Autograph letter signed, London, 17 April 1850, to Angela Burdett-Coutts
Purchased with the assistance of the Fellows, 1951
Dickens visited London's prisons, workhouses, and other reformatory institutions to identify, interview, and recruit eligible candidates for Urania Cottage. His management of the facility involved dealing with its wide variety of problems, including some of its occasionally troublesome occupants. In this letter he reported an incident of drunkenness: "Last night, Mrs. Morson being out and Mrs. Macartney at home, that very bad and false subject, Jemima Hiscock, forced open the door of the little beer cellar with knives, and drank until she was dead drunk; when she used the most horrible language and made a very repulsive exhibition of herself. She induced Mary Joynes (!) to drink the beer with her; and that young lady was also drunk, but stupidly and drowsily."
From 1840 Dickens guided the charitable work of philanthropist Angela Burdett-Coutts (1814–1906), the wealthiest heiress in Victorian Britain. Dickens served as her official almoner and helped to assess the merits of the thousands of letters she received from those seeking financial assistance. He also advised on her plan for improved sanitation in the slums of Westminster and drew her attention and support to the Ragged School Union, which provided education to London's poorest children. A pragmatist, Dickens encouraged Burdett-Coutts to direct her philanthropy toward the causes of distress. In 1847 they founded a home, Urania Cottage, in Shepherd's Bush, as a shelter for homeless women—prostitutes or petty criminals who sought to rehabilitate themselves by learning practical skills and developing self-discipline. Many of the women were assisted to eventually emigrate to one of Britain's colonies to begin a new life. For more than ten years, Dickens administered Urania Cottage on behalf of Burdett-Coutts and played an extremely active role in its day-to-day management.
gardener's assistance, wisely abstained from calling in the Police, got them both to bed, locked them up, and came to me this morning.
Being obliged to write all day, I told her to go back straight, and immediately discharge Jemima Hiscock—to put her on her own clothes, however bad—and on no account to give her any money. As to Mary Joynes, to keep her in disgrace, until I should get out there this afternoon, and enquire further into the matter. They had both confessed to these particulars.
I have no doubt myself, that they had spirits from outside. I am perfectly sure that no woman of that Jemima Hiscock's habits, could get so madly intoxicated with that