Dickens wrote all of this article with the exception of the letters themselves, the latter being supplied by Mrs. Caroline Chisholm. 'I have given Greening,' he wrote to Wills on 6 March 1850, 'a little article of my own, called A Bundle of Emigrants' Letters, introducing some five or six originals, which are extremely good.'
The article came about as a result of the intervention of Elizabeth Herbert. A few weeks before the first issue of Household Words appeared, Mrs. Herbert arranged a meeting between Dickens and Mrs. Chisholm with a view to publicizing the latter's newly founded Family Colonisation Loan Society; Elizabeth Herbert's husband, Sidney Herbert (see 'Doctor Dulcamara, M.P.' ), was a member of the Committee of the Society. On 24 February 1850, Mrs. Herbert wrote to Mrs. Chisholm:
I saw Mr. Dickens to-day, and he has commissioned me to say that if you will allow him, and unless he hears to the contrary from you, he will call upon you at 2 o'clock on Tuesday next, the 26th. I told him about your emigrants' letters, and he seemed to think that the giving them publicity would be an important engine towards helping on our work, and he has so completely the confidence of the lower classes (who all read his books if they can read at all) that I think, if you can persuade him to bring them out in his new work [Household Words] it will be an immense step gained. He is so singularly clever and agreeable that I hope you will forgive me for having made this appointment without your direct sanction, and for having also told him that I knew you wished to make his acquaintance -
'A Bundle of Emigrants' Letters' appeared in the inaugural issue of Household Words.
Mrs. Chisholm, deeply involved in emigrant and colonization activities, was the prototype of Mrs. Jellyby in Bleak House (1852-1853). Mrs. Jellyby, it will be remembered, was so engrossed in helping the natives of Borrioboola-Gha on the Niger, that she grievously neglected her family On 4 March 1850, several days after calling on Mrs. Chisholm, and a day or two before completing 'A Bundle of Emigrants' Letters,' Dickens wrote to Miss Coutts: 'I dream of Mrs Chisholm, and her housekeeping. The dirty faces of her children are my continual companions.' As the following article, several other articles in Household Words, and much additional evidence indicate, Dickens was sympathetic to Mrs. Chisholm's endeavors. He was puzzled, however, by the ironic disproportion between her devotion to public causes and her neglect of personal duties.
Harry Stone; © Bloomington and Indiana University Press, 1968. DJO gratefully acknowledges permission to reproduce this material.