The old days—the old days! Shall I ever, I wonder, get the frame of mind back as it used to be then? Something of it, perhaps, but never quite as it used to be.
I find that the skeleton in my domestic closet is becoming a pretty big one.
His next letter draws the veil and shows plainly what he means:
Poor Catherine and I are not made for each other, and there is no help for it. It is not only that she makes me uneasy and unhappy, but that I make her so, too—and much more so. We are strangely ill-assorted for the bond that exists between us.
Then he goes on to say that she would have been a thousand times happier if she had been married to another man. He speaks of “incompatibility,” and a “difference of temperaments.” In fact, it is the same old story with which we have become so familiar, and which is both as old as the hills and as new as this morning’s newspaper.
Naturally, also, things grow worse, rather than better. Dickens comes to speak half jocularly of “the plunge,” and calculates as to what effect it will have on his public readings. He kept back the announcement of “the plunge” until after he had given several readings; then, on April 29, 1858, Mrs. Dickens left his home. His eldest son went to live with the mother, but the rest of the children remained with their father, while his daughter Mary nominally presided over the house. In the background, however, Georgina Hogarth, who seemed all through her life to have cared for Dickens more than for her sister, remained as a sort of guide and guardian for his children.
This arrangement was a private matter, and should not have been brought to public attention; but it was impossible to suppress all gossip about so prominent a man. Much of the gossip was exaggerated; and when it came to the notice of Dickens it stung him so severely as to lead him into issuing a public justification of his course. He published a statement in Household Words, which led to many other letters in other periodicals, and finally a long one from him, which was printed in the New York Tribune, addressed to his friend Mr. Arthur Smith.
Dickens afterward declared that he had written this letter as a strictly personal and private one, in order to correct false rumors and scandals. Mr. Smith naturally thought that the statement was intended for publication, but Dickens always spoke of it as “the violated letter.”
By his allusions to a difference of temperament and to incompatibility, Dickens no doubt meant that his wife had ceased to be to him the same companion that she had been in days gone by. As in so many cases, she had not changed, while he had. He had grown out of the sphere in which he had been born, “associated with blacking-boys and quilt-printers,” and had become one of the great men of his time, whose genius was universally admired.
Mr. Bigelow saw Mrs. Dickens as she really was—a commonplace woman endowed with the temper of a vixen, and disposed to outbursts of actual violence when her jealousy was roused.