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    Autograph Letter Signed by Charles Dickens to Georgiana Morson, Matron of Urania Cottage

    Charles Dickens. Autograph Letter Signed with initials by Charles Dickens to Mrs. [Georgiana] Morson, 3 December 1852.

    Two small octavo pages (6.875 x 4.3125 inches; 175 x 108 mm.). Written in black (faded to brown) ink on white paper. Matted, glazed, and framed together with an engraved portrait of Dickens.

    "Tavistock House / Friday Evening Third December / 1852. / [flourish] / Dear Mrs Morson. / Will you send clothes as / usual to / Mrs Donovan / at Mr Ball's / 24 Browne Street, Queen Street / Edgeware Road / -for her daughter (a small girl of 16) / whom I have accepted for admission? / And will you also make an early / appointment to fetch her. The / mother seems to be a very decent woman / who comes from near Maidstone; and / as she may not have many opportunities / of seeing the girl, and as it may do the / girl some good, I have told her you will / let her come out and see her in the Home / before she (the mother) goes back with into the / country, if she speaks to you on the subject. / I think the girl may have a temper; but it is decidedly a case / to try. / Faithfully Yours / C D / [flourish]."

    This letter is published in Volume VI of The Pilgrim Edition of The Letters of Charles Dickens, pp. 814-815.

    "Urania Cottage, the Home for Homeless Women that Dickens set up and administered on behalf of Angela Burdett Coutts, represented Dickens's most sustained philanthropic involvement...Opened in November 1847 in a detached house in Shepherd's Bush, large enough to accommodate thirteen inmates and two superintendents, Urania Cottage operated under Dickens's surprisingly active management until his separation from his wife Catherine in 1858 led to a rift in his relations with Miss Coutts. Dickens's first known reference to the project dates from a letter he wrote to Miss Coutts in May 1846, where he spelled out in detail his ideas for the establishment and governance of the home, as well as for recruiting inmates. The aim was to rescue fallen women by offering them an escape from prostitution or a life of crime, and to do this within a domestic rather than a carceral environment...The home would serve to separate inmates from their previous associations, provide them with education in household duties and religion, help them develop self-discipline, and then assist them to emigrate to the colonies. Throughout, the women would be 'tempted to virtue' (via such inducements as Captain Maconochie's Marks System and the prospect of eventual marriage in the colonies), rather than punished, humiliated, or simply preached at...An enumeration of Dickens's responsibilities reveals the extent of his involvement. At the outset, he gathered knowledgeable advisors (notably the prison governors G. L. Chesterton and Augustus Tracey); he selected the house and oversaw its preparation (a job that included selecting reading material, wall inscriptions, linens, and even 'cheerful' dresses for the inmates); he hired the superintendents and teachers; he wrote an Appeal to Fallen Women (1850) for distribution to potential inmates; and he visited prisons and other reformatory institutions to help find and recruit eligible candidates. Once the home was established, Dickens formed and served on an administrative commitee [sic] (which met monthly to audit accounts and review individual cases). He also dealt on his own with a wide array of problems, from discharging troublesome inmates to coping with unhelpful superintendents; and he continued to visit prisons, workhouses, and Ragged Schools to interview and recruit new inmates. The scope of this last activity is a reminder that the home eventually extended its reach to take in homeless and destitute women, and women committed to prison for crimes other than prostitution...Most striking in all this is the blend of good sense, insight, and administrative capacity that Dickens brought to his work-at a time when he was extraordinarily busy in many other endeavours" (Oxford Reader's Companion to Dickens, pp. 577-580).

    Georgiana (or Georgina) Morson (d. 1880), "daughter of James Collins of Merton Abbey, Surrey; widow of James Morson, surgeon, who had died in Brazil after some years' medical appointment in a silver mine. She had recently returned to England with three young children to support and had met Miss Coutts through Mrs. Brown. In 1854 she married George Wade Harrison, a Sevenoaks bookseller (Information kindly given by Miss Grace Hughes, grand-daughter of Mrs Morson)" (The Letters of Charles Dickens, V, p. 509, note 2). Mrs. Morson was Matron of the Home from 1849-1854.

    In a letter to Miss Burdett Coutts, also dated 3 December 1852, Dickens writes: "I wrote to the woman near Maidstone and she came up here with her daugher [sic]-a girl of only 16. She is a very decent woman, whose name is Donovan. Her sister's name is Wallis, and her sister wrote the letter to you, in consequence of Mrs. Donovan's 'not being a scholar'. The girl comes from a bad school (where I dreamed my first dreams of authorship when I was six years old or so), namely Chatham, and I think she may be of rather a shrewish temper; but it is undoubtedly a case to make a trial of, and I have given Mrs. Morson instructions to fetch the girl" (The Letters of Charles Dickens, VI, pp. 813-814). From the H. Barry Morris Collection.

    View all of [The H. Barry Morris Collection of Charles Dickens' First Editions ]

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