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Charles Dickens and Eliza Davis

I. Solomons

<plain_text><page sequence="1">iv MISCELLANIES. 3 Charles Dickens and Eliza Davis. The originals of several letters from and to Charles Dickens on the subject of the novelist's Jewish characters are fully described, and in part printed, in the Catalogue of Messrs. Maggs Brothers, of 109 Strand, London, W.C. (No. 333 Spring 1915 Catalogue, item 93. ?68.) Some of the letters are published, and others alluded to, in The Letters of Charles Dickens (ed. 1880, vol. ii. pp. 204-5, 223, 280). But the account given of the originals in Messrs. Maggs' Catalogue enables us to realise the story much more clearly than before. The published Letters do not reveal the name of the " Jewish Lady," to whom, how? ever, the editor of the Letters ascribes the novelist's creation of the character of Riah in Our Mutual Friend. When Dickens left Tavistock Square in 1860 his house was trans? ferred to Mr. James P. Davis. The wife of the new tenant addressed five letters to Dickens, and the latter wrote three answers. The first letter was written by Mrs. Davis, from Tavistock House, on June 22, 1863. She had previously corresponded with Dickens regarding the transfer of the house, and she was emboldened by his courtesy to address him on another subject. She complained of the character of Fagin, but added that while ' * Charles Dickens lives the author can justify himself or atone." Dickens replied, from Gad's Hill Place, on July 10 : If the Jews were offended they must be "a far less sensible, a far less just, and a far less good-tempered people than I have always supposed them to be." Fagin was represented as a Jew, " because it unfortunately was true of the time to which that story [Oliver Twist] refers, that that class of criminal almost invariably ivas a Jew." Though conditions were un? satisfactory in several ways (see Picciotto, Sketches of Anglo-Jewish History, ch. xxxiii), Dickens would have found it impossible to justify, by statistics, so very sweeping a statement. Dickens explained, how? ever, that Fagin is "called the Jew, not because of his religion, but because of his race." Moreover, it must be observed that " all the rest of the wicked dramatis personal are Christians."</page><page sequence="2">CHARLES DICKENS AND ELIZA DAVIS. V Mrs. Davis rightly disputes some of Dickens' facts in her reply of July 14. Very acute is her criticism that the wicked Christians in Oliver Twist are " contrasted with characters of good Christians,'5 while " this poor, wretched Fagin stands alone as the Jew. . . . Perhaps we are over-sensitive, but are we not ever flayed ?" When the Jew Riah was introduced in number seven of Our Mutual Friend, Mrs. Davis again wrote to Dickens. Her letter bears date November 13, 1864. She expresses her admiration of the author for his obvious desire to show a higher Jewish type than Fagin. Mrs. Davis makes some comments on details of Dickens' treatment of Riah. It is, indeed, hard to understand how the novelist could have made some of the slips he did; Riah was no more a perfect picture from life than Fagin was. But Dickens took Mrs. Davis' criticism in very good part. On November 16 he wrote : I have received your letter with great pleasure, and hope to be (as I have always been in my heart) the best of friends with the Jewish people. The error you point out to me [apparently the pronunciation of the divine name] had occurred to me?as most errors do to most people?when it was too late to correct it. But it will do no harm. The peculiarities of dress and manner are fixed together for the sake of picturesqueness. On February 8, 1867, Mrs. Davis sent Dickens a copy of the Hebrew Bible, with the inscription : Presented to Charles Dickens, Esq., in grateful and admiring recogni? tion of his having exercised the noblest quality man can possess, that of atoning for an injury as soon as conscious of having inflicted it. By a Jewess. So far from taking umbrage at this dedication, Dickens expressed his gratification at the terms in which it was drawn. The terms in which you send me that mark of your remembrance are more gratifying than I can possibly express to you; for they assure me that there is nothing but goodwill left between me and a People for whom I have a real regard, and to whom I would not wilfully have given an offence or done an injustice for any worldly consideration. After the death of Dickens, Mrs. Davis wrote to Miss Mamie Dickens on August 4, 1870. This letter reveals the fact that, despite</page><page sequence="3">vi MISCELLANIES. the intimate correspondence summarised above, the only two occasions on which Mrs. Davis saw Dickens were at public readings by the novelist. Iskael Solomons. March 1915.</page></plain_text>