[Boston—Tuesday, 31 March 1868]

Tuesday March 31st Dined with Mr. Dickens at the Parker House—found him in the best of good spirits because his travelling is all over and he is within eleven readings of home. His catarrh still clings to him but he is better and will feel quite well if he can sleep—but he has no talent that way with all his gifts. I remember Carlyle says “when Dulness puts his head upon his mattresses, Dulness sleeps” referring to the apathetic people who went on with their daily habits and avocations in Paris while men were guillotined by thousands in the next street. Mr. Dickens talked as usual much and naturally—first of the various hotels of which he had late experience. The one in Portland was particularly bad, the dinner poor as it was, being brought in small dishes “as if Osgood and I should quarrel over it.” Everything being very bad and disgusting which the little dishes contained. He took a fine walk in P. and admired its situation toward the sea but the ground was covered with snow and slush and his feet became very wet. Afterward we came to literature. He spoke of the curious discovery of the key to Pepys’ Diary and of the queer things in the book. How he accused himself of spending too much money in going to the theatre and made a vow to himself to reform; instead of staying away from the theatre however he hung round the door until a friend came who gave him a ticket and invited him in. Then J. recalled how Madame P. chased him about the house with a hot poker &c. At last they came to the book “Ecce Homo” in which Dickens can see nothing of value any more than we. He thinks Jesus foresaw and guarded well as he could against the mis-interpretating of his teaching. That the four gospels are all derived from some anterior written scriptures—made up perhaps with additions and interpolations from the “Talmud” for which he expressed great interest and admiration. Among other things which prove how little the gospels should be taken literally is the fact that broad phylacteries were not in use until some years after Jesus lived, so that the passage in which this reference occurs, at least, must only be taken as conveying the spirit and temper, not the actual form of speech of our Lord. Mr. Dickens spoke reverently and earnestly and said much more if I could recall it perfectly. Then he came to “spiritualism” again and asked if he had ever told us his interview with Colchester the famous medium. Saying “no” he continued that being at Knebworth one day, Lytton having finished his dinner and retired to the comfort of his pipe said “Why don’t you see some of these famous men! What a pity Hume has just gone” (here Dickens imitated to the life Lytton’s manner of speaking so I could see the man). “Well said D. he went on to say no more about it that I inquired of him who was the next best man he said there was one Colchester if possible better than Hume. So I took Colchester’s address, got Charley Collins my son in law to write to him asking an interview for five gentlemen & for any day he should designate, the hour being 2 o’clock. A day being fixed I wrote to a young French conjuror, with whom I had no acquaintance but had observed his great cleverness at his business before the public to ask him to accompany us. He acceded with alacrity therefore with poor Chauncy Townsend, just dead, & one other person whom I do not at this moment recall we waited upon Mr Colchester. As we entered the room I leading the way, the man recognizing me immediately turned deadly pale, especially when he saw me followed by the conjuror & Townsend who with his colored imperial and beard and tight fitting wig looked like a member of the detective police. He trembled visibly became livid to the eyes all of which was visible in spite of paint with which his face was covered to the eyes. He withdrew for a few minutes during which we heard him in hot discussion with his accomplice, telling him how he was cornered and trying to imagine some way in which to get out of the trap, the other evidently urging him to go through with it now the best way he could. He returned therefore and placed himself with his back to the light while it shone upon our faces. We sat a while in silence until he began insolently turning to me “take up the alphabet and think of somebody who is dead pass your hands over the letters and the spirit will indicate the name.” I thought of Mary and took the alphabet and when I came to M. he rapped but I was sure that I had unconsciously signified by some movement and determined to be more skilful the next time. For the next letter therefore he went on to H. & then asked me if that was right. I told him I thought the spirits ought to know. He then began with someone else but doing nothing he became hotter and hotter, the perspiration pouring from his face until he got up, said the spirits were against him, and was about to withdraw. I then rose & told him that it was the most shameless imposition, that he had got us there with the intent to deceive & under false pretenses, that he had done nothing and could do nothing. He offered to return our money—I said the fact of his taking the money at all was the point—at last the wretch said turning to the Frenchman, “I did tell you one name, Valentine.” “Yes, answered the young conjuror, with a sudden burst of English—yes but I showed it to you!” Inclinating by a swift movement of the hand how he had given him a chance. Then it was all up with Colchester and more scathing words than those spoken by Dickens to him have been seldom spoken by mortal. It was the righteous anger of one trying to avenge and help the world. Mr. Dickens always seems to me like one who working earnestly with his eyes fixed on the immutable, nevertheless finds to his own surprise that his words place him among the prophets. He does not arrogate a place to himself there, indeed he is singularly humble (as it seems to us) in the moral position he takes, but for all that is led by the Divine Hand to see what a power he is and in an unsought for manner finds himself among the teachers of the earth. He says, nowhere is a man placed in such an unfair position as at church. If one could only be allowed to get up and state his objections it would be very well but under the circumstances he declines being preached to.


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