The Gaskell Web

Letters of Elizabeth Gaskell to Charles Dickens

121, Upper Rumford Street
Janry 8. [1850]

My dear Sir,

In the first place I am going to give you some trouble, and I must make an apology for it; for I am very sorry to intrude upon you in your busy life. But I want some help, and I cannot think of any one who can give it to me so well as you. Some years since I asked Mr Burnett to apply to you for a prospectus of Miss Coutt's refuge for Female prisoners, and the answer I received was something to the effect that you did not think such an establishment could be carried out successfully anywhere, unless connected with a scheme of emigration, as Miss Coutts was. (as I have written it it seems like a cross question & crooked answer, but I believe Mr Burnett told you the report was required by people desirous of establishing a similar refuge in Manchester.)

I am just now very much interested in a young girl, who is in our New Bayley prison. She is the daughter of an Irish clergyman who died when she was two years old; but even before that her mother had shown most complete indifference to her; and soon after the husband's death, she married again, keeping her child out at nurse. The girl's uncle had her placed at 6 years old in the Dublin school for orphan daughters of the clergy; and when she was about 14, she was apprenticed to an Irish dress-maker here, of very great reputation for fashion. Last September but one this dress-maker failed, and had to dismiss all her apprentices; she placed this girl with a woman who occasionally worked for her, and who has since succeeded to her business; this woman was very profligate and connived at the girl's seduction by a surgeon in the neighbourhood who was called in when the poor creature was ill. Then she was in despair, & wrote to her mother, (who had never corresponded with her all the time she was at school and an apprentice;) and while awaiting the answer went into the penitentiary; she wrote 3 times but no answer came, and in desperation she listened to a woman, who had obtained admittance / to the penitentiary / solely as it turned out to decoy girls into her mode of life, and left with her; & for four months she has led the most miserable life! in the hopes, as she tells me, of killing herself, for 'no one had ever cared for her in this world,' - she drank, 'wishing it might be poison', pawned every article of clothing - and at last stole. I have been to see her in prison at Mr Wright's request, and she looks quite a young child (she is but 16,) with a wild wistful look in her eyes, as if searching for the kindness she has never known, - and she pines to redeem herself; her uncle (who won't see her, but confirms fully the account of the mother's cruel hardness,) says he has 3O~ of her father's money in his hands; and she agrees to emigrate to Australia, for which her expenses would be paid. But the account of common emigrant ships is so bad one would not like to expose her to such chances of corruption; and what I want you to tell me is, how Miss Coutts sends out her protegees? under the charge of a matron? and might she be included among them? I want her to go out with as free and unbranded a character as she can; if possible, the very fact of having been in prison &c to be unknown on her landing. I will try and procure her friends when she arrives; only how am I to manage about the voyage? and how soon will a creditable ship sail; for she comes out of prison on Wednesday, & there are two of the worst women in the town who have been in prison with her, intending to way-lay her, and I want to keep her out of all temptation, and even chance of recognition. Please, will you help me? I think you know Miss Coutts. I can manage all except the voyage. She is a good reader [,] writer, and a beautiful needlewoman; and we can pay all her expenses &c.

Pray don't say you can't help me for I don't know any one else to ask, and you see the message you sent about emigration some years ago has been the mother of all this mischief. Will you give my love to Mrs Dickens & Miss Hogarth & believe me.

Yours very truly
E C Gaskell

Turn over

I have not told you one incident about the poor girl. Her seducer was lately appointed assistant surgeon to the New Bayley Prison; and as Pasley was not quite well she was sent for for him to see her. The matron told me when they came thus suddenly face to face, the girl just fainted dead away, and he was so affected he had to sit down, - he said 'Good God how did you come here.' He has been dismissed from his post in consequence. The chaplain will guarantee the truth of all I have said. She is such a pretty sweet looking girl. I am sure she will do well if we can but get her out in a good ship.

121, Upper Rumford Street
Saturday, Jany 12th, 1850

My dear Sir,

I am exceedingly obliged to you for what you have done about my poor girl. I return you Miss Coutts' letter, (which I only received late last night). It is really and truly kind, for she has taken the trouble to think of several plans, and her suggestions are very valuable. As she is out of town, I have written off at once to the fore-woman at Silvers', choosing out the plan which seemed to me the most desirable, - i.e. placing the girl under the charge of some respectable family, (of the working-class if possible). If Miss I(aye should not know of any one, then, if you will allow me, I will write again to ask Miss Coutts, through you, if she will kindly write to the Plymouth Ladies, of whom I never heard before - I have already received kind offices from Mrs Chisholm in helping out a family of emigrants, but I thought she required those whom she assisted to be of unblemished character. - Miss Coutts is very, very kind - for she evidently thinks as she writes, of what can be done. -

My head & eyes ache so, with crying over the loss of three dear little cousins, who have died of S. Fever since I last wrote, leaving a childless mother, that I hardly know how or what I write, but will you thank Miss Coutts as you know she will like best. Of course I never named her name at Silvers'.

The girl herself is in a Refuge - a literal refuge, for any destitute female without enquiry as to her past life being made, - ail are received, and not classified. So it is a bad place, but what can we do? I am going to see her today to keep up & nurse her hopes & good resolutions.

My best love to Mrs Dickens & Miss Hogarth.

Yours truly
E C Gaskell

Sunday [?17 December 1854]

My dear Sir,

I was very much gratified by your note the other day; very much indeed. I dare say I shall like my story, when I ant a little further from it; at present I can only feel depressed about it, I meant it to have been so much better. I send what I am afraid you will think too large a batch {o} of it by this post. What Mr Wills has got already fills up the No for January 13, leaving me only two / more / numbers, Janry 20, & Janry 27th so what I send today is meant to be crammed & stuffed into Janry 20th; & I'm afraid I've nearly as much more for Jany 27.

It is 33 pages of my writing that I send today. I have tried to shorten & compress it, both because it was a dull piece, & to get it into reasonable length, but there were [sic] a whole catalogue of events to be got over: and what I want to tell you now is this, Mr Gaskell has looked this piece well over, so I don't think there will be any carelessnesses left in it, & so there ought not to be any misprints; therefore I never wish to see it's face again; but, if you will keep the MS for me, & shorten it as you think best for HW. I shall be very glad. Shortened I see it must be.

I think a better title than N. & S. would have been 'Death & Variations'. There are 5 deaths, each beautifully suited to the character of the individual.

I was exceedingly interested & touched by that Soldier's Story. It is very 'war-music'al, & comes in beautifully just at this time. I must tell you 2 things. 1st Some fine-spinners in a mill at Bolton, earning their 36 shillings a week, threw up their work and enlisted last week, on hearing of the sufferings in the Crimea, for they said they could neither sleep nor eat for thinking how the soldiers there wanted help.

Some Bury men, / some very poor / seeing James Nasmyth's letter in the Times, subscribed a thousand pounds to enable hint to try & make one of his guns; meanwhile Government had given {hi} hint carte blanche. So he wrote back to thank them, & say so much had he felt their ready kindness that the first gun he made should be called 'The Voice of Lancashire.'

Yours most truly
C E Gaskell

I shall direct tile batch of MS to the Office. Don't consult me as to the shortenings[;] only please yrself.

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