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I went to Verona and to Mantua. And now I am here - just come up from
underground, and earthy all over, from seeing that extraordinary tomb in
which the dead saint lies in an alabaster case, with sparkling jewels
all about him to mock his dusty eyes, not to mention the twenty-franc
pieces which devout votaries were ringing down upon a sort of sky-light
in the cathedral pavement above, as if it were the counter of his
heavenly shop. You know Verona? You know everything in Italy, _I_ know.
The Roman Amphitheatre there delighted me beyond expression. I never saw
anything so full of solemn ancient interest. There are the
four-and-forty rows of seats, as fresh and perfect as if their occupants
had vacated them but yesterday - the entrances, passages, dens, rooms,
corridors, the numbers over some of the arches. An equestrian troop had
been there some days before, and had scooped out a little ring at one
end of the arena, and had their performances in that spot. I should
like to have seen it, of all things, for its very dreariness. Fancy a
handful of people sprinkled over one corner of the great place (the
whole population of Verona wouldn't fill it now); and a spangled
cavalier bowing to the echoes, and the grass-grown walls! I climbed to
the topmost seat, and looked away at the beautiful view for some
minutes; when I turned round, and looked down into the theatre again, it
had exactly the appearance of an immense straw hat, to which the helmet
in the Castle of Otranto was a baby; the rows of seats representing the
different plaits of straw, and the arena the inside of the crown. I had
great expectations of Venice, but they fell immeasurably short of the
wonderful reality. The short time I passed there went by me in a dream.
I hardly think it possible to exaggerate its beauties, its sources of
interest, its uncommon novelty and freshness. A thousand and one
realisations of the Thousand and one Nights, could scarcely captivate
and enchant me more than Venice.

Your old house at Albaro - Il Paradiso - is spoken of as yours to this
day. What a gallant place it is! I don't know the present inmate, but I
hear that he bought and furnished it not long since, with great
splendour, in the French style, and that he wishes to sell it. I wish I
were rich and could buy it. There is a third-rate wine shop below
Byron's house, and the place looks dull and miserable, and ruinous
enough. Old - - is a trifle uglier than when I first arrived. He has
periodical parties, at which there are a great many flowerpots and a few
ices - no other refreshments. He goes about, constantly charged with
extemporaneous poetry, and is always ready, like tavern dinners, on the
shortest notice and the most reasonable terms. He keeps a gigantic harp
in his bedroom, together with pen, ink, and paper, for fixing his ideas
as they flow, a kind of profane King David, but truly good-natured and
very harmless.

Pray say to Count D'Orsay everything that is cordial and loving from me.
The travelling purse he gave me has been of immense service. It has been
constantly opened. All Italy seems to yearn to put its hand in it. I
think of hanging it, when I come back to England, on a nail as a trophy,
and of gashing the brim like the blade of an old sword, and saying to my
son and heir, as they do upon the stage: "You see this notch, boy? Five
hundred francs were laid low on that day, for post-horses. Where this
gap is, a waiter charged your father treble the correct amount - and got
it. This end, worn into teeth like the rasped edge of an old file, is
sacred to the Custom Houses, boy, the passports, and the shabby soldiers
at town-gates, who put an open hand and a dirty coat-cuff into the coach
windows of all 'Forestieri.' Take it, boy. Thy father has nothing else
to give!"

My desk is cooling itself in a mail-coach, somewhere down at the back
of the cathedral, and the pens and ink in this house are so detestable,
that I have no hope of your ever getting to this portion of my letter.
But I have the less misery in this state of mind, from knowing that it
has nothing in it to repay you for the trouble of perusal.

Very faithfully yours.

[Sidenote: The same.]

COVENT GARDEN, _Sunday, Noon (December, 1844)._


Business for other people (and by no means of a pleasant kind) has held
me prisoner during two whole days, and will so detain me to-day, in the
very agony of my departure for Italy again, that I shall not even be
able to reach Gore House once more, on which I had set my heart. I
cannot bear the thought of going away without some sort of reference to
the happy day you gave me on Monday, and the pleasure and delight I had
in your earnest greeting. I shall never forget it, believe me. It would
be worth going to China - it would be worth going to America, to come
home again for the pleasure of such a meeting with you and Count
D'Orsay - to whom my love, and something as near it to Miss Power and her
sister as it is lawful to send. It will be an unspeakable satisfaction
to me (though I am not maliciously disposed) to know under your own
hand at Genoa that my little book made you cry. I hope to prove a better
correspondent on my return to those shores. But better or worse, or any
how, I am ever, my dear Lady Blessington, in no common degree, and not
with an every-day regard, yours.

Very faithfully yours.


[21] On the occasion of a great meeting of the Mechanics' Institution at
Liverpool, with Charles Dickens in the chair.

[22] He had also presided two evenings previously at a meeting of the
Polytechnic Institution at Birmingham.

[23] A character in a Play, well known at this time.

[24] "Studies of Sensation and Event."


[Sidenote: The same.]

GENOA, _May 9th, 1845._


Once more in my old quarters, and with rather a tired sole to my foot,
from having found such an immense number of different resting-places for
it since I went away. I write you my last Italian letter for this bout,
designing to leave here, please God, on the ninth of next month, and to
be in London again by the end of June. I am looking forward with great
delight to the pleasure of seeing you once more, and mean to come to
Gore House with such a swoop as shall astonish the poodle, if, after
being accustomed to his own size and sense, he retain the power of being
astonished at anything in the wide world. You know where I have been,
and every mile of ground I have travelled over, and every object I have
seen. It is next to impossible, surely, to exaggerate the interest of
Rome; though, I think, it _is_ very possible to find the main source of
interest in the wrong things. Naples disappointed me greatly. The
weather was bad during a great part of my stay there. But if I had not
had mud, I should have had dust, and though I had had sun, I must still
have had the Lazzaroni. And they are so ragged, so dirty, so abject, so
full of degradation, so sunken and steeped in the hopelessness of better
things, that they would make heaven uncomfortable, if they could ever
get there. I didn't expect to see a handsome city, but I expected
something better than that long dull line of squalid houses, which
stretches from the Chiaja to the quarter of the Porta Capuana; and while
I was quite prepared for a miserable populace, I had some dim belief
that there were bright rays among them, and dancing legs, and shining
sun-browned faces. Whereas the honest truth is, that connected with
Naples itself, I have not one solitary recollection. The country round
it charmed me, I need not say. Who can forget Herculaneum and Pompeii?

As to Vesuvius, it burns away in my thoughts, beside the roaring waters
of Niagara, and not a splash of the water extinguishes a spark of the
fire; but there they go on, tumbling and flaming night and day, each in
its fullest glory.

I have seen so many wonders, and each of them has such a voice of its
own, that I sit all day long listening to the roar they make as if it
were in a sea-shell, and have fallen into an idleness so complete, that
I can't rouse myself sufficiently to go to Pisa on the twenty-fifth,
when the triennial illumination of the Cathedral and Leaning Tower, and
Bridges, and what not, takes place. But I have already been there; and
it cannot beat St. Peter's, I suppose. So I don't think I shall pluck
myself up by the roots, and go aboard a steamer for Leghorn. Let me
thank you heartily for the "Keepsake" and the "Book of Beauty." They
reached me a week or two ago. I have been very much struck by two papers
in them - one, Landor's "Conversations," among the most charming,
profound, and delicate productions I have ever read; the other, your
lines on Byron's room at Venice. I am as sure that you wrote them from
your heart, as I am that they found their way immediately to mine.

It delights me to receive such accounts of Maclise's fresco. If he will
only give his magnificent genius fair play, there is not enough cant and
dulness even in the criticism of art from which Sterne prayed kind
heaven to defend him, as the worst of all the cants continually canted
in this canting world - to keep the giant down an hour.

Our poor friend, the naval governor,[25] has lost his wife, I am sorry
to hear, since you and I spoke of his pleasant face. Do not let your
nieces forget me, if you can help it, and give my love to Count D'Orsay,
with many thanks to him for his charming letter. I was greatly amused by
his account of - - . There was a cold shade of aristocracy about it, and
a dampness of cold water, which entertained me beyond measure.

Always faithfully yours.

[Sidenote: Mr. Macvey Napier.]

1, DEVONSHIRE TERRACE, _July 28th, 1845._


As my note is to bear reference to business, I will make it as short and
plain as I can. I think I could write a pretty good and a well-timed
article on the _Punishment of Death_, and sympathy with great criminals,
instancing the gross and depraved curiosity that exists in reference to
them, by some of the outrageous things that were written, done, and said
in recent cases. But as I am not sure that my views would be yours, and
as their statement would be quite inseparable from such a paper, I will
briefly set down their purport that you may decide for yourself.

Society, having arrived at that state in which it spares bodily torture
to the worst criminals, and having agreed, if criminals be put to death
at all, to kill them in the speediest way, I consider the question with
reference to society, and not at all with reference to the criminal,
holding that, in a case of cruel and deliberate murder, he is already
mercifully and sparingly treated. But, as a question for the deliberate
consideration of all reflective persons, I put this view of the case.
With such very repulsive and odious details before us, may it not be
well to inquire whether the punishment of death be beneficial to
society? I believe it to have a horrible fascination for many of those
persons who render themselves liable to it, impelling them onward to the
acquisition of a frightful notoriety; and (setting aside the strong
confirmation of this idea afforded in individual instances) I presume
this to be the case in very badly regulated minds, when I observe the
strange fascination which everything connected with this punishment, or
the object of it, possesses for tens of thousands of decent, virtuous,
well-conducted people, who are quite unable to resist the published
portraits, letters, anecdotes, smilings, snuff-takings, of the bloodiest
and most unnatural scoundrel with the gallows before him. I observe that
this strange interest does not prevail to anything like the same degree
where death is not the penalty. Therefore I connect it with the dread
and mystery surrounding death in any shape, but especially in this
avenging form, and am disposed to come to the conclusion that it
produces crime in the criminally disposed, and engenders a diseased
sympathy - morbid and bad, but natural and often irresistible - among the
well-conducted and gentle. Regarding it as doing harm to both these
classes, it may even then be right to inquire, whether it has any
salutary influence on those small knots and specks of people, mere
bubbles in the living ocean, who actually behold its infliction with
their proper eyes. On this head it is scarcely possible to entertain a
doubt, for we know that robbery, and obscenity, and callous indifference
are of no commoner occurrence anywhere than at the foot of the scaffold.
Furthermore, we know that all exhibitions of agony and death have a
tendency to brutalise and harden the feelings of men, and have always
been the most rife among the fiercest people. Again, it is a great
question whether ignorant and dissolute persons (ever the great body of
spectators, as few others will attend), seeing _that_ murder done, and
not having seen the other, will not, almost of necessity, sympathise
with the man who dies before them, especially as he is shown, a martyr
to their fancy, tied and bound, alone among scores, with every kind of
odds against him.

I should take all these threads up at the end by a vivid little sketch
of the origin and progress of such a crime as Hooker's, stating a
somewhat parallel case, but an imaginary one, pursuing its hero to his
death, and showing what enormous harm he does _after_ the crime for
which he suffers. I should state none of these positions in a positive
sledge-hammer way, but tempt and lure the reader into the discussion of
them in his own mind; and so we come to this at last - whether it be for
the benefit of society to elevate even this crime to the awful dignity
and notoriety of death; and whether it would not be much more to its
advantage to substitute a mean and shameful punishment, degrading the
deed and the committer of the deed, and leaving the general compassion
to expend itself upon the only theme at present quite forgotten in the
history, that is to say, the murdered person.

I do not give you this as an outline of the paper, which I think I could
make attractive. It is merely an exposition of the inferences to which
its whole philosophy must tend.

Always faithfully yours.

[Sidenote: Mr. Thompson.]

DEVONSHIRE TERRACE, _17th October, 1845._


Roche has not returned; and from what I hear of your movements, I fear I
cannot answer for his being here in time for you.

I enclose you, lest I should forget it, the letter to the Peschiere
agent. He is the Marquis Pallavicini's man of business, and speaks the
most abominable Genoese ever heard. He is a rascal of course; but a
more reliable villain, in his way, than the rest of his kind.

You recollect what I told you of the Swiss banker's wife, the English
lady? If you would like Christiana[26] to have a friend at Genoa in the
person of a most affectionate and excellent little woman, and if you
would like to have a resource in the most elegant and comfortable family
there, I need not say that I shall be delighted to give you a letter to
those who would die to serve me.

Always yours.

[Sidenote: Mr. H. P. Smith.]

DEVONSHIRE TERRACE, _4th November, 1845._


My chickens and their little aunt will be delighted to do honour to the
Lord Mayor on the ninth. So should I be, but I am hard at it, grinding
my teeth.

I came down with Thompson the other day, hoping to see you. You are
keeping it up, however, in some holiday region, and your glass-case
looked like a large pantry, out of which some giant had stolen the meat.

Best regards to Mrs. Smith from all of us. Kate quite hearty, and the
baby, like Goldsmith's bear, "in a concatenation" accordingly.

Always, my dear Smith, faithfully yours.

[Sidenote: Mr. Macvey Napier.]

_November 10th, 1845._


I write to you in great haste. I most bitterly regret the being obliged
to disappoint and inconvenience you (as I fear I shall do), but I find
it will be _impossible_ for me to write the paper on Capital Punishment
for your next number. The fault is really not mine. I have been involved
for the last fortnight in one maze of distractions, which nothing could
have enabled me to anticipate or prevent. Everything I have had to do
has been interfered with and cast aside. I have never in my life had so
many insuperable obstacles crowded into the way of my pursuits. It is as
little my fault, believe me, as though I were ill and wrote to you from
my bed. And pray bear as gently as you can with the vexation I occasion
you, when I tell you how very heavily it falls upon myself.

Faithfully yours.


[25] Lieut. Tracey, R.N., who was at this time Governor of Tothill
Fields Prison.

[26] Mrs. Thompson.


[Sidenote: Mr. W. J. Fox.]

_21st January, 1846._


The boy is in waiting. I need not tell you how our Printer failed us
last night.[28] I hope for better things to-night, and am bent on a fight
for it. If we can get a good paper to-morrow, I believe we are as safe
as such a thing can be.

Your leader most excellent. I made bold to take out - - for reasons
that I hinted at the other day, and which I think have validity in them.
He is unscrupulous and indiscreet. Cobden never so.

It didn't offend you?

Ever faithfully.

[Sidenote: Mr. Thompson.]

ROSEMONT, _Tuesday Morning._


All kinds of hearty and cordial congratulations on the event.[29] We are
all delighted that it is at last well over. There is an uncertainty
attendant on angelic strangers (as Miss Tox says) which it is a great
relief to have so happily disposed of.

Ever yours.

[Sidenote: The same.]

_2nd December, 1846._


We got to Paris, in due course, on the Friday evening. We had a pleasant
and prosperous journey, having rather cold weather in Switzerland and on
the borders thereof, and a slight detention of three hours and a half at
the frontier Custom House, atop of a mountain, in a hard frost and a
dense fog. We came into this house last Thursday. It has a pretty
drawing-room, approached through four most extraordinary chambers. It is
the most ridiculous and preposterous house in the world, I should think.
It belongs to a Marquis Castellane, but was fitted (so Paul Pry Poole
said, who dined here yesterday) by - - in a fit of temporary insanity,
I have no doubt. The dining-room is mere midsummer madness, and is
designed to represent a bosky grove.

At this present writing, snow is falling in the street, and the weather
is very cold, but not so cold as it was yesterday. I dined with Lord
Normanby on Sunday last. Everything seems to be queer and uncomfortable
in the diplomatic way, and he is rather bothered and worried, to my
thinking. I found young Sheridan (Mrs. Norton's brother) the attaché. I
know him very well, and he is a good man for my sight-seeing purposes.
There are to be no theatricals unless the times should so adjust
themselves as to admit of their being French, to which the Markis seems
to incline, as a bit of conciliation and a popular move.

Lumley, of Italian opera notoriety, also dined here yesterday, and seems
hugely afeard of the opposition opera at Covent Garden, who have already
spirited away Grisi and Mario, which he affects to consider a great
comfort and relief. I gave him some uncompromising information on the
subject of his pit, and told him that if he didn't conciliate the middle
classes, he might depend on being damaged, very decidedly. The danger of
the Covent Garden enterprise seems to me to be that they are going in
for ballet too, and I really don't think the house is large enough to
repay the double expense.

Forster writes me that Mac has come out with tremendous vigour in the
Christmas Book, and took off his coat at it with a burst of such
alarming energy that he has done four subjects! Stanfield has done
three. Keeleys are making that "change"[30] I was so hot upon at
Lausanne, and seem ready to spend money with bold hearts, but the cast
(as far as I know it, at present) would appear to be black despair and
moody madness. J. W. Leigh Murray, from the Princess's, is to be the
Alfred, and Forster says there is a Mrs. Gordon at Bolton's who must be
got for Grace. I am horribly afraid - - will do one of the lawyers, and
there seems to be nobody but - - for Marion. I shall run over and carry
consternation into the establishment, as soon as I have done the number.
But I have not begun it yet, though I hope to do so to-night, having
been quite put out by chopping and changing about, and by a vile touch
of biliousness, that makes my eyes feel as if they were yellow bullets.
"Dombey" has passed its thirty thousand already. Do you remember a
mysterious man in a straw hat low-crowned, and a Petersham coat, who was
a sort of manager or amateur man-servant at Miss Kelly's? Mr. Baynton
Bolt, sir, came out, the other night, as Macbeth, at the Royal Surrey

There's all my news for you! Let me know, in return, whether you have
fought a duel yet with your milingtary landlord, and whether Lausanne is
still that giddy whirl of dissipation it was wont to be, also full
particulars of your fairer and better half, and of the baby. I will send
a Christmas book to Clermont as soon as I get any copies. And so no more
at present from yours ever.


[27] Mr. W. J. Fox, afterwards M.P. for Oldham, well known for his
eloquent advocacy of the Repeal of the Corn Laws, was engaged to write
the political articles in the first numbers of the _Daily News_.

[28] The first issue of the _Daily News_ was a sad failure, as to

[29] The birth, at Lausanne, of Mr. Thompson's eldest daughter,
Elizabeth Thompson, now Mrs. Butler, the celebrated artist.

[30] In the dramatised "Battle of Life."


[Sidenote: Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton.]

DEVONSHIRE TERRACE, _January 12th, 1847._


The Committee of the General Theatrical Fund (who are all actors) are
anxious to prefer a petition to you to preside at their next annual
dinner at the London Tavern, and having no personal knowledge of you,
have requested me, as one of their Trustees, through their Secretary,
Mr. Cullenford, to give them some kind of presentation to you.

I will only say that I have felt great interest in their design, which
embraces all sorts and conditions of actors from the first, and it has
been maintained by themselves with extraordinary perseverance and
determination. It has been in existence some years, but it is only two
years since they began to dine. At their first festival I presided, at
their second, Macready. They very naturally hold that if they could
prevail on you to reign over them now they would secure a most powerful
and excellent advocate, whose aid would serve and grace their cause
immensely. I sympathise with their feeling so cordially, and know so
well that it would certainly be mine if I were in their case (as,
indeed, it is, being their friend), that I comply with their request
for an introduction. And I will not ask you to excuse my troubling you,
feeling sure that I may use this liberty with you.

Believe me always, very faithfully yours.

[Sidenote: Countess of Blessington.]

48, RUE DE COURCELLES, PARIS, _January 24th, 1847._


I feel very wicked in beginning this note, and deeply remorseful for not
having begun and ended it long ago. But _you_ know how difficult it is
to write letters in the midst of a writing life; and as you know too (I
hope) how earnestly and affectionately I always think of you, wherever I

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Online LibraryCharles DickensThe letters of Charles Dickens → online text (page 5 of 21)