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Dickens's London
Two Reforming Minds
The Thames and Fatality
Pent-up Neighbourhoods and Child Health
New Roads

Two Reforming Minds

Correspondence between Dickens and Chadwick

These two letters, the first from Chadwick to Dickens dated May 1851, and the second, from Dickens to Chadwick from June 1855, illustrate the different ways in which these two men approached social reform. Chadwick’s letter to Dickens strongly defends the Board of Health, of which he was a Commissioner at the time, and claims that polemical attacks upon the body implicitly misattribute the continued existence of societal problems to the pioneering organisation that sought to address them. The final flourish of the generally rather testy epistle speaks volumes about how Chadwick viewed his role and its relation to reform-oriented journalism, like that ‘conducted’ by Dickens in his journal Household Words, which had the luxury to turn its attention to a whole host of issues simultaneously: ‘When the Board which gives its unremitting and exclusive attention to one subject speaks, its recommendations will have more weight than authorities who give their attention to twenty others.’ A few years later, the other letter shows that Chadwick and Dickens had discovered they were really on the same side in wanting to improve the conditions of metropolitan life for the poor, and that they could collaborate. Dickens has clearly been asked to speak at an event that Chadwick is involved in somehow, and tellingly says it is perhaps best for him to keep clear of the ‘technical points’. The novelist may not have all the facts to hand, but can wield the wand of rhetoric with great ability.

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