DICKENS, Charles (1812-1870). Ten autograph letters signed (one with initials) to Dr [Thomas] Southwood Smith, Devonshire Terrace, Osnaburgh Terrace and Broadstairs, 2 June 1841 - 1 March 1850, 17½ pages, 8vo, blanks, autograph envelopes, laid into the leaves of an album, early 20th-century green morocco gilt by Riviere, gilt fillet borders, spine gilt in six compartments, lettered in two, roll-tooled gilt turn-ins, gilt-edges (extremities rubbed, covers sunned).
A series of letters recording Dickens' relationship with one of the leading social reformers of the day. Dickens writes at first to explain that obligations to 'artists, engravers, printers and everyone engaged' prevent him from accompanying Smith to John O'Groats [on an expedition to see children at work in coal mines]. In 1843 [on receiving the 2nd report of the Children's Employment Commission] he describes himself as 'so perfectly smitten by the blue book you have sent me that I think...of writing and bringing out a very cheap pamphlet called "an appeal to the People of England on behalf of the Poor Man's Child"'. Shortly after this, he explains that Smith will later understand his deferment of 'the production' and 'you will certainly feel that a sledge hammer has come down with twenty times the force I could exert by following out my first idea'. Two letters refer to a dinner at which Dickens will speak [the Sanatorium dinner of which he was to be chairman]. A private dinner is postponed 'by reason of having no house to dine in', on letting his residence [in Devonshire Terrace] to 'a most desirable widow (as a tenant I mean)'. A letter of 29.6.47 advises Smith on his application to be one of the commissioners for the Health of Towns bill, and on 20.11.49 he agrees to purchase shares in the Metropolitan Association for Improving Dwellings of the Industrious Classes. A further engagement is declined owing to private theatricals and 'two Transportation reports'.
Dr Thomas Southwood Smith (1788-1861) first approached Dickens to support his campaign for the reduction of working hours and then, with more success, appealed to him to write against child employment. The 'sledge hammer' blow to which Dickens refers in relation to this, eventually took shape in A Christmas Carol. Dickens' warm letter advising Smith to pursue on his own merits the post of commissioner in 1847 demonstrates his respect for him, 'It should be given to you of right, and for what you have done and for what you have the undoubted capacity of doing better than anybody else...You should set forth your own claims modestly but manfully and rest upon them'. Dr Southwood Smith's sanatorium 'for the lodging, nursing and cure of sick persons of the Middle Classes' opened at Devonshire House, almost opposite Dickens house, in 1842. Dickens spoke at the dinner attended by artists and the theatrical profession to raise support for it on 4.6.44.
Smith, author of works on the relationship between sickness and poverty, particularly in epidemics of fever, campaigned tirelessly for the improvement of sanitation, and of the living and working conditions of the poor. As a mark of his esteem, Jeremy Bentham, to whom he was once secretary, left to him his body for dissection, and Smith preserved the skeleton, dressed in Bentham's clothes, in his Finsbury Square consulting rooms.