Tag Archives: train travel 1842

traveling from Boston to New York in 1842; a Charles Dickens letter



In the 1970’s, when I was living in New York City, I frequently took the train from New York to Boston to visit my family in Massachusetts.

Around 1972, a one way ticket cost $12.00. The price was lowered to $9.90 to encourage more travel. Trains were not in fashion then.

The train meandered slowly, passing through some parts of Connecticut with beautiful coastal scenery. The trip took five hours.

Compare (below) the same trip (in reverse) which Charles Dickens took in 1842, except that, besides train travel between cities (there were trains even back then), there were steamboats and detours.

Dickens left Boston on February 5, 1842, and arrived in New York City on February 12, a trip of seven days. He was traveling with his wife, Catherine Thomson (Hogarth) Dickens.






We left Boston on the fifth, and went away with the governor of the city to stay till Monday [February 7] at his house at Worcester [Massachusetts]. … The village of Worcester is one of the prettiest in New England. …. On Monday morning at nine o’clock we started again by railroad and went on to Springfield [Massachusetts], where a deputation of two were waiting, and everything was in readiness that the utmost attention could suggest. Owing to the mildness of the weather, the Connecticut river was “open,” videlicet not frozen, and they had a steamboat ready to carry us on to Hartford [Connecticut]; thus saving a land-journey of only twenty-five miles, but on such roads at this time of year that it takes nearly twelve hours to accomplish! The boat was very small, the river full of floating blocks of ice, and the depth where we went (to avoid the ice and the current) not more than a few inches. After two hours and a half of this queer travelling we got to Hartford. There, there was quite an English inn [The City Hotel in Hartford]; except in respect of the bed-rooms, which are always uncomfortable … We remained in this town until the eleventh [Friday, February 11]: holding a formal levee every day for two hours, and receiving on each from two hundred to three hundred people. At five o’clock on the afternoon of the eleventh, we set off (still by railroad) for Newhaven [i.e., New Haven, Connecticut]. which we reached about eight o’clock. The moment we had had tea, we were forced to open another levee for the students and professors of the college [Yale] (the largest in the States), and the townspeople. I suppose we shook hands, before going to bed, with considerably more than five hundred people; and I stood, as a matter of course, the whole time. …

Now, the deputation of two had come on with us from Hartford; and at New­haven there was another committee; and the immense fatigue and worry of all this, no words can exaggerate. We had been in the morning over jails and deaf and dumb asylums; had stopped on the journey at a place called Wallingford [Connecticut], where a whole town had turned out to see me, and to gratify whose curiosity the train stopped expressly; had had a day of great excitement and exertion on the Thursday (this being Friday); and were inexpressibly worn out. And when at last we got to bed and were “going” to fall asleep, the choristers of the college turned out in a body, under the window, and serenaded us! We had had, by the bye, another serenade at Hartford, from a Mr. [Isaac Hull] Adams (a nephew of John Quincey Adams) and a German friend. They were most beautiful singers: and when they began, in the dead of the night, in a long, musical, echoing passage outside our chamber door; singing, in low voices to guitars, about home and absent friends and other topics that they knew would interest us; we were more moved than I can tell you. …

The Newhaven serenade was not so good; though there were a great many voices, and a “reg’lar” band. It hadn’t the heart of the other. Before it was six hours old, we were dressing with might and main, and making ready for our departure: it being a drive of twenty minutes to the steamboat, and the hour of sailing nine o’clock. After a hasty breakfast we started off; and after another levee on the deck (actually on the deck), and “three times three for Dickens,” moved towards New York.

I was delighted to find on board a Mr. [Cornelius Conway] Felton whom I had known at Boston. He is the Greek professor at Cambridge, and was going on to the ball* and dinner. … We drank all the porter on board, ate all the cold pork and cheese, and were very merry indeed. …

About half past 2 [on February 12], we arrived here [New York].** In half an hour more, we reached this hotel [the Carlton Hotel on Broadway], where a very splendid suite of rooms was prepared for us; and where everything is very comfortable, and no doubt (as at Boston) enormously dear.


— Charles Dickens, letter to John Foster, February 17, 1842, IN The Letters of Charles Dickens, The Pilgrim Edition, Volume Three: 1842-1843, edited by Madeline House, Graham Storey, and Kathleen Tillotson; associate editor, Noel C. Peryton (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974), pp. 67-70

*The Boz Ball, held on February 14, 1842, in Dickens’s honor, at the Park Theatre in New York City. Boz was a nickname Dickens had become known by — he employed it as a pseudonym in his early years as a writer.

**The final leg of Dickens’s journey was on the packet New York from New Haven, which docked at South Street in lower Manhattan. Dickens would have then traveled uptown to his hotel by stagecoach. The hotel charge was two dollars a night.



— posted by Roger W. Smith

   December 2019