[New York City—Wednesday, 15 April 1868]

Wednesday Morning April 15th The anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s death three years ago. How significant our position as a country is today and how dark that period was to us all. I have seen nobody this morning but I believe in many many hearts all over the country the day is quietly remembered and held sacred.

Monday was Mr. Dickens’s first reading of his last course, the programme Dr. Marigold & Mrs. Gamp. The audience was however sadly unappreciative and a more striking and chilly contrast could scarcely be imagined than this evening with the last in Boston when he read the same pieces. We came directly home afterward & in a moment we heard a tap at our room door. It was dear C.D. who begged us to come over for a bit of supper with him. He was wretchedly tired at first having found it necessary to make a great effort to fill this miserable Steinway Hall than which nothing could be worse for reading or speaking but he soon came up after a little soup when he called for Brandy & lemons and made such a Burnt Brandy Punch as has been seldom tasted this side of the “pond.” As the punch blazed his spirits rose and he began to sing an old fashioned comic song such as in the old days was given between the plays at the theatre. One song led to another until we fell into inextinguishable laughter, for anything more comic than his renderings of the chorus can not be imagined. Surely there is no living actor who could excel him in these things if he chose to exert his ability. His rendering of “Chrush ke lan ne chouskin!!” or a lingo which sounded like that, (the refrain of an old Irish song) was something tremendous. We laughed till I was really afraid he would make himself too hoarse to read the next night. He gave a queer old song full of rhymes obtained with immense difficulty and circumlocution to the word “annuity” which it appeared has been sought by an old woman with great assiduity & granted with immense incongruity. The negro minstrels have in great part supplanted these queer old English Irish & Scotch ballads, but they are sure to come up again from time to time. We did not separate until 12—and felt the next morning (as he said) as if we had had a regular orgie. They did not forget Dolby & he to pay a proper tribute to “Maryland My Maryland & Dixie” as very stirring ballads.

Tuesday, audience large, but worse than yesterday. Dickens came home very very tired, but we ran in at once to talk with him and he soon cheered up. When I first pushed open the door he was a perfect picture of prostration, his head thrown back without support on the couch, the blood suffusing his throat & temples again where he had been very white a few minutes before. This is a physical peculiarity with Dickens which I have never seen before in a man tho’ women are very subject to that thing. Excitement & exercise of reading will make the blood rush into his hands until they become at times almost black, and his face and head, (especially since he had become so fatigued) will turn from red to white and back to red again without his being conscious of it.

Morgan (Zephaniah K.) came in while we were at supper, just engaged and looking very happy. He was educated at a school near Gad’s Hill and has always felt at home there. He came to make sure of us all at a dinner on the last night of Mr. Dickens’ stay in America. He wishes to present his lady. Dickens told us the night before of a witty saying of Marcus Stone, a young artist & habiter at his house. He said his daughter Mary who never did anything by halves had one day been rather sweet upon Morgan at lunch. Afterward when they had both left the room to prepare for a walk Marcus Stone said by way of soliloquy before the fire—“I wonder if we did not love our friend Morgan so much, if we should not hate him tremendously!!!”

Mr. Dickens became deeply interested in talking about railroads & their tunnels and vast engineering work. He said the underground railway of London was projected for the purpose of carrying heavy freight, casks of wine, and such cumbrous matters which were at present slowly & painfully conveyed by horse power through the crowded London thoroughfares. The thought of using it for passengers hardly affected its projections. Nevertheless the work was perfectly finished, beautiful carriages were provided and it is so popular that they have never been able to find room to carry a single cask since the first day it was put into running order. Among the slight(!!) obstacles to be overcome in the making of that road was the river Trent now scarcely more than a sewer to be sure which broke into their work. Immediately they built a great loop as it were of solid masonry directly over the top of their train-way and looped the river in and hung it over their heads. With all this expense the road began at once to pay 15 per cent. The discovery of the tubular bridge by Stevenson was one of the finest results of human activity and ingenuity. The arch being the strongest possible form the only question was how to raise the loop so that the portion which had hitherto been imbedded in the river or the earth could be lifted high above it. Stevenson having discovered a method by hydraulic pressure of raising the arch, the perfect circle or tubular bridge was at once the result.

C.D. did not forget to speak of Paxton’s ground work for the Duke of Devonshire. The Duke loved Paxton like a brother and the two worked together in a most exceptional manner. After the hothouses were completed the Duke one day reflected that the Queen of lilies, the Victoria Regia was still lacking. He said therefore to Paxton, “my dear friend we ought to have that plant but I know no other way than for you to go to South America to see it in its home.” Paxton started for the Amazon without delay therefore studied all the habits of the flower & analysed the muddy bottom in which it grows and returned to Chatsworth with his prize. The bed was then laid, the seeds planted in it & Paxton waited—no lily came—he used all patience until he found there was really no hope. Then the good Duke said “my dear Paxton we have done our best and we have failed, now let us turn to something else.” But Paxton turned the matter over in his own mind and could not rest. At last one night he remembered the tidal flow of water over the lily’s bed and at once an idea came to him. He constructed two mills which he placed at each end of the tank in which the flower was planted. For six hours the water swept one way driven by this power, for the next six it was swept the other way by the opposite mill. Again Paxton waited, and presently was rewarded by seeing a fine lily resting on the lake. The construction of the root of this flower is also strange to say exactly on the principle of the arch which supports a bridge and of course absolutely perfect in its structure.

The relation between the grand old Duke and Paxton was beautiful; founded upon mutual esteem it became a mutual friendship and entire confidence. After the tropical houses were finished Paxton one day said to the Duke, “I am thinking of flinging open the doors of our house by night at this season. I have observed that in all tropical countries the nights are cold and it is to this doubtless may be attributed the brilliant hues which we have lost.” “My dear Paxton” was the reply, “I fear you will undo all our work, nevertheless you shall try it if you think it expedient.” Paxton did try it and it became a perfect success. The brilliant hues returned and fine effects were produced.

Wednesday. C.D. was low spirited because of a threatened visit from a cousin whom he had never seen. J. cheered him up a little, we went to walk together, and Dickens went out with Dolby to enjoy the air which had suddenly become like spring. Birds were singing and the sky was blue. At six according to appointment we dined together. The cousin had proved a good fellow and modest, letters had come from Miss Hogarth and all was bright again. Dickens got up from the table to give me the pressed flowers I have put between these sheets, primroses & violets from Gad’s Hill, with which the ground there now covered. Miss Hogarth had sent them in her letter. She said the loveliness of the Spring was something indescribable. I think dear C.D.’s spirits go up as the days pass; home begins to look very near, but so does our separation. After dinner we went to the French theatre. We walked both ways enjoying the lights in the park & Broadway and the soft air. The play was wretched and depressing beyond expression but Dickens sat directly behind and his talk was refreshing & exciting.


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