[Boston—Thursday, 21 November 1867]

Thursday Nov. 21st Mr Dickens dined here. Agassiz, Emerson, Judge Hoar, Prof. Holmes, Norton, Greene, dear Longfellow, last not least, came to welcome him. Dickens sat on my right, Agassiz at my left. I never saw Agassiz so full of fun. He happened to remember in the course of the dinner a witticism of Franklin when talking with Madame Helvetius wh. he was afraid to tell me lest he should shock my New England sensibilities but he could not restrain his laughter at the memory & every time he thought of it he would burst out afresh with laughter; at last he told me & when one remembers the early life of Franklin, his education and character, the daring of his wit shines preeminent. Franklin had been extremely polite to Madame Helvetius, they had been on some tour and he had been the life of the excursion. “Ah! dear Franklin exclaimed Madame Helvetius you have been so kind to me you have done everything to express your affection except to ask me to sleep with you. And I should have done that responded Franklin immediately but it is midsummer and so warm! If it were only winter when the nights are long!”

The sublimity of this wit—the rising so spontaneously to meet the French woman half way in her talk was true wit. Dickens bubbled over with fun & I could not help fancying that Holmes bored him a little by talking at him. I was sorry for this because Holmes is so simple and lovely but Dickens is sensitive, very. He is fond of Carlyle, seems to love nobody better and gave the most irresistible imitation of him. His queer terms of expression often convulsed us with laughter and yet it is difficult to catch them as when in speaking of the writer of books always putting himself, his real self in “which is always the case,” he said “but you must be careful of not taking him for his next door neighbor.”

He spoke of the fineness of his Parisian audience—“the most delicately appreciative of all audiences.” He also gave a most ludicrous account of a sea-sick curate trying to read the service aboard ship last Sunday. He tells us Browning is really about to marry Miss Ingelow and of Carlyle that he is deeply saddened, irretrievably, by the death of his wife. Just as we were in a tempest of laughter over some witticism of his, he jumped up, seized me by the hand and said good-night. He neither smoked nor drank. I never do either from the time my Readings “set in” he said, as if it were a rainy season.

Ah me! What a strange day for me! In the morning I went to see Maria Fields whose eldest son has died. This is her fourth and dearest. It is impossible to imagine greater woe.

What a contrast between that house and the scene I have just left.

Among other interesting personal facts Dickens told us that he had last year burned all his private letters. An appeal from the widow of Sydney Smith for some of his letters set him thinking on the subject & one day when there was a big fire.

Mr Dickens left the table just as we were in a tempest of laughter. Dr Holmes who never appeared to so little advantage was telling how inappreciative he had found some country audiences—one he remembered in especial when his landlady accompanied him to the lecture and her face he observed was the only one which relaxed its grimness! “Probably because she saw money enough in the house to cover your expenses” rejoined Dickens. That was enough; the laughter was prodigious; for O.W.H. has his head a bit turned we fear by his late lords to dinner.


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