Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 15.djvu/33

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sold. ‘Bleak House’ contained sketches of Landor as Lawrence Boythorn, and of Leigh Hunt as Harold Skimpole. Dickens defended himself for the very unpleasant caricature of Hunt in ‘All the Year Round,’ after Hunt’s death. While Hunt was still living, Dickens had tried to console him by explaining away the likeness as confined to the flattering part; but it is impossible to deny that he gave serious ground of offence. During this period Dickens was showing signs of increasing restlessness. He sought relief from his labours at ‘Bleak House’ by spending three months at Dover in the autumn of 1852. In the beginning of 1853 he received a testimonial at Birmingham, and undertook in return to give a public reading at Christmas on behalf of the New Midland Institute. He read two of his Christmas books and made a great success. He was induced, after some hesitation, to repeat the experiment several times in the next few years. The summer of 1853 was spent at Boulogne, and in the autumn he made a two months’ tour through Switzerland and Italy, with Mr. Wilkie Collins and Augustus Egg. In 1854 and 1856 he again spent summers at Boulogne, gaining materials for some very pleasant descriptions; and from November 1855 to May 1856 he was at Paris, working at ‘Little Dorrit.’ During 1855 he found time to take part in some political agitations.

In March 1856 Dickens bought Gadshill Place. When a boy at Rochester he had conceived a childish aspiration to become its owner. On hearing that it was for sale in 1855, he began negotiations for its purchase. He bought it with a view to occasional occupation, intending to let it in the intervals; but he became attached to it, spent much money on improving it, and finally in 1860 sold Tavistock House and made it his permanent abode. He continued to improve it till the end of his life.

In the winter of 1856-7 Dickens amused himself with private theatricals at Tavistock House, and after the death of Douglas Jerrold (6 June 1857) got up a series of performances for the benefit of his friend’s family, one of which was Mr. Wilkie Collins’s ‘Frozen Deep,’ also performed at Tavistock House. For the same purpose he read the ‘Christmas Carol’ at St. Martin’s Hall (30 June 1857), with a success which led him to carry out a plan, already conceived, of giving public readings on his own account. He afterwards made an excursion with Mr. Wilkie Collins in the north of England, partly described in ‘A Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices.’

A growing restlessness and a craving for any form of distraction were connected with domestic unhappiness. In the beginning of 1858 he was preparing his public readings. Some of his friends objected, but he decided to undertake them, partly, it would seem, from the desire to be fully occupied. He gave a reading, 15 April 1858, for the benefit of the Children’s Hospital in Great Ormond Street, in which he was keenly interested, and on 29 April gave the first public reading for his own benefit. This was immediately followed by the separation from his wife. The eldest son lived with the mother, while the rest of the children remained with Dickens. Carlyle, mentioning the newspaper reports upon this subject to Emerson, says: ‘Fact of separation, I believe, is true, but all the rest is mere lies and nonsense. No crime and no misdemeanor specifiable on either side; unhappy together, these two, good many years past, and they at length end it’ (Carlyle and Emerson, Correspondence, ii. 269). Dickens chose to publish a statement himself in ‘Household Words,’ 12 June 1858. He entrusted another and far more indiscreet letter to Mr. Arthur Smith, who now became the agent for his public readings, which was to be shown, if necessary, in his defence. It was published without his consent in the ‘New York Tribune.’ The impropriety of both proceedings needs no comment. But nothing has been made public which would justify any statement as to the merits of the question. Dickens’s publication in ‘Household Words,’ and their refusal to publish the same account in ‘Punch,’ led to a quarrel with his publishers, which ended in his giving up the paper. He began an exactly similar paper, called ‘All the Year Round’ (first number 30 April 1859), and returned to his old publishers, Messrs. Chapman & Hall. Dickens seems to have thought that some public statement was made necessary by the quasi-public character which he now assumed. From this time his readings became an important part of his work. They formed four series, given in 1858-9, in 1861-3, in 1866-7, and in 1868-70. They finally killed him, and it is impossible not to regret that he should have spent so much energy in an enterprise not worthy of his best powers. He began with sixteen nights at St. Martin’s Hall, from 29 April to 22 July 1858. A provincial tour of eighty-seven readings followed, including Ireland and Scotland. He gave a series of readings in London in the beginning of 1859, and made a provincial tour in October following. He was everywhere received with enthusiasm; he cleared 300l. a week before reaching Scotland, and in Scotland made 500l. a week. The readings were from the Christmas books, ‘Pickwick,’ ‘Dombey,’ ‘Chuzzlewit,’ and the Christmas num-