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CHAPTER IX.

FURTHER AMERICAN EXPERIENCES.

JN 1848 there appeared a new edition of an extensive and important work on "Prison Discipline." The author was the Rev. John Field, Chaplain of the County Gaol at Reading, in Berkshire, and well known in literary circles as the author of a "Life of John Howard, the Philanthropist," and editor of the "Howard Correspondence." This work on prison discipline had attracted considerable attention, and as the author, in advocating the advantages of the separate system of imprisonment, took occasion to mention Mr. Dickens's remarks in his "American Notes" upon the Solitary Prison at Philadelphia, the latter felt it his duty to reply:—

"As Mr. Field condescends to quote some vapourings about the account given by Mr. Charles Dickens in his 'American Notes' of the Solitary Prison at Philadelphia, he may perhaps really wish for some few words of information on the subject. For this purpose Mr. Charles Dickens has referred to the entry in his Diary, made at the close of that day.

"He left his hotel for the prison at twelve o'clock; being waited on, by appointment, by the gentleman who showed it to him, and he returned between seven and eight at night; dining in the prison in the course of that time; which, according to his calculation, in despite of the Philadelphia newspaper, rather exceeded two hours. He found the prison admirably conducted, extremely clean, and the system administered in a most intelligent, kind, orderly, tender, and careful manner. He did not consider (nor should he, if he were to visit Pentonville to-morrow) that the book in which visitors were expected to record their observations of the place was intended for the insertion of criticisms on the system, but for honest testimony to the manner of its administration, and to that he bore, as an impartial visitor, the highest testimony in his power. In returning thanks for his health being drunk, at the dinner within its walls, he said that what he had seen that day was running in his mind; that he could not help reflecting on it; and that it was an awful punishment. If the American officer who rode with him afterwards should ever see these words, he will perhaps recall his conversation with Mr. Dickens on the road, as to Mr. Dickens having said so, very plainly, and very strongly. In reference to the ridiculous assertion that Mr. Dickens in his book termed a woman 'quite beautiful' who was a negress, he positively believes that he was shown no negress in the prison, but one who was nursing a woman much diseased, and to whom no reference whatever is made in his published account. In describing three young women, 'all convicted at the same time of a conspiracy,' he may, possibly, among many cases, have substituted in his memory, for one of them whom he did not see, some other prisoner, confined for some other crime, whom lie did see; but he has not the least doubt of having been guilty of the (American) enormity of detecting beauty in the passive quadroon or mulatto girl, or of having seen exactly what he describes; and he remembers the girl more particularly described in this connection perfectly. Can Mr. Field really suppose Mr. Dickens had any interest or purpose in misrepresenting the system, or that, if he could be guilty of such unworthy conduct, or desire to do it anything but justice, he could have volunteered the narrative of a man's having, of his own choice, undergone it for two years?

"We will not notice the objection of Mr. Field (who strengthens the truth of Mr. Burns to nature, by the testimony of Mr. Pitt.!) to the discussion of such a topic as the present in a work of' mere amusement;' though we had thought we remembered in that book a word or two about slavery, which, although a very amusing, can scarcely be considered an unmitigatedly comic theme. We are quite content to believe, without seeking to make a convert of the Reverend Mr. Field, that no work need be one of 'mere amusement,' and that some works to which he would apply that designation have done a little good in advancing principles to which, we hope and will believe, for the credit of his Christian office, he is not indifferent."

However, all these disputes and "angry recollections" of the America of 1842, were finally disposed of by Mr. Dickens on his arrival home after a second visit to that great country. At the end of this little Memoir we give the great novelist's public testimony of the change in his experiences of America, with the "Postscript" which he then declared should for ever after continue to form a part of any new edition of "American Notes." - One of the prime objects in Mr. Dickens's visit to our Transatlantic Cousins was the endeavour to place the vexed question of International Copyright on a sound and proper footing, and whenever an available occasion presented itself, he strenuously urged his ideas and views. Returning to England, he forwarded to the A thenaum this letter, for which he had desired the widest publicity, in the hope that it might assist in bringing about the much-desired International Convention. It was inserted with the following editorial note :—

"On the subject of literary piracy we have received the following letter from Mr. Charles Dickens. We do not see very clearly the good that would result even from a general adoption of the proposed measures; but the straightforward and hearty way in which the writer has, under the most discouraging circumstances, set himself in opposition to the disgraceful practice, entitles all his suggestions to respectful attention:—

"I Devonshire Terrace, York Gate,
"Regent's Park,

"7th July, 1842. "You may perhaps be aware, that during my stay in America I lost no opportunity of endeavouring to awaken the public mind to a sense of the unjust and iniquitous state of the law of that country in reference to the wholesale piracy of British works. Having been successful in making the subject one of general discussion in the United States, I carried to Washington, for presentation to Congress by Mr. Clay, a petition from the whole body of American authors, earnestly praying for the enactment of an International Copyright Law. It was signed by Mr. Washington Irving, Mr. Prescott, Mr. Cooper, and every man who had distinguished himself in the literature of America, and has since been referred to a Select Committee of the House of Representatives. To counteract any effect which might be produced by that petition, a meeting was held at Boston— which you will remember is the seat and stronghold of Learning and Letters in the United States—at which a memorial against any change in the existing state of things in this respect was agreed to, with but one dissentient voice. This document, which, incredible as it may appear to you, was actually forwarded to Congress, and received, deliberately stated,

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