TC TO JOHN FORSTER; 15 June 1855; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18550615-TC-JF-01; CL 29: 330-333
TC TO JOHN FORSTER
Chelsea, 15 june, 1855—
Thanks again for the trouble you take:1 I wish we all had done with this business; and hope we shall soon.
Dickens's idea is well worth attention. Certainly if the thing can be done by private help, it will be much better that the big public be kept quite apart; “the minimum of noise,” which is the rule in all cases, will be especially welcome in this, and I will vote strongly for it, if it will suffice. But that is the question; and in reference to that there are two considerations that occur to me, which seem to be of the nature of preliminary points.
First, is there any person, or small number of persons, who would be ready to furnish the sum necessary, and to whom one could with a clear mind recommend such an act of beneficence? If we get nothing from Lady Palmerston (as seems too possible) there will be needed, to make all right (as I compute), an annuity of about £20 (beyond what we have) for the longest of Two Lives (78 and 72):—if there is any bountiful noble human soul who will at once undertake to pay that annual sum, and execute some Deed, so as to make it a finished thing, and let us wash our hands of it? There is the question. I myself had an offer,2 proceeding as I well knew from real munificence of mind, to do some such feat,—at an earlier stage of this business, before we applied to Palmerston at all, and when the required annuity was larger than now:—but alas there was no Deed spoken of along with it; and I foresaw a painful dunning operation every year; guessed too that my own visible urgencies might in some manner have interfered with the spontaneity of thing: on the whole found good to postpone it, or decline it except as a do-no-better (why should we say “pis-aller” [makeshift], tho' in alliance with the French Emperor so-called?). For the rest, my own powers of private begging are at this moment as good as zero: I am so close in my garret here, and in so grim and sick a humour, I really could do nothing in that way; or only an insignificance, and with a disproportion between cry and wool3 that is frightful to contemplate! Let Dickens then question himself; for it will turn all on that, on his capabilities and how he judges of them.
Secondly it appears to me there is among the better part of the English people such a respect for their grand orthodox and heroic Johnson, that if the case of these Lowes and their relation to him were fairly made known to them,—if the Palmerston Memorial (with such additions as you could soon make) with the Names attached to it, were conspicuously published in the Times, and this Codicil, “Her Majesty's Government is not able (tho' it has tried) to save these poor creatures from the Workhouse: will you, O English Nation do it?”—the English Nation surely would not fail to come down with its dust to the due extent. Only name a receiving Committee (Dickens, yourself &c) out of those who have signed the memorial, I somehow feel confident there would be subscriptions in abundance. Or do you think it is doubtful whether we should get enough, if never so conspicuously produced in the Times? I somehow feel certain of the contrary;—but know withal that I have no business to feel certain about it, or even to guess as well as some others could.
But thirdly, here is another strong consideration. Could not we, after this had failed (if that should be the lot of it), go with still more confidence to the Single Person and say “The Nation will not do this thing (to the astonishment of our minds), will not you, O noble Individual?”—I perceive the “Small Number of Persons” fall out, in this latter emergency; and that (as Dickens feels) we cannot so well ask them after the Times has failed; but I think we can still better ask the Noble Individual after that Catastrophe. These are all the thoughts I have on the matter;—these and a wish to have soon done with it; being at present an extremely stiff-jointed and otherwise heavy-laden individual. In fact, if it had not been for an obliging fellow called Forster, who took the whole thing on his back for me, I know not what would have become of me with it!
I saw Lady Stanley yesterday; but there is yet no certainty whatever about the Lady-Palmerston subvention, nor it seems is there to be for several days to come. “Within next week,” was all the definiteness I could arrive at.— On the other hand, Lady Stanley and her Daughter (Countess of Airly, an airy young Beauty) felt “confident they could raise 100 guineas by way of raffle,” for that old Desk the Dictionary was written upon;4 and they seemed to rejoice much in the prospect of such an adventure;—which however I earnestly petitioned against, till after the Palmerston response was complete,—at the soonest. Oh Heaven, what a quantity of cry, and what a quantity of wool!— Truly if Dickens knows a “Single Person” (as the Commonwealth Politicians used to say) who is ready to do it in the handsome spontaneous way, that will be infinitely better! But let him consider and you, Whether we ought not in any case to try the Nation first? My faculty, after the Nation has said No, is far from complete (so far as I estimate at present), but till the Nation has been tried, I am, as above said, good for nothing in the begging way.
Let me subjoin here the Exact State of the Lowe Finance, that Dickens and you may have the business wholly before you:
Two old Misses Lowe, 78 and 71, have no kind of servant, and ought to have one, old women as they are, not to say Gentlewomen. They have farther,
1. Their little Dwellinghouse their own (I know not what rates &c &c upon it)
2. £21 annually in “the Long Annuities” (punctually paid at a certain day, but ceasing altogether 7 years hence.)
3. 20 from the two Chalon Painter sources.5
4. 10 from the “Queen's Bounty” (the elder has £10, and this £51 is what Lady Palmerston is now asked to give the younger sister likewise.
bro' over! 51
Bp of Oxford has got 10/£61 a year for them, from some other fund, and paid one year of it.
They have therefore at present £61 annually; certain, for the next seven years, and gettable, tho' all got in £10 portions, apparently with a good deal of haggling to the poor old Goddaughter who is Chancellor of that Exchequer, poor old soul.— In ready money they will have £100 from Palmerston; have got within the last three months 10 + 20 = £30, as we are aware; and I did not hear from them that they were in any debt. I should guess from the rigour and seclusion traceable in the physiognomy of their house, they were of a humour to suffer much rather than borrow; and that probably they had little or no debt.— “Had not bought any clothes for some years,” said they. This is the complete conspectus of their finances.
It appears to me, if they had about £20 annually more, and this ready money to renew their stock of clothes, and set them up again, we might so leave them with a kind of safe conscience; hardly well upon less. The £21 “failing after 7 years” is rather an ugly point;—unpleasant to be advancing gradually upon famine, even tho' you never do reach it;—but we cannot well mend that, so far as I see: let them keep their Desk, to be “raffled for” in that contingency; let them also have the privilege of applying to us three, or any of us still extant when it happens: that will pacify their imaginations, and make the best job we can of that gap in the wall. I know not how much ready money would be needed to produce a £20 annuity; nor whether, if we had to gather it in a sum, we ought to lay it out in that way, the Actuary genus being so very greedy in its habits,—tho' I suppose there would be no help? But, in fine, it seems to me unless Lady Palmerston will give the required annuity, or Dickens knows some other who will (and will in a way to satisfy him), we shall really have to try the Public; and shall not get our conscience cleared of the business on any other terms. Till about the end of next week, Lady Palmerston's decision is waited for: after which, unless Dickens have help, I should say, we cannot too soon go ahead in the Times,—tho' the thought of it, I confess, makes me rather shudder.
And this is at last all, dear Forster. I beg a million of pardons; but what can I do except, lamed as I am at present, cry for help? If Dickens and you will do whatever you two like in the matter, I shall be most grateful. Lady Pn's decision you shall instantly have, when it comes; and then— Your own course will have become clear in the interim. Adieu, dear Forster. If you can come and see me— But, alas, can you? God help us all!— Yours ever
Pity me with my paper; I have no other paper that my iron pen will write upon: may the Devil reward (once more) that gentleman, “of the cheap and nasty order,” who set about improving paper 30 years ago. Positively I had better have given him a thousand pounds (or 20 do. if I had had them), I for one!—