[London—Tuesday, 18 May 1869]
Tuesday. May 18th It is just one week this morning since we awaked in London and in this beautiful as well as comfortable Hotel. C.D. says justly, the little drawingroom is like a small salon at the theatre. The whole account of our stay here is on account of him.
Wednesday. [12 May 1869]. He drove us through the Parks in the fashionable afternoon hour and afterward to dine with him at the St. James where Fechter and Dolby were the only outsiders. Mrs Collins was like one of Stothard’s pictures. I felt this more than ever after refreshing my memory of Stothard’s coloring at the Kensington Museum yesterday. C.D. told me that the book of all others which he read perpetually and of which he never tired, the book which always appeared more imaginative in proportion to the fresh imagination he brings to it, a book for inexhaustibleness to be placed before every other book, is Carlyle’s French Revolution. When he was writing the Tale of Two Cities he asked Carlyle if he might see some book to which he referred in his history. Whereat Carlyle sent down to him all his books and Dickens read them faithfully but the more he read the more he was astonished to find how the facts had passed through the alembic of Carlyle’s brain and had come out and fitted themselves each as a part of the one great whole making a compact result, indestructible and unrivalled and he always found himself turning away from the books of reference and re-reading this marvellous new growth from those dry bones with renewed wonder.
We did not see him Thursday [13 May 1869].
Friday [14 May 1869] he came at ½ past 10 a.m. to go with us to the little hospital at Stepney “a small star in the East.” He brought with him some small potent mustard plasters for our colds and told us how to apply them. We started promptly and by aid of omnibus & cars and a little walk came to the little place in about an hour. He seemed altogether at home in this poor part of London and evidently liked the young Dr. and his wife for the simple reverent earnestness of their lives. “How they bear it,” he says, “I cannot imagine.” My only answer was that they had been raised up to do the work and yet the wonder still remains that people so sensitive so alive to the sufferings of others should be so little depressed by the dreadful scenes among which they live. Mr. Dickens was disappointed in the beauty of the children upon this visit, the average was far smaller than usual of attractive faces. “I wish you could have seen he said the little child I wrote of who died afterward; so exquisite in beauty and so patient, its rounded cheek so pale. Certainly there is nothing so touching as the suffering of a child—nothing more overwhelming.”
The doctor carried us before our return into one of the poor houses in the neighbourhood. A mother, father & 7 children in one room! And yet, he said, this was not an extreme case! But I shall never forget the look in the eyes of that woman nor her patient manner.
C.D. did not go up stairs with us. The sight of misery which cannot be relieved is too terrible to be sought after—but it was best for us to go and we went.
It was a strange contrast to go to the opera in the evening and I found my thoughts wandering away from Nilsson and looking into that woman’s eyes!
Saturday [15 May 1869]. Charles Reade, dear old soul, sent us heaps of flowers. We dined with him and all went to the theatre together to see a wild melodrama, bad beyond the vivid imagination even of Mayne Reid. But we were glad to be anywhere with Mr. Reade, with his dear gentle kind way.
Sunday [16 May 1869]. Miss Hogarth came and carried me to the Foundling Hospital. We drove through the old black streets and squares of Bloomsbury. The Hospital stands near Tavistock House where C.D. formerly lived. The place must always be much associated with him now and the old Treasurer as we went in inquired of his health most affectionately from Miss Hogarth. (C.D. told me afterward that when the old man carried him over the establishment and told him all kinds of lovely and interesting things relating to the children, he did not tell that he himself was a foundling and his wife was also a foundling. “It would have been such a pretty cap-stone to the story that I was quite sorry when I found it out that he had not been willing to confess it.”) Little Dorrit and No Thoroughfare will give a renewed interest to the establishment forever and when Dickens is at rest innumerable Tattiecorams [sic] will grow up to bless his memory.
Monday [17 May 1869]. Lunched with Miss Norton who surprised me by the ease and beauty of her manners and conversation—took a turn in the Kensington Museum. Tea with Mrs Collins—my Stothard, and returned just in time to meet C.D. who carried us all over the Post Office—The London Post Office. “I know nothing” said C.D. “which can give you a better idea of the size of London. The hurry and rush of letters, men up to their chins in letters, nothing but letters everywhere, the air full of letters—suddenly the clock strikes—not a person is to be seen nor a letter only one man with a lantern, peering about and putting one drop letter into a box.”
We passed nearly two hours going from room to room following the clerks at their various avocations and closely watched all the time.
By and by we strolled out into the evening leaving the hurry and bustle behind us. The shops were shut, sunset clouds were in the sky and walking through White Friars we came at last to the Temple. Here we saw Talfourd’s rooms where Mr. Dickens recalled with tenderness the merry hours they had together in the old place, then we found Goldsmiths above, and Dr. Johnson’s—saw the site of the Earl of Essex’s palace, but most interesting of all to us then—Pip’s room and the stairs where the Convict stumbled up in the dark and the small street where Pip found lodging for him.
How sweet the night was, how tender, how like a lovely story in itself that we should be there with this great inspired spirit. He came back to supper with us & Miss D. and Miss Hogarth joined us.
Tuesday [18 May 1869]. We went to a fine little dinner at Leslie Stephen’s where glass and silver and flowers and luxuries of all kinds were arranged in the most artistic and unassuming way possible. Jamie went instead with Mr. Dickens to see the Thieves of London. He did not return till 2. He was much excited and depressed by the scenes he had witnessed—full of wonder too at the intimate knowledge the police have of these characters and how well officers & thieves understand each other. In the station house, to which they went first about 12 o’clock was a little child, lost. The oddity of her appearance, the quiet answers she gave, touched Jamie deeply and he told me the next day if he could get into a corner and write he could say something on paper which would ease his mind respecting that infant.