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.
ever get rid of my gatherings. It seems to me, at present, that when I come home I must take a cottage on Putney Heath, or Richmond Green, or some other wild and desolate place, and talk to myself for a month or two, until I have sobered down a little, and am quiet again. A prophetic feeling comes upon me sometimes, and hints that I shall return, a bore—.
We had a terrible passage out, and mean to return in a sailing ship. Can you think of anything I can bring back for you? If you can possibly commission me to bring you any article whatever from the New Country, I need scarcely say how proud and glad you will make me. Any letter addressed to me to the care of David Colden Esquire 28 Laight Street Hudson Square New York, would be forwarded to me wheresoever I might chance to be at the time of its receipt.
May I ask you when you next see Mr. Marjoribanks to tell him, with my best regards, that I thank him very much for his letters, and have received the greatest attention from all his correspondents—except the poor gentleman at Washington—who has been dead six years. Not finding him readily (no wonder!) I went into a bank to ask for him. I happened to make the enquiry of a very old clerk, who staggered to a stool and fell into a cold perspiration, as if he had seen a spectre. Being feeble, and the shock being very great, he took to his bed—but he has since recovered: to the great joy of his wife and family.
With every good and cordial wish for your health and happiness—many messages of regard to Miss Meredith—and very many scruples of conscience in sending you so poor a letter from so long a distance—I am always, Dear Miss Coutts,
With true regard | Faithfully Your obliged friend
P.S. I forgot to say that I have been at Washington (which is beyond here) and as far beyond that, again, as Richmond in Virginia. But the prematurely hot weather, and the sight of slaves, turned me back.