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Letters of Charles Dickens to Elizabeth Gaskell

DEVONSHIRE TERRACE, January 31st, 1850.


You may perhaps have seen an announcement in the papers of my intention to start a new cheap weekly journal of general literature.

I do not know what your literary vows of temperance or abstinence may be, but as I do honestly know that there is no living English writer whose aid I would desire to enlist in preference to the authoress of "Mary Barton" (a book that most profoundly affected and impressed me), I venture to ask you whether you can give me any hope that you will write a short tale, or any number of tales, for the projected pages.

No writer's name will be used, neither my own nor any other; every paper will be published without any signature, and all will seem to express the general mind and purpose of the journal, which is the raising up of those that are down, and the general improvement of our social condition. I should set a value on your help which your modesty can hardly imagine; and I am perfectly sure that the least result of your reflection or observation in respect of the life around you, would attract attention and do good.

Of course I regard your time as valuable, and consider it so when I ask you if you could devote any of it to this purpose.

If you could and would prefer to speak to me on the subject, I should be very glad indeed to come to Manchester for a few hours and explain anything you might wish to know. My unaffected and great admiration of your book makes me very earnest in all relating to you. Forgive my troubling you for this reason, and believe me ever,

Faithfully yours.

P.S. - Mrs. Dickens and her sister send their love.

TAVISTOCK HOUSE, Thursday Afternoon, Dec. 5th, 1851.


I write in great haste to tell you that Mr. Wills, in the utmost consternation, has brought me your letter, just received (four o'clock), and that it is too late to recall your tale. I was so delighted with it that I put it first in the number (not hearing of any objection to my proposed alteration by return of post), and the number is now made up and in the printer's hands. I cannot possibly take the tale out - it has departed from me.

I am truly concerned for this, but I hope you will not blame me for what I have done in perfect good faith. Any recollection of me from your pen cannot (as I think you than truly gratifying to me; but with page of "Household Words," there would be - or at least I should feel - an impropriety in so mentioning myself. I was particular, in changing the author, to make it "Hood's Poems" in the most important place - I mean where the captain is killed - and I hope and trust that the substitution will not be any serious drawback to the paper in any eyes but yours. I would do anything rather than cause you a minute's vexation arising out of what has given me so much pleasure, and I sincerely beseech you to think better of it, and not to fancy that any shade has been thrown on your charming writing, by
The unfortunate but innocent.

P.S. - I write at a gallop, not to lose another post.


[MS John Rylands Library]

Tavistock House / Twenty Fifth November 1851.

My Dear Scheherazade - for I am sure your powers of narrative can never be exhausted in a single night, but must be good for at least a thousand nights and one.

When I received your letter yesterday morning, my first impulses being of a remorseful nature I immediately repaired to my Solicitor and made over to you, for ever, all the plate glass and Californian bullion-fringe on these premises, which you will receive (carriage free) as soon as the men employed in their removal can find them. They are now searching in every direction, and have got to the kitchen-an apartment painted in an Arabesque manner, with perfumes burning night and day on tripods of silver - crimson hangings of silk damask concealing the saucepans - and melodious singing-birds of every country, pendant in gilded cages from the fretted roof.

When I found I didn't know the right end of the Ghost Story, I was so much relieved in my mind that I had some thought of cancelling the settlement I had made upon you; but did not do so. And I hereby, in addition, offer to tell you another, which shall be the comfort and solace of Mr. Gaskell's life when faithless cabs again leave him with a stony host, in otherwise-helpless despair. [If it will afford either him or you the least satisfaction in the bereavement for which I am responsible, I will see the Ghost myself.]

But I never yet met anybody who read the Keepsake;' and I am not without hopes that you will soon take courage and try the face again-beginning, say, on some mild bore, and gradually working up to lofty intellects - say Mrs. Tagart.

Seriously, I hope I have not damaged the incident of the Face? It came into my mind (you remember that it struck me very much when you told it) as a very remarkable instance of a class of mental phenomena at which I have glanced in the little sketch - certainly the best known, and the best certified, and among the most singular class out of many. It also led up, by natural degrees, to another story (Ghost-story) which I have told in the same place, and which I believe to be, in the slightest incident, perfectly true. I told it, some time ago, to Elliotson, who printed it in a note to his Physiology.

Yet I, never complained!

More than that, Crows have plucked at the fleeces of other Ghosts of mine before now-but I have borne it meekly. Ghost-stories, illustrating particular states of mind and processes of the imagination, are common-property, I always think - except in the manner of relating them, and 0 who can rob some people of that!

Mrs. Dickens and her sister (who now dress entirely in brocade of gold, with each a tag to her stay lace composed of one inestimable diamond) beg me to send their loves, and to say that they are not proud.

Mrs. Gaskell
Ever Faithfully Yours

OFFICE OF "HOUSEHOLD WORDS," Wednesday, Dec. 1st, 1852.


I send you the proof of "The Old Nurse's Story," with my proposed alteration. I shall be glad to know whether you approve of it. To assist you in your decision, I send you, also enclosed, the original ending. And I have made a line with ink across the last slip but one, where the alteration begins. Of course if you wish to enlarge, explain, or re-alter, you will do it. Do not keep the proof longer than you can help, as I want to get to press with all despatch.

I hope I address this letter correctly. I am far from sure. In haste.

Ever faithfully yours.

TAVISTOCK HOUSE, Friday, Dec. 17th, 1852.


I received your kind note yesterday morning with the truest gratification, for I am the writer of "The Child's Story" as well as of "The Poor Relation's." I assure you, you have given me the liveliest and heartiest pleasure by what you say of it.

I don't claim for my ending of "The Nurse's Story" that it would have made it a bit better. All I can urge in its behalf is, that it is what I should have done myself. But there is no doubt of the story being admirable as it stands, and there is some doubt (I think) whether Forster would have found anything wrong in it, if he had not known of my hammering over the proofs in making up the number, with all the three endings before me.

With kindest regards to Mr. Gaskell,

Ever faithfully yours.

TAVISTOCK HOUSE, May 3rd, 1853.


The subject is certainly NOT too serious, so sensibly treated. I have no doubt that you may do a great deal of good by pursuing it in "Household Words." I thoroughly agree in all you say in your note, have similar reasons for giving it some anxious consideration, and shall be greatly interested in it. Pray decide to do it. Send the papers, as you write them, to me. Meanwhile I will think of a name for them, and bring it to bear upon yours, if I think yours improvable. I am sure you may rely on being widely understood and sympathised with.

Forget that I called those two women my dear friends ! Why, if I told you a fiftieth part of what I have thought about them, you would write me the most suspicious of notes, refusing to receive the fiftieth part of that. So I don't write, particularly as you laid your injunctions on me concerning Ruth. In revenge, I will now mention one word that I wish you would take out whenever you reprint that book. She would never - I am ready to make affidavit before any authority in the land - have called her seducer "Sir," when they were living at that hotel in Wales. A girl pretending to be what she really was would have done it, but she - never!

Ever most faithfully yours.

TAVISTOCK HOUSE, April 21st, 1854.


I safely received the paper from Mr. Shaen, welcomed it with three cheers, and instantly despatched it to the printer, who has it in hand now.

I have no intention of striking. The monstrous claims at domination made by a certain class of manufacturers, and the extent to which the way is made easy for working men to slide down into discontent under such hands, are within my scheme; but I am not going to strike, so don't be afraid of me. But I wish you would look at the story yourself, and judge where and how near I seem to be approaching what you have in your mind. The first two months of it will show that.

I will "make my will" on the first favourable occasion. We were playing games last night, and were fearfully clever. With kind regards to Mr. Gaskell, always, my dear Mrs. Gaskell,

Faithfully yours.

Thursday, Aug. 17th, 1854.


I sent your MS. off to Wills yesterday, with instructions to forward it to you without delay. I hope you will have received it before this notification comes to hand.

The usual festivity of this place at present - which is the blessing of soldiers by the ten thousand - has just now been varied by the baptising of some new bells, lately hung up (to my sorrow and lunacy) in a neighbouring church. An English lady was godmother; and there was a procession afterwards, wherein an English gentleman carried "the relics" in a highly suspicious box, like a barrel organ; and innumerable English ladies in white gowns and bridal wreaths walked two and two, as if they had all gone to school again.

At a review, on the same day, I was particularly struck by the commencement of the proceedings, and its singular contrast to the usual military operations in Hyde Park. Nothing would induce the general commanding in chief to begin, until chairs were brought for all the lady-spectators. And a detachment of about a hundred men deployed into all manner of farmhouses to find the chairs. Nobody seemed to lose any dignity by the transaction, either.

With kindest regards, my dear Mrs. Gaskell,

Faithfully yours always.

TAVISTOCK HOUSE, January 27th, 1855.


Let me congratulate you on the conclusion of your story; not because it is the end of a task to which you had conceived a dislike (for I imagine you to have got the better of that delusion by this time), but because it is the vigorous and powerful accomplishment of an anxious labour. It seems to me that you have felt the ground thoroughly firm under your feet, and have strided on with a force and purpose that MUST now give you pleasure.

You will not, I hope, allow that not-lucid interval of dissatisfaction with yourself (and me?), which beset you for a minute or two once upon a time, to linger in the shape of any disagreeable association with "Household Words." I shall still look forward to the large sides of paper, and shall soon feel disappointed if they don't begin to reappear.

I thought it best that Wills should write the business letter on the conclusion of the story, as that part of our communications had always previously rested with him. I trust you found it satisfactory? I refer to it, not as a matter of mere form, but because I sincerely wish everything between us to be beyond the possibility of misunderstanding or reservation.

Dear Mrs. Gaskell, very faithfully yours.

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