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Mr. Bull's Somnambulist

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Author Charles Dickens
Genres Prose: Essay i
Prose: Leading Article i
Subjects Character; Character Sketches; Caricature
Gender Identity; Women; Men; Femininity; Masculinity
Great Britain—Politics and Government
Other Details
Printed : 25/11/1854
Journal : Household Words
Volume : Volume X
Magazine : No. 244
Office Book Notes
Views : 694

Dickens here lampoons the Prime Minister, the seventy-year-old Earl of Aberdeen, a Peelite Tory who had also at times supported the Whigs (hence the reference at the end of paragraph 4 to his earlier 'contortion').

In December 1852 Aberdeen had formed a coalition Government of Whigs and Peelites and included in his Cabinet Palmerston and Dickens admired Lord John Russell, both of them much stronger personalities than himself. He had attempted to avoid Britain's becoming involved in war with Tsar Nicholas I by seeking a diplomatic solution (Dickens refers contemptuously to these efforts in the course of his attack), but had eventually to adopt the more aggressive policy favoured by his two more vigorous colleagues, and Britain, together with France, declared war on Russia on 22 March 1854. In the latter part of the article Dickens reverts to his indignant belief that the Government is making the war an excuse for its inaction as regards urgently needed domestic reforms, especially sanitary reform—see notes to the article 'To Working Men' (see Article 29 in Vol. 3 of the Dent edition of Dickens's Journalism, p. 226).

On 20 November Dickens wrote to Wills: 'I don't know what Forster quite expects to ensue from Mr. Bull's Somnambulist, but, I think, the Downfall of the Ministry at least'; and on 21 November to Frank Stone: 'I send you ... my little compliment to Lord Aberdeen. I expect to be made a baronet, about the middle of next week' (Pilgrim, Vol. VII, p. 471). He returned to castigation of governmental mismanagement of 'John Bull's' affairs, particularly as regards the Crimean War, in 'Prince Bull. A Fairy Tale' (HW, 17 February 1855). By that time Palmerston had replaced Aberdeen as Prime Minister but the mismanagement was continuing unabated (see Vol. 3 of the Dent edition, p. 283, 293).

Author: Michael Slater; © J. M. Dent/Orion Publishing Group, Dickens' Journalism Volume III: 'Gone Astray' and Other Papers from Household Words, 1851-1859, 1998.

DJO gratefully acknowledges permission to reproduce this material.

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