Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Show Must Go On

[Charles Dickens (on tour) to his Family]

Westminster Hotel, Irving Place,
New York City
Thursday, Dec. 26th, 1867.

I got your aunt's last letter at Boston yesterday, Christmas Day morning, when I was starting at eleven o'clock to come back to this place. I wanted it very much, for I had a frightful cold (English colds are nothing to those of this country), and was exceedingly depressed and miserable. Not that I had any reason but illness for being so, since the Bostonians had been quite astounding in their demonstrations. I never saw anything like them on Christmas Eve. But it is a bad country to be unwell and travelling in; you are one of say a hundred people in a heated car, with, a great stove in it, and all the little windows closed, and the hurrying and banging about are indescribable. The atmosphere is detestable, and the motion often all but intolerable. However, we got our dinner here at eight o'clock, and plucked up a little, and I made some hot gin punch to drink a merry Christmas to all at home in. But it must be confessed that we were both very dull. I have been in bed all day until two o'clock, and here I am now (at three o'clock) a little better. But I am not fit to read, and I must read to-night. After watching the general character pretty closely, I became quite sure that Dolby* was wrong on the length of the stay and the number of readings we had proposed in this place. I am quite certain that it is one of the national peculiarities that what they want must be difficult of attainment. I therefore a few days ago made a coup d'etat, and altered! the whole scheme. We shall go to Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, also some New England towns between Boston and this place, away to the falls of Niagara, and off far west to Chicago and St. Louis, before coming back for ten farewell readings here, preceded by farewells at Boston, leaving Canada altogether. This will not prolong the list beyond eighty-four readings, the exact original number, and will, please God, work it all out in April. In my next, I daresay, I shall be able to send the exact list, so that you may know every day where we are. There has been a great storm here for a few days, and the streets, though wet, are becoming passable again. Dolby and Osgood are out in it to-day on a variety of business, and left in grave and solemn state. Scott and the gasman are stricken with dumb concern, not having received one single letter from home since they left. What their wives can have done with the letters they take it for granted they have written, is their stormy speculation at the door of my hall dressing-room every night.

If I do not send a letter to Katie by this mail, it will be because I shall probably be obliged to go across the water to Brooklyn to-morrow to see a church, in which it is proposed that I shall read! ! ! Horrible visions of being put in the pulpit already beset me. And whether the audience will be in pews is another consideration which greatly disturbs my mind. No paper ever comes out without a leader on Dolby, who of course reads them all, and never can understand why I don't, in which he is called all the bad names in (and not in) the language.

We always call him P. H. Dolby now, in consequence of one of these graceful specimens of literature describing him as the "pudding-headed."

I fear that when we travel he will have to be always before me, so that I may not see him six times in as many weeks. However, I shall have done a fourth of the whole this very next week!
Best love to your aunt, and the boys, and Katie, and Charley, and all true friends.

I managed to read last night, but it was as much as I could do. To-day I am so very unwell, that I have sent for a doctor; he has just been, and is in doubt whether I shall not have to stop reading for a while.
*George Dolby: Manager of Dickens' reading tours in England and America from 1866-1870. Wrote Charles Dickens as I Knew Him in 1885.

-from Letters of Charles Dickens edited by his sister-in-law and his eldest daughter (London: Chapman and Hall, 1880)

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