Autograph letter signed, London, [30 May 1849], to Mrs. Christina Ann Macready
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan before 1913
When Dickens received news of the Astor Place riot and the disastrous end of William Macready's tour, he immediately wrote to the actor's wife to vent his "feelings anent the New Yorkers." Astounded, he tells her that "I know perfectly well that many things may take place in the first City of the United States which could not possibly occur in a remote nook of any other country in the World,—but the bestiality of this business . . . I regard as a positive calamity to the rational freedom of men." He reassures Mrs. Macready that to her husband the riot "signifies nothing, except that it takes him out of that damnable jumble (you'll excuse me) of false pretensions and humbugs, a week or so sooner."
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.
perfectly well that many things may take place in the first City of the United States which could not possibly occur in a remote nook of any other country in the World,—but the bestiality of this business, and the incredible business of that public opinion to which Mr. Clarke (whoever he is) deferred when he apologized for his engagement, I regard as a positive calamity to the rational freedom of men.
To Macready it signifies nothing,