[Boston—Friday, 10 April 1868]

Friday April 10th Left home at 8 o’clock in the morning, found our dearly beloved friend C.D. already awaiting us with two roses in his coat and looking as fresh as possible. It was my first ride in America in a compartment car. Mr. Dolby made the fourth in our little party and we had a table and a game of “Nincom” and “Casino” & talked and laughed and wiled away the time pleasantly until we arrived here at the Westminster Hotel in time for dinner at 6. I was impressed all day long with the occasional languor which came over C.D. and always with the exquisite delicacy and quickness of his perception; something as fine as the finest woman possesses which combined itself wondrously with the action of the massive brain and the rapid movement of those strong strong hands. I felt how deeply we had learned to love him and how hard it would be for us to part.

At dinner he gave us a marvellous description of his life as a reporter. It seems he invented (in a measure) a system of stenography for himself; that is to say he altered Gurney’s system to suit his own needs. He was a very young man, not yet 20, when at 7 guineas a week he was engaged as reporter on the “Morning Chronicle” then a very large and powerful paper. At this period the present Lord Derby, then Mr. Stanley was beginning his brilliant career, and O’Connell, Shiel and others were at the height of their powers. Wherever these men spoke a corps of reporters was detailed to follow them & with the utmost expedition forward verbatim reports to the Chronicle. Often & often he has gone by Post Chaise to Edinburgh, heard a speech or a part of it (having instructions, whatever happened to leave the place again at a certain hour, the next reporter taking up his work where he must leave it,) and has driven all the way back to London, a bag of sovereigns on one side of his body and a bag of slips of paper on the other writing, writing desperately all the way by the light of a small lamp. At each station a man on horseback would stand ready to seize the sheets already prepared and ride with them to London. Often & often this work would make him deadly sick and he would have to plunge his head out of the window to relieve himself, still the writing went steadily forward on very little slips of paper which he held before him just resting his body on the edge of the seat & his paper on the front of the window underneath the lamp. As the station was reached a sudden plunge into the pocket of sovereigns would pay the post-boys, another behind him would render up the completed pages and a third into the pocket on the other side would give him the fresh paper to carry forward the inexorable unremitting work.

At this period there was a large sheet started in which all the speeches of Parliament were reported verbatim in order to preserve them for future reference—a monstrous plan which fell through after a time. For this paper it was especially desired to have a speech of Mr. Stanley accurately reported upon the condition of Ireland containing suggestions for the amelioration of the people’s suffering. It was a very long & eloquent speech & took many hours in the delivery. There were 8 reporters upon the work, each to work three quarters of an hour and then to retire to write out his portion and be succeeded by the next. It happened that the roll of reporters was exhausted before the speech came to an end and C.D. was called in to report the last portions, which were very eloquent. This was on Friday and on Saturday the whole was given to the press and the young reporter ran down to the country for a Sunday’s rest. Sunday morning had scarcely dawned, “when my poor father who was a man of immense energy surprised me by making his appearance. The speech had come into Mr. Stanley’s hands, who was most anxious to have it correctly given in order to have it largely circulated in Ireland and he found it all bosh, hardly a word right, except at the beginning and the end. Sending immediately to the office he had obtained my sheets at the top of which according to custom the name of the reporter was written and finding the name of Dickens, had immediately sent in search of me. My father thinking this would be the making of me came immediately and I followed him back to London. I remember perfectly the look of the room and of the two gentlemen in it as I entered Mr. Stanley and his father. They were extremely courteous, but I could see their evident surprise at the appearance of so young a man. For a moment as we talked I had taken a seat extended to me in the middle of the room. Mr. Stanley told me he wished to go over the whole speech and if I was ready he would begin. Where would I like to sit? I told him I was very well where I was & we would begin immediately. He tried to induce me to sit elsewhere or more comfortably, but at that time in the House of Commons there was nothing but one’s knees to write upon & I had formed the habit of it. Without further pause then he began and went on hour after hour to the end, often becoming very much excited, bringing down his hand with violence upon the desk near which he stood and rising at the end into great eloquence.

In these later years we never meet without that scene returning vividly to my mind as I have no doubt it does to his also, but I of course have never referred to it, leaving him to do so if he shall ever think fit.”

“Shiel was a small man with a queer high voice and spoke very fast. O’Connell had a fine brogue which he cultivated and a magnificent eye. He had written a speech about this time upon the wrongs of Ireland and though he repeated it many many times during 3 months during wh. I followed him about the country & I never heard him give it twice the same, nor ever without being himself deeply moved.”

Mr. Dickens’s imitation of Bulwer Lytton is so vivid that I feel as if it were taking a glimpse at the man himself. His deaf manner of speaking he represents exactly. He says he is very brilliant and quick in conversation & knows everything!! He is a conscientious & unremitting student & worker. “I have been surprised to see how well his books wear. Lately I have re-read “Pelham” & I assure you I found it admirable. His speech at the dinner given to me just before leaving was well written, full of good things but delivered execrably. He lacks a kind of confidence in his own powers which is necessary in a good speaker.”

Speaking of O’Connell Mr. Dickens said there had been nobody since who could compare with him but John Bright who is at present the finest speaker in England. Cobden was fond of reasoning and hardly what would be called a brilliant speaker, but his noble truthfulness and devotion to the cause to which he had pledged himself made him one of the grandest of England’s great men. I asked about Mrs. Cobden. He told me she had been made very comfortable and in a beautiful manner. After her husband’s death his affairs having become involved by some bad investment he had made, a committee of 6 gentlemen came together to consider what should be done to commemorate his great & unparalleled devotion to his country. The result was instead of having a public subscription for Mrs Cobden with the many unavoidable & disagreeable features of such a step, each of these gentlemen subscribed £12,000 a piece thus making £70,000, a sufficient sum to make her most comfortable for life.

As I write Mr. Dickens & Mr. Dolby look in to admire my little room to say as Mr. Gaylord Clark who was to dine with him today, most fortunately has the gout!! and can’t come, we will all go, “if I please” (“if I please don’t you see, Sir”) to the circus tonight.

I have forgotten to say how in those long rides from Edinburgh the mud dashed up and into the opened windows of the post-chaise, nor how they would be obliged to fling it off from their faces and even from the papers on which they wrote. As Dickens told us he flung the imaginary evil from him as he did the real in the days long gone and we could see him with the old disgust returned. He said by the way that never since those old days when he left the House of Commons as a Reporter had be entered it again. His hatred of the falseness of talk of bombastic eloquence he had heard there made it impossible for him ever to go in again to hear anyone.


National Endowment for the Humanities - Logo

Editorial work on The Brownings’ Correspondence is supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

This website was last updated on 5-20-2024.

Copyright © 2024 Wedgestone Press. All rights reserved.

Back To Top