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The royal party paid the deepest attention to the progress of the play, Her Majesty frequently leading the applause. And when the curtain fell upon the three hours' triumph, Her Majesty rose in her box, and, by the most cordial demonstration of approval, "commanded" (for such may be the word) the reappearance of all the actors, again to receive the royal approval of their efforts. Nor did the Queen and Prince merely bestow applause. Her Majesty took seventeen places for herself, visitors, and suite; and, further, as a joint contribution of herself and the Prince, headed the list of subscriptions with £150, making the sum total of £225. It is said that the receipts of the night exceeded £1,000. Another representation at Devonshire House took place on the following Tuesday, the admission being £2. The farce written for the occasion, called "Mrs. Nightingale's Diary," was performed, and Charles Dickens and Mark Lemon sustained the principal characters. A critic at the time remarked: "Both these gentlemen are admirable actors. It is by no means amateur playing with them. Dickens seizes the strong points of a character, bringing them out as effectively upon the stage as his pen undyingly marks them upon paper. Lemon has all the ease of a finished performer, with a capital relish for comedy and broad farce.”
For the representations in the provinces a portable theatre was constructed, Messrs. Clarkson Stanfield, David Roberts, Grieve, and others, painting the scenes, etc., which are said to have been very beautiful. The funds raised were unfortunately, by a flaw in the act of Parliament, unintentionally tied up for a number of years; but on Saturday, July 29, 1865, the surviving members of the Fund proceeded to the neighborhood of Stevenage, near the magnificent seat of the President, Lord Lytton, to inspect three houses built in the Gothic
style on the ground given by him for that purpose. An enterprising publican in the vicinity had just previously opened his establishment, which bore the very appropriate sign of "Our Mutual Friend" - Mr. Dickens's then latest workand caused considerable merriment.
DICKENS AND LEIGH HUNT.
One of the characters in "Bleak House," Harold Skimpole, an incarnation of a canting and hypocritical scoundrel, whom one longs to kick, was fastened upon as the impersonation of that kind and genial writer, the late Leigh Hunt. Those who had the good fortune to know him personally indignantly refuted the calumny, and, like other unfounded rumors, the matter died out, until, after his death, the idea was again bruited forth.
Mr. Thornton Hunt (his eldest son), in preparing a new edition of his father's famous "Autobiography," prefixed an introductory chapter, in which the following passages occur:
“His animation, his sympathy with what was gay and pleasurable, his avowed doctrine of cultivating cheerfulness, were manifest on the surface, and could be appreciated by those who knew him in society, most probably even exaggerated as salient traits, on which he himself insisted with a sort of gay and ostentatious willfulness.
"The anxiety to recognize the right of others, the tendency to 'refine,' which was noted by an early school companion, and the propensity to elaborate every thought, made him, along with the direct argument by which he sustained his own conviction, recognize and almost admit all that might be said on the opposite side.
"It is most desirable that his qualities should be known as they were; for such deficiencies as he had are the honest explanation of his mistakes; while, as the reader may see from his writing and his conduct, they are not, as the faults of which he was accused would be, incompatible with the noblest faculties both of head and heart. To know Leigh Hunt as he was, was to hold him in reverence and love."
Dickens immediately, in a number of a number of "All the Year Round," under the head of "Leigh Hunt- a Remonstrance," made this statement:
"Four or five years ago, the writer of these lines was much pained by accidentally encountering a printed statement, 'that Mr. Leigh Hunt was the original of Harold Skimpole in " Bleak House.?? The writer of these lines is the author of that book. The statement came from America. It is no disrespect to that country, in which the writer has, perhaps, as many friends and as true an interest as any man that lives, good-humoredly to state the fact that he has now and then been the subject of paragraphs in transatlantic newspapers more surprisingly destitute of all foundation in truth than the wildest delusions of the wildest lunatics. For reasons born of this experience, he let the thing go by.
"But since Mr. Leigh Hunt's death the statement has been revived in England. The delicacy and generosity evinced in its revival are for the rather late consideration of its revivers. The fact is this: Exactly those graces and charms of manner which are remembered in the words we have quoted were remembered by the author of the work of fiction in question when he drew the character in question. Above all other things, that'sort of gay and ostentatious willfulness' in the humoring of a subject, which had many times delighted him, and impressed him as being unspeakably whimsical and attractive, was the airy quality he wanted for the man he invented. Partly for this reason, and partly (he has since often grieved to think) for the pleasure it afforded him to find that delightful manner reproducing itself under his hand, he yielded to the temptation of too often making the character speak like his old friend. He no more thought, God forgive him! that the admired original would ever be charged with the imaginary vices of the fictitious creature than he has himself ever thought of charging the blood of Desdemona and Othello on the innocent Academy model who sat for Iago's leg in the picture. Even as to the mere occasional manner,
he meant to be so cautious and conscientious that he privately referred the proof-sheets of the first number of that book to two intimate literary friends of Leigh Hunt (both still living), and altered the whole of that part of the text on their discovering too strong a resemblance to his 'way.'
"He cannot see the son lay this wreath on the father's tomb, and leave him to the possibility of ever thinking that the present words might have righted the father's memory and were left unwritten. He cannot know that his own son may have to explain his father when folly or malice can wound his heart no more, and leave this task undone."
Mr. Thornton Hunt, alluding to his father's incapacity to understand figures, frankly admitted, “His so-called improvidence resulted partly from actual disappointment in professional undertakings, partly from a real incapacity to understand any objects when they were reduced to figures, and partly from a readiness of self-sacrifice, which was the less to be guessed by any one who knew him, since he seldom alluded to it, and never, except in the vaguest and most unintelligible terms, hinted at its real nature or extent."
Very recently, and since the decease of the great novelist, a similar statement about Skimpole and Leigh Hunt, made in the columns of a daily journal, was thus replied to by Mr. Edmund Ollier, an old friend of the deceased essayist: “Dickens himself corrected the misapprehension in a paper in ‘All the Year Round,' towards the close of 1859, after Hunt's death; and during Hunt's life, and after the publication of 'Bleak House,' he wrote a most genial paper about him in Household Words.' It is also within my knowledge that he expressed to Leigh Hunt personally his regret at the Skimpole mistake.”
Leigh Hunt himself, in confessing his inability at school to master the multiplication-table, naïvely adds, "Nor do I know it to this day!" And again: "I equally disliked Dr. Franklin, author of 'Poor Richard's Almanac,' a heap, as it ap
peared to me, of scoundrel maxims.' 1 I think I now appreciate Dr. Franklin as I ought; but, although I can see the utility of such publications as his almanac for a rising commercial state, and hold it useful as a memorandum to uncalculating persons like myself, who happen to live in an old one, I think there is no necessity for it in commercial nations long established, and that it has no business in others who do not found their happiness in that sort of power. Franklin, with all his abilities, is but at the head of those who think that man lives by bread alone.'”
And again, in his "Journal,” a few years ago, that gentleman, after narrating several agreeable hardships inflicted upon him, says: "A little before this, a friend in a manufacturing town was informed that I was a terrible speculator in the money markets! I who was never in a market of any kind but to buy an apple or a flower, and who could not dabble in money business if I would, from sheer ignorance of their language!"
GAD'S HILL PLACE.
Though not born at Rochester, Mr. Dickens spent some portion of his boyhood there; and was wont to tell how his father the late Mr. John Dickens, in the course of a country ramble, pointed out to him as a child the house at Gad's Hill Place, saying, "There, my boy; if you work and mind your book, you will, perhaps, one day live in a house like that." This speech sunk deep, and in after years, and in the course of his many long pedestrian rambles through the lanes and roads of the pleasant Kentish country, Mr. Dickens came to regard this Gad's Hill House lovingly, and to wish himself its possessor. This seemed an impossibility. The property was so held that there was no likelihood of its ever coming into the market; and so Gad's Hill came to be alluded to jocularly, as 1 Thomson's phrase in his Castle of Indolence, speaking of a miserly moneygetter:
"A penny saved is a penny got; '
Firm to this scoundrel maxim keepeth he,
Nor of its rigor will he bate a jot,
Till he hath quench'd his fire and banished his pot.”