It is the intention of this and the following chapter to narrate the incidents of the visit to America in Dickens's own language, and in that only. They will consist almost exclusively of extracts from his letter written home, to members of his family and to myself.
On the night of Tuesday , 19 November, he arrived at Boston, where he took up his residence at the Parker House hotel; and his first letter (21st) stated that the tickets for the first four Readings, all to that time issued, had been sold immediately on their becoming saleable. "An immense train of people waited in the freezing street for twelve hours, and passed into the office in their turns, as at a French theatre. The receipts already taken for these nights exceed our calculation by more than £250." Up to the last moment, he had not been able to clear off wholly a shade of misgiving that some of the old grudges might make themselves felt; but from the instant of his setting foot in Boston not a vestige of such fear remained. The greeting was to the full as extraordinary as that of twenty-five years before, and was given now, as then, to the man who had made himself the most popular writer in the country. His novels and tales were crowding the shelves of all the dealers in books in all the cities of the Union. In every house, in every car, on every steam-boat, in every theatre of America, the characters, the fancies, the phraseology of Dickens were become familiar beyond those of any other writer of books. "Even in England," said one of the New York journals, "Dickens is less known than here; and of the millions here who treasure every word he has written, there are tens of thousands who would make a large sacrifice to see and hear the man who has made happy so many hours. Whatever sensitiveness there once was to adverse or sneering criticism, the lapse of a quarter of a century, and the profound significance of a great war, have modified or removed." The point was more pithily, and as truly, put by Mr. Horace Greeley in the Tribune. "The fame as a novelist which Mr. Dickens had already created in America, and which, at the best, has never yielded him anything particularly munificent or substantial, is become his capital stock in the present enterprise."
The first Reading was appointed for the second of December, and in the interval he saw some old friends and made some new ones. Boston he was fond of comparing to Edinburgh as Edinburgh was in the days when several dear friends of his own still lived there. Twenty-five years had changed much in the American city; some genial faces were gone, and on ground which he had left a swamp he found now the most princely streets; but there was no abatement of the old warmth of kindness and, with every attention and consideration shown to him, there was no intrusion. He was not at first completely conscious of the change in this respect, or of the prodigious increase in the size of Boston. But the latter grew upon him from day to day, and then there was impressed along with it a contrast to which it was difficult to reconcile himself. Nothing enchanted him so much as what he again saw of the delightful domestic life of Cambridge, simple, self-respectful, cordial, and affectionate; and it seemed impossible to believe that within half an hour's distance of it should be found what might at any time be witnessed in such hotels as that which he was staying at: crowds of swagerers, loafers, bar loungers, and dram drinkers, that seemed to be making up, from day to day, not the least important part of the human life of the city. But no great mercantile resort in the States, such as Boston had now become, could be without that drawback; and fortunate should we account any place to be, though even so plague-afflicted, that has yet so near it the healthier influence of the other life which our older world has well-nigh lost altogether.
"The city has increased prodigiously in twenty-five years," he wrote to his daughter Mary. "It has grown more mercantile. It is like Leeds mixed with Preston, and flavoured with New Brighton. Only, instead of smoke and fog, there is an exquisitely bright light air." "Cambridge is exactly as I left it," he wrote to me. "Boston more mercantile, and much larger. The hotel I formerly stayed at, and thought a very big one, is now regarded as a very small affair. I do not yet notice -- but a day, you know, is not a long time for observation! -- any marked change in character or habits. In this immense hotel I live very high up, and have a hot and cold bath in my bed room, with other comforts not in existence in my former day. The cost of living is enormous." "Two of the staff are at New York," he wrote to his sister-in-law on 25 November, "where we are at our wits' end how to keep tickets out of the hands of speculators. We have communications from all parts of the country, but we take no offer whatever. The young undergraduates of Cambridge have made a representation to Longfellow that they are 500 strong and cannot get one ticket. I don't know what is to be done, but I suppose I must read there, somehow. We are all in the clouds until I shall have broken ground in New York." The sale of tickets, there, had begun two days before the first reading in Boston. "At the New York barriers," he wrote to his daughter on the first of December, "where the tickets were on sale and the people ranged as at the Paris theatres, speculators went up and down offering twenty dollars for any body's place. The money was in no case accepted. But one man sold two tickets for the second, third, and fourth nights; his payment in exchange being one ticket for the first night, fifty dollars (about £7 10s.), and a 'brandy cock-tail.'"
On Monday the second of December he read for the first time in Boston, his subjects being the Carol and the Trial from Pickwick; and his reception, from an audience than which perhaps none more remarkable could have been brought together, went beyond all expectations formed. "It is really impossible," he wrote to me next morning, "to exaggerate the magnificence of the reception or the effect of the reading. The whole city will talk of nothing else and hear of nothing else to-day. Every ticket for those announced here, and in New York, is sold. All are sold at the highest price, for which in our calculation we made no allowance; and it is impossible to keep out speculators who immediately sell at a premium. At the decreased rate of money even, we had above £450 English in the house last night; and the New York hall holds 500 people more. Everything looks brilliant beyond the most sanguine hopes, and I was quite as cool last night as though I were reading at Chatham." The next night he read again; and also on Thursday and Friday; on Wednesday he had rested; and on Saturday he travelled to New York.
He had written, the day before he left, that he was making a clear profit of thirteen hundred pounds English a week, even allowing seven dollars to the pound; but words were added having no good omen in them, that the weather was taking a turn of even unusual severity, and that he found the climate, in the suddenness of its changes, "and the wide leaps they take," excessively trying. "The work is of course rather trying too; but the sound position that everything must be subservient to it enables me to keep aloof from invitations. To-morrow," ran the close of the letter, "we move to New York. We cannot beat the speculators in our tickets. We sell no more than six to any one person for the course of four readings; but these speculators, who sell at greatly increased prices and make large profits, will employ any number of men to buy. One of the chief of them -- now living in this house, in order that he may move as we move! -- can put on 50 people in any place we go to; and thus he gets 300 tickets into his own hands." Almost while Dickens was writing these words an eye-witness was describing to a Philadelphia paper the sale of the New York tickets. The pay-place was to open at nine on a Wednesday morning, and at midnight of Tuesday a long line of speculators were assembled in queue; at two in the morning a few honest buyers had begun to arrive; at five there were, of all classes, two lines of not less than 800 each; at eight there were at least 5,000 persons in the two lines; at nine each line was more than three-quarters of a mile in length, and neither became sensibly shorter during the whole morning. "The tickets for the course were all sold before noon. Members of families relieved each other in the queues; waiters flew across the streets and squares from the neighbouring restaurant, to serve parties who were taking their breakfast in the open December air; while excited men offered five and ten dollars for the mere permission to exchange places with other persons standing nearer the head of the line!"
The effect of the reading in New York corresponded with his marvellous preparation, and Dickens characterised his audience as an unexpected support to him; in its appreciation quick and unfailing, and highly demonstrative in its satisfactions. On 11 December he wrote to his daughter: "Amazing success. A very fine audience, far better than at Boston. Carol and Trial on first night, great; still greater, Copperfield and Bob Sawyer on second. For the tickets of the four readings of next week there were, at nine o'clock this morning, 3,000 people in waiting, and they had begun to assemble in the bitter cold as early as two o'clock in the morning." To myself he wrote on the 15th, adding touches to the curious picture. "Dolby has got into trouble about the manner of issuing the tickets for next week's series. He cannot get four thousand people into a room holding only two thousand, he cannot induce people to pay at the ordinary price for themselves instead of giving thrice as much to speculators, and he is attacked in all directions. . . . I don't much like my hall, for it has two large balconies far removed from the platform; but no one ever waylays me as I go into it or come out of it, and it is kept as rigidly quiet as the Francais at a rehearsal. We have not yet had in it less than £430 per night, allowing for the depreciated currency! I send £3,000 to England by this packet. From all parts of the States, applications and offers continually come in. We go to Boston next Saturday for two more readings, and come back here on Christmas Day for four more. I am not yet bound to go elsewhere, except three times, each time for two nights, to Philadelphia; thinking it wisest to keep free for the largest places. I have had an action brought against me by a man who considered himself injured (and really may have been) in the matter of his tickets. Personal service being necessary, I was politely waited on by a marshall for that purpose; whom I received with the greatest courtesy, apparently very much to his amazement. The action was handsomely withdrawn next day, and the plaintiff paid his own costs. . . . Dolby hopes you are satisfied with the figures so far; the profit each night exceeding the estimated profit by £130 odd. He is anxious I should also tell you that he is the most unpopular and best-abused man in America." Next day a letter to his sister-in law related an incident too common in American cities to disconcert any but strangers. He had lodged himself, I should have said, at the Westminster Hotel in Irving Place. "Last night I was getting into bed just at 12 o'clock, when Dolby came to my door to inform me that the house was on fire. I got Scott up directly; told him first to pack the books and clothes for the Readings; dressed, and pocketed my jewels and papers; while the manager stuffed himself out with money. Meanwhile the police and firemen were in the house tracing the mischief to its source in a certain fire-grate. By this time the hose was laid all through from a great tank on the roof, and everybody turned out to help. It was the oddest sight, and people had put the strangest things on! After chopping and cutting with axes through stairs, and much handing about of water, the fire was confined to a dining-room in which it had originated; and then everybody talked to everybody else, the ladies being particularly loquacious and cheerful. I may remark that the second landlord (from both, but especially the first, I have had untiring attention) no sooner saw me on this agitating occasion, than, with his property blazing, he insisted on taking me down into a room full of hot smoke, to drink brandy and water with him! And so we got to bed again about two."
Dickens had been a week in New York before he was able to identify the great city which a lapse of twenty-five years had so prodigiously increased. "The only portion that has even now come back to me," he wrote, "is the part of Broadway in which the Carlton Hotel (long since destroyed) used to stand. There is a very fine new park in the outskirts, and the number of grand houses and splendid equipages is quite surprising. There are hotels close here with 500 bedrooms and I don't know how many boarders; but this hotel is quite as quiet as, and not much larger than, Mivart's in Brook Street. My rooms are all en suite, and I come and go by a private door and private staircase communicating with my bed-room. The waiters are French, and one might be living in Paris. One of the two proprietors is also proprietor of Niblo's Theatre, and the greatest care is taken of me. Niblo's great attraction, the Black Crook, has now been played every night for 16 months (!), and is the most preposterous peg to hang ballets on that was ever seen. The people who act in it have not the slightest idea of what it is about, and never had; but, after taxing my intellectual powers to the utmost, I fancy that I have discovered Black Crook to be a malignant hunchback leagued with the Powers of Darkness to separate two lovers; and that the Powers of Lightness coming (in no skirts whatever) to the rescue, he is defeated. I am quite serious in saying that I do not suppose there are two pages of All the Year Round in the whole piece (which acts all night); the whole of the rest of it being ballets of all sorts, perfectly unaccountable processions, and the Donkey out of the last year's Covent Garden pantomime! At the other theatres, comic operas, melodramas, and domestic dramas prevail all over the city, and my stories play no inconsiderable part in them. I go nowhere, having laid down the rule that to combine visiting with my work would be absolutely impossible. . . . The Fenian explosion at Clerkenwell was telegraphed here in a few hours. I do not think there is any sympathy whatever with the Fenians on the part of the American people, though political adventures may make capital out of a show of it. But no doubt large sections of the Irish population of this State are themselves Fenian; and the local politics of the place are in a most depraved condition, if half of what is said to me be true. I prefer not to talk of these things, but at odd intervals I look round for myself. Great social improvements in respect of manners and forbearance have come to pass since I was here before, but in public life I see as yet but little change."
He had got through half of his first New York readings when a winter storm came on, and from this time until very near his return the severity of the weather was exceptional even for America. When the first snow fell, the railways were closed for some days; and he described New York crowded with sleighs, and the snow piled up in enormous walls the whole length of the streets. "I turned out in a rather gorgeous sleigh yesterday with any quantity of buffalo robes, and made an imposing appearance." "If you were to behold me driving out," he wrote to his daughter, "furred up to the moustache, with an immense white red-and-yellow-striped rug for a covering, you would suppose me to be of Hungarian or Polish nationality." These protections nevertheless availed him little; and when the time came for getting back to Boston, he found himself at the close of his journey with a cold and cough that never again left him until he had quitted the country, and of which the effects became more and more disastrous. For the present there was little allusion to this, his belief at the first being strong that he should overmaster it; but it soon forced itself into all his letters.
His railway journey otherwise had not been agreeable. "The railways are truly alarming. Much worse (because more worn I suppose) than when I was here before. We were beaten about yesterday, as if we had been aboard the Cuba. Two rivers have to be crossed, and each time the whole train is banged aboard a big steamer. The steamer rises and falls with the river, which the railroad don't do; and the train is either banged up hill or banged down hill. In coming off the steamer at one of these crossings yesterday, we were banged up such a height that the rope broke, and one carriage rushed back with a run down-hill into the boat again. I whisked out in a moment, and two or three others after me; but nobody else seemed to care about it. The treatment of the luggage is perfectly outrageous. Nearly every case I have is already broken. When we started from Boston yesterday, I beheld, to my unspeakable amazement, Scott, my dresser, leaning a flushed countenance against the wall of the car, and weeping bitterly. It was over my smashed writing-desk. Yet the arrangements for luggage are excellent, if the porters would not be beyond description reckless." The same excellence of provision, and flinging away of its advantages, are observed in connection with another subject in the same letter. "The halls are excellent. Imagine one holding two thousand people, seated with exact equality for every one of them, and every one seated separately. I have nowhere, at home or abroad, seen so fine a police as the police of New York; and their bearing in the streets is above all praise. On the other hand, the laws for regulation of public vehicles, clearing of streets, and removal of obstructions, are wildly outraged by the people for whose benefit they are intended. Yet there is undoubtedly improvement in every direction, and I am taking time to make up my mind on things in general. Let me add that I have been tempted out at three in the morning to visit one of the large police station-houses, and was so fascinated by the study of a horrible photograph-book of thieves' portraits that I couldn't shut it up."
A letter of the same date (22nd) to his sister-in-law told of personal attentions awaiting him on his return to Boston by which he was greatly touched. He found his rooms garnished with flowers and holly, with real red berries, and with festoons of moss; and the homely Christmas look of the place quite affected him. "There is a certain Captain Dolliver belonging to the Boston custom-house, who came off in the little steamer that brought me ashore from the Cuba; and he took it into his head that he would have a piece of English mistletoe brought out in this week's Cunard, which should be laid upon my breakfast table. And there it was this morning. In such affectionate touches as this, these New England people are especially amiable. . . . As a general rule you may lay it down that whatever you see about me in the papers is not true; but you may generally lend a more believing ear to the Philadelphia correspondent of the Times, a well-informed gentleman. Our hotel in New York was on fire again the other night. But fires in this country are quite matters of course. There was a large one in Boston at four this morning; and I don't think a single night has passed, since I have been under the protection of the Eagle, that I have not heard the Fire Bells dolefully clanging all over both cities." The violent abuse of his manager by portions of the press is the subject of the rest of the letter, and receives farther illustration in one of the same date to me. "A good specimen of the sort of newspaper you and I know something of, came out in Boston here this morning. The editor had applied for our advertisements, saying that 'it was at Mr. D's disposal for paragraphs.' The advertisements were not sent; Dolby did not enrich its columns paragraphically; and among its news to-day is the item that 'this chap calling himself Dolby got drunk down town last night, and was taken to the police station for fighting an Irishman!' I am sorry to say that I don't find anybody to be much shocked by this liveliness." It is right to add what was said to me a few days later. "The Tribune is an excellent paper. Horace Greeley is editor in chief, and a considerable shareholder too. All the people connected with it whom I have seen are of the best class. It is also a very fine property -- but here the New York Herald beats it hollow, hollow, hollow! Another able and well edited paper is the New York Times. A most respectable journal too is Bryant's Evening Post, excellently written. There is generally a much more responsible and respectable tone than prevailed formerly, however small may be the literary merit, among papers pointed out to me as of large circulation. In much of the writing there is certainly improvement, but it might be more widely spread."
The time had now come when the course his Readings were to take independently of the two leading cities must be settled, and the general tour made out. His agent's original plan was that they should be in New York every week. "But I say No. By 10 January I shall have read to 35,000 people in that city alone. Put the readings out of the reach of all the people behind them, for the time. It is that one of the popular peculiarities which I most particularly notice, that they must not have a thing too easily. Nothing in the country lasts long; and a thing is prized the more, the less easy it is made. Reflecting therefore that I shall want to close, in April, with farewell readings here and in New York, I am convinced that the crush and pressure upon these necessary to their adequate success is only to be got by absence; and that the best thing I can do is not to give either city as much reading as it wants now, but to be independent of both while both are most enthusiastic. I have therefore resolved presently to announce in New York so many readings (I mean a certain number) as the last that can be given there, before I travel to promised places; and that we select the best places, with the largest halls, on our list. This will include, East here -the two or three best New England towns; South -- Baltimore and Washington; West -- Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and St. Louis; and towards Niagara -- Cleveland and Buffalo. Philadelphia we are already pledged to, for six nights; and the scheme will pretty easily bring us here again twice before the farewells. I feel convinced that this is the sound policy." (It was afterwards a little modified, as will be seen, by public occurrences and his own condition of health; the West, as well as a promise to Canada, having to be abandoned; but otherwise it was carried out.) "I read here to-morrow and Tuesday; all tickets being sold to the end of the series, even for subjects not announced. I have not read a single line at a lower clear profit per night (all deductions made) than £315. But rely upon it I shall take great care not to read oftener than four times a week -- after this next week, when I stand committed to five. The inevitable tendency of the staff, when these great houses excite them, is, in the words of an old friend of ours, to 'hurge the hartist hon;' and a night or two ago I had to cut away five readings from their list."
An incident at Boston should have mention before he resumes his readings in New York. In the interval since he was first in America, the Harvard professor of chemistry, Dr. Webster, whom he had at that visit met among the honoured men who held chairs in their Cambridge University, had been hanged for the murder, committed in his laboratory in the college, of a friend who had lent him money, portions of whose body lay concealed under the lid of the lecture-room table where the murderer continued to meet his students. "Being in Cambridge," Dickens wrote to Lord Lytton, "I thought I would go over the Medical School, and see the exact localities where Professor Webster did that amazing murder, and worked so hard to rid himself of the body of the murdered man. (I find there is of course no rational doubt that the Professor was always a secretly cruel man.) They were horribly grim, private, cold, and quiet; the identical furnace smelling fearfully (some anatomical broth in it I suppose) as if the body were still there; jars of pieces of sour mortality standing about, like the forty robbers in Ali Baba after being scalded to death; and bodies near us ready to be carried in to next morning's lecture. At the house where I afterwards dined I heard an amazing and fearful story; told by one who had been at a dinner-party of ten or a dozen, at Webster's, less than a year before the murder. They began rather uncomfortably, in consequence of one of the guests (the victim of an instinctive antipathy) starting up with the sweat pouring down his face, and crying out, 'O Heaven! There's a cat somewhere in the room!' The cat was found and ejected, but they didn't get on very well. Left with their wine, they were getting on a little better; when Webster suddenly told the servants to turn the gas off and bring in that bowl of burning minerals which he had prepared, in order that the company might see how ghastly they looked by its weird light. All this was done, and every man was looking, horror-stricken, at his neighbour; when Webster was seen bending over the bowl with a rope round his neck, holding up the end of the rope, with his head on one side and his tongue lolled out, to represent a hanged man!"
Dickens read at Boston on 23 and 24 December, and on Christmas day travelled back to New York where he was to read on the 26th. The last words written before he left were of illness. "The low action of the heart, or whatever it is, has inconvenienced me greatly this last week. On Monday night, after the reading, I was laid upon a bed, in a very faint and shady state; and on the Tuesday I did not get up till the afternoon." But what in reality was less grave took outwardly the form of a greater distress; and the effects of the cold which had struck him in travelling to Boston, as yet not known to his English friends, appear most to have alarmed those about him. I depart from my rule in this narrative, otherwise strictly observed, in singling out one of those friends for mention by name; but a business connection with the Readings, as well as untiring offices of personal kindness and sympathy, threw Mr. Fields into closer relations with Dickens from arrival to departure, than any other person had; and his description of the condition of health in which Dickens now quitted Boston and went through the rest of the labour he had undertaken, will be a sad though fit prelude to what the following chapter has to tell. "He went from Boston to New York carrying with him a severe catarrh contracted in our climate. He was quite ill from the effects of the disease; but he fought courageously against them. . . . His spirit was wonderful, and, although he lost all appetite and could partake of very little food, he was always cheerful and ready for his work when the evening came round. A dinner was tendered to him by some of his literary friends in Boston; but he was so ill the day before that the banquet had to be given up. The strain upon his strength and nerves was very great during all the months he remained, and only a man of iron will could have accomplished what he did. He was accustomed to talk and write a good deal about eating and drinking, but I have rarely seen a man eat and drink less. He liked to dilate in imagination over the brewing of a bowl of punch, but when the punch was ready he drank less of it than anyone who might be present. It was the sentiment of the thing and not the thing itself that engaged his attention. I scarcely saw him eat a hearty meal during his whole stay. Both at Parker's hotel in Boston, and at the Westminster in New York, everything was arranged by the proprietors for his comfort, and tempting dishes to pique his invalid appetite were sent up at different hours of the day; but the influenza had seized him with masterful power, and held the strong man down till he left the country."
When he arrived in New York on the evening of Christmas Day he found a letter from his daughter. Answering her next day he told her: "I wanted it much, for I had a frightful cold (English colds are nothing to those of this country) and was very miserable. . . . It is a bad country to be unwell and travelling in. You are one of, say, a hundred people in a heated car with a great stove in it, all the little windows being closed; and the bumping and banging about are indescribable, the atmosphere detestable, the ordinary motion all but intolerable." The following day this addition was made to the letter. "I managed to read last night, but it was as much as I could do. To-day I am so very unwell that I have sent for a doctor. He has just been, and is in doubt whether I shall not have to stop reading for a while."
His stronger will prevailed, and he went on without stopping. On the last day of the year he announced to us that though he had been Very low he was getting right again; that in a couple of days he should have accomplished a fourth of the entire readings; and that the first month of the new year would see him through Philadelphia and Baltimore, as well as through two more nights in Boston. He also prepared his English friends for the startling intelligence they might shortly expect, of four readings Coming off in a church, before an audience of two thousand people accommodated in pews, and with himself emerging from a vestry.
The Reading on the third of January closed a fourth of the entire series, and on that day Dickens wrote of the trouble brought on them by the "speculators," which to some extent had affected unfavourably the three previous nights in New York. When adventurers bought up the best places, the public resented it by refusing the worst; to prevent it by first helping themselves, being the last thing they ever thought of doing. "We try to withhold the best seats from the speculators, but the unaccountable thing is that the great mass of the public buy of them (prefer it), and the rest of the public are injured if we have not got those very seats to sell them. We have now a travelling staff of six men, in spite of which Dolby, who is leaving me to-day to sell tickets in Philadelphia to-morrow morning, will no doubt get into a tempest of difficulties. Of course also, in such a matter, as many obstacles as possible are thrown in an Englishman's way; and he may himself be a little injudicious into the bargain. Last night, for instance, he met one of the 'ushers' (who show people to their seats) coming in with one of our men. It is against orders that any one employed in front should go out during the reading, and he took this man to task in the British manner. Instantly, the free and independent usher put on his hat and walked off. Seeing which, all the other free and independent ushers (some 20 in number) put on their hats and walked off; leaving us absolutely devoid and destitute of a staff for to-night. One has since been improvised: but it was a small matter to raise a stir and ill-will about, especially as one of our men was equally in fault; and really there is little to be done at night. American people are so accustomed to take care of themselves, that one of these immense audiences will fall into their places with an ease amazing to a frequenter of St. James's Hall; and the certainty with which they are all in, before I go on, is a very acceptable mark of respect. Our great labour is outside; and we have been obliged to bring our staff up to six, besides a boy or two, by employment of a regular additional clerk, a Bostonian. The speculators buying the front-seats (we have found instances of this being done by merchants in good position) the public won't have the back seats; return their tickets; write and print volumes on the subject; and deter others from coming. You are not to suppose that this prevails to any great extent, as our lowest house here has been £300; but it does hit us. There is no doubt about it. Fortunately I saw the danger when the trouble began, and changed the list at the right time. . . . You may get an idea of the staff's work, by what is in hand now. They are preparing, numbering, and stamping, 6,000 tickets for Philadelphia, and 8,000 tickets for Brooklyn. The moment those are done, another 8,000 tickets will be wanted for Baltimore, and probably another 6,000 for Washington; and all this in addition to the correspondence, advertisements, accounts, travelling, and the nightly business of the Readings four times a week. . . . I cannot get rid of this intolerable cold! My landlord invented for me a drink of brandy, rum, and snow, called it a 'Rocky Mountain Sneezer,' and said it was to put down all less effectual sneezing; but it has not yet had the effect. Did I tell you that the favourite drink before you get up is an Eye-Opener? There has been another fall of snow, succeeded by a heavy thaw."
The day after (the 4th) he went back to Boston, and next day wrote to me: "I am to read here on Monday and Tuesday, return to New York on Wednesday, and finish there (except the farewells in April) on Thursday and Friday. The New York reading of Doctor Marigold made really a tremendous hit. The people doubted at first, having evidently not the least idea what could be done with it, and broke out at last into a perfect chorus of delight. At the end they made a great shout, and gave a rush towards the platform as if they were going to carry me off. It puts a strong additional arrow into my quiver. Another extraordinary success has been Nickleby and Boots at the Holly Tree (appreciated here in Boston, by the bye, even more than Copperfield); and think of our last New York night bringing £500 English into the house, after making more than the necessary deduction for the present price of gold! The manager is always going about with an immense bundle that looks like a sofa-cushion, but is in reality paper-money, and it had risen to the proportions of a sofa on the morning he left for Philadelphia. Well, the work is hard, the climate is hard, the life is hard: but so far the gain is enormous. My cold steadily refuses to stir an inch. It distresses me greatly at times, though it is always good to leave me for the needful two hours. I have tried allopathy, homoepathy, cold things, warm things, sweet things, bitter things, stimulants, narcotics, all with the same result. Nothing will touch it."
In the same letter, light was thrown on the ecclesiastical mystery. "At Brooklyn I am going to read in Mr. Ward Beecher's chapel: the only building there available for the purpose. You must understand that Brooklyn is a kind of sleeping-place for New York, and is supposed to be a great place in the money way. We let the seats pew by pew! the pulpit is taken down for my screen and gas! and I appear out of the vestry in canonical form! These ecclesiastical entertainments come off on the evenings of the 16th, 17th, 20th, and 21st of the present month." His first letter after returning to New York (9 January) made additions to the Brooklyn picture. "Each evening an enormous ferryboat will convey me and my state-carriage (not to mention half a dozen wagons and any number of people and a few score of horses) across the river to Brooklyn, and will bring me back again. The sale of tickets there was an amazing scene. The noble army of speculators are now furnished (this is literally true, and I am quite serious) each man with a straw mattress, a little bag of bread and meat, two blankets, and a bottle of whiskey. With this outfit, they lie down in line on the pavement the whole of the night before the tickets are sold: generally taking up their position at about 10. It being severely cold at Brooklyn, they made an immense bonfire in the street -- a narrow street of wooden houses -- which the police turned out to extinguish. A general fight then took place; from which the people farthest off in the line rushed bleeding when they saw any chance of ousting others nearer the door, put their mattresses in the spots so gained, and held on by the iron rails. At 8 in the morning Dolby appeared with the tickets in a portmanteau. He was immediately saluted with a roar of Halloa! Dolby! So Charley has let you have the carriage, has he, Dolby? How is he, Dolby? Don't drop the tickets, Dolby! Look alive, Dolby! &c. &c. &c. in the midst of which he proceeded to business, and concluded (as usual) by giving universal dissatisfaction. He is now going off upon a little journey to look over the ground and cut back again. This little journey (to Chicago) is twelve hundred miles on end, by railway, besides the back again!" It might tax the Englishman, but was nothing to the native American. It was part of his New York landlord's ordinary life in a week, Dickens told me, to go to Chicago, and look at his theatre there on a Monday; to pelt back to Boston and look at his theatre there on a Thursday; and to come rushing to New York on a Friday, to apostrophize his enormous ballet.
Three days later, still at New York, he wrote to his sister-in-law. "I am off to Philadelphia this evening for the first of three visits of two nights each, tickets for all being sold. My cold steadily refuses to leave me, but otherwise I am as well as I can hope to be under this heavy work. My New York readings are over (except the farewell nights), and I look forward to the relief of being out of my hardest hall. On Friday I was again dead beat at the end, and was once more laid upon a sofa. But the faintness went off after a little while. We have now cold bright frosty weather, without snow; the best weather for me." Next day from Philadelphia he wrote to his daughter that he was lodged in The Continental, one of the most immense of American hotels, but that he found himself just as quiet as elsewhere. "Everything is very good, my waiter is German, and the greater part of the servants seem to be coloured people. The town is very clean, and the day as blue and bright as a fine Italian day. But it freezes very very hard, and my cold is not improved; for the cars were so intolerably hot that I was often obliged to stand upon the brake outside, and then the frosty air bit me indeed. I find it necessary (so oppressed am I with this American catarrh as they call it) to dine at three o'clock instead of four, that I may have more time to get voice; so that the days are cut short and letter-writing not easy."
He nevertheless found time in this city to write to me (14 January) the most interesting mention he had yet made of such opinions as he had been able to form during his present visit, apart from the pursuit that absorbed him. Of such of those opinions as were given on a former page, it is only necessary to repeat that while the tone of party politics still impressed him unfavourably, he had thus far seen everywhere great changes for the better socially. I will add other points from the same letter. That he was unfortunate in his time of visiting New York, as far as its politics were concerned, what has since happened conclusively shows. "The Irish element is acquiring such enormous influence in New York city, that when I think of it, and see the large Roman Catholic cathedral rising there, it seems unfair to stigmatise as 'American' other monstrous things that one also sees. But the general corruption in respect of the local funds appears to be stupendous, and there is an alarming thing as to some of the courts of law which I am afraid is native-born. A case came under my notice the other day in which it was perfectly plain, from what was said to me by a person interested in resisting an injunction, that his first proceeding had been to 'look up' the Judge." Of such occasional provincial oddity, harmless in itself but strange in large cities, as he noticed in the sort of half disappointment at the small fuss made by himself about the Readings, and in the newspaper references to "Mr. Dickens's extraordinary composure on the platform," he gives an illustration. "Last night here in Philadelphia (my first night), a very impressible and responsive audience were so astounded by my simply walking in and opening my book that I wondered what was the matter. They evidently thought that there ought to have been a flourish, and Dolby sent in to prepare for me. With them it is the simplicity of the operation that raises wonder. With the newspapers 'Mr. Dickens's extraordinary composure' is not reasoned out as being necessary to the art of the thing, but is sensitively watched with a lurking doubt whether it may not imply disparagement of the audience. Both these things strike me as drolly expressive." . . . .
His testimony as to improved social habits and ways was expressed very decidedly. "I think it reasonable to expect that as I go westward, I shall find the old manners going on before me, and may tread upon their skirts mayhap. But so far, I have had no more intrusion or boredom than I have when I lead the same life in England. I write this in an immense hotel, but I am as much at peace in my own rooms, and am left as wholly undisturbed, as if I were at the Station Hotel in York. I have now read in New York city to 40,000 people, and am quite as well known in the streets there as I am in London. People will turn back, turn again and face me, and have a look at me, or will say to one another. 'Look here! Dickens coming!' But no one ever stops me or addresses me. Sitting reading in the carriage outside the New York post-office while one of the staff was stamping the letters inside, I became conscious that a few people who had been looking at the turn-out had discovered me within. On my peeping out good-humouredly, one of them (I should say a merchant's book-keeper) stepped up to the door, took off his hat, and said in a frank way: 'Mr. Dickens, I should very much like to have the honour of shaking hands with you' -- and, that done, presented two others. Nothing could be more quiet or less intrusive. In the railway cars, if I see anybody who clearly wants to speak to me, I usually anticipate the wish by speaking myself. If I am standing on the brake outside (to avoid the intolerable stove), people getting down will say with a smile: 'As I am taking my departure, Mr. Dickens. and can't trouble you for more than a moment, I should like to take you by the hand, sir.' And so we shake hands and go our ways. . . . Of course many of my impressions come through the readings. Thus I find the people lighter and more humorous than formerly; and there must be a great deal of innocent imagination among every class, or they never could pet with such extraordinary pleasure as they do, the Boots's story of the elopement of the two little children. They seem to see the children; and the women set up a shrill undercurrent of half-pity and half-pleasure that is quite affecting. Tonight's reading is my 26th; but as all the Philadelphia tickets for four more are sold, as well as four at Brooklyn, you must assume that I am at -- say -- my 35th reading. I have remitted to Coutts's in English gold £10,000 odd; and I roughly calculate that on this number Dolby will have another thousand pounds profit to pay me. These figures are of course between ourselves, at present; but are they not magnificent? The expenses, always recollect, are enormous. On the other hand we never have occasion to print a bill of any sort (bill-printing and posting are great charges at home); and have just now sold off £90 worth of bill-paper, provided beforehand, as a wholly useless incumbrance."
Then came, as ever, the constant shadow that still attended him, the slave in the chariot of his triumph. "The work is very severe. There is now no chance of my being rid of this American catarrh until I embark for England. It is very distressing. It likewise happens, not seldom, that I am so dead beat when I come off that they lay me down on a sofa after I have been washed and dressed, and I lie there, extremely faint, for a quarter of an hour. In that time I rally and come right." One week later from New York, where he had become due on the 16th for the first of his four Brooklyn readings, he wrote to his sister-in-law. "My cold sticks to me, and I can scarcely exaggerate what I undergo from sleeplessness. I rarely take any breakfast but an egg and a cup of tea -- not even toast or bread and butter. My small dinner at 3, and a little quail or some such light thing when I come home at night, is my daily fare; and at the hall I have established the custom of taking an egg beaten up in sherry before going in, and another between the parts, which I think pulls me up. . . . It is snowing hard now, and I begin to move to-morrow. There is so much floating ice in the river, that we are obliged to have a pretty wide margin of time for getting over the ferry to read." The last of the readings over the ferry was on the day when this letter was written. "I finished at my church to-night. It is Mrs. Stowe's brother's, and a most wonderful place to speak in. We had it enormously full last night (Marigold and Trial), but it scarcely required an effort. Mr. Ward Beecher being present in his pew, I sent to invite him to come round before he left. I found him to be an unostentatious, evidently able, straightforward and agreeable man; extremely well-informed, and with a good knowledge of art."
Baltimore and Washington were the cities in which he was now, on quitting New York, to read for the first time; and as to the latter some doubts arose. The exceptional course had been taken in regard to it, of selecting a hall with space for not more than 700 and charging everybody five dollars; to which Dickens, at first greatly opposed, had yielded upon use of the argument, "you have more people at New York, thanks to the speculators, paying more than five dollars every night." But now other suggestions came. "Horace Greeley dined with me last Saturday," he wrote on the 20th, "and didn't like my going to Washington, now full of the greatest rowdies and worst kind of people in the States. Last night at eleven came B. expressing like doubts; and though they may be absurd I thought them worth attention, B. coming so close on Greeley." Mr. Dolby was in consequence sent express to Washington with power to withdraw or go on, as enquiry on the spot might dictate; and Dickens took the additional resolve so far to modify the last arrangements of his tour as to avoid the distances of Chicago, St. Louis, and Cincinnati, to content himself with smaller places and profits, and thereby to get home nearly a month earlier. He was at Philadelphia on 23 January, when he announced this intention. "The worst of it is, that everybody one advises with has a monomania respecting Chicago. 'Good heavens, sir,' the great Philadelphia authority said to me this morning, 'if you don't read in Chicago the people will go into fits!' Well, I answered, I would rather they went into fits than I did. But he didn't seem to see it at all."
From Baltimore he wrote to his sister-in-law on the 29th, in the hour's interval he had to spare before going back to Philadelphia. "It has been snowing hard for four and twenty hours -- though this place is as far south as Valentia in Spain, and my manager, being on his way to New York, has a good chance of being snowed up somewhere. This is one of the places where Butler carried it with a high hand during the war, and where the ladies used to spit when they passed a Northern soldier. They are very handsome women, with an Eastern touch in them, and dress brilliantly. I have rarely seen so many fine faces in an audience. They are a bright responsive people likewise, and very pleasant to read to. My hall is a charming little opera house built by a society of Germans: quite a delightful place for the purpose. I stand on the stage, with the drop curtain down and my screen before it. The whole scene is very pretty and complete, and the audience have a 'ring' in them that sounds deeper than the ear. I go from here to Philadelphia, to read to-morrow night and Friday; come through here again on Saturday on my way back to Washington; come back here on Saturday week for two finishing nights; then go to Philadelphia for two farewells -- and so turn my back on the southern part of the country. Our new plan will give 82 readings in all." (The real number was 76, six having been dropped on subsequent political excitements.) "Of course I afterwards discovered that we had finally settled the list on a Friday. I shall be halfway through it at Washington; of course on a Friday also, and my birthday." To myself he wrote on the following day from Philadelphia, beginning with a thank Heaven that he had struck off Canada and the West, for he found the wear and tear "enormous," "Dolby decided that the croakers were wrong about Washington, and went on: the rather as his raised prices, which he put finally at three dollars each, gave satisfaction. Fields is so confident about Boston, that my remaining list includes, in all, 14 more readings there. I don't know how many more we might not have had here (where I have had attentions otherwise that have been very grateful to me), if we had chosen. Tickets are now being resold at ten dollars each. At Baltimore I had a charming little theatre, and a very apprehensive impulsive audience. It is remarkable to see how the Ghost of Slavery haunts the town; and how the shambling, untidy, evasive, and postponing Irrepressible proceeds about his free work, going round and round it, instead of at it. The melancholy absurdity of giving these people votes, at any rate at present, would glare at one out of every roll of their eyes, chuckle in their mouths, and bump in their heads, if one did not see (as one cannot help seeing in the country) that their enfranchisement is a mere party trick to get votes. Being at the Penitentiary the other day (this, while we mention votes), and looking over the books, I noticed that almost every man had been 'pardoned' a day or two before his time was up. Why? Because if he had served his time out, he would have been ipso facto disfranchised. So, this form of pardon is gone through to save his vote; and as every officer of the prison holds his place only in right of his party, of course his hopeful clients vote for the party that has 'let them out.' When I read in Mr. Beecher's church at Brooklyn, we found the trustees had suppressed the fact that a certain upper gallery holding 150 was 'the Coloured Gallery.' On the first night not a soul could be induced to enter it; and it was not until it became known next day that I was certainly not going to read there more than four times, that we managed to fill it. One night at New York, on our second or third row, there were two well-dressed women with a tinge of colour -- I should say, not even quadroons. But the holder of one ticket who found his seat to be next them, demanded of Dolby 'What he meant by fixing him next to those two Gord darmed cusses of niggers?' and insisted on being supplied with another good place. Dolby firmly replied that he was perfectly certain Mr. Dickens would not recognise such an objection on any account, but he could have his money back if he chose. Which after some squabbling, he had. In a comic scene in the New York Circus one night, when I was looking on, four white people sat down upon a form in a barber's shop to be shaved. A coloured man came as the fifth customer, and the four immediately ran away. This was much laughed at and applauded. In the Baltimore Penitentiary, the white prisoners dine on one side of the room, the coloured prisoners on the other; and no one has the slightest idea of mixing them. But it is indubitably the fact that exhalations not the most agreeable arise from a number of coloured people got together, and I was obliged to beat a quick retreat from their dormitory. I strongly believe that they will die out of this country fast. It seems, looking at them, so manifestly absurd to suppose it possible that they can ever hold their own against a restless, shifty, striving, stronger race."
On the fourth of February he wrote from Washington. "You may like to have a line to let you know that it is all right here, and that the croakers were simply ridiculous. I began last night. A charming audience, no dissatisfaction whatever at the raised prices, nothing missed or lost, cheers at the end of the Carol, and rounds upon rounds of applause all through. All the foremost men and their families had taken tickets for the series of four. A small place to read in. £300 in it." It will be no violation of the rule of avoiding private detail if the very interesting close of this letter is given. Its anecdote of President Lincoln was repeatedly told by Dickens after his return, and I am under no necessity to withhold from it the authority of Mr. Sumner's name. "I am going to-morrow to see the President, who has sent to me twice. I dined with Charles Sumner last Sunday, against my rule; and as I had stipulated for no party, Mr. Secretary Stanton was the only other guest, besides his own secretary. Stanton is a man with a very remarkable memory, and extraordinarily familiar with my books. . . . He and Sumner having been the first two public men at the dying President's bedside, and having remained with him until he breathed his last, we fell into a very interesting conversation after dinner, when, each of them giving his own narrative separately, the usual discrepancies about details of time were observable. Then Mr. Stanton told me a curious little story which will form the remainder of this short letter.
"On the afternoon of the day on which the President was shot, there was a cabinet council at which he presided. Mr. Stanton, being at the time commander-in-chief of the Northern troops that were concentrated about here, arrived rather late. Indeed they were waiting for him, and on his entering the room, the President broke off in something he was saying, and remarked: 'Let us proceed to business, gentlemen.' Mr. Stanton then noticed, with great surprise, that the President sat with an air of dignity in his chair instead of lolling about it in the most ungainly attitudes, as his invariable custom was; and that instead of telling irrelevant or questionable stories, he was grave and calm, and quite a different man. Mr. Stanton, on leaving the council with the Attorney-General, said to him, 'That is the most satisfactory cabinet meeting I have attended for many a long day! What an extraordinary change in Mr. Lincoln!' The Attorney-General replied, 'We all saw it, before you came in. While we were waiting for you, he said, with his chin down on his breast, "Gentlemen, something very extraordinary is going to happen, and that very soon."' To which the Attorney-General had observed, 'Something good, sir, I hope?' when the President answered very gravely: 'I don't know; I don't know. But it will happen, and shortly too!' As they were all impressed by his manner, the Attorney-General took him up again: 'Have you received any information, sir, not yet disclosed to us?' 'No,' answered the President: 'but I have had a dream. And I have now had the same dream three times. Once, on the night preceding the Battle of Bull Run. Once, on the night preceding' such another (naming a battle also not favourable to the North). His chin sank on his breast again, and he sat reflecting. 'Might one ask the nature of this dream, sir?' said the Attorney-General. 'Well,' replied the President, without lifting his head or changing his attitude, 'I am on a great broad rolling river -- and I am in a boat -- and I drift -- and I drift! -- but this is not business' -- suddenly raising his face and looking round the table as Mr. Stanton entered, 'let us proceed to business, gentlemen.' Mr. Stanton and the Attorney-General said, as they walked on together, it would be curious to notice whether anything ensued on this; and they agreed to notice. He was shot that night."
On his birthday, the seventh of February, Dickens had his interview with President Andrew Johnson. "This scrambling scribblement is resumed this morning, because I have just seen the President: who had sent to me very courteously asking me to make my own appointment. He is a man with a remarkable face, indicating courage, watchfulness, and certainly strength of purpose. It is a face of the Webster type, but without the 'bounce' of Webster's face. I would have picked him out anywhere as a character of mark. Figure, rather stoutish for an American; a trifle under the middle size; hands clasped in front of him; manner, suppressed, guarded, anxious. Each of us looked at the other very hard. . . . It was in his own cabinet that I saw him. As I came away, Thornton drove up in a sleigh -- turned out for a state occasion -- to deliver his credentials. There was to be a cabinet council at 12. The room was very like a London club's ante-drawing-room. On the walls, two engravings only: one, of his own portrait; one, of Lincoln's. . . . In the outer room was sitting a certain sunburnt General Blair, with many evidences of the war upon him. He got up to shake hands with me, and then I found that he had been out on the Prairie with me five-and-twenty years ago. . . . The papers having referred to my birthday's falling to-day, my room is filled with most exquisite flowers. They came pouring in from all sorts of people at breakfast time. The audiences here are really very fine. So ready to laugh or cry, and doing both so freely, that you would suppose them to be Manchester shillings rather than Washington half-sovereigns. Alas! alas! my cold worse than ever." So he had written too at the opening of his letter.
The first reading had been four days earlier, and was described to his daughter in a letter on the 4th, with a comical incident that occurred in the course of it. "The gas was very defective indeed last night, and I began with a small speech to the effect that I must trust to the brightness of their faces for the illumination of mine. This was taken greatly. In the Carol a most ridiculous incident occurred. All of a sudden, I saw a dog leap out from among the seats in the centre aisle, and look very intently at me. The general attention being fixed on me, I don't think anybody saw this dog; but I felt so sure of his turning up again and barking, that I kept my eye wandering about in search of him. He was a very comic dog, and it was well for me that I was reading a comic part of the book. But when he bounced out into the centre aisle again, in an entirely new place, and (still looking intently at me) tried the effect of a bark upon my proceedings, I was seized with such a paroxysm of laughter that it communicated itself to the audience, and we roared at one another, loud and long." Three days later the sequel came, in a letter to his sister-in-law. "I mentioned the dog on the first night here? Next night, I thought I heard (in Copperfield) a suddenly-suppressed bark. It happened in this wise: One of our people standing just within the door, felt his leg touched, and looking down beheld the dog, staring intently at me, and evidently just about to bark. In a transport of presence of mind and fury, he instantly caught him up in both hands, and threw him over his own head out into the entry, where the check-takers received him like a game at ball. Last night he came again, with another dog; but our people were so sharply on the look-out for him that he didn't get in. He had evidently promised to pass the other dog, free."
What is expressed in these letters, of a still active, hopeful, enjoying, energetic spirit, able to assert itself against illness of the body and in some sort to over-master it, was also so strongly impressed upon those who were with him, that, seeing his sufferings as they did, they yet found it difficult to understand the extent of them. The sadness thus ever underlying his triumph makes it all very tragical. "That afternoon of my birthday," he wrote from Baltimore on the 11th, "my catarrh was in such a state that Charles Sumner, coming in at five o'clock, and finding me covered with mustard poultice, and apparently voiceless, turned to Dolby and said: 'Surely, Mr. Dolby, it is impossible that he can read to-night!' Says Dolby: 'Sir, I have told Mr. Dickens so, four times to-day, and I have been very anxious. But you have no idea how he will change, when he gets to the little table.' After five minutes of the little table I was not (for the time) even hoarse. The frequent experience of this return of force when it is wanted, saves me a vast amount of anxiety; but I am not at times without the nervous dread that I may some day sink altogether." To the same effect in another letter he adds: "Dolby and Osgood," the latter represented the publishing firm of Mr. Fields and was one of the travelling staff, "who do the most ridiculous things to keep me in spirits (I am often very heavy, and rarely Sleep much), are determined to have a walking match at Boston on the last day of February to celebrate the arrival of the day when I can say 'next month!' for home." The match ended in the Englishman's defeat; which Dickens doubly commemorated, by a narrative of the American victory in sporting-newspaper style, and by a dinner in Boston to a party of dear friends there.
After Baltimore he was reading again at Philadelphia, from which he wrote to his sister-in-law on the 13th as to a characteristic trait observed in both places. "Nothing will induce the people to believe in the farewells. At Baltimore on Tuesday night (a very brilliant night indeed), they asked as they came out: 'When will Mr. Dickens read here again?' 'Never.' 'Nonsense! Not come back, after such houses as these?' 'Come. Say when he'll read again.' Just the same here. We could as soon persuade them that I am the President, as that to-morrow night I am going to read here for the last time. . . . There is a child in this house -- a little girl -- to whom I presented a black doll when I was here last; and as I have just seen her eye at the keyhole since I began writing this, I think she and the doll must be outside still. 'When you sent it up to me by the coloured boy,' she said after receiving it (coloured boy is the term for black waiter), 'I gave such a cream that Ma come running in and creamed too, 'cos she fort I'd hurt myself. But I creamed a cream of joy.' She had a friend to play with her that day, and brought the friend with her -- to my infinite confusion. A friend all stockings and much too tall, who sat on the sofa very far back with her stocking sticking stiffly out in front of her, and glared at me, and never spake a word. Dolby found us confronted in a sort of fascination, like serpent arid bird."
On the 15th he was again at New York, in the thick of more troubles with the speculators. They involved even charges of fraud in ticket-sales at Newhaven and Providence; indignation meetings having been held by the mayors, and unavailing attempts made by his manager to turn the wrath aside. "I expect him back here presently half bereft of his senses and I should be wholly bereft of mine if the situation were not comical as well as disagreeable. We can sell at our own box-office to any extent; but we cannot buy back of the speculators because we have informed the public that all the tickets are gone; and even if we made the sacrifice of buying at their price and selling at ours, we should be accused of treating with them and of making money by it." It ended in Providence by his going himself to the place and making a speech; and in New haven it ended by his sending back the money taken with intimation that he would not read until there had been a new distribution of the tickets approved by all the town. Fresh disturbance broke out upon this; but he stuck to his determination to delay the reading until the heats had cooled down and what should have been given in the middle of February he did not give until the close of March.
The readings he had promised at the smaller outlying places by the Canadian frontier and Niagara district, including Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo, were appointed for that same March month which was to be the interval between the close of the ordinary readings and the farewells in the two leading cities. All that had been promised in New York were closed when he returned to Boston on 23 February, ready for the increase he had promised there; but the check of a sudden political excitement came. It was the month when the vote was taken for impeachment of President Johnson. "It is well" (25 February) "that the money has flowed in hitherto so fast, for I have a misgiving that the great excitement about the President's impeachment will damage our receipts . . . The vote was taken at 5 last night. At 7 the three large theatres here, all in a rush of good business, were stricken with paralysis. At 8 our long line of outsiders waiting for unoccupied places, was nowhere. To-day you hear all the people in the streets talking of only one thing. I shall suppress my next week's promised readings (by good fortune, not yet announced), and watch the course of events. Nothing in this country, as I before said, lasts long; and I think it likely that the public may be heartily tired of the President's name by the 9th of March, when I read at a considerable distance from here. So behold me with a whole week's holiday in view!" Two days later he wrote pleasantly to his sister-in-law of his audiences. "They have come to regard the readings and the reader as their peculiar property; and you would be both amused and pleased if you could see the curious way in which they show this increased interest in both. Whenever they laugh or cry, they have taken to applauding as well; and the result is very inspiriting. I shall remain here until Saturday the 7th; but after to-morrow night shall not read here until the 1st of April, when I begin my farewells -- six in number." On the 28th he wrote: "To-morrow fortnight we purpose being at the Falls of Niagara, and then we shall come back and really begin to wind up. I have got to know the Carol so well that I can't remember it, and occasionally go dodging about in the wildest manner, to pick up lost pieces. They took it so tremendously last night that I was stopped every five minutes. One poor young girl in mourning burst into a passion of grief about Tiny Tim, and was taken out. We had a fine house, and, in the interval while I was out, they covered the little table with flowers. The cough has taken a fresh start as if it were a novelty, and is even worse than ever to-day. There is a lull in the excitement about the President: but the articles of impeachment are to be produced this afternoon, and then it may set in again. Osgood came into camp last night from selling in remote places, and reports that at Rochester and Buffalo (both places near the frontier), tickets were bought by Canada people, who had struggled across the frozen river and clambered over all sorts of obstructions to get them. Some of those distant halls turn out to be smaller than represented; but I have no doubt -- to use an American expression -- that we shall 'get along.' The second half of the receipts cannot reasonably be expected to come up to the first; political circumstances, and all other surroundings, considered."
His old ill luck in travel pursued him. On the day his letter was written a snow-storm began, with a heavy gale of wind; and "after all the hard weather gone through," he wrote on 2 March, "this is the worst day we have seen. It is telegraphed that the storm prevails over an immense extent of country, and is just the same at Chicago as here. I hope it may prove a wind up. We are getting sick of the very sound of sleigh-bells even." The roads were so bad and the trains so much out of time, that he had to start a day earlier; and on 6 March his tour north-west began, with the gale still blowing and the snow falling heavily. On the 13th he wrote to me from Buffalo:
"We go to the Falls of Niagara to-morrow for our own pleasure; and I take all the men, as a treat. We found Rochester last Tuesday in a very curious state. Perhaps you know that the Great Falls of the Genessee River (really very fine, even so near Niagara) are at that place. In the height of a sudden thaw, an immense bank of ice above the rapids refused to yield; so that the town was threatened (for the second time in four years) with submersion. Boats were ready in the streets, all the people were up all night, and none but the children slept. In the dead of the night a thundering noise was heard, the ice gave way, the swollen river came raging and roaring down the Falls, and the town was safe. Very picturesque! but 'not very good for business,' as the manager says. Especially as the hall stands in the centre of danger, and had ten feet of water in it on the last occasion of flood. But I think we had above £200 English. On the previous night at Syracuse -- a most out of the way and unintelligible-looking place, with apparently no people in it -- we had £375 odd. Here we had, last night, and shall have to-night, whatever we can cram into the hall.
"This Buffalo has become a large and important town, with numbers of German and Irish in it. But it is very curious to notice, as we touch the frontier, that the American female beauty dies out; and a woman's face clumsily compounded of German, Irish, Western America, and Canadian, not yet fused together, and not yet moulded, obtains instead. Our show of Beauty at night is, generally, remarkable; but we had not a dozen pretty women in the whole throng last night, and the faces were all blunt. I have just been walking about, and observing the same thing in the streets. . . . The winter has been so severe that the hotel on the English side at Niagara (which has the best view of the Falls, and is for that reason very preferable) is not yet open. So we go, perforce, to the American: which telegraphs back to our telegram: 'all Mr. Dickens's requirements perfectly understood.' I have not yet been in more than two very bad inns. I have been in some, where a good deal of what is popularly called 'slopping round' has prevailed; but have been able to get on very well. 'Slopping round,' so used, means untidyness and disorder. It is a comically expressive phrase, and has many meanings. Fields was asking the price of a quarter cask of sherry the other day. 'Wa'al Mussr Fields,' the merchant replies, 'that varies according to quality, as is but nay'tral. If yer wa'ant a sherry just to slop round with it, I can fix you some at a very low figger.'"
His letter was resumed at Rochester on the 18th. "After two most brilliant days at the Falls of Niagara, we got back here last night. To-morrow morning we turn out at 6 for a long railway journey back to Albany. But it is nearly all 'back' now, thank God! I don't know how long, though, before turning, we might have gone on at Buffalo. . . . We went everywhere at the Falls, and saw them in every aspect. There is a suspension bridge across, now, some two miles or more from the Horse Shoe; and another, half a mile nearer, is to be opened in July. They are very fine but very ticklish, hanging aloft there, in the continual vibration of the thundering water: nor is one greatly reassured by the printed notice that troops must not cross them at step, that bands of music must not play in crossing, and the like. I shall never forget the last aspect in which we saw Niagara yesterday. We had been everywhere, when I thought of struggling (in an open carriage) up some very difficult ground for a good distance, and getting where we could stand above the river, and see it, as it rushes forward to its tremendous leap, coming for miles and miles. All away to the horizon on our right was a wonderful confusion of bright green and white water. As we stood watching it with our faces to the top of the Falls, our backs were towards the sun. The majestic valley below the Falls, so seen through the vast cloud of spray, was made of rainbow. The high banks, the riven rocks, the forests, the bridge, the buildings, the air, the sky, were all made of rainbow. Nothing in Turner's finest water-colour drawings, done in his greatest day, is so ethereal, so imaginative, so gorgeous in colour, as what I then beheld. I seemed to be lifted from the earth and to be looking into Heaven. What I once said to you, as I witnessed the scene five and twenty years ago, all came back at this most affecting and sublime sight. The 'muddy vesture of our clay' falls from us as we look. . . . I chartered a separate carriage for our men, so that they might see all in their own way, and at their own time.
"There is a great deal of water out between Rochester and New York, and travelling is very uncertain, as I fear we may find to-morrow. There is again some little alarm here on account of the river rising too fast. But our to-night's house is far ahead of the first. Most charming halls in these places; excellent for sight and sound. Almost invariably built as theatres, with stage, (every seat always separate), excellent doorways and passages, scenery, and good dressing-rooms. Audience seated to perfection and brilliant light. My screen and gas are set up in front of the drop-curtain, and the most delicate touches will tell anywhere. No creature but my own men ever near me." His anticipation of the uncertainty that might beset his travel back had dismal fulfilment. It is described in a letter written on the 21st from Springfield to his valued friend, Mr. Frederic Ouvry, having much interest of its own, and making lively addition to the picture which these chapters give. The unflagging spirit that bears up under all disadvantages is again marvellously shown. "You can hardly imagine what my life is with its present condition -- how hard the work is, and how little time I seem to have at my disposal. It is necessary to the daily recovery of my voice that I should dine at 3 when not travelling; I begin to prepare for the evening at 6; and I get back to my hotel pretty well knocked up, at half-past 10. Add to all this perpetual railway travelling in one of the severest winters ever known; and you will descry a reason or two for my being an indifferent correspondent. Last Sunday evening I left the Falls of Niagara for this and two intervening places. As there was a great thaw, and the melted snow was swelling all the rivers the whole country for three hundred miles was flooded. On the Tuesday afternoon (I had read on the Monday) the train gave in, as under circumstances utterly hopeless, and stopped at a place called Utica; the greater part of which was under water, while the high and dry part could produce nothing particular to eat. Here, some of the wretched passengers passed the night in the train, while others stormed the hotel. I was fortunate enough to get a bedroom, and garnished it with an enormous jug of gin-punch; over which I and the manager played a double-dummy rubber. At six in the morning we were knocked up: 'to come aboard and try it.' At half-past six we were knocked up again with the tidings 'that it was of no use coming aboard or trying it.' At eight all the bells in the town were set a going, to summon us to 'come aboard' instantly. And so we started, through the water, at four or five miles an hour; seeing nothing but drowned farms, barns adrift like Noah's arks, deserted villages, broken bridges, and all manner of ruin. I was to read at Albany that night, and all the tickets were sold. A very active superintendent of works assured me that if I could be 'got along, he was the man to get me along: and that if I couldn't be got along, I might conclude that it couldn't possibly be fixed He then turned on a hundred men in seven-league boots, who went ahead of the train, each armed with a long pole and pushing the blocks of ice away. Following this cavalcade, we got to land at last, and arrived in time for me to read the Carol and Trial triumphantly. My people (I had five of the staff with me) turned to at their work with a will, and did a day's labour in a couple of hours. If we had not come in as we did, I should have lost £350, and Albany would have gone distracted. You may conceive what the flood was, when I hint at the two most notable incidents of our journey: -- 1. We took the passengers out of two trains, who had been in the water, immovable all night and all the previous day. 2. We released a large quantity of sheep and cattle from trucks that had been in the water I don't know how long, but so long that the creatures in them had begun to eat each other, and presented a most horrible spectacle."
Beside Springfield, he had engagements at Portland, New Bedford, and other places in Massachusetts, before the Boston farewells began; and there wanted but two days to bring him to that time, when he thus described to his daughter the labour which was to occupy them. His letter was from Portland on 29 March, and it will be observed that he no longer compromises or glozes over what he was and had been suffering. During his terrible travel to Albany his cough had somewhat spared him, but the old illness had broken out in his foot; and, though he persisted in ascribing it to the former supposed origin ("having been lately again wet, from walking in melted snow, which I suppose to be the occasion of its swelling in the old way"), it troubled him sorely, extended now at intervals to the right foot also, and lamed him for all the time he remained in the States. "I should have written to you by the last mail, but I really was too unwell to do it. The writing day was last Friday, when I ought to have left Boston for New Bedford (55 miles) before eleven in the morning. But I was so exhausted that I could not be got up, and had to take my chance of an evening train's producing me in time to read -- which it just did. With the return of snow, nine days ago, my cough became as bad as ever. I have coughed every morning from two or three till five or six, and have been absolutely sleepless. I have had no appetite besides, and no taste. Last night here, I took some laudanum; and it is the only thing that has done me good, though it made me sick this morning. But the life, in this climate, is so very hard! When I did manage to get to New Bedford, I read with my utmost force and vigour. Next morning, well or ill, I must turn out at seven, to get back to Boston on my way here. I dined at Boston at three, and at five had to come on here (a hundred and thirty miles or so) for to-morrow night: there being no Sunday train. To-morrow night I read here in a very large place; and Tuesday morning at six I must again start, to get back to Boston once more. But after to-morrow night I have only the farewells, thank God! Even as it is, however, I have had to write to Dolby (who is in New York) to see my doctor there, and ask him to send me some composing medicine that I can take at night, inasmuch as without sleep I cannot get through. However sympathetic and devoted the people are about one, they CAN NOT be got to comprehend, seeing me able to do the two hours when the time comes round, that it may also involve much misery." To myself on the 30th he wrote from the same place, making like confession. No comment could deepen the sadness of the story of suffering, revealed in his own simple language. "I write in a town three parts of which were burnt down in a tremendous fire three years ago. The people lived in tents while their city was rebuilding. The charred trunks of the trees with which the streets of the old city were planted, yet stand here and there in the new thoroughfares like black spectres. The rebuilding is still in progress everywhere. Yet such is the astonishing energy of the people that the large hall in which I am to read to-night (its predecessor was burnt) would compare very favourably with the Free Trade Hall at Manchester! . . . I am nearly used up. Climate, distance, catarrh, travelling, and hard work, have begun (I may say so, now they are nearly all over) to tell heavily upon me. Sleeplessness besets me; and if I had engaged to go on into May, I think I must have broken down. It was well that I cut off the Far West and Canada when I did. There would else have been a sad complication. It is impossible to make the people about one understand, however zealous and devoted (it is impossible even to make Dolby understand until the pinch comes), that the power of coming up to the mark every night, with spirits and spirit, may coexist with the nearest approach to sinking under it. When I got back to Boston on Thursday, after a very hard three weeks, I saw that Fields was very grave about my going on to New Bedford (55 miles) next day, and then coming on here (180 miles) next day. But the stress is over, and so I can afford to look back upon it, and think about it, and write about it." On the 31st he closed his letter at Boston, and he was at home when I heard of him again. "The latest intelligence, my dear old fellow, is, that I have arrived here safely, and that I am certainly better. I consider my work virtually over, now. My impression is, that the political crisis will damage the farewells by about one half. I cannot yet speak by the card; but my predictions here, as to our proceedings, have thus far been invariably right. We took last night at Portland, £360 English; where a costly Italian troupe, using the same hall to-night, had not booked £14! It is the same all over the country, and the worst is not seen yet. Everything is becoming absorbed in the Presidential impeachment, helped by the next Presidential election. Connecticut is particularly excited. The night after I read at Hartford this last week, there were two political meetings in the town; meetings of two parties; and the hotel was full of speakers coming in from outlying places. So at Newhaven: the moment I had finished, carpenters came in to prepare for next night's politics. So at Buffalo. So everywhere very soon."
In the same tone he wrote his last letter to his sister-in-law from Boston. "My notion of the farewells is pretty certain now to turn out right. We had £300 English here last night. To-day is a Fast Day, and to-night we shall probably take much less. Then it is likely that we shall pull up again, and strike a good reasonable average; but it is not at all probable that we shall do anything enormous. Every pulpit in Massachusetts will resound with violent politics to-day and to-night." That was on the second of April, and a postscript was added. "Friday afternoon the 3rd. Catarrh worse than ever! and we don't know (at four o'clock) whether I can read to-night or must stop. Otherwise, all well."
Dickens's last letter from America was written to his daughter Mary from Boston on 9 April, the day before his sixth and last farewell night. "I not only read last Friday when I was doubtful of being able to do so, but read as I never did before, and astonished the audience quite as much as myself. You never saw or heard such a scene of excitement. Longfellow and all the Cambridge men have urged me to give in. I have been very near doing so, but feel stronger to-day. I cannot tell whether the catarrh may have done me any lasting injury in the lungs or other breathing organs, until I shall have rested and got home. I hope and believe not. Consider the weather! There have been two snowstorms since I wrote last, and to-day the town is blotted out in a ceaseless whirl of snow and wind. Dolby is as tender as a woman, and as watchful as a doctor. He never leaves me during the reading, now, but sits at the side of the platform, and keeps his eye upon me all the time. Ditto George the gasman, steadiest and most reliable man I ever employed. I have Dombey to do to-night, and must go through it carefully; so here ends my report. The personal affection of the people in this place is charming to the last. Did I tell you that the New York Press are going to give me a public dinner on Saturday the 18th?"
In New York, where there were five farewell nights, three thousand two hundred and ninety-eight dollars were the receipts of the last, on 20 April; those of the last at Boston, on the 8th, having been three thousand four hundred and fifty-six dollars. But, on earlier nights in the same cities respectively, these sums also had been reached; and indeed, making allowance for an exceptional night here and there, the receipts varied so wonderfully little, that a mention of the highest average returns from other places will give no exaggerated impression of the ordinary receipts throughout, excluding fractions of dollars, the lowest were New Bedford ($1,640), Rochester ($1,906), Springfield ($1,970), and Providence ($2,140). Albany and Worcester averaged something less than $2,400; while Hartford, Buffalo, Baltimore, Syracuse, Newhaven, and Portland rose to $2,600. Washington's last night was $2,610, no night there having less than $2,500. Philadelphia exceeded Washington by $300, and Brooklyn went ahead of Philadelphia by $200. The amount taken at the four Brooklyn readings was 11,128 dollars.
The New York public dinner was given at Delmonico's, the hosts were more than two hundred, and the chair was taken by Mr. Horace Greeley. Dickens attended with great difficulty, and spoke in pain. But he used the occasion to bear his testimony to the changes of twenty-five years; the rise of vast new cities; growth in the graces and amenities of life; much improvement in the press, essential to every other advance; and changes in himself leading to opinions more deliberately formed. He promised his kindly entertainers that no copy of his Notes, or his Chuzzlewit, should in future be issued by him without accompanying mention of the changes to which he had referred that night; of the politeness, delicacy, sweet temper, hospitality, and consideration in all ways for which he had to thank them; and of his gratitude for the respect shown, during all his visit, to the privacy enforced upon him by the nature of his work and the condition of his health.
He had to leave the room before the proceedings were over. On the following Monday he read to his last American audience, telling them at the close that he hoped often to recall them, equally by his winter fire and in the green summer weather, and never as a mere public audience but as a host of personal friends. He sailed two days later in the Russia, and reached England in the first week of May 1868.
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