a new condition of mind, which fact must be shot point-blank at
the audience, I suppose, " as from the deadly level of a gun." By
anybody who knew how to play Milly, I think it might be made
very good. Its effect is very pleasant upon me. I have also
given Mr. and Mrs. Tetterby another innings.
I went to the play last night fifth act of Richard the Third.
Richmond by a stout lady, with a particularly well-developed bust,
who finished all the speeches with the soubrette simper. Also, at
the end of the tragedy she came forward (still being Richmond)
and said, " Ladies and gentlemen, on Wednesday next the enter-
tainments will be for My benefit, when I hope to meet your ap-
probation and support." Then, having bowed herself into the
stage-door, she looked out of it, and said, winningly, " Won't you
come 1 " which was enormously applauded.
196 LETTERS OF CHARLES DICKENS.
Ix the spring of this year Charles Dickens took another holiday at
Brighton, accompanied by his wife and sister-in-law and two
daughters, and they were joined in their lodgings by Mr. and Mrs.
Leech. From Brighton he wrote the letter as a song to Mr.
Mark Lemon, who had been ill, asking him to pay them a visit.
In the summer, Charles Dickeus went with his family, for the
first time, to Bonchurch, Isle of Wight, having hired for six months
the charming villa, Winterbourne, belonging to the Rev. James
White. And now began that close and loving intimacy which for
the future was to exist between these two families. Mr. Leech
also took a house at Bonchurch. All through this year Charles
Dickens was at work upon " David Copperfield."
On the 14th November he witnessed the execution of a man and
his wife Mr. and Mrs. Manning for the murder of their lodger.
On this occasion he wrote the two letters to the Editor of The
Time*, which we give in their order, advocating the great reform
in the mode of executions which he had always earnestly at heart
and which has happily been carried out since that time.
A letter, on the same subject, addressed to Miss Joll, is explained
to us by that lady as follows : " Soon after the appearance of his
' Household Words,' some friends were discussing an article in it
on ' Private Executions.' They contended that it went to prove
Mr. Dickens was an advocate of capital punishment. I, however,
took a different view of the matter, and ventured to write and
enquire his views on the subject, and to my letter he sent me a
Mr. Joseph Charles King, the friend of many artists and literary
men, conducted a private school, at which the sons of Mr. Macready
and of Charles Dickens were being educated at this time.
r!*u'ii!'. llty DEVONSHIRE TERRACE,
Friday Night, Twenty-sixth January, 1849.
MY DEAR COSTELLO,
I am desperate ! Engaged in links of adamant to a " monster
in human form "a remarkable expression I think I remember to
have once met with in a newspaper whom I encountered at
Franconi'u, whence I have just returned, otherwise I would have
done all three things right heartily, and with my accustomed
sweetness. Think of me another time when chops are on the
carpet (figuratively speaking), and see if I won't come and eat 'em !
Ever faithfully yours.
LETTERS OF CHARLES DICKENS. 197
DEVONSHIRE TERRACE, Sir Edward
Twenty-third February, 1849. Bulwer
MY BEAR SIR EDWARD,
I have not written sooner to thank you for " King Arthur ''
because I felt sure you would prefer my reading it before I should
do so, and because I wished to have an opportunity of reading it
with the sincerity and attention which such a composition demands.
This I have done. I do not write to express to you the measure
of my gratification and pleasure (for I should find that very difficult
to be accomplished to my own satisfaction), but simply to say that
I have read the poem, and dwelt upon it with the deepest interest,
admiration, and delight ; and that I feel proud of it as a very good
instance of the genius of a great writer of my own time. I should
feel it as a kind of treason to what has been awakened in me by
the book, if I were to try to set oft' my thanks to you, or if I were
tempted into being diffuse in its praise. I am too earnest on the
subject to have any misgiving but that I shall convey something of
my earnestness to you, in the briefest and most unaffected flow of
Accept it for what a genuine word of homage is worth, and
believe me > Faithfully yours.
DEVONSHIRE TERRACE, Miss
Tuesday Night, Twenty-seventh February, 1849. Dickens.
My DEAREST MAMEY,
I am not engaged on the evening of your birthday. But
even if I had an engagement of the most particular kind, I should
excuse myself from keeping it, so that I might have the pleasure
of celebrating at home, and among my children, the day that gave
me such a dear and good daughter as you.
Ever affectionately yours.
DEVONSHIRE TERRACE, Fifth May, 1849. Mr. e.
MY DEAR SIR, S n
I am very sorry to say that my Orphan "\\ orking School vote
is promised in behalf of an unfortunate young orphan, who, after
being canvassed for, polled for, written for, quarrelled for, fought
for, called for, and done all kinds of things for, by ladies who
wouldn't go away and wouldn't be satisfied with anything anybody
said or did for them, was floored at the last election and comes up
to the scratch next morning, for the next election, fresher than ever.
I devoutly hope he may get in, and be lost sight of for evermore.
Pray give my kindest regards to my quondam Quickly, and
believe me, Faithfully yours.
19 g LETTERS OF CHA11LES DICKKXS.
DEVONSHIRE TERRACE, Twenty-fifth May, 1849.
MY DEAR STANFIELD,
No no no ! Murder, murder ! Madness and misconcep-
tion ! Any one of the subjects not the whole. Oh, blessed star of
early morning, what do you think I am made of, that I should, on
the part of any man, prefer such a pig-headed, calf-eyed, donkey-
eared, imp-hoofed request !
Says my friend to me, " Will you ask your fnend, Mr. btanneld,
what the damage of a little picture of that size would be, that ]
may treat myself with the same, if I can afford it 1 " Says I, " I
will." Says' he, "Will you suggest that I should like it to be one
of those subjects 1 " Says I, " I will."
I am beating my head against the door with grief and frenzy,
and I shall continue to do so, until I receive your answer.
Ever heartily yours,
THE MISCONCEIVED ONE.
Mr*. CharU-t SHANKLIN, ISLE OF WlGHT,
Dirk, ii- .Vmiday XiyM, Sixteenth June, 1849.
Mv DEAR KATE,
I have but a moment. Just got back and post going out.
I have taken a most delightful and beautiful house, belonging to
White, at Bonchurch ; cool, airy, private bathing, everything
delicious. I think it is the prettiest place I ever saw in my life,
at home or abroad. Anne may begin to dismantle Devonshire
Terrace. I have arranged for carnages, luggage, and everything.
The man with the post-bag is swearing in the passage.
P.S. A waterfall on the grounds, which I have arranged with
a carpenter to convert into a perpetual shower-bath.
Mr Mark DEVONSHIRE TERRACE,
Monday, Twenty-fifth June,, 1849.
My DEAR LEMON,
I am very unwilling to deny Charley the pleasure you so
kindly offer him. But as it is just *the close of the half-year when
they are getting together all the half-year's work and as that day's
pleasure would weaken the next day's duty, I think I must be
" more like an ancient Roman than a " Sparkler, and that it
will be wisest in me to say nothing about it.
<!t ;i lean porkft-handkcrchief ready for the close of "Copper-
LETTERS OF CHARLES DICKENS. 199
field " No. 3 ; " simple and quiet, but very natural and touching."-
TUNE " Lesbia hath a beaming eye."
Lemon is a little hipped.
And this is Lemon's true position ;
He is not pale, he's not white-lipped,
Yet wants a little fresh condition.
Sweeter 'tis to gaze upon
Old ocean's rising, falling billows,
Than on the houses every one,
That form the street called Saint Anne's Willers.
Oh, my Lemon, round and fat,
Oh, my bright, my right, my tight 'un,
Think a little what you're at
Don't stay at home, but come to Brighton !
Lemon has a coat of frieze,
But all so seldom Lemon wears it,
That it is a prey to fleas,
And ev'ry moth that's hungry tears it.
Oh, that coat's the coat for me,
That braves the railway sparks and breezes,
Leaving every engine free
To smoke it, till its owner sneezes !
Then, my Lemon, round and fat,
L. , my bright, my right, my tight 'un,
Think a little what you're at
On Tuesday first, come down to Brighton !
WINTERBOURNK, Sunday Evening, Rev. James
Twenty-third September, 1849.
MY DEAR WHITE,
I have a hundred times at least wanted to say to you how
good I thought those papers in " Blackwood " how excellent their
purpose, and how delicately and charmingly worked out. Their
200 LETTERS OF CHARLES DICKENS.
subtle and delightful humour, and their grasp of the whole
question, were something more pleasant to me than I can possibly
" How comes this lumbering Inimitable to say this, on this
Sunday night of all nights in the year ? " you naturally ask. Xmv
hear the Inimitable's honest avowal ! I make so bold because I
heard that Morning Service better read this morning than ever I
have heard it read in my life. And because for the soul of me
I cannot separate the two things, or help identifying the wise ami
genial man out of church with the earnest and unaffected man in it.
Midsummer madness, perhaps, but a madness I hope that will hold
us true friends for many and many a year to come. The madness
is over as soon as you have burned this letter (see the history of the
Gunpowder Plot), but let us be friends much longer for these reasons
and many included in them not herein expressed.
The Editor DEVONSHIRE TERRACE, Tuesday,
of Tkf Thirteenth November, 1849.
I was a witness of the execution at Horsemonger Lane this
morning. I went there with the intention of observing the crowd
gathered to behold it, and I had excellent opportunities of doing
so, at intervals all through the night, and continuously from day-
break until after the spectacle was over. I do not address you on
the subject with any intention of discussing the abstract question of
capital punishment, or any of the arguments of its opponents or
advocates. I simply wish to turn this dreadful experience to some
account for the general good, by -taking the readiest and most public
means of adverting to an intimation given by Sir G. Grey in the
last session of Parliament, that the Government might be induced
to give its support to a measure making the infliction of capital
punishment a private solemnity within the prison walls (with such
guarantees for the last sentence of the law being inexorably and
surely administered as should be satisfactory to the public at large),
and of most earnestly beseeching Sir G. Grey, as a solemn duty
which he owes to society, and a responsibility which he cannot for
ever put away, to originate such a legislative change himself. I
believe that a sight so inconceivably awful as the wickedness and
levity of the immense crowd collected at that execution this
morning could be imagined by no man, and could be presented in
no heathen land under the sun. The horrors of the gibbet and of
the crime which brought the wretched murderers to it faded in my
LETTERS OF CHARLES DICKENS. 201
mind before the atrocious bearing, looks, and language of the
assembled spectators. When I came upon the scene at midnight,
the shrillness of the cries and howls that were raised from time to
time, denoting that they came from a concourse of boys and girls
already assembled in the best places, made my blood run cold.
As the night went on, screeching, and laughing, and yelling in
strong chorus of parodies on negro melodies, with substitutions of
"Mrs. Manning" for "Susannah," and the like, were added to
these. When the day dawned, thieves, low prostitutes, ruffians,
and vagabonds of every kind, flocked on to the ground, with every
variety of offensive and foul behaviour. Fightings, faintings,
whistlings, imitations of Punch, brutal jokes, tumultuous demonstra-
tions of indecent delight when swooning women were dragged out
of the crowd by the police, with their dresses disordered, gave a
new zest to the general entertainment. When the sun rose brightly
as it did it gilded thousands upon thousands of upturned faces,
so inexpressibly odious in their brutal mirth or callousness, that a
man had cause to feel ashamed of the shape he wore, and to shrink
from himself, as fashioned in the image of the Devil. When the
two miserable creatures who attracted all this ghastly sight about
them were turned quivering into the air, there was no more emotion,
no more pity, no more thought that two immortal souls had gone
to judgment, no more restraint in any of the previous obscenities,
than if the name of Christ had never been heard in this world,
and there were no belief among men but that they perished like
I have seen, habitually, some of the worst sources of general
contamination and corruption in this country, and I think there
are not many phases of London life that could surprise me. I am
solemnly convinced that nothing that ingenuity could devise to be
done in this city, in the same compass of time, could work such
ruin as one public execution, and I stand astounded and appalled
by the wickedness it exhibits. I do not believe that any com-
munity can prosper where such a scene of horror and demoralisa-
tion as was enacted this morning outside Horsemonger Lane Gaol
is presented at the very doors of good citizens, and is passed by
unknown or forgotten. And when in our prayers and thanks-
givings for the season we are humbly expressing before God our
desire to remove the moral evils of the land, I would ask your
readers to consider whether it is not a time to think of this one,
and to root it out
I am, Sir, your faithful Servant.
202 LETTERS OP CHARLES DICKENS.
TheE<lit..i DEVONSHIRE TERRACE, Saturday, Semite, >il, A~.v//</,o-, 1849.
tttr a. u
i I I .
When I wrote to you on Tuesday last 1 had no intention of
troubling you again ; but as one of your correspondents has to-day
expressed a reasonable desire that I would explain myself more
clearly, and as I hope I may do no injury to the cause I would
serve by stating my views upon it a little more in detail, I shall be
glad to do so if you will allow me the opportunity.
My positions in reference to the demoralising nature of public
executions are :
First, that they chiefly attract as spectators the lowest, the most
depraved, the most abandoned of mankind, in whom they inspire
no wholesome emotions whatever.
Second, that the public infliction of a violent death is not a
salutary spectacle for any class of people : but that it is in the
nature of things that on the class by whom it is generally witnessed
it should have a debasing and hardening influence.
On the first head I must appeal again to my own experience of
the execution of last Tuesday morning ; to all the evidence that
has ever been taken upon the subject, showing that executions have
been the favourite sight of convicts of all descriptions ; to the
knowledge possessed by the magistracy and police of the general
character of such crowds ; to the police reports that are sure to
follow their assemblage ; to the unvarying description of them
given in the newspapers ; to the indisputable fact that no decent
father is willing that his son, and no decent master is willing that
his apprentices or servants, should mingle in them ; to the indis-
putable fact that all society, its dregs excepted, recoil from them as
masses of abomination and brutality. That there were not more
robberies committed at this last execution was not the fault of the
assembled thieves, whose numbers on the occasion the Home
Secretary may easily learn from the commissioners in Scotland
Yard, but the merit of the police, whose vigilance was beyond all
On the second head, after a passing allusion to the hardening
influence which familiarity, even with natural death, produces on
coarse minds, I must again refer to my own experience. Nothing
would have been a greater comfort to me nothing would have so
much relieved in my mind the unspeakable terrors of the scene, as
to have been enabled to believe that any portion of the immense
crowd that any grains of sand in the vast moral desert stretching
away on every side were moved to any sentiments of fear,
iv|M-ntance, pity, or natural horror by what they saw upon the drop.
LETTERS OF CHARLES DICKENS. 203
It was impossible to look around and rest in any such belief.
With every consideration and respect for your suggestion that the
concourse may have been belying their mental struggles by frantic
exaggerations, I am confident that if you had been there beside me,
seeing what I saw, and hearing what I heard, you could never have
admitted the thought. Such a state of mind has its signs and
tokens equally with any other, and no such signs and tokens were
there. The mirth was not hysterical, the shoutings and fightings
were not the efforts of a strained excitement seeking to vent itself
in any relief. The whole was unmistakably callous and bad, as
the ferocious woman who was charged on the same day with
threatening to murder another in the midst of the multitude, pro-
claiming that she had a knife about her. and would have her heart's
blood, and be hanged on the same gibbet with her namesake, Mrs.
Manning, whose death she had come to see as she had her evil
passions excited to the utmost by the scene, so had all the crowd.
I believe this was the whole and sole effect of what they had come
to see, and I hold that no human being, not being the better for
such a sight, could go away without being the worse for it.
To prevent such frightful spectacles in a Christian country, and
all the incalculable evils they engender, I would have the last
sentence of the law executed with comparative privacy within the
prison walls. Before I state how, let me strengthen this proposal
with some words of Fielding on this subject, to whose profound
knowledge of human nature you, I know, will render full justice :
" The execution should be in some degree private. And here
the poets will again assist us. Foreigners have found fault with
the cruelty of the English drama, in representing frequent murders
upon the stage. In fact, this is not only cruel, but highly in-
judicious : a murder behind the scenes, if the poet knows how to
manage it, will affect the audience with greater terror than if it
was acted before their eyes. Of this we have an instance in the
murder of the king in Macbeth. Terror hath, I believe, been
carried higher by this single instance than by all the blood which
hath been spilt upon the stage. To the poets I may add the
priests, whose politics have never been doubted. Those of Egypt
in particular, where the sacred mysteries were first devised, well
knew the use of hiding from the eyes of the vulgar what they
intended should inspire them with the greatest awe and dread.
The mind of man is so much more capable of magnifying than his
eye, that I question whether every object is not lessened by being
looked upon ; and this more especially when the passions are con-
cerned ; for those are ever apt to fancy much more satisfaction Ln
those objects which they affect, and much more of mischief in those
204 LETTERS OF CHARLES DICKENS.
which they abhor, than are really to be found in either. If execu-
tions, therefore, were so contrived that few could be present at
them, they would be much more shocking and terrible to the
crowd without doors than at present, as well as much more dreadful
to the criminals themselves."
From the moment of a murderer's being sentenced to death, I
would dismiss him to the dread obscurity to which the wisest judge
upon the bench consigned the murderer Rush. I would allow no
curious visitors to hold any communication with him ; I would
place every obstacle in the way of his sayings and doings being
served up in print on Sunday mornings for the perusal of families.
His execution within the walls of the prison should be conducted
with every terrible solemnity that careful consideration could
devise. Mr. Calcraft, the hangman (of whom I have some infor-
mation in reference to this last occasion), should be restrained in
his unseemly briskness, in his jokes, his oaths, and his brandy.
To attend the execution I would summon a jury of twenty-four, to
be called the witness jury, eight to be summoned on a low quaifica-
tion, eight on a higher, eight on a higher still ! so that it might
fairly represent all classes of society. There should be present,
likewise, the governor of the gaol, the chaplain, the surgeon, and
other officers, the sheriff of the county or city, and two inspectors
of prisons. All these should sign a grave and solemn form of
certificate (the same in every case) that on such a day, at such an
hour, in such a gaol, for such a crime, such a murderer was hanged
in their sight. There should be another certificate from the officers
of the prison that the person hanged was that person, and no other ;
a third, that that person was buried. These should be posted on
the prison-gate for twenty-one days, printed in T/te Ga :</(<-, and
exhibited in other public places ; and during the hour of the body's
hanging I would have the bells of all the churches in that town or
city tolled, and all the shops shut up, that all might be reminded
of what was being done.
I submit to you that, with the law so changed, the public would
(as is right) know much more of the infliction of this tremendous
punishment than they know of the infliction of any other. There
are not many common subjects, I think, of which they know less
iaii transportation ; and yet they never doubt that when a man is
to be sent abroad he goes abroad. The details of the
lonest prison in London are unknown to the public at large,
hey are quite satisfied that prisoners said to be in this or
nl are really there and really undergo its discipline. The
of private execution is objected to; but has not
"y,t,Ty been the character of every improvement in convict treat-
LETTERS OF CHARLES DICKENS. 205
inent and prison discipline effected within the last twenty years 1
From the police van to Norfolk Island, are not all the changes,
changes that make the treatment of the prisoner mysterious?
His seclusion in his conveyance hither and thither from the public
sight, instead of his being walked through the streets, strung with
twenty more to a chain, like the galley slaves in Don Quixote (as
I remember to have seen in my school-days), makes a mystery of
him. His being known by a number instead of by a name, and
his being under the rigorous discipline of the associated silent
system to say nothing of the solitary, which I regard as a mistake
is all mysterious. I cannot understand that the mystery of such
an execution as I propose would be other than a fitting climax to
all these wise regulations, or why, if there be anything in this
objection, we should not return to the days when ladies paid visits
to highwaymen, drinking their punch in the condemned cells of
Newgate ; or Ned Ward, the London spy, went upon a certain
regular day of the week to Bridewell to see the women whipped.
Another class of objectors I know there are, who, desiring the
total abolition of capital punishment, will have nothing less, and
who, not doubting the fearful influence of public executions, would
have it protracted for an indefinite term, rather than spare the
demoralisation they do not dispute, at the risk of losing sight for a
while of their final end. But of these I say nothing, considering
them, however good and pure in intention, unreasonable, and not
to be argued with.
With many thanks to you for your courtesy, and begging most
earnestly to assure you that I write in a deep conviction that I
incurred a duty when I became a witness of the execution on
Tuesday last, from which nothing ought to move me, and which
every hour's reflection strengthens,
I am, Sir, your faithful Servant.
ROCKINOHAM CASTLK, NOKTHAMPTONSHIRK, Miss Joll.
Twenty -seventh November, 1849.
Mr. Charles Dickens presents his compliments to Miss Joll.