Autograph letter signed, Baltimore, 22 March 1842, to Angela Burdett Coutts
Purchased with the assistance of the Fellows, 1951
Two months into his U.S. tour, Dickens reported his impressions to Burdett-Coutts. He lamented: "The truth is that they give me everything here, but Time. That they never will leave me alone. That I shake hands every day when I am not travelling, with five or six hundred people.... They gave me a ball at New York, at which Three Thousand people were present—and a public dinner besides.... Others were projected, literally all through the States, but I gave public notice, that I couldn't accept them: being of mere flesh and blood, and having only mortal powers of digestion." His postscript noted that when he arrived in Richmond, Virginia, "the prematurely hot weather, and the sight of slaves, turned me back."
Dickens visited the United States twice, first traveling extensively with his wife from 22 January to 7 June 1842. Twenty-five years later—from 19 November 1867 to 22 April 1868—he returned alone for an exhausting reading tour.
Prior to his first visit, he had "dreamed by day and night, for years, of setting foot upon this shore, and breathing this pure air." He received an unprecedented enthusiastic and extravagant welcome, as befitted the world's first literary superstar. But he soon grew tired of the intrusion resulting from his lionization. After making several vehement speeches in favor of an international copyright agreement that would protect his work from piracy in the United States, he was deeply hurt by the vitriolic response of the American press. His bitter disappointment is recorded in American Notes for General Circulation and his novel Martin Chuzzlewit (1843–44).
When Dickens returned in 1867, his fame, and the adulation it inspired, had intensified. In seventy-six public readings, he performed for more than one hundred thousand people and earned $95,000, equivalent to approximately $1.5 million in today's money.
Dear Miss Coutts.
You have long ago discharged from your mind any favorable opinion you may ever have entertained of me—and have set me down, I know, as a neglectful, erratic, promise-breaking, and most unworthy person.
And yet I have not forgotten the book you asked me to bring home for you— nor the pebble I am to gather for Lady Burdett at Niagara—nor the something unstipulated which I am to put in my portmanteau for Miss Meredith. The truth is that they give me everything here, but Time. That they never will leave me alone. That I shake hands every day when I am not travelling, with five or six hundred people. That Mrs. Dickens and I hold a formal Levee in every town we come to, and usually faint away (from fatigue) every day while dressing for dinner.—In a word, that we devoutly long for Home, and look forward to the seventh of next June when we sail, please God, from New York—most ardently.
I have sent you some newspapers; and I hope they have reached you. They gave me a ball at New York, at which Three Thousand people were present—and a public dinner besides—and another in Boston—and another in a place called Hertford. Others were projected, literally all through the States, but I gave public notice, that I couldn't accept them: being of mere flesh and blood, and having only mortal powers of digestion. But I have made an exception in favor of one body of readers at St. Louis—a town in the Far West, on the confines of the Indian territory. I am going there to dinner—it's only two thousand miles from here—and start the day after tomorrow.
I look forward to making such an impression on you with the store of anecdote and description with which I shall return, that I can't find it in my Heart to open it—on paper. I don't see how I shall