Two pages (1st and 3rd of conjoined leaves), on stationery with a faint blind-stamp at the upper corner. "Tavistock House, Wednesday Tenth January 1855."
The text of Dickens's letter (following "Dear Sir") is:
I hope the opportunity you deserve will present itself naturally before very long. I cannot make an express appointment just now, as I am quite uncertain whether I may be called out of town tomorrow or next day, with Charles, or on the business of placing him in some house of commerce. Besides which, I have, the Christmas holidays being over, a fortnight's arrear of appointments to clear off.
Your letter required no apology and is very agreeably done.
Faithfully yours [signed] Charles Dickens.
Francesco Berger (1834-1933) born in London of Italian and German parentage, as a teen in 1848 traveled to Trieste (his father's home city), returning to England in 1855. He was trained as a pianist and composer, and would go on to be a professor at the Royal Academy of Music, and the 27-year Secretary of the Philharmonic Society.
But look at the year he returned to England: 1855! -- the year of this letter (January 10th). Although Berger would become a great friend of Charles Dickens, and a frequent visitor at Tavistock House, we believe that this letter might be Dickens's first to him (with its formal "Dear Sir"). Upon arriving in England Berger probably sent out "feelers" for musical commissions, and this letter appears to be Dickens's polite declination. But this declination appears to have been temporary: look at what happened later in 1855, according to Berger's 1913 REMINISCENCES, IMPRESSIONS & ANECDOTES:
Everybody knows that Dickens was a fine Actor, and that, at one time, he very nearly "took to the stage" as a vocation. He had "private theatricals" each Christmas-time, in which he himself, his family, and intimate friends acted. In this circle he was spoken of as "the Manager," and his eldest son was known as "young Charles." In 1855 Wilkie Collins wrote a Play for one of these occasions, called "The Lighthouse," and Dickens asked me to compose for it an original Overture and arrange the Incidental Music, which I gladly undertook to do.
For these performances Dickens had a theatre specially constructed, in the rear of his house, with proper footlights, proper scenery, proper curtain -- in fact no expense or trouble was spared to make the whole thing complete... I had a small but efficient Orchestra to conduct, and presided at a Piano. The scenery was painted by Clarkson Stanfield, R.A.... The actors were Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Mark Lemon, Augustus Egg, Edward Hogarth, Miss Hogarth, and Mamie Dickens (Dickens' elder daughter).
There is indeed a famous photograph of about 25 members of the cast and crew (either of "The Lighthouse" or of the next Dickens-Collins-Berger collaboration, "The Frozen Deep" in 1857), showing all of the above-mentioned people (including Berger) but also including "young Charles" and his sister Kate (who was married to Collins's brother) -- with the elder Dickens lounging in the foreground.
The letter is in fine condition (blue ink slightly faded, as is often the case). Provenance: from the renowned three-generation Dodge Family Autograph Collection. Item #14451