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Dickens in America Case in a Nutshell

Case in a Nutshell

Contemplating a reading tour of America, Dickens sought to convince his friend, John Forster, and others who had doubts about the advisability of making such a trip, of the reasonable chance for success. He called this argument his "case in a nutshell"

"1. I think it may be taken as proved, that general enthusiasm and excitement are awakened in America on the subject of the Readings, and that the people are prepared to give me a great reception. The 'New York Herald' indeed, is of opinion that 'Dickens must apologize first,' and where a 'New York Herald' is possible, anything is possible. But the prevailing tone, both of the press and of the people of all conditions, is highly favourable. I have an opinion myself that the Irish element in New York is dangerous for the reason that the Fenians would be glad to damage a conspicuous Englishman. This is merely an opinion of my own.

2. All our original calculations were based on one hundred Readings. But an unexpected result of careful inquiry on the spot, is the discovery that the month of May is generally considered (in large cities) bad for such a purpose. Admitting that what governs an ordinary case in this wise governs mine, this reduces the Readings to eighty, and consequently at a blow makes a reduction of twenty per cent, in the means of making money in the half-year, unless the objection should not apply in my exceptional instance.

3. I dismiss the consideration that the great towns of America could not possibly be exhausted, or even visited, within six months, and that a large harvest would be left unreaped; because I hold that a second series of Readings in America is to be set down as out of the question; whether regarded as involving two more voyages across the Atlantic, or a vacation of five months in Canada.

4. The narrowed calculation we have made is this: What is the largest amount of clear profit derivable, under the most advantageous circumstances possible as to their public reception, from eighty Readings, and no more? In making this calculation the expenses have been throughout taken on the New York scale, which is the dearest; as much as twenty per cent, has been deducted for management, including Mr. Dolby's commission; and no credit has been taken for any extra payment on reserved seats, though a good deal of money is confidently expected from this source. But, on the other hand, it is to be observed that four Readings (and a fraction over) are supposed to take place every week, and that the estimate of receipts is based on the assumption that the audiences are, on all occasions, as large as the rooms will reasonably hold.

5. So considering eighty Readings, we bring out the net profit of that number remaining to me, after payment of all charges whatever, as £15,500.

6. But it yet remains to be noted that the calculation assumes New York City and the State of New York to be good for a very large proportion of the eighty Readings; and that the calculation also assumes the necessary travelling not to extend beyond Boston and adjacent places. New York City and adjacent places, Philadelphia, Washington, and Baltimore. But if the calculation should prove too sanguine on this head, and if these places should not be good for so many Readings, then it may prove impracticable to get through eighty within the time, by reason of other places that would come into the list lying wide asunder, and necessitating long and fatiguing journeys.

7. The loss consequent on the conversion of paper money into gold (with gold at the present ruling premium) is allowed for in the calculation. It counts seven dollars to the pound."