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Threatening Letter

THREATENING LETTER
TO THOMAS HOOD
FROM AN ANCIENT GENTLEMAN

MR. HOOD. SIR,--The Constitution is going at last! You needn't
laugh, Mr. Hood. I am aware that it has been going, two or three
times before; perhaps four times; but it is on the move now, sir,
and no mistake.

I beg to say, that I use those last expressions advisedly, sir, and
not in the sense in which they are now used by Jackanapeses. There
were no Jackanapeses when I was a boy, Mr. Hood. England was Old
England when I was young. I little thought it would ever come to be
Young England when I was old. But everything is going backward.

Ah! governments were governments, and judges were judges, in my day,
Mr. Hood. There was no nonsense then. Any of your seditious
complainings, and we were ready with the military on the shortest
notice. We should have charged Covent Garden Theatre, sir, on a
Wednesday night: at the point of the bayonet. Then, the judges
were full of dignity and firmness, and knew how to administer the
law. There is only one judge who knows how to do his duty, now. He
tried that revolutionary female the other day, who, though she was
in full work (making shirts at three-halfpence a piece), had no
pride in her country, but treasonably took it in her head, in the
distraction of having been robbed of her easy earnings, to attempt
to drown herself and her young child; and the glorious man went out
of his way, sir--out of his way--to call her up for instant sentence
of Death; and to tell her she had no hope of mercy in this world--as
you may see yourself if you look in the papers of Wednesday the 17th
of April. He won't be supported, sir, I know he won't; but it is
worth remembering that his words were carried into every
manufacturing town of this kingdom, and read aloud to crowds in
every political parlour, beer-shop, news-room, and secret or open
place of assembly, frequented by the discontented working-men; and
that no milk-and-water weakness on the part of the executive can
ever blot them out. Great things like that, are caught up, and
stored up, in these times, and are not forgotten, Mr. Hood. The
public at large (especially those who wish for peace and
conciliation) are universally obliged to him. If it is reserved for
any man to set the Thames on fire, it is reserved for him; and
indeed I am told he very nearly did it, once.

But even he won't save the constitution, sir: it is mauled beyond
the power of preservation. Do you know in what foul weather it will
be sacrificed and shipwrecked, Mr. Hood? Do you know on what rock
it will strike, sir? You don't, I am certain; for nobody does know
as yet but myself. I will tell you.

The constitution will go down, sir (nautically speaking), in the
degeneration of the human species in England, and its reduction into
a mingled race of savages and pigmies.

That is my proposition. That is my prediction. That is the event
of which I give you warning. I am now going to prove it, sir.

You are a literary man, Mr. Hood, and have written, I am told, some
things worth reading. I say I am told, because I never read what is
written in these days. You'll excuse me; but my principle is, that
no man ought to know anything about his own time, except that it is
the worst time that ever was, or is ever likely to be. That is the
only way, sir, to be truly wise and happy.

In your station, as a literary man, Mr. Hood, you are frequently at
the Court of Her Gracious Majesty the Queen. God bless her! You
have reason to know that the three great keys to the royal palace
(after rank and politics) are Science, Literature, Art. I don't
approve of this myself. I think it ungenteel and barbarous, and
quite un-English; the custom having been a foreign one, ever since
the reigns of the uncivilised sultans in the Arabian Nights, who
always called the wise men of their time about them. But so it is.
And when you don't dine at the royal table, there is always a knife
and fork for you at the equerries' table: where, I understand, all
gifted men are made particularly welcome.

But all men can't be gifted, Mr. Hood. Neither scientific,
literary, nor artistical powers are any more to be inherited than
the property arising from scientific, literary, or artistic
productions, which the law, with a beautiful imitation of nature,
declines to protect in the second generation. Very good, sir.
Then, people are naturally very prone to cast about in their minds
for other means of getting at Court Favour; and, watching the signs
of the times, to hew out for themselves, or their descendants, the
likeliest roads to that distinguished goal.

Mr. Hood, it is pretty clear, from recent records in the Court
Circular, that if a father wish to train up his son in the way he
should go, to go to Court: and cannot indenture him to be a
scientific man, an author, or an artist, three courses are open to
him. He must endeavour by artificial means to make him a dwarf, a
wild man, or a Boy Jones.

Now, sir, this is the shoal and quicksand on which the constitution
will go to pieces.

I have made inquiry, Mr. Hood, and find that in my neighbourhood two
families and a fraction out of every four, in the lower and middle
classes of society, are studying and practising all conceivable arts
to keep their infant children down. Understand me. I do not mean
down in their numbers, or down in their precocity, but down in their
growth, sir. A destructive and subduing drink, compounded of gin
and milk in equal quantities, such as is given to puppies to retard
their growth: not something short, but something shortening: is
administered to these young creatures many times a day. An
unnatural and artificial thirst is first awakened in these infants
by meals of salt beef, bacon, anchovies, sardines, red herrings,
shrimps, olives, pea-soup, and that description of diet; and when
they screech for drink, in accents that might melt a heart of stone,
which they do constantly (I allude to screeching, not to melting),
this liquid is introduced into their too confiding stomachs. At
such an early age, and to so great an extent, is this custom of
provoking thirst, then quenching it with a stunting drink, observed,
that brine pap has already superseded the use of tops-and-bottoms;
and wet-nurses, previously free from any kind of reproach, have been
seen to stagger in the streets: owing, sir, to the quantity of gin
introduced into their systems, with a view to its gradual and
natural conversion into the fluid I have already mentioned.

Upon the best calculation I can make, this is going on, as I have
said, in the proportion of about two families and a fraction in
four. In one more family and a fraction out of the same number,
efforts are being made to reduce the children to a state of nature;
and to inculcate, at a tender age, the love of raw flesh, train oil,
new rum, and the acquisition of scalps. Wild and outlandish dances
are also in vogue (you will have observed the prevailing rage for
the Polka); and savage cries and whoops are much indulged in (as you
may discover, if you doubt it, in the House of Commons any night).
Nay, some persons, Mr. Hood; and persons of some figure and
distinction too; have already succeeded in breeding wild sons; who
have been publicly shown in the Courts of Bankruptcy, and in police-
offices, and in other commodious exhibition-rooms, with great
effect, but who have not yet found favour at court; in consequence,
as I infer, of the impression made by Mr. Rankin's wild men being
too fresh and recent, to say nothing of Mr. Rankin's wild men being
foreigners.

I need not refer you, sir, to the late instance of the Ojibbeway
Bride. But I am credibly informed, that she is on the eve of
retiring into a savage fastness, where she may bring forth and
educate a wild family, who shall in course of time, by the dexterous
use of the popularity they are certain to acquire at Windsor and St.
James's, divide with dwarfs the principal offices of state, of
patronage, and power, in the United Kingdom.

Consider the deplorable consequences, Mr. Hood, which must result
from these proceedings, and the encouragement they receive in the
highest quarters.

The dwarf being the favourite, sir, it is certain that the public
mind will run in a great and eminent degree upon the production of
dwarfs. Perhaps the failures only will be brought up, wild. The
imagination goes a long way in these cases; and all that the
imagination can do, will be done, and is doing. You may convince
yourself of this, by observing the condition of those ladies who
take particular notice of General Tom Thumb at the Egyptian Hall,
during his hours of performance.

The rapid increase of dwarfs, will be first felt in her Majesty's
recruiting department. The standard will, of necessity, be lowered;
the dwarfs will grow smaller and smaller; the vulgar expression "a
man of his inches" will become a figure of fact, instead of a figure
of speech; crack regiments, household-troops especially, will pick
the smallest men from all parts of the country; and in the two
little porticoes at the Horse Guards, two Tom Thumbs will be daily
seen, doing duty, mounted on a pair of Shetland ponies. Each of
them will be relieved (as Tom Thumb is at this moment, in the
intervals of his performance) by a wild man; and a British Grenadier
will either go into a quart pot, or be an Old Boy, or Blue Gull, or
Flying Bull, or some other savage chief of that nature.

I will not expatiate upon the number of dwarfs who will be found
representing Grecian statues in all parts of the metropolis; because
I am inclined to think that this will be a change for the better;
and that the engagement of two or three in Trafalgar Square will
tend to the improvement of the public taste.

The various genteel employments at Court being held by dwarfs, sir,
it will be necessary to alter, in some respects, the present
regulations. It is quite clear that not even General Tom Thumb
himself could preserve a becoming dignity on state occasions, if
required to walk about with a scaffolding-pole under his arm;
therefore the gold and silver sticks at present used, must be cut
down into skewers of those precious metals; a twig of the black rod
will be quite as much as can be conveniently preserved; the coral
and bells of his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, will be used in
lieu of the mace at present in existence; and that bauble (as Oliver
Cromwell called it, Mr. Hood), its value being first calculated by
Mr. Finlayson, the government actuary, will be placed to the credit
of the National Debt.

All this, sir, will be the death of the constitution. But this is
not all. The constitution dies hard, perhaps; but there is enough
disease impending, Mr. Hood, to kill it three times over.

Wild men will get into the House of Commons. Imagine that, sir!
Imagine Strong Wind in the House of Commons! It is not an easy
matter to get through a debate now; but I say, imagine Strong Wind,
speaking for the benefit of his constituents, upon the floor of the
House of Commons! or imagine (which is pregnant with more awful
consequences still) the ministry having an interpreter in the House
of Commons, to tell the country, in English, what it really means!

Why, sir, that in itself would be blowing the constitution out of
the mortar in St. James's Park, and leaving nothing of it to be seen
but smoke.

But this, I repeat it, is the state of things to which we are fast
tending, Mr. Hood; and I enclose my card for your private eye, that
you may be quite certain of it. What the condition of this country
will be, when its standing army is composed of dwarfs, with here and
there a wild man to throw its ranks into confusion, like the
elephants employed in war in former times, I leave you to imagine,
sir. It may be objected by some hopeful jackanapeses, that the
number of impressments in the navy, consequent upon the seizure of
the Boy-Joneses, or remaining portion of the population ambitious of
Court Favour, will be in itself sufficient to defend our Island from
foreign invasion. But I tell those jackanapeses, sir, that while I
admit the wisdom of the Boy Jones precedent, of kidnapping such
youths after the expiration of their several terms of imprisonment
as vagabonds; hurrying them on board ship; and packing them off to
sea again whenever they venture to take the air on shore; I deny the
justice of the inference; inasmuch as it appears to me, that the
inquiring minds of those young outlaws must naturally lead to their
being hanged by the enemy as spies, early in their career; and
before they shall have been rated on the books of our fleet as able
seamen.

Such, Mr. Hood, sir, is the prospect before us! And unless you, and
some of your friends who have influence at Court, can get up a giant
as a forlorn hope, it is all over with this ill-fated land.

In reference to your own affairs, sir, you will take whatever course
may seem to you most prudent and advisable after this warning. It
is not a warning to be slighted: that I happen to know. I am
informed by the gentleman who favours this, that you have recently
been making some changes and improvements in your Magazine, and are,
in point of fact, starting afresh. If I be well informed, and this
be really so, rely upon it that you cannot start too small, sir.
Come down to the duodecimo size instantly, Mr. Hood. Take time by
the forelock; and, reducing the stature of your Magazine every
month, bring it at last to the dimensions of the little almanack no
longer issued, I regret to say, by the ingenious Mr. Schloss: which
was invisible to the naked eye until examined through a little eye-
glass.

You project, I am told, the publication of a new novel, by yourself,
in the pages of your Magazine. A word in your ear. I am not a
young man, sir, and have had some experience. Don't put your own
name on the title-page; it would be suicide and madness. Treat with
General Tom Thumb, Mr. Hood, for the use of his name on any terms.
If the gallant general should decline to treat with you, get Mr.
Barnum's name, which is the next best in the market. And when,
through this politic course, you shall have received, in presents, a
richly jewelled set of tablets from Buckingham Palace, and a gold
watch and appendages from Marlborough House; and when those valuable
trinkets shall be left under a glass case at your publisher's for
inspection by your friends and the public in general;--then, sir,
you will do me the justice of remembering this communication.

It is unnecessary for me to add, after what I have observed in the
course of this letter, that I am not,--sir, ever your

CONSTANT READER.

TUESDAY, 23rd April 1844.

P.S.--Impress it upon your contributors that they cannot be too
short; and that if not dwarfish, they must be wild--or at all events
not tame.

Charles Dickens

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