Dancing with Dickens

From Jane Carlyle’s letter to Jeannie Welsh, 23 December, 1843. A party to die for:

But then it was the very most agreeable party that ever I was at in London — everybody there seemed animated with one purpose to make up to Mrs Macready and her children for the absence of ‘the Tragic Actor’ [I believe this is Mrs. Macready’s husband, a Shakespearean actor] — and so amiable a purpose produced the most joyous results. Dickens and Forster above all exerted themselves till the perspiration was pouring down and they seemed drunk with their efforts! Only think of that excellent Dickens playing the conjuror for one whole hour — the best conjuror I ever saw — (and I have paid money to see several) — and Forster acting as his servant. This part of the entertainment concluded with a plum pudding made out of raw flour, raw eggs — all the raw usual ingredients — boiled in a gentleman’s hat — and tumbled out reeking — all in one minute before the eyes of the astonished children and astonished grown people! that trick — and his other of changing ladies’ pockets handerchiefs into comfits — and a box full of bran into a box full of — a live guinea-pig! would enable him to make a handsome subsistence let the bookseller trade go as it please — ! Then the dancing — old Major Burns with his one eye — old Jerdan of the Literary Gazette … the gigantic Thackeray &c. &c. all capering like Maenades!! Dickens did all but go down on his knees to make me — waltz with him!

Can you imagine?


Filed under Books

9 responses to “Dancing with Dickens

  1. I can’t imagine attending a party with these illustrious individuals! And a party “with so amiable purpose” to have them entertaining children and adults alike!


  2. Wow–I am imagining it. And smiling.


  3. Oh my goodness, what a party!


  4. Is this the party where she had to show her decolletee? I only ask as Thomas (at My Porch) just read Thea Holme’s book about the Carlyles. It might be fun to read that at some point, too, now that you get a sense of what she’s like. And what a party, indeed!


  5. My kingdom for a time travel machine! I would so love to see that party 🙂


  6. Lol! Nic to know they had it in them.


  7. Sounds like a good party. Love how she throws in a casual mention of Thackeray there at the end 🙂


  8. Yes, “Tragic Actor” would be William Charles Macready who was on tour in America during this time. This 1843-44 tour was very successful, but in 1849 his next visit was the occasion for the Astor Palce Riots in NYC which resulted in the death of 23 people, due to “disagreements” over spectators about Macready’s comments about America and his competition with Edwin Forrest, an American-born actor of the time.


  9. Jenclair — doesn’t it sound great? Of course, they didn’t necessarily know at the time how astounding it would sound to us today!

    Lilian — yes, my reaction too!

    Stefanie — to be a fly on the wall, right? 🙂

    Danielle — I don’t think so, although I couldn’t say for sure. You’re right that that would be a great book to read now that I’ve learned more about the Carlyles.

    Melwyk — me too, definitely!

    Litlove — it was Dickens being a little Dickensian, right?

    Gentle Reader — can you imagine seeing both writers there together? Wonderful.

    Pearl — oh, interesting! Thank you for the information.


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