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Dickens (Boz), in reply to the one I wrote, expressing my heartfelt delight with his writings, and my yearnings towards himself. See how completely we sympathize in feeling :
"There is no man in the world,' replies Dickens, 'who could have given me the heartfelt pleasure you have by your kind note of the 13th of last month. There is no living writer, and there are very few among the dead, whose approbation I should feel so proud to earn; and, with everything you have written upon my shelves, and in my thoughts, and in my heart of hearts, I may honestly and truly say so. If you could know how earnestly I write this, you would be glad to read it hope you will be, faintly guessing at the warmth of the hand I autographically hold out to you over the broad Atlantic.
"I wish I could find in your welcome letter some hint of an intention to visit England. I can't. I have held it at arm's length, and taken a bird's-eye view of it, after reading it a great many times; but there is no greater encouragement in it, this way, than on a microscopic inspection. I should love to go with you — as I have gone, God knows how often-into Little Britain, and Eastcheap, and Green Arbor Court, and Westminster Abbey. I should like to travel with you, outside the last of the coaches, down to Bracebridge Hall. It would make my heart glad to compare notes with you about that shabby gentleman in the oil-cloth hat and red nose, who sat in the nine-cornered back parlor of the Mason's Arms; and about Robert Preston, and the tallow-chandler's widow, whose sitting-room is second nature to me; and about all those delightful places and people that I used to talk about and dream of in the daytime, when a very small and not-over-particularlytaken-care-of boy. I have a good deal to say, too, about that dashing Alonzo de Ojeda, that you can't help being fonder of than you ought to be; and much to hear concerning Moorish legend, and poor unhappy Boabdil. Diedrich Knickerbocker I have worn to death in my pocket, and yet I should show you his mutilated carcass with a joy past all expression.
"I have been so accustomed to associate you with my pleasantest and happiest thoughts, and with my leisure hours,
that I rush at once into full confidence with you, and fall, as it were naturally, and by the very laws of gravity, into your open arms. Questions come thronging to my pen as to the lips of people who meet after long hoping to do so. I don't know what to say first, or what to leave unsaid, and am constantly disposed to break off and tell you again how glad I am this moment has arrived.
"My dear Washington Irving, I cannot thank you enough for your cordial and generous praise, or tell you what deep and lasting gratification it has given me. I hope to have many letters from you, and to exchange a frequent correspondence. I send this to say so. After the first two or three, I shall settle down into a connected style, and become gradually rational.
"You know what the feeling is, after having written a letter, sealed it, and sent it off. I shall picture you reading this, and answering it, before it has lain one night in the postoffice. Ten to one that before the fastest packet could reach New York I shall be writing again.
'Do you suppose the post-office clerks care to receive letters? I have my doubts. They get into a dreadful habit of indifference. A postman, I imagine, is quite callous. Conceive his delivering one to himself, without being startled by a preliminary double knock !'”
Irving, writing again to Mrs. Storrow, 29th of October following, says
"What do you think? Dickens is actually coming to America. He has engaged passage for himself and his wife in the steam-packet for Boston, for the 4th of January next. He says: 'I look forward to shaking hands with you, with an interest I cannot (and I would not if I could) describe. You can imagine, I dare say, something of the feelings with which I look forward to being in America. I can hardly believe I am coming."
But to return to Professor Felton and his recollections of Irving and Dickens. He continues :
“Great and varied as was the genius of Mr. Irving, there was one thing he shrank with a comical terror from attempting, and that was a dinner speech. A great dinner, however, was to be given to Mr. Dickens in New York, as one had already been given in Boston; and it was evident to all that no man like Washington Irving could be thought of to preside. With all his dread of making a speech, he was obliged to obey the universal call, and to accept the painful preëminence. I saw him daily during the interval of preparation, either at the lodgings of Dickens, or at dinner, or at evening parties. I hope I showed no want of sympathy with his forebodings, but I could not help being amused with his tragi-comical distress which the thought of that approaching dinner had caused him. His pleasant humor mingled with the real dread, and played with the whimsical horrors of his own position with an irresistible drollery. Whenever it was alluded to, his invariable answer was, 'I shall certainly break down!'- uttered in a half-melancholy tone, the ludicrous effect of which it is impossible to describe. He was haunted, as if by a nightmare ; and I could only compare his dismay to that of Mr. Pickwick, who was so alarmed at the prospect of leading about that 'dreadful horse' all day. At length the long-expected evening arrived. A company of the most eminent persons, from all the professions and every walk of life, were assembled, and Mr. Irving took the chair. I had gladly accepted an invitation, making it, however, a condition that I should not be called upon to speak a thing I then dreaded quite as much as Mr. Irving himself. The direful compulsions of life have since helped me to overcome, in some measure, the postprandial fright. Under the circumstances an invited guest, with no impending speech —I sat calmly and watched with interest the imposing scene. I had the honor to be placed next but one to Mr. Irving, and the great pleasure of sharing in his conversation. He had brought the manuscript of his speech, and laid it under his plate. 'I shall certainly break down,' he repeated over and over again. At last the moment arrived. Mr. Irving rose, and was received with deafening
and long-continued applause, which by no means lessened his apprehension. He began in his pleasant voice; got through two or three sentences pretty easily, but in the next hesitated; and, after one or two attempts to go on, gave it up, with a graceful allusion to the tournament, and the troop of knights all armed and eager for the fray; and ended with the toast, Charles Dickens, the guest of the nation.' 'There!' said he, as he resumed his seat under a repetition of the applause which had saluted his rising 'there! I told you I should
break down, and I've done it.'
“There certainly never was a shorter after-dinner speech ; and I doubt if there ever was a more successful one. The manuscript seemed to be a dozen or twenty pages long, but the printed speech was not as many lines.
"Mr. Irving often spoke with a good-humored envy of the felicity with which Dickens always acquitted himself on such occasions."
Immediately after dinner, Irving and Dickens started off together to Washington, to spend a few days, and there took leave of one another. Irving at this time having just received his appointment as Minister to Spain, Dickens wrote to him: "We passed through—literally passed through this place again to-day. I did not come to see you, for I really had not the heart to say good-by again, and I felt more than I can tell you when we shook hands last Wednesday. You will not be at Baltimore, I fear? I thought at the time, that you only said you might be there, to make our parting the gayer.
"Wherever you go, God bless you! What pleasure I have had in seeing and talking with you, I will not attempt to say. I shall never forget it as long as I live. What would I give if we could have a quiet walk together! Spain is a lazy place, and its climate an indolent one. But if you have ever leisure under its sunny skies to think of a man who loves you, and holds communion with your spirit oftener, perhaps, than any other person alive leisure from listlessness, I mean — and will write to me in London, you will give me an inexpressible amount of pleasure.”
DICKENS AS AN ACTOR
Dickens's extreme fondness for theatricals had tempted him, as far back as the year 1836, when "Pickwick " was publishing, to take a part in "The Strange Gentleman," at St. James's Theatre. The amateur actor was not successful on this occasion, and we believe no further attempt except drawingroom performances was made until the autumn of 1845, when he made another appearance on the stage at the St. James's Theatre, on the 19th of September, the play selected being Ben Jonson's "Every Man in his Humor;" the various parts of the amateur performance being taken by literary and artistic celebrities. The triumph achieved was immense. They were induced to repeat the performance for a Charity, at the same theatre, on the 15th of November following, the only alteration being the substitution of a Mr. Eaton for Mr. A'Beckett as William. The play-bill itself The play-bill itself is a curiosity: A Strictly Private Amateur Performance.
AT THE ST. JAMES'S THEATRE
(By favor of Mr. Mitchell). Will be performed Ben. Jonson's Comedy of EVERY MAN IN HIS HUMOR.