen to break the seal, being just shut up in my room) I felt the blood go from my face to I don't know where, and my very lips turn white. I never in my life was so surprised, or had the whole current of my life so stopped, for the instant, as when I felt, at a glance, what your letter said. Which I did, correctly. For when I came to read it attentively, and several times over, I found nothing new in it.

This was not because it contained a word to astonish me, but because I never had imagined you remaining in Liverpool, or seriously admiring her.6 Forgive me when I say that I did not think it lay in your temper or habit to do so unless it had become a thing of pretty long custom. I supposed you had returned to Yorkshire—I expected you in town any day—and have often wondered within myself whether you would still have an interest in recalling with me her uncommon character and wonderful endowments. I know that in many points I am an excitable and headstrong man, and ride O God what prancing hobbies!—and although I knew that the impression she had made on me was a true, deep, honest, pure-spirited thing, I thought my nature might have been prepared to receive it, and to exaggerate it unconsciously, and to keep it green long after pg 70such a fancy as I deemed it probable you might have conceived had withered. So much for my injustice, which I must release myself of in the first instance.

You asked me to write, and I think you want me to write freely. I will tell you what I would do myself, if I were in your case and I will tell you without the least reserve.

If I had all your independent means, and twenty times my own reputation and fame, and felt as irresistibly impelled towards her as I should if I were in your place and as you do, I would not hesitate, or do that slight to the resolution of my own heart which hesitation would imply. But would win her if I could, by God. I would answer it to myself, if my world's breath whispered me that I had known her but a few days, that hours of hers are years in the lives of common women. That it is in such a face and such a spirit, as part of its high nature, to do at once what less etherial creatures must be long in doing.1 That as no man ever saw a soul or caught it in its flight, no man can measure it by rule and rod. And that it has a right in such lofty development to pitch all forms laid down by bodies to the devil—the only thing, as far as I know, who was never in love himself, or inspired it in others.

And to the father I would point out, in very tenderness and sorrow for this gentle creature, who otherwise is lost to this sad world which needs another, Heaven knows, to set it right—lost in her youth as surely as she lives—that the course to which he is devoting her, should not be called her life but Death; for its speedy end is certain. I saw an angel's message in her face that day that smote me to the heart. He may not know this, being always with her; it is very likely he does not; and I would tell it him. Repose, change, a mind at rest, a foreign climate would be, in a springtime like hers, the dawning of a new existence. I believe, I do believe and hope, that this would save her; and that many happy years hence, she would be strong and hardy. But at the worst, contemplating the chance, the distant chance in such a case, of what is so dreadful, I could say in solemn and religious earnestness that I could bear better her passing from my arms to Heaven than I could endure the thought of coldly turning off into the World again to see her no more; to have my very name forgotten in her ears; to lose the recollection of her myself but at odd times and in remorseful glances backwards; and only to have the old thoughts stirred up at last by some indifferent person saying "You recollect her? Ah! She's dead."

As I live, I write the Truth and feel it.

So many ideas spring up within me, of the quiet happiness we might enjoy abroad, all of us together, in some delicious nook, where we should make merry over all this, that I don't know whether to be glad or sorry at my own hopefulness —Such Italian Castles, bright in sunny days, and pale in moonlight nights, as I am building in the air!—

But time is precious, and Dick is (to a certain extent) a prosing Donkey, if you pg 71give him the rein. So as it is pouring very hard, and John will probably contract an asthma in running at the rate of seven miles an hour to the post-office to save the post, I will go on with my building after I have dispatched this. I never was more in earnest, my dear Thompson, in my life.

  • Always faithfully your friend              
  • Charles Dickens

P.S. I am truly sorry to hear about Smithson1 but I have been afraid of it for a long time. Write, if you remain.

P.P.S. I don't seem to have said half enough.

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
6 Christiana Weller.
Editor’s Note
1 Wilfrid Meynell notes (A Dickens Friendship, p. 16) that one of the first books given to Christiana by Thompson was a translation, published 1844, of De La Motte Fouqué's "The White Lady" and "Undine", inscribed in pencil: "To Her who in these lovely fictions may see her own character reflected—good and gentle as the White Phantom, spiritual as Undine —I offer this little volume. T. J. Thompson".
Editor’s Note
1 The first mention of Smithson's illness; he died 30 Mar.
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