A topnotch WordPress.com site

Charles Dickens visit to Richmond, 1842

CHAPTER IX (circa 1842)


DICKENS left Washington on Thursday, March 16,
at four o’clock in the morning, having gone aboard the
steamer the night before. He arrived at Richmond in
the evening. He has given in American Notes a full
account of the journey, but in the following, Mr.
Putnam relates some instances that Dickens does not

“Leaving Washington, Mr. Dickens took the steamer
down the Potomac to Potomac Creek. He rose early in
the morning to get a glimpse of Mount Vernon, for he
cherished a profound respect for the great man who lies
buried there. On arriving at Potomac Creek we found
stages to take us to Fredericksburg, Virginia, and as
usual Mr. Dickens secured his favourite seat on the box
beside the driver. This ride and the negro drivers of the
seven coaches is most graphically described in his Notes.
The roads were bad past all description, and seemed to
be impassable, but the negro drivers possessed great skill
and drove through without accident.

“At Fredericksburg we took the cars for Richmond.
After travelling a while we came to a very lonely and
dismal-looking country. We passed plantations long
ago deserted, the houses and barns rotting down, and
the ground as barren of soil as a New England street.
A gentleman told me that the vast pine barrens, stretch-
ing miles away, through which we were occasionally
passing, were, years ago, the same as these barren fields,
for only pines of the most meagre growth could grow on
this slavery-cursed soil. I called the attention of Mr.
Dickens to the sterility and ruin all around us, and he
seemed astounded at the fact that the land was once fertile,

N 177


and the very ‘ garden of America ‘ ! Turning to his
wife, he exclaimed, ‘ Great God ! Kate, just hear what
Mr. P. says ! These lands were once cultivated, and
have been abandoned because worn out by slave labour ! ‘
At sight of this widespread desolation his already deep
detestation of slavery became intensified.

“An incident upon the road added, if possible, to this
feeling. Stopping at a lonely station in the forest for
food and water, we noticed a coloured woman with
several small children standing by, who seemed to be
waiting for passage. After a little time we heard the
woman and children weeping, and some one in the car
asked the cause. A bluff, well-dressed man near us

answered: ‘It’s them d d niggers; somebody has

bought them and is taking them down to Richmond, and
they are making a fuss about it.’

“Dickens heard the answer, and what impression this
separation of families made upon the mind of one who
loved so well the freedom and happiness of all human
beings may be imagined.

“At Richmond Mr. Dickens took rooms at the ‘Ex-
change.’ Here, as elsewhere, large numbers of the most
prominent people called upon him, and a dinner was
given in his honour. Here, too, he visited the tobacco
factories, and saw ‘ the happy slaves singing at their
work.’ But it was a useless task to attempt to blind the
eyes or corrupt the heart of this friend of humanity. All
that was praiseworthy in our people and their institutions
he praised without stint; but he would not endorse any
wrong, especially that of slavery.”

The morning after his arrival the Richmond Enquirer
contained the following mention of his arrival

“Mr. Dickens at Richmond. Mr. Charles Dickens
and lady reached Richmond Thursday evening on the
cars from Washington, and will remain with us till
Sunday morning, when he is compelled to return to
Baltimore. Thence he will go to Pittsburgh and the
north-western section of the United States. He has not
time to visit Charleston at the farther south. He will
return to England early in June after visiting the Cataract.



5 responses

  1. FREE e-book of Dickens “American Notes” is here : http://books.google.com/books?pg=PA158-IA1&dq=charles+dickens+potomac+creek&id=G2A4AAAAIAAJ#v=onepage&q&f=false

    February 5, 2013 at 2:17 pm

  2. Edgar Allan Poe Meets Charles Dickens

    When: 1842

    Where: Philadelphia, Pa.

    Who: At the time of their encounter, Dickens was 30 years old and had already published Pickwick Papers, Nicholas Nickleby, and The Old Curiosity Shop. He was one of the most popular writers in England, and also beloved in America, where his books had been pirated. This visit to the U.S., the first of two, was undertaken to fulfill a lecture tour and propagandize in favor of international copyright laws. The relatively little-known Edgar Allan Poe, at 32, had published Tamerlane and Other Poems, The Narrative of A. Gordon Pym, and Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque. Six years earlier he had married 13-year-old Virginia Clemm and was living with her and her mother, Maria Clemm. In this period he was drinking heavily.

    What Led to the Meeting: Dickens arrived in Philadelphia to lecture. He checked into the United States Hotel. Learning of this, Edgar Allan Poe sent him a letter requesting a meeting, along with a two-volume collection of his short stories. Dickens responded at once. “My Dear Sir, I shall be very glad to see you whenever you will do me the favor to call. I think I am more likely to be in the way between half past eleven and twelve than any other time.”

    What Happened: They actually met twice in Dickens’s room. Both times Poe wore a somber suit and mended gloves. On the first visit, Dickens received Poe wearing a green necktie in a diamond clasp under his shirt and a velvet vest with a gold chain. On the second visit, Dickens wore a dressing gown with violet facings. The meetings were impersonal. They discussed contemporary English and American writers. They talked about the necessity for an international copyright law. At last, Poe came to the point. He wanted his book Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque published in England. Would Dickens help through his contacts? Dickens promised to try. (Nine months later, Dickens wrote Poe admitting failure. “I have mentioned it to publishers with whom I have influence, but they have, one and all, declined the venture. . . . Do not for a moment suppose that I have ever thought of you but with a pleasant recollection; and that I am not at all times prepared to forward your views in this country.”) Actually, according to Poe biographer Una Pope-Hennessy, the meetings between the two “proved sterile and closed coldly. Neither seems to have liked the other much.”

    When Dickens returned to America for his second tour, Poe was already dead. In Baltimore, Dickens learned that Poe’s mother-in-law, Maria Clemm, was ill and living on charity. Dickens visited her, pressed some money into her hand, and later from England contributed $1,000 for her keep.

    © 1975 – 1981 by David Wallechinsky & Irving Wallace
    Reproduced with permission from “The People’s Almanac” series of books.
    All rights reserved.


    February 5, 2013 at 2:43 pm

  3. Also during this time period William Pratt has always intrigued me and was hoping to find a daguerreotype of Dickens by him, no such luck though.

    Poe’s Last Poses
    Issue: October 2007
    The author’s encounter with an eccentric photographer

    One morning in late September 1849, an impatient Edgar Allan Poe sits for his portrait under the second-floor skylight of daguerreotypist William Abbott Pratt’s Gothic-style studio. Between them, Poe and Pratt are perhaps Richmond’s best-known eccentrics.

    Pratt knows Poe as Richmond’s most famous artist son. He’d interrupted Poe as the writer passed by his studio while bustling down Main Street intent on other business.
    The British-born Pratt opened the Virginia Skylight Daguerrean Gallery in 1846, seven years after the daguerreotype was introduced into the United States. He took an estimated 35,000 images throughout his career.

    The daguerreotype is a method of photography that exposes an image directly onto a silver-coated copper plate. This can yield images of startling clarity that resemble etchings. Pratt patented a method of adding flesh tones to the face and hands.

    At the time Pratt catches him, Poe is 40 and worn out. His stay in Richmond had begun in mid-June when he was verging on a mental collapse, though the town he considers home greeted him like a proto-rock star, giving him proof that his writings matter.

    He’s been busy lecturing, writing, trying to squire Elmira Royster Shelton, a former flame and now a widow on Church Hill, and attending temperance meetings. He told Pratt he wasn’t dressed for a portrait, but daguerreotypes fascinated Poe.

    The tiny 4-inch-by-3-inch Pratt pictures show a gaunt, haggard Poe with sunken and baggy eyes. He’s plopped down upon the portrait chair. The first image shows a sprig of evergreen in his vest lapel. (Did Pratt stick it on him for aesthetic effect? Was it Poe’s idea?) In the second image, it’s gone. His “steamboat” collar is turned down, his cravat untied — he looks uncomfortable and just off the humid street. His hair is disarrayed and a big handkerchief thrust into his waistcoat — perhaps, one historian suggests, hiding threadbare material. By the second image, his hair is pushed up, his vest straightened out.

    Contemporaries consider Poe proper and almost courtly in manner. Poe is amusing Pratt and trying to be polite. But here, he’s eager to be on his way.

    The second pose has an forced calmness. Still, the turn of his face, the fullness of his lower lip and the shadow of his moustache (which he didn’t grow until he was 38), make it appear that Poe is attempting to force a slight smile. Perhaps Pratt kept up banter to ease Poe’s impatience.

    The images would’ve taken 15 minutes to develop, but Poe didn’t tarry and left them behind — perhaps because he couldn’t afford them at the time and thought he would return for them later.

    But on Oct. 7, 1849, he died in Baltimore. There are some 24 theories about what killed him.

    The original images (they were copied) became known for later owners, as the “Thompson” for John R. Thompson, an exploitative Poe lecturer, and the “Traylor.” Elmira Shelton purchased one of the images from Pratt and kept it until her 1888 demise; then it passed to Robert Traylor, a Richmond Poe aficionado. Around 1900, a botched cleaning attempt made the little picture more spooky but less detailed.

    About a decade after taking Poe’s picture, Pratt built one of Richmond’s strangest houses, sited upon one of the city’s best vistas, Gamble’s Hill. His studio building was consumed by the 1865 Evacuation Fire. Pratt died in Waynesboro in 1878, and his castle was taken down in 1958 for Ethyl Corporation’s headquarters.

    You can find these images at the Poe Museum in Shockoe Bottom. On Oct. 7, a “Poe Memorial
    Service” commemorates his death, and on Oct. 27, the Masque of the Red Death Halloween Party goes from 8 p.m. to midnight. Call 648-5523 or visit http://www.poemuseum.org for more details.


    February 5, 2013 at 4:20 pm

  4. Pratt had also won some medals at European shows of the period I believe, but have lost that information. Not sure of the source of this either : On March 14, 1846, Pratt was assigned patent #4,423 for coloring daguerreotypes. At that time, he listed himself as a resident of Alexandria, Virginia.

    February 5, 2013 at 4:50 pm

  5. Philadelphia has landmarks galore. The most unusual is this stuffed bird recently declared a “Literary Landmark” by a national library association. Certainly no bird in history contributed more to literature then this chatty raven who inspired the prose of both Charles Dickens and Edgar Allan Poe.

    Grip was a beloved pet of Dickens. The author inserted the blabbing raven as a character in his 1841 serialized mystery novel, Barnaby Rudge. We know that Poe reviewed Barnaby Rudge and commented on the use of the talking raven, feeling the bird should have loomed larger in the plot. Literary experts surmise that the talking raven of Barnaby Rudge inspired Poe’s most famous poem, The Raven, published in 1845.

    When Grip died in 1841, Dickens had the bird mounted. After Dickens death, Grip was sold at auction. The mounted raven was eventually purchased by Philadelphia’s Col. Richard Gimbel, a collector of all things Poe. In 1971, Gimbel’s Poe collection was donated to the Free Library on Logan Circle where Grip holds a place of honor in the third-floor Rare Book Department. The Gimbel collection also includes the only known copy of The Raven in Poe’s hand, manuscripts of Annabel Lee and Murders in the Rue Morgue and first editions of all Poe’s works.


    February 5, 2013 at 8:32 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s