Autograph letter signed, Baltimore, 22 March 1842, to William Charles Macready
Acquired by Pierpont Morgan before 1913
The same day Dickens wrote to Angela Burdett-Coutts, he penned a more reflective, candid letter to Macready, expressing his overall impressions of the United States: "The people are affectionate, generous, open-hearted, hospitable, enthusiastic, good humoured, polite to women, frank and cordial to all strangers; anxious to oblige; far less prejudiced than they have been described to be; frequently polished and refined, very seldom rude or disagreeable." Nevertheless, Dickens concluded: "I am disappointed. This is not the Republic I came to see. This is not the Republic of my imagination. In every respect but that of National Education, the Country disappoints me. ... And England, even England, bad and faulty as the old land is, and miserable as millions of her people are, rises in the comparison."
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.
My Dear Friend.
I beg your pardon—but you were speaking of rash leaps at hasty conclusions. Are you quite sure you designed that remark for me? Have you not, in the hurry of correspondence, slipped a paragraph into my letter, which belongs of right to somebody else? When did you ever know me leap at a wrong conclusion? I pause for a reply. Pray Sir did you ever find me admiring Mr. Bryden? On the contrary, did you never hear of my protesting through good, better, and best report, that he was not an open or a candid man and would one day beyond all doubt displease you by not being so. I pause again for a reply.
Are you quite sure, Mr. Macready,—and I address myself to you with the sternness of a man in the pit—are you quite sure Sir, that you do not view America through the pleasant mirage which often surrounds a thing that has been, but not a thing that is. Are you quite sure that when you were here, you relished it as well as you do now, when you look back upon it. The early spring birds, Mr. Macready, do sing in the groves, that you were very often not over well pleased with many of the new Country's social aspects. Are the birds to be trusted? Again I pause for a reply.
My dear Macready, I desire to be so honest and just to those who have so enthusiastically and earnestly welcomed me, that I burned the last letter I wrote to you—even to you to whom I would speak as to myself—rather than let it come with anything that might seem like an ill-considered word of disappointment. I preferred that you should think me neglectful (if you could imagine anything so wild) rather than I should do wrong in this respect.—Still it is of no use. I am disappointed. This is not the Republic I came to see. This is not the Republic of my imagination. I infinitely prefer a liberal Monarchy—even with its sickening accompaniments of Court Circulars, and Kings of Prussia—to such a Government as this. In every respect but that of National Education, the Country disappoints me. The more I think of its youth and strength, the poorer and more trifling in a thousand respects, it appears in my eyes. In everything of which it has made a boast—excepting its education of the people, and its care for poor children—it sinks immeasurably below the level I had placed it upon. And England, even England, bad and faulty as the old land is, and miserable as millions of her people are, rises in the comparison. Strike down the established church, and I would take her to my heart for better or worse, and reject this new love without a pang or moment's hesitation.
You live here, Macready, as I have sometimes heard you imagining! You! Loving you with all my heart and soul, and knowing what your disposition really is, I would not condemn you to a year's residence on this side of the Atlantic, for any money. Freedom of opinion! Where is it? I see a press more mean and paltry and silly and disgraceful than any country ever knew,—if that be its standard, here it is. But I speak of Bancroft, and am advised to be silent on that subject, for he is "a black sheep—a democrat". I speak of Bryant, and am entreated to be more careful—for the same reason. I speak of International copyright, and am implored not to ruin myself outright. I speak of Miss Martineau, and all parties—slave upholders and abolitionists; Whigs, Tyler Whigs, and