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.
Democrats, shower down upon her a perfect cataract of abuse. "But what has she done? Surely she praised America enough!"—"Yes, but she told us of some of our faults, and Americans can't bear to be told of their faults. Don't split on that rock, Mr. Dickens, don't write about America—we are so very suspicious."— Freedom of opinion! Macready, if I had been born here, and had written my books in this country,—producing them with no stamp of approval from any other land—it is my solemn belief that I should have lived and died, poor, unnoticed, and "a black sheep"—to boot. I never was more convinced of anything than I am of that.
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. I have made a great many friends here, even in public conveyances, whom I have been truly sorry to part from. In the towns, I have formed perfect attachments. I have seen none of that greediness and indecorum on which travellers have laid so much emphasis. I have returned frankness with frankness—met questions not intended to be rude, with answers meant to be satisfactory—and have not spoken to one man, woman, or child of any degree, who has not grown positively affectionate before we parted. In the respects of not being left alone, and of being horribly disgusted by tobacco chewing and tobacco spittle, I have suffered considerably. The sight of Slavery in Virginia; the hatred of British feeling upon that subject; and the miserable hints of the impotent indignation of the South, have pained me very much—on the last head, of course, I have felt nothing but a mingled pity and amusement; on the others, sheer distress. But however much I like the ingredients of this great dish, I cannot but come back to the point from which I started, and say that the dish itself goes against the grain with me, and that I don't like it.
You know that I am, truly, a Liberal. I believe I have as little Pride as most men; and I am conscious of not the smallest annoyance from being hail fellow well met, with everybody. I have not had greater pleasure in the company of any set of men among the thousands whom I have received (I hold a regular Levee every day, you know, which is duly heralded and proclaimed in the Newspapers) than in that of the Carmen of Hertford, who presented themselves in a body in their blue frocks, among a crowd of well-dressed ladies and gentlemen, and bad me welcome through their spokesmen. They had all read my books, and all perfectly understood them. It is not these things I have in my mind when I say that the man who comes to this Country a Radical and goes home again with his old opinions unchanged, must be a Radical on reason, sympathy, and reflection, and one who has so well considered the subject, that he has no chance of wavering.
We have been to Boston, Worcester, Hertford, New Haven, New York,