I think this excerpt from Charles Dickens’ American Notes shows the lighter side of this sometimes ponderous writer.
Because of his reputation as a social reformer, he was given tours of all the prisons, workhouses and insane asylums. This anecdote comes from a visit to an insane asylum in Hartford, Connecticut. I don’t get the reference to Pontefract, a castle in England, but it’s funny anyway:
“I very much questioned within myself, as I walked through the Insane Asylum, whether I should have known the attendants from the patients, but for the few words which passed between the former, and the Doctor, in reference to the persons under their charge.
Of course I limit this remark merely to their looks; for the conversation of the mad people was mad enough.
There was one little, prim old lady, of very smiling and good-humoured appearance, who came sidling up to me from the end of a long passage, and with a curtsey of inexpressible condescension, propounded this unaccountable inquiry:
‘Does Pontefract still flourish, sir, upon the soil of England?’
‘He does, ma’am,’ I rejoined.
‘When you last saw him, sir, he was – ‘
‘Well, ma’am,’ said I, ‘extremely well. He begged me to present his compliments. I never saw him looking better.’
At this, the old lady was very much delighted. After glancing at me for a moment, as if to be quite sure that I was serious in my respectful air, she sidled back some paces; sidled forward again; made a sudden skip (at which I precipitately retreated a step or two); and said:
‘I am an antediluvian, sir.’
I thought the best thing to say was, that I had suspected as much from the first. Therefore I said so.
‘It is an extremely proud and pleasant thing, sir, to be an antediluvian,’ said the old lady.
‘I should think it was, ma’am,’ I rejoined.
The old lady kissed her hand, gave another skip, smirked and sidled down the gallery in a most extraordinary manner, and ambled gracefully into her own bed-chamber. “