— But you will be ready to say, what was your hope in doing this? — What did you look forward to? — To any thing, every thing — to time, chance, circumstances, slow effects, sudden bursts, perserverance and weariness ... Every possibility of good was before me, and the first of blessings secured ... — from Emma, by Jane Austen (1775-1817)
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December 4, 2011

On a book tour, c. 1841






The Atlantic crossing turned out to be one of the worst the ship's officers had ever known. There were gales and high seas for much of the time, and it took eighteen days. ... When they reached Halifax in Nova Scotia they ran aground, and had to wait for the rising tide to release them from the rocks. But once they had put in to the harbour Dickens went ashore for oysters and cheered up, and as the Britannia continued south he stood on deck in the clear, frosty air, looking out eagerly as the coast of America gradually came in sight.
      Boston, their first American city, seen under snow and in crisp, cold sunshine, delighted him, a place as bright and clean as a new toy, with its painted signboards in the streets, green blinds at every window, elegant white wooden houses, prim, varnished churches and chapels, and handsome public buildings. ... Most of those who guided and befriended him were Harvard graduates, men of intellectual refinement and taste. ... The poet Longfellow called, took Dickens out walking, and found him 'a glorious fellow.' Charles Sumner, a young radical republican who went on to lead the anti-slavery movement in the Senate, showed him round the city. Some Bostonians had reservations about their famous visitor, finding him 'low-bred' or touched by 'rowdyism' -- their word for vulgarity -- with his colored waistcoats and long hair, but then succumbed to his charm and acknowledged how clever he was...
      So far, so good.  He was able to spend a day visiting factories at nearby Lowell and was much impressed by what he saw, especially the well-educated girl mill-workers, and he wrote to Forster, 'I have a book already.' ... But it was not long before he and Catherine begin to wilt under the requests for autographs and letters inviting them to visit every part of the country, the deputations, the cheering crowds that gathered when he went out in the afternoons, the ladies who tried to snip bits off his fur coat and asked for locks of his hair. They were obliged to shake hands with many hundreds of people. Painters wanted to paint him; sculptors to sculpt him. He found the hotel rooms 'infernally hot,' and he missed his usual long walks and rides. 'There never was a King or Emperor upon the earth so cheered, and followed by crowds ... and waited on by public bodies and deputations of all kinds.' America was gripped by hysteria. 'People eat him here,' wrote one sober Bostonian to his father in Washington.

from Charles Dickens:  a life, by Claire Tomalin


3 comments:

JoAnn said...

True celebrity treatment - American style! Sounds like a wonderful bio.

Lisa May said...

From what I can tell, when Anthony Trollope came in 1861, no one noticed - he certainly didn't get the same kind of reception.

Nan said...

What a time to be alive, in that place with those people! Such a great passage. CT is amazing. I own her book about Hardy but haven't read it. I so admire biographers and all the work they do to write their books.

Thank you for visiting!

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