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Title: Charles Dickens as a Reader
Author: Kent, Charles Foster, 1867-1925
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Charles Dickens as a Reader" ***

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By Charles Kent.

[Illustration: Titlepage.jpg]

Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co. London: Chapman & Hall, 193,



[Illustration: Dedication.jpg]





As the title-page of this volume indicates, no more is here attempted
than a memorial of Charles Dickens in association with his Readings.
It appeared desirable that something in the shape of an accurate record
should be made of an episode in many respects so remarkable in the
career of the most popular author of his generation. A commemorative
volume, precisely of this character, was projected by the writer in the
spring of 1870. Immediately after the Farewell Reading in St James's
Hall, on the 15th of March, Charles Dickens wrote, in hearty approval
of the suggestion, "Everything that I can let you have in aid of the
proposed record (which, _of course_, would be far more agreeable to me
if done by you than by any other hand) shall be at your service."
All the statistics, he added, should be placed freely at the writer's
command; all the marked books from which he himself read should be
confided to him for reference. In now realising his long-postponed
intention, the writer's endeavour has been throughout to restrict the
purpose of his book as much as possible to matters either directly or
indirectly affecting these famous Readings.

The Biography of Charles Dickens having been undertaken by the oldest
and dearest of his friends, all that is here attempted is to portray, as
accurately as may be, a single phase in the career and character of one
of the greatest of all our English Humorists. What is thus set forth
has the advantage, at any rate, of being penned from the writer's own
intimate knowledge. With the Novelist's career as a Reader he has been
familiar throughout. From its beginning to its close he has regarded
it observantly. He has viewed it both from before and from behind the
scenes, from the front of the house as well as from within the shelter
of the screen upon the platform. When contrasted with the writings of
the Master-Humorist, these readings of his, though so remarkable in
themselves, shrink, no doubt, to comparative insignificance. But simply
considering them as supplementary, and, certainly, as very exceptional,
evidences of genius on the part of a great author, they may surely be
regarded as having been worthy of the keenest scrutiny at the time, and
entitled afterwards to some honest commemoration.


     CHARLES DICKENS AS A READER             1


     THE CHRISTMAS CAROL                    92

     THE TRIAL FROM PICKWICK               109

     DAVID COPPERFIELD                     120

     THE CRICKET ON THE HEARTH             131

     NICHOLAS NICKLEBY                     140

     MR. BOB SAWYER'S PARTY                152

     THE CHIMES                            162

     THE STORY OF LITTLE DOMBEY            176

     MR. CHOPS, THE DWARF                  189

     THE POOR TRAVELLER                    195

     MRS. GAMP                             207

     BOOTS AT THE HOLLY TREE INN           220

     BARBOX BROTHERS                       231

     THE BOY AT MUGBY                      237

     DOCTOR MARIGOLD                       243

     SIKES AND NANCY                       253

     THE FAREWELL READING                  263


A celebeated writer is hardly ever capable as a Reader of doing justice
to his own imaginings. Dr. Johnson's whimsical anecdote of the author
of The Seasons admits, in point of fact, of a very general application.
According to the grimly humorous old Doctor, "He [Thomson] was once
reading to Doddington, who, being himself a reader eminently elegant,
was so much provoked by his odd utterance, that he snatched the paper
from his hand, and told him that he did not understand his own verses!"
Dryden, again, when reading his Amphytrion in the green-room, "though,"
says Cibber, who was present upon the occasion, "he delivered the plain
meaning of every period, yet the whole was in so cold, so flat, and
unaffecting a manner, that I am afraid of not being believed when I
affirm it." Elsewhere, in his Apology, when contrasting the creator with
the interpreter, the original delineator with the actual impersonator
of character, the same old stage gossip remarks, how men would read
Shakspere with higher rapture could they but conceive how he was played
by Betterton! "Then might they know," he exclaims, with a delightful
extravagance of emphasis and quaint-ness of phraseology, "the one was
born alone to speak what the other only knew to write!" The simple truth
of the matter being that for the making of a consummate actor, reader,
or impersonator, not only is there required, to begin with, a certain
histrionic instinct or dramatic aptitude, but a combination--very rarely
to be met with, indeed--of personal gifts, of physical peculiarities,
of vocal and facial, nay, of subtly and yet instantly appreciable
characteristics. Referring merely to those who are skilled as
conversationalists, Sir Richard Steele remarks, very justly, in the
_Spectator_ (No. 521), that, "In relations, the force of the expression
lies very often more in the look, the tone of voice, or the gesture,
than in the words themselves, which, being repeated in any other manner
by the undiscerning, bear a very different interpretation from their
original meaning." Whatever is said as to all that is requisite in the
delivery of an oration by the master of all oratory, applies with equal
distinctness to those who are readers or actors professionally. All
depends on the countenance, is the _dictum_ of Cicero,{*} and even in
that, he says, the eyes bear sovereign sway.

     * De Oratore iii., 59.

Elsewhere, in his great treatise, referring to what was all-essential
in oratorical delivery, according to Demosthenes, Tully, by a bold and
luminous phrase, declares Action to be, as it were, the speech of
the body,--"quasi sermo corporis." Voice, eyes, bearing, gesture,
countenance, each in turn, all of them together, are to the spoken
words, or, rather than that, it should be said, to the thoughts and
emotions of which those articulate sounds are but the winged symbols,
as to the barbed and feathered arrows are the bowstring. How
essential every external of this kind is, as affording some medium of
communication between a speaker and his auditors, may be illustrated
upon the instant by the rough and ready argument of the _reductio ad
absurdum_. Without insisting, for example, upon the impossibility of
having a speech delivered by one who is actually blind, and deaf,
and dumb, we need only imagine here its utterance, by some wall-eyed
stammerer, who has a visage about as wooden and inexpressive as the
figure-head of a merchantman. Occasionally, it is true, physical defects
have been actually conquered, individual peculiarities have been in a
great measure counteracted, by rhetorical artifice, or by the arts of
oratorical delivery: instance the lisp of Demosthenes, the stutter of
Fox, the brogue of Burke, and the burr of Brougham.

Sometimes, but very rarely, it has so happened that an actor of nearly
peerless excellence, that a reader of all but matchless power, has
achieved his triumphs, has acquired his reputation, in very despite of
almost every conceivable personal disadvantage. Than the renowned actor
already mentioned, for example, Thomas Betterton, a more radiant name
has hardly ever been inscribed upon the roll of English players,
from Burbage to Garrick. Yet what is the picture of this incomparable
tragedian, drawn by one who knew him and who has described his person
for us minutely, meaning Antony Aston, in his theatrical pamphlet,
called the Brief Supplement? Why it is absolutely this,--"Mr.
Betterton," says his truthful panegyrist, "although a superlative good
actor, laboured under an ill figure, being clumsily made, having a great
head, a short, thick neck, stooped in the shoulders, and had fat, short
arms, which he rarely lifted higher than his stomach. He had little eyes
and a broad face, a little pock-fretten, a corpulent body, and thick
legs, with large feet. His voice was low and grumbling. He was incapable
of dancing, even in a country dance." And so forth! Yet this was the
consummate actor who was regarded by the more discerning among
his contemporaries, but most of all by the brother actors who were
immediately around him, as simply inimitable and unapproachable.

There was John Henderson, again, great in his time, both as a tragic and
a comic actor, greatest of all as a reader or an impersonator. Hear
him described by one who has most carefully and laboriously written his
encomium, that is to say, by John Ireland, his biographer. What do we
read of him? That in height he was below the common standard, that his
frame was uncompacted, that his limbs were short and ill-proportioned,
that his countenance had little of that flexibility which anticipates
the tongue, that his eye had scarcely anything of that language which,
by preparing the spectator for the coming sentence, enchains the
attention, that his voice was neither silvery nor mellifluous.
Nevertheless, by a subtlety of discrimination, that seemed almost
intuitive, by a force of judgment and a fervency of mind, that were
simply exquisite and irresistible, this was the very man who could
at any moment, by an inflection of his voice or by the syncope of a
chuckle, move his audience at pleasure to tears or to laughter. He could
haunt their memories for years afterwards with the infinite tenderness
of his ejaculation as Hamlet, of "The fair Ophelia!" He could convulse
them with merriment by his hesitating utterance as Falstaff of "A
shirt--and a half!" Incidentally it is remarked by the biographer of
Henderson that the qualifications requisite to constitute a reader of
especial excellence seem to be these, "a good ear, a voice capable
of inflexion, an understanding of, and taste for, the beauties of the
author." Added to this, there must be, of course, a feeling, an ardour,
an enthusiasm sufficient at all times to ensure their rapid and vivid
manifestation. Richly endowed in this way, however, though Henderson
was, his gifts were weighted, as we have seen were those also of
Betterton, by a variety of physical defects, some of which were almost
painfully conspicuous. Insomuch was this the case, in the latter
instance, that Tony Aston has oddly observed, in regard to the all
but peerless tragedian, "He was better to meet than to follow; for
his aspect [the writer evidently means, here, when met] was serious,
venerable, and majestic; in his latter time a little paralytic."
Accepting at once as reasonable and as accurate what has thus been
asserted by those who have made the art of elocution their especial and
chosen study for analysis, it is surely impossible not to recognise at
a glance how enormously a reader must, by necessity, be advantaged, who,
in addition to the intellectual and emotional gifts already enumerated,
possesses those personal attributes and physical endowments in which
a reader, otherwise of surpassing excellence, like Henderson, and an
actor, in other respects of incomparable ability, like Betterton, was
each in turn so glaringly deficient.

Whatever is here said in regard to Charles Dickens, it should be
borne in mind, is written and published during the lifetime of his own
immediate contemporaries. He himself, his readings, the sound of his
voice, the ring of his footstep, the glance of his eye, are all still
vividly within the recollection of the majority of those who will
examine the pages of this memorial. Everything, consequently, which is
set forth in them is penned with a knowledge of its inevitable revision
or endorsement by the reader's own personal remembrance. It is in the
full glare of that public remembrance that the present writer refers to
the great novelist as an impersonator of his more remarkable creations.
Everybody who has seen him, who has heard him, who has carefully watched
him, though it may be but at a single one of these memorable readings,
will recognise at a glance the accuracy or the inaccuracy of the

It is observable, in the first instance, in regard to Charles Dickens,
that he had in an extraordinary degree the dramatic element in his
character. It was an integral part of his individuality. It coloured his
whole temperament or idiosyncracy. Unconsciously he described himself,
to a T, in Nicholas Nickleby. "There's genteel comedy in your walk and
manner, juvenile tragedy in your eye, and touch-and-go farce in your
la'ugh," might have been applied to himself in his buoyant youth quite
as readily and directly as to Nicholas. The author, rather than the hero
of Nickleby, seems, in that happy utterance of the theatrical manager,
to have been photographed. It cannot but now be apparent that, as an
unpremeditated preliminary to Dickens's then undreamt-of career as
a reader of his own works in public and professionally, the Private
Theatricals over which he presided during several years in his own home
circle as manager, prepared the way no less directly than his occasional
Readings, later on, at some expense to himself (in travelling and
otherwise) for purely charitable purposes. His proclivity stagewards,
in effect, the natural trending of his line of life, so to speak, in
the histrionic or theatrical direction, was, in another way, indicated
at a yet earlier date, and not one jot less pointedly. It was so, we
mean, at the very opening of his career in authorship, when having just
sprung into precocious celebrity as the writer of the Sketches and of
the earlier numbers of Pickwick, he contributed an opera and a couple of
farces with brilliant success to the boards of the St. James's Theatre.
Braham and Parry and Hullah winged with melody the words of "The Village
Coquettes;" while the quaint humour of Harley excited roars of laughter
through the whimsicalities of "Is She His Wife?" and "The Strange
Gentleman." Trifles light as air though these effusions might be, the
radiant bubbles showed even then, as by a casual freak which way with
him the breeze in his leisure hours was drifting. A dozen years or more
after this came the private theatricals at Tavistock House. Beginning
simply, first of all, with his direction of his children's frolics in
the enacting of a burletta, of a Cracker Bonbon for Christmas, and of
one of Planché's charming fairy extravaganzas, these led up in the
end through what must be called circuitously Dickens's emendations
of O'Hara's version of Fielding's burlesque of "Tom Thumb," to
the manifestation of the novelist's remarkable genius for dramatic
impersonation: first of all, as Aaron Gurnock in Wilkie Collins's
"Lighthouse," and afterwards as Richard War dour in the same author's
"Frozen Deep." Already he had achieved success, some years earlier,
as an amateur performer in characters not essentially his own, as,
for example, in the representation of the senile blandness of Justice
Shallow, or of the gasconading humours of Captain Bobadil. Just, as
afterwards, in furtherance of the interests of the Guild of Literature
and Art, he impersonated Lord Wilmot in Lytton's comedy of "Not so
Bad as we Seem," and represented in a series of wonderfully rapid
transformations the protean person of Mr. Gabblewig, through the
medium of a delightful farce called "Mr. Nightingale's Diary." Whoever
witnessed Dickens's impersonation of Mr. Gabblewig, will remember that
it included a whole cluster of grotesque creations of his own. Among
these there was a stone-deaf old man, who, whenever he was shouted at,
used to sigh out resignedly, "Ah, it's no use your whispering!" Besides
whom there was a garrulous old lady, in herself the worthy double of
Mrs. Gamp; a sort of half-brother to Sam Weller; and an alternately
shrieking and apologetic valetudinarian, who was, perhaps, the most
whimsical of them all. Nothing more, however, need here be said in
regard to Charles Dickens's share, either in these performances for the
Guild or in the other strictly private theatricals. They are simply here
referred to, as having prepared the way by practice, for the Readings,
still so called, though, in all save costume and general _mis en
scene_, they were from first to last essentially and intensely dramatic

Readings of this character, it is curious to reflect for a moment,
resemble somewhat in the simplicity of their surroundings the habitual
stage arrangements of the days of Shakspere. The arena, in each
instance, might be described accurately enough as a platform, draped
with screens and hangings of cloth or of green baize. The principal
difference, in point of fact, between the two would be apparent in this,
that whereas, in the one case any reasonable number of performers might
be grouped together simultaneously, in the other there would remain
from first to last before the audience but one solitary performer.
He, however, as a mere matter of course, by the very necessity of his
position, would have to be regarded throughout as though he were a noun
of multitude signifying many. Slashed doublets and trunk hose, might
just possibly be deemed by some more picturesque, if not in outline, at
least in colour and material, than the evening costume of now-a-days.
But, apart from this, whatever would meet the gaze of the spectator
in either instance would bear the like aspect of familiarity or of
incongruity, in contrast to or in association with, the characters
represented at the moment before actual contemporaries. These later
performances partake, of course, in some sense of the nature of a
monologue. Besides which, they involve the display of a desk and a book
instead of the almost ludicrous exhibition of a board inscribed, as
the case might be, "Syracuse" or "Verona." Apart from this, however,
a modern reading is, in the very nature of it, like a reverting to
the primitive simplicity of the stage, when the stage, in its social
influences, was at its highest and noblest, when, for the matter of
that, it was all but paramount. Given genius in the author and in the
impersonator, and that very simplicity has its enormous advantages.

The greatest of all the law-givers of art in this later civilisation
has more than merely hinted at what is here maintained. Goethe has said
emphatically, in Wilhelm Meister, that a really good actor makes us
soon enough forget the awkwardness, even the meanness, of trumpery
decorations; whereas, he continues, a magnificent theatre is precisely
the very thing that makes us feel the most keenly the want of actors of
real excellence. How wisely in this Goethe, according to his wont, has
spoken, we all of us, here in England, know by our own experience. Of
the truth of his opinion we have had in this country, of late years,
more than one startling illustration. Archaeological knowledge,
scenic illusion, gorgeous upholstery, sumptuous costumes, have, in the
remembrance of many, been squandered in profusion upon the boards of
one of our London theatres in the getting up of a drama by the
master-dramatist. All this has tended, however, only to realise the more
painfully the inadequacy of the powers, no less of the leading star than
of his whole company, to undertake the interpretation of the dramatic
masterpiece. The spectacle which we are viewing in such an instance is,
no doubt, resplendent; but it is so purely as a spectacle. Everything
witnessed is--

     "So coldly sweet, so deadly fair,
     We start, for soul is wanting there."

The result naturally is, that the public is disillusioned and that the
management is bankrupt. Another strikingly-contrasted experience of
the present generation is this, that, without any decorations whatever,
enormous audiences have been assembled together, in the old world and
in the new, upon every occasion upon which they have been afforded the
opportunity, to hear a story related by the lips of the writer of it.
And they have been so assembled not simply because the story itself
(every word of it known perfectly well beforehand) was worth hearing
again, or because there was a very natural curiosity to behold the
famous author by whom it had been penned; but, above all, because his
voice, his glance, his features, his every movement, his whole person,
gave to his thoughts and his emotions, whether for tears or for
laughter, the most vivid interpretation.

How it happened, in this instance, that a writer of celebrity like
Charles Dickens became a reader of his own works before large public
audiences may be readily explained. Before his first appearance in
that character professionally--that is, as a public reader, on his own
account--he had enjoyed more than twenty years of unexampled popularity
as a novelist. During that period he had not only securely established
his reputation in authorship, but had evidenced repeatedly, at intervals
during the later portion of it, histrionic powers hardly less remarkable
in their way than those gifts which had previously won for him his
wholly exceptional fame as a writer of imagination.

Among his personal intimates, among all those who knew him best, it had
long come to be recognised that his skill as an impersonator was only
second to his genius as a creator of humorous and pathetic character.
His success in each capacity sprang from his intense sympathy and his
equally intense earnestness. Whatever with him was worth doing at all,
was worth doing thoroughly. Anything he undertook, no matter what, he
went in at, according to the good old sea phrase, with a will. He always
endeavoured to accomplish whatever had to be accomplished as well as it
could possibly be effected within the reach of his capabilities. Whether
it were pastime or whether it were serious business, having once taken
anything in hand, he applied to it the whole of his energies. Hence,
as an amateur actor, he was simply unapproachable. He passed, in fact,
beyond the range of mere amateurs, and was brought into contrast by
right, with the most gifted professionals among his contemporaries.
Hence, again, as an after-dinner speaker, he was nothing less than
incomparable. "He spoke so well," Anthony Trollope has remarked, "that
a public dinner became a blessing instead of a curse if he were in the
chair--had its compensating twenty minutes of pleasure, even if he were
called upon to propose a toast or thank the company for drinking his
health." He did nothing by halves, but everything completely. How
completely he gave himself up to the delivery of a speech or of a
reading, Mr. Arthur Helps has summed up in less than a dozen words of
singular emphasis. That keen observer has said, indeed quite truly, of
Dickens,--"When he read or spoke, the whole man read or spoke." It
was thus with him repeatedly, and always delightfully, in mere chance
conversation. An incident related by him often became upon the instant a
little acted drama. His mimetic powers were in many respects marvellous.
In voice, in countenance, in carriage, almost, it might be said, at
moments, in stature, he seemed to be a Proteus.

According to a curious account which has been happily preserved for us
in the memoirs of the greatest reader of the last century, Henderson
first of all exhibited his elocutionary skill by reciting (it was
at Islington) an Ode on Shakspere. So exactly did he deliver this in
Garrick's manner, that the acutest ear failed to distinguish the one
from the other. One of those present declared, years afterwards, that he
was certain the speaker _must be_ either Garrick or Antichrist.

Imitative powers not one iota less extraordinary in their way were, at
any moment, seemingly, at the command of the subject of this memorial.
In one or two instances that might be named the assumption was all
but identity. An aptitude of this particular kind, as everyone can
appreciate upon the instant, would by necessity come wonderfully in aid
of the illusive effect produced by readings that were in point of fact
the mere vehicle or medium for a whole crowd of vivid impersonations.
Anyone, moreover, possessing gifts like these, of a very peculiar
description, not only naturally but inevitably enjoys himself every
opportunity that may arise for displaying them to those about him,
to his friends and intimates. "Man is of a companionable, conversing
nature," says Goethe in his novel of The Renunciants, "his delight is
great when he exercises faculties that have been given him, even though
nothing further came of it." Seeing that something further readily did
come of it in the instance of Charles Dickens, it can hardly be matter
for surprise that the readings and impersonations which were first of
all a home delight, should at length quite naturally have opened up
before the popular author what was for him an entirely new, but at the
same time a perfectly legitimate, career professionally.

Recitations or readings of his own works in public by a great writer
are, in point of fact, as old as literature itself. They date back to
the very origin of polite letters, both prose and poetic. It matters
nothing whether there was one Homer, or whether there may have been a
score of Homers, so far as the fact of oral publication applies to
the Iliad and the Odyssey, nearly a thousand years (900) before the
foundation of Christianity. By the lips of a single bard, or of a series
of bards, otherwise of public declaimers or reciters, the world was
first familiarised with the many enthralling tales strung together in
those peerless masterpieces. Again, at a period of very nearly five
hundred years (484) before the epoch of the Redemption, the Father of
History came to lay the foundation, as it were, of the whole fabric
of prose literature in a precisely similar manner--that is to say, by
public readings or recitations. In point of fact, the instance there is
more directly akin to the present argument. A musical cadence, or even
possibly an instrumental accompaniment, may have marked the Homeric
chant about Achilles and Ulysses. Whereas, obviously, in regard to
Herodotus, the readings given by him at the Olympic games were readings
in the modern sense, pure and simple. Lucian has related the incident,
not only succinctly, but picturesquely.

Herodotus, then in his fiftieth year, reflected for a long while
seriously how he might, with the least trouble and in the shortest time,
win for himself and his writings a large amount of glory and reputation.
Shrinking from the fatigue involved in the labour of visiting
successively one after another the chief cities of the Athenians, the
Corinthians, and the Lacedæmonians, he ingeniously hit upon the notion
of appearing in person at the Olympian Games, and of there addressing
himself simultaneously to the very pick and flower of the whole Greek
population. Providing himself beforehand with the choicest portions or
select passages from his great narrative, he there read or declaimed
those fragments of his History to the assembled multitude from the stage
or platform of the theatre. And he did this, moreover, with such an
evident captivation about him, not only in the style of his composition,
but in the very manner of its delivery, that the applause of his hearers
interrupted him repeatedly--the close of these recitations by the great
author-reader being greeted with prolonged and resounding acclamations.
Nay, not only are these particulars related as to the First Reading
recorded as having been given by a Great Author, but, further than that,
there is the charming incident described of Thucydides, then a boy
of fifteen, listening entranced among the audience to the heroic
occurrences recounted by the sonorous and impassioned voice of the
annalist, and at the climax of it all bursting into tears. Lucian's
comment upon that earliest Reading might, with a change of names,
be applied almost word for word to the very latest of these kinds of
intellectual exhibitions. "None were ignorant," he says, "of the name
of Herodotus; nor was there a single person in Greece who had not either
seen him at the Olympics, or heard those speak of him that came from
thence: so that in what place soever he came the inhabitants pointed
with their finger, saying 'This is that Herodotus who has written the
Persian Wars in the Ionic dialect, this is he who has celebrated our
victories.' Thus the harvest which he reaped from his histories was, the
receiving in one assembly the general applause of all Greece, and the
sounding his fame, not only in one place and by a single trumpet, but
by as many mouths as there had been spectators in that assembly."
As recently as within these last two centuries, indeed, both in the
development of the career of Molière and in the writing of his biography
by Voltaire, the whole question as to the propriety of a great author
becoming the public interpreter of his own imaginings has been, not only
discussed, but defined with precision and in the end authoritatively
proclaimed. Voltaire, in truth, has significantly remarked, in his
"Vie de Molière," when referring to Poquelin's determination to become
Comedian as well as Dramatist, that among the Athenians, as is perfectly
well known, authors not only frequently performed in their own dramatic
productions, but that none of them ever felt dishonoured by speaking
gracefully in the presence and hearing of their fellow-citizens.{*}

     * "On sait que chez les Athéniens, les auteurs jouaient
     souvent dans leurs pieces, et qu'ils n'etoient point
     déshonorés pour parler avec grace devant leurs concitoyens."

In arriving at this decision, however, it will be remarked that one
simple but important proviso or condition is indicated--not to be
dishonoured they must speak with grace, that is, effectively. Whenever
an author can do this, the fact is proclaimed by the public themselves.
Does he lack the dramatic faculty, is he wanting in elocutionary skill,
is his deliver dull, are his features inexpressive, is his manner
tedious, are his readings marked only by their general tameness and
mediocrity, be sure of this, he will speedily find himself talking only
to empty benches, his enterprise will cease and determine, his name will
no longer prove an attraction. Abortive adventures of this kind have in
our own time been witnessed.

With Charles Dickens's Readings it was entirely different. Attracting
to themselves at the outset, by the mere glamour of his name, enormous
audiences, they not only maintained their original _prestige_ during
a long series of years--during an interval of fifteen years
altogether--but the audiences brought together by them, instead of
showing any signs of diminution, very appreciably, on the contrary,
increased and multiplied. Crowds were turned away from the doors, who
were unable to obtain admittance. The last reading of all collected
together the largest audience that has ever been assembled, that ever
can by possibility be assembled for purely reading purposes, within
the walls of St. James's Hall, Piccadilly. Densely packed from floor
to ceiling, these audiences were habitually wont to hang in breathless
expectation upon every inflection of the author-reader's voice, upon
every glance of his eye,--the words he was about to speak being so
thoroughly well remembered by the majority before their utterance that,
often, the rippling of a smile over a thousand faces simultaneously
anticipated the laughter which an instant afterwards greeted the words
themselves when they were articulated.

Altogether, from first to last, there must have been considerably more
than Four Hundred--very nearly, indeed, Five Hundred--of these Readings,
each one among them in itself a memorable demonstration. Through their
delightful agency, at the very outset, largess was scattered broadcast,
abundantly, and with a wide open hand, among a great variety of
recipients, whose interests, turn by turn, were thus exclusively
subserved, at considerable labour to himself, during a period of several
years, by this large-hearted entertainer. Eventually the time
arrived when it became necessary to decide, whether an exhausting and
unremunerative task should be altogether abandoned, or whether readings
hitherto given solely for the benefit of others, should be thenceforth
adopted as a perfectly legitimate source of income for himself
professionally. The ball was at his feet: should it be rolled on, or
fastidiously turned aside by reason of certain fantastic notions as
to its derogating, in some inconceivable way, from the dignity of
authorship? That was the alternative in regard to which Dickens had to
decide, and upon which he at once, as became him, decided manfully. The
ball was rolled on, and, as it rolled, grew in bulk like a snowball. It
accumulated for him, as it advanced, and that too within a wonderfully
brief interval, a very considerable fortune. It strengthened and
extended his already widely-diffused and intensely personal popularity.
By making him, thus, distinctly a Reader himself, it brought him face to
face with vast multitudes of his own readers in the Old World and in the
New, in all parts of the United Kingdom, and at last, upon the occasion
of his second visit to America, an expedition adventured upon expressly
to that end, in all parts of the United States.

And these Readings were throughout so conspicuously and so radiantly a
success, that even in the recollection of them, now that they are
things of the past, it may be said that they have already beneficially
influenced, and are still perceptibly advancing, the wider and keener
appreciation of the writings themselves. In its gyrations the ball then
rolling at the Beader's foot imparted a momentum to one far nobler
and more lasting--that of the Novelist's reputation, one that in its
movement gives no sign of slackening--"labitur et labetur in omne
volubilis sevum."

[Illustration: reading-page.jpg]

The long continuance of the remarkable success attendant upon the
Readings all through, is only to be explained by the extraordinary care
and earnestness the Reader lavished continuously upon his task when
once it had been undertaken. In this he was only in another phase of his
career, consistently true to the one simple rule adopted by him as an
artist throughout. What that rule was anyone might see at a glance on
turning over the leaves of one of his books, it matters not which, in
the original manuscript. There, the countless alterations, erasures,
interpolations, transpositions, interlineations, shew plainly enough the
minute and conscientious thought devoted to the perfecting, so far as
might be in any way possible, of the work of composition. What reads so
unaffectedly and so felicitously, it is then seen, is but the result of
exquisite consideration. It is Sheridan's whimsical line which declares

     "Easy writing's cursed hard reading."

And it is Pope who summarizes the method by which not "easy writing"
but "ease in writing" is arrived at, where it is said of those who have
acquired a mastery of the craft,--

"They polish all with so much life and ease, You think 'tis nature and
a knack to please: But ease in writing flows from art, not chance; As
those move easiest who have learn'd to dance."

Precisely the same elaboration of care, which all through his career was
dedicated by Charles Dickens to the most delightful labour of his life,
that of writing, was accorded by him to the lesser but still eminently
intellectual toil of preparing his Readings for representation. It was
not by any means that, having written a story years previously, he had,
in his new capacity as a reciter, merely to select two or three chapters
from it, and read them off with an air of animation. Virtually, the
fragmentary portions thus taken from his larger works were re-written
by him, with countless elisions and eliminations after having been
selected. Reprinted in their new shape, each as "A Reading," they were
then touched and retouched by their author, pen in hand, until, at the
end of a long succession of revisions, the pages came to be cobwebbed
over with a wonderfully intricate network of blots and lines in the way
of correction or of obliteration. Several of the leaves in this way,
what with the black letter-press on the white paper, being scored out or
interwoven with a tracery in red ink and blue ink alternately, present
to view a curiously parti-coloured or tesselated appearance. As a
specimen page, however, will afford a more vivid illustration upon
the instant of what is referred to, than could be conveyed by any mere
verbal description, a fac-simile is here introduced of a single page
taken from the "Reading of Little Dombey."

Whatever thought was lavished thus upon the composition of the Readings,
was lavished quite as unstintingly upon the manner of their delivery.
Thoroughly natural, impulsive, and seemingly artless, though that manner
always appeared at the moment, it is due to the Reader as an artist to
assert that it was throughout the result of a scarcely credible amount
of forethought and preparation. It is thus invariably indeed with every
great proficient in the histrionic art, even with those who are quite
erroneously supposed by the outer public to trust nearly everything
to the momentary impulses of genius, and who are therefore presumed to
disdain anything whatever in the way either of forethought or of actual
preparation by rehearsal.

According to what is, even down to this present day, very generally
conjectured, Edmund Kean, one of the greatest tragedians who ever trod
the stage, is popularly imagined to have always played simply, as might
be said, hap-hazard, trusting himself to the spur of the moment for
throwing himself into a part passionately;--the fact being exactly the
reverse in his regard, according to the earliest and most accurate
of his biographers. Erratic, fitful though the genius of Edmund Kean
unquestionably was--rendering him peerless as Othello, incomparable as
Overreach--we are told in Mr. Procter's life of him, that "he studied
long and anxiously," frequently until many hours after midnight.{*} No
matter what his occupations previously might have been, or how profound
his exhaustion through rehearsing in the forenoon, and performing in
the evening, and sharing in convivialities afterwards, Barry Cornwall
relates of him that he would often begin to study when his family had
retired for the night, practising in solitude, after he had transformed
his drawing-room into a stage in miniature.

     * Barry Cornwall's Life of Edmund Kean, Vol. II. p. 85

"Here," says his biographer, "with a dozen candles, some on the
floor, some on the table, and some on the chimney-piece, and near the
pier-glass, he would act scene after scene: considering the emphasis,
the modulation of the verse, and the fluctuations of the character with
the greatest care." And this, remember, has relation to one who was
presumably about the most spontaneous and impulsive actor who ever
flashed meteor-like across the boards of a theatre. Whoever has the soul
of an artist grudges no labour given to his art, be he reader or actor,
author or tragedian. Charles Dickens certainly spared none to his
Readings in his conscientious endeavour to give his own imaginings
visible and audible embodiment. The sincerity of his devotion to his
task, when once it had been taken in hand, was in its way something

Acting of all kinds has been pronounced by Mrs. Butler--herself in her
own good day a rarely accomplished reader and a fine tragic actress--"a
monstrous anomaly."{*}

     * Fanny Kemble's Journal, Vol. II. p. 130.

As illustrative of her meaning in which phrase, she then adds, "John
Kemble and Mrs. Siddons were always in earnest in what they were about;
Miss O'Neil used to cry bitterly in all her tragic parts; whilst Garrick
could be making faces and playing tricks in the middle of his finest
points, and Kean would talk gibberish while the people were in an uproar
of applause at his." Fanny Kemble further remarks: "In my own individual
instance, I know that sometimes I could turn every word I am saying into
burlesque,"--immediately observing here, in a reverential parenthesis
"(never Shakspere, by-the-bye)--and at others my heart aches and I cry
real, bitter, warm tears as earnestly as if I was in earnest." Reading
which last sentence, one might very safely predicate that in the one
instance, where she could turn her words into burlesque, she would be
certain to act but indifferently, whereas in the other, with the hot,
scalding tears running down her face, she could not by necessity do
otherwise than act to admiration.

So thorough and consistent throughout his reading career was the
sincerity of Dickens in his impersonations, that his words and looks,
his thoughts and emotions were never mere make-believes, but always, so
far as the most vigilant eye or the most sensitive ear could detect, had
their full and original significance.

With all respect for Miss O'Neil's emotion, and for that candidly
confessed to by Mrs. Butler, as having been occasionally evidenced by
herself, the true art, we should have said, subsists in the indication
and the repression, far rather than in the actual exhibition or
manifestation of the emotions that are to be represented. Better by far
than the familiar _si vis me flere_ axiom of Horace, who there tells
us, "If you would have me weep, you must first weep yourself," is the
sagacious comment on it in the _Tatler_, where (No. 68) the essayist
remarks, with subtle discrimination: "The true art seems to be when you
would have the person you represent pitied, you must show him at
once, in the highest grief, and struggling to bear it with decency and
patience. In this case," adds the writer, "we sigh for him, and give him
every groan he suppresses." As for the extravagant idea of any artist,
however great, identifying himself for the time being with the part he
is enacting, who is there that can wonder at the snort of indignation
with which Doctor Johnson, talking one day about acting, asked Mr.
Kemble, "Are you, sir, one of those enthusiasts who believe yourself
transformed into the very character you represent?" Kemble answering,
according to Boswell, that he had never himself felt so strong
a persuasion--"To be sure not, sir," says Johnson, "the thing is
impossible." Adding, with one of his dryly comical extravagances: "And
if Garrick really believed himself to be that monster Richard the Third,
he deserved to be hanged every time he performed it." What Dickens
himself really thought of these wilder affectations of intensity among
impersonators, is, with delicious humour, plainly enough indicated
through that preposterous reminiscence of Mr. Crummies, "We had a
first-tragedy man in our company once, who, when he played Othello, used
to black himself all over! But that's feeling a part, and going into it
as if you meant it; it isn't usual--more's the pity." Thoroughly
giving himself up to the representation of whatever character he was
endeavouring at the moment to portray, or rather to impersonate, Charles
Dickens so completely held his judgment the while in equipoise,
as master of his twofold craft--that is, both as creator and as
elocutionist, as author and as reader--that, as an invariable rule,
he betrayed neither of those signs of insincerity, by the inadvertent
revelation of which all sense of illusion is utterly and instantly

Whatever scenes he described, those scenes his hearers appeared to be
actually witnessing themselves. He realised everything in his own mind
so intensely, that listening to him we realised what he spoke of by
sympathy. Insomuch that one might, in his own words, say of him,
as David Copperfield says of Mr. Peggotty, when the latter has been
recounting little Emily's wanderings: "He saw everything he related. It
passed before him, as he spoke, so vividly, that, in the intensity
of his earnestness, he presented what he described to me with greater
distinctness than I can express. I can hardly believe--writing now long
afterwards--but that I was actually present in those scenes; they are
impressed upon me with such an astonishing air of fidelity." While,
on the one hand, he never repeated the words that had to be delivered
phlegmatically, or as by rote; on the other hand, he never permitted
voice, look, gesture, to pass the limits of discretion, even at moments
the most impassioned; as, for example, where Nancy, in the famous
murder-scene, shrieked forth her last gasping and despairing appeals to
her brutal paramour. The same thing may be remarked again in regard to
all the more tenderly pathetic of his delineations. His tones then were
often subdued almost to a whisper, every syllable, nevertheless, being
so distinctly articulated as to be audible in the remotest part of a
vast hall like that in Piccadilly.

Whatever may be insinuated in regard to those particular portions of the
writings of our great novelist by cynical depreciators, who have not
the heart to recognise--as did Lord Jeffrey, for instance, one of the
keenest and shrewdest critics of his age--the exquisite pathos of a
death-scene like that of little Nell or of little Paul Dombey, in the
utterance by himself of those familiar passages nothing but the manliest
emotion was visible and audible from first to last. Insomuch was this
the case, that the least impressionable of his hearers might readily
have echoed those noble words, written years ago, out of an overflowing
heart, in regard to Charles Dickens, by his great rival and his intense
admirer, W. M. Thackeray: "In those admirable touches of tender humour,
who ever equalled this great genius? There are little words and phrases
in his books which are like personal benefits to the reader. What a
place to hold in the affections of men! What an awful responsibility
hanging over a writer!" And so on, Thackeray saying all this! Thackeray
speaking thus in ejaculatory sentences indicative of his gratitude
and of his admiration! Passages that to men like William Thackeray and
Francis Jeffrey were expressive only of inimitable tenderness, might be
read dry-eyed by less keen appreciators, from the printed page, might
even be ludicrously depreciated by them as mere mawkish sentimentality.
But, even among these, there was hardly one who could hear those very
passages read by Dickens himself without recognising at last, what had
hitherto remained unperceived and unsuspected, the gracious and
pathetic beauty animating every thought and every word in the original
descriptions. Equally, it may be said, in the delineation of terror and
of pathos, in the murder-scene from Oliver Twist, and in the death-scene
of little Dombey, the novelist-reader attained success by the simple
fact of his never once exaggerating.

It has been well remarked by an eminent authority upon the art of
elocution, whose opinions have been already quoted in these pages, to
wit, John Ireland, that "There is a point to which the passions must
be raised to display that exhibition of them which scatters contagious
tenderness through the whole theatre, but carried, though but the
breadth of a hair, beyond that point, the picture becomes an overcharged
caricature, as likely to create laughter as diffuse distress." Never,
perhaps, has that subtle boundary-line been hit with more admirable
dexterity, just within the hair's breadth here indicated, than it was,
for example, in Macready's impersonation of Virginius, where his scream
in the camp-scene betrayed his instantaneous appreciation of the
wrong meditated by Appius Claudius against the virginal purity of his
daughter. As adroitly, in his way, as that great master of his
craft, who was for so many years among his most cherished friends and
intimates, Dickens kept within the indicated lines of demarcation,
beyond which no impersonator, whether upon the stage or upon the
platform, can ever pass for a single instant with impunity.

Speaking of Munden, in one of the most charming of his Essays, Charles
Lamb has said, "I have seen him diffuse a glow of sentiment which has
made the pulse of a crowded house beat like that of one man; when he has
come in aid of the pulpit, doing good to the moral heart of a people."
The words, applied thus emphatically to the humorous and often grotesque
comedian, are exactly applicable to Dickens as a Reader. And, as Elia
remarks of Munden at another moment, "he is not one, but legion; not so
much a comedian as a company"--any one might say identically the same
of Dickens, who bears in remembrance the wonderful variety of his

Attending his Readings, character after character appeared before
us, living and breathing, in the flesh, as we looked and listened. It
mattered nothing, just simply nothing, that the great author was there
all the while before his audience in his own identity. His evening
costume was a matter of no consideration--the flower in his button-hole,
the paper-knife in his hand, the book before him, that earnest,
animated, mobile, delightful face, that we all knew by heart through his
ubiquitous photographs--all were equally of no account whatever. We knew
that he alone was there all the time before us, reading, or, to speak
more accurately, re-creating for us, one and all--while his lips were
articulating the familiar words his hand had written so many years
previously--the most renowned of the imaginary creatures peopling
his books. Watching him, hearkening to him, while he stood there
unmistakably before his audience, on the raised platform, in the glare
of the gas-burners shining down upon him from behind the pendant
screen immediately above his head, his individuality, so to express it,
altogether disappeared, and we saw before us instead, just as the case
might happen to be, Mr. Pickwick, or Mrs. Gamp, or Dr. Marigold, or
little Paul Dombey, or Mr. Squeers, or Sam Weller, or Mr. Peggotty, or
some other of those immortal personages. We were as conscious, as though
we saw them, of the bald head, the spectacles, and the little gaiters
of Mr. Pickwick--of the snuffy tones, the immense umbrella, and the
voluminous bonnet and gown of Mrs. Gamp--of the belcher necktie, the
mother-of-pearl buttons and the coloured waistcoat of the voluble Cheap
Jack--of little Paul's sweet face and gentle accents--of the one eye and
the well-known pair of Wellingtons, adorning the head and legs of
Mr. Wackford Squeers--of Sam's imperturbable nonchalance--and of Mr.
Peggotty's hearty, briny, sou'-wester of a voice and general demeanour!

Even the lesser characters--those which are introduced into the original
works quite incidentally, occupying there a wholly subordinate
position, filling up a space in the crowded tableaux, always in the
background--were then at last brought to the fore in the course of these
Readings, and suddenly and for the first time assumed to themselves a
distinct importance and individuality. Take, for instance, the nameless
lodging-housekeeper's slavey, who assists at Bob Sawyer's party, and
who is described in the original work as "a dirty, slipshod girl, in
black cotton stockings, who might have passed for the neglected daughter
of a superannuated dustman in very reduced circumstances." No one had
ever realised the crass stupidity of that remarkable young person--dense
and impenetrable as a London fog--until her first introduction in these
Readings, with "Please, Mister Sawyer, Missis Raddle wants to speak
to _you!_"--the dull, dead-level of her voice ending in the last
monosyllable with a series of inflections almost amounting to a
chromatic passage. Mr. Justice Stareleigh, again!--nobody had ever
conceived the world of humorous suggestiveness underlying all the words
put into his mouth until the author's utterance of them came to the
readers of Pickwick with the surprise of a revelation. Jack Hopkins
in like manner--nobody, one might say, had ever dreamt of as he was in
Dickens's inimitably droll impersonation of him, until the lights and
shades of the finished picture were first of all brought out by the
Reading. Jack Hopkins!--with the short, sharp, quick articulation,
rather stiff in the neck, with a dryly comic look just under the
eyelids, with a scarcely expressible relish of his own for every detail
of that wonderful story of his about the "neckluss," an absolute and
implicit reliance upon Mr. Pickwick's gullibility, and an inborn and
ineradicable passion for chorusing.

As with the characters, so with the descriptions. One was life itself,
the other was not simply word-painting, but realisation. There was the
Great Storm at Yarmouth, for example, at the close of David Copperfield.
Listening to that Reading, the very portents of the coming tempest came
before us!--the flying clouds in wild and murky confusion, the moon
apparently plunging headlong among them, "as if, in a dread disturbance
of the laws of nature, she had lost her way and were frightened," the
wind rising "with an extraordinary great sound," the sweeping gusts of
rain coming before it "like showers of steel," and at last, down upon
the shore and by the surf among the turmoil of the blinding wind, the
flying stones and sand, "the tremendous sea itself," that came rolling
in with an awful noise absolutely confounding to the beholder! In
all fiction there is no grander description than that of one of the
sublimest spectacles in nature. The merest fragments of it conjured up
the entire scene--aided as those fragments were by the look, the tones,
the whole manner of the Reader. The listener was there with him in
imagination upon the beach, beside David. He was there, lashed and
saturated with the salt spray, the briny taste of it on his lips, the
roar and tumult in his ears--the height to which the breakers rose,
and, looking over one another bore one another down and rolled in, in
interminable hosts, becoming at last, as it is written in that wonderful
chapter (55) of David Copperfield, "most appalling!" There, in truth,
the success achieved was more than an elocutionary triumph--it was the
realisation to his hearers, by one who had the soul of a poet, and the
gifts of an orator, and the genius of a great and vividly imaginative
author, of a convulsion of nature when nature bears an aspect the
grandest and the most astounding. However much a masterly description,
like that of the Great Storm at Yarmouth, may be admired henceforth by
those who never had the opportunity of attending these Readings, one
might surely say to them, as Æschines said to the Rhodians, when they
were applauding the speech of his victorious rival: "How much greater
would have been your admiration if only you could have heard him deliver


How it happened that Charles Dickens came to give any readings at
all from his own writings has already, in the preceding pages, been
explained. What is here intended to be done is to put on record, as
simply and as accurately as possible, the facts relating to the labours
gone through by the Novelist in his professional character as a Public
Reader. It will be then seen, immediately those facts have come to
be examined in their chronological order, that they were sufficiently
remarkable in many respects, as an episode in the life of a great
author, to justify their being chronicled in some way or other, if only
as constituting in their aggregate a wholly unexampled incident in the
history of literature.

No writer, it may be confidently asserted, has ever enjoyed a wider
popularity during his own life-time than Charles Dickens; or rather it
might be said more accurately, no writer has ever enjoyed _so_ wide
a popularity among his own immediate contemporaries. And it was a
popularity in many ways exceptional.

It knew no fluctuation. It lasted without fading or faltering during
thirty-four years altogether, that is to say, throughout the whole of
Dickens's career as a novelist. It began with his very first book, when,
as Thackeray put it, "the young man came and took his place calmly at
the head of the whole tribe, as the master of all the English humorists
of his generation." It showed no sign whatever of abatement, when, in
the middle of writing his last book, the pen fell from his hand on that
bright summer's day, and through his death a pang of grief was brought
home to millions of English-speaking people in both hemispheres. For
his popularity had, among other distinctive characteristics, certainly
this,--it was so peculiarly personal a popularity, his name being
endeared to the vast majority who read his books with nothing less than
affectionate admiration.

Besides all this, it was his privilege throughout the whole of his
literary career to address not one class, or two or three classes, but
all classes of the reading public indiscriminately--the most highly
educated and the least educated, young and old, rich and poor. His
writings obtained the widest circulation, of course, among those who
were the most numerous, such as among the middle classes and the better
portion of the artisan population, but they found at the same time the
keenest and cordialest appreciation among those who were necessarily the
best qualified to pronounce an opinion upon their merits, among critics
as gifted as Jeffrey and Sydney Smith, and among rivals as-illustrious
as Lytton and Thackeray. It seems appropriate, therefore, that we should
be enabled to add now, in regard to the possession of this exceptional
reputation, and of a popularity in itself so instant, sustained,
personal, and comprehensive, that, thanks entirely to these Readings,
he was brought into more intimate relations individually with a
considerable portion at least of the vast circle of his own readers,
than have ever been established between any other author who could be
named and _his_ readers, since literature became a profession.

Strictly speaking, the very first Reading given by Charles Dickens
anywhere, even privately, was that which took place in the midst of a
little home-group, assembled one evening in 1843, for the purpose of
hearing the "Christmas Carol," prior to its publication, read by him
in the Lincoln's-Inn Square Chambers of the intimate friend to whom,
eighteen years afterwards, was inscribed, as "of right," the Library
Edition of all the Novelist's works collectively. Thus unwittingly,
and as it seems to us not unbefittingly, was rehearsed on the hearth of
Dickens's future biographer, the first of the long series of Readings,
afterwards to be given very publicly indeed, and to vast multitudes of
people on both sides of the Atlantic.

As nearly as possible ten years after this, the public Readings
commenced, and during the five next years were continued, though they
were so but very intermittingly. Throughout that interval they were
invariably given for the benefit of others, the proceeds of each
Reading being applied to some generous purpose, the nature of which
was previously announced. It was in the Town Hall at Birmingham, that
immediately before the Christmas of 1853, the first of all these public
Readings took place in the presence of an audience numbering fully two
thousand. About a year before that, the Novelist had pledged himself to
give this reading, or rather a series of three readings, for the purpose
of increasing the funds of a new Literary and Scientific Institution
then projected in Birmingham. On Thursday, the 6th of January, 1853,
a silver-gilt salver and a diamond ring, accompanied by an address,
expressive of the admiration of the subscribers to the testimonial, had
been publicly presented in that town to the popular author, at the rooms
of the Society of Arts in Temple Row. The kind of feeling inspiring this
little incident may be recognised through the inscription on the salver,
which intimated that it, "together with a diamond ring, was presented to
Charles Dickens, Esq., by a number of his admirers in Birmingham, on the
occasion of the literary and artistic banquet in that town, on the 6th
of January, 1853, as a sincere testimony of their appreciation of his
varied literary acquirements, and of the genial philosophy and high
moral teaching which characterise his writings." It was upon the morrow
of the banquet referred to in this inscription, a banquet which
took place at Dee's Hotel immediately after the presentation of the
testimonial to the Novelist, that the latter generously proposed to give
later on some public Readings from his own books, in furtherance of the
newly meditated Birmingham and Midland Institute.

The proposition, in fact, was thrown out, gracefully and almost
apologetically, in a letter, addressed by him to Mr. Arthur Ryland on
the following day, the 7th of January. In this singularly interesting
communication, which was read by its recipient on the ensuing Monday, at
a meeting convened in the theatre of the Philosophical Institution, not
only did Charles Dickens offer to read his "Christmas Carol" some time
during the course of the next Christmas, in the Town Hall at Birmingham,
but referring to the complete novelty of his proposal, he thus plainly
intimated that the occasion would constitute his very first appearance
upon any public platform as a Reader, while explaining, at the same
time, the precise nature of the suggested entertainment. "It would,"
he said, "take about two hours, with a pause of ten minutes half-way
through. There would be some novelty in the thing, as I have never done
it in public, though I have in private, and (if I may say so) with
a great effect on the hearers." He further remarked, "I was so
inexpressibly gratified last night by the warmth and enthusiasm of my
Birmingham friends, that I feel half ashamed this morning of so poor
an offer: but as I decided on making it to you before I came down
yesterday, I propose it nevertheless." As a matter of course the
proposition was gratefully accepted, the Novelist formally undertaking
to give the proffered Readings in the ensuing Christmas. This promise,
before the year was out, Dickens returned from abroad expressly to
fulfil--hastening homeward to that end, after a brief autumnal excursion
in Italy and Switzerland with two of his friends, the late Augustus Egg,
R. A., and Wilkie Collins, the novelist. On the arrival of the three
in Paris, they were there joined by Charles Dickens's eldest son, who,
having passed through his course at Eton, had just then been completing
his scholastic education at Leipsic. The party thus increased to a
_partie carrée_, hastened homewards more hurriedly than would otherwise
have been necessary, so as to enable the author punctually to fulfil his
long-standing engagement.

It was on Tuesday, the 27th of December, 1853, therefore, that the very
first of these famous Readings came off in the Town Hall at Birmingham.
The weather was wretched, but the hall was crowded, and the audience
enthusiastic. The Reading, which was the "Christmas Carol," extended
over more than three hours altogether, showing how very little of
the original story the then unpractised hand of the Reader had as
yet eliminated. Notwithstanding the length of the entertainment, the
unflagging interest, more even than the hearty and reiterated applause
of those who were assembled, showed the lively sense the author's
first audience had of his newly-revealed powers as a narrator and
impersonator. On the next day but one, Thursday, the 29th of December,
he read there, to an equally large concourse, the "Cricket on the
Hearth." Upon the following evening, Friday, the 30th of December, he
repeated the "Carol" to another densely packed throng of listeners,
mainly composed, this time, according to his own express stipulation, of
workpeople. So delighted were these unsophisticated hearers with their
entertainer--himself so long familiarly known to them, but then for the
first time seen and heard--that, at the end of the Reading, they greeted
him with repeated rounds of cheering.

Those three Readings at Birmingham added considerably to the funds of
the Institute, enhancing them at least to the extent of £400 sterling.
In recognition of the good service thus effectively and delightfully
rendered to a local institution, to the presidency of which Charles
Dickens himself was unanimously elected, an exquisitely designed silver
flower-basket was afterwards presented to the novelist's wife. This
graceful souvenir had engraved upon it the following inscription:
"Presented to Mrs. Charles Dickens by the Committee of the Birmingham
and Midland Institute, as a slight acknowledgment of the debt of
gratitude due to her husband, for his generous liberality in reading
the 'Christmas Carol,' and the 'Cricket on the Hearth,' to nearly
six thousand persons, in the Town Hall, Birmingham, on the nights-of
December 27, 29, and 30, 1853, in aid of the funds for the establishment
of the Institute." The incident of these three highly successful
Readings entailed upon the Reader, as events proved, an enormous amount
of toil, none of which, however, did he ever grudge, in affording the
like good service to others, at uncertain intervals, in all parts,
sometimes the remotest parts, of the United Kingdom.

It would be beside our present purpose to catalogue, one after another,
the various Readings given in this-way by the Novelist, before he was
driven to the necessity at last of either giving up reading altogether,
or coming to the determination to adopt it, as he then himself expressed
it, as one of his recognised occupations; that is, by becoming a Reader
professionally.. It is with his career in his professional capacity as
a Reader that we have here to do. Until he had formally and avowedly
assumed that position, his labours in this way were, as a matter of
course, in no respect whatever systematised. They were uncertain, and in
one sense, as the sequel shewed, purely tentative or preliminary. They
yielded a world of delight, however, and did a world of good at the
same time; while they were, unconsciously to himself, preparing the way
effectually--that is, by ripening his powers and perfecting his skill
through practice--for the opening up to himself, quite legitimately,
of a new phase in his career as a man of letters. Previously, again
and again, with the pen in his hand, he had proved himself to be the
master-humorist of his time. He was now vividly to attest that fact
by word of mouth, by the glance of his eye, by the application to the
reading of his own books, of his exceptional mimetic and histrionic
gifts as an elocutionist. Added to all this, by merely observing how
readily he could pour through the proceeds of these purely benevolent
Readings, princely largess into the coffers of charities or of
institutions in which he happened to be interested, he was to realise,
what must otherwise have remained for him wholly unsuspected, that he
had, so to speak, but to stretch forth his hand to grasp a fortune.

During the lapse of five years all this was at first very gradually, but
at last quite irresistibly, brought home to his conviction. A few of the
Readings thus given by him, out of motives of kindliness or generosity,
may here, in passing, be particularised.

A considerable time after the three Readings just mentioned, and which
were distinctly inaugurative of the whole of our author's reading
career, there was one, which came off in Peterborough, that has not
only been erroneously described as antecedent to those three Readings at
Birmingham, but has been depicted, at the same time, with details in
the account of it of the most preposterous character. The Reader, for
example, has been portrayed,--in this purely apocryphal description of
what throughout it is always referred to as though it were the first
Reading of all, which it certainly was not,--as in a highly nervous
state from the commencement of it to its conclusion! This bemg said of
one who, when asked if he ever felt nervous while speaking in public, is
known to have replied, "Not in the least "--adding, that "when first he
took the chair he felt as much confidence as though he had already done
the like a hundred times!" As corroborative of which remark, the present
writer recalls to recollection very clearly the fact of Dickens saying
to him one day,--saying it with a most whimsical air by-the-bye,
but very earnestly,--"Once, and but once only in my life, I
was--frightened!" The occasion he referred to was simply this, as he
immediately went on to explain, that somewhere about the middle of
the serial publication of David Copperfield, happening to be out of
writing-paper, he sallied forth one morning to get a fresh supply at the
stationer's. He was living then in his favourite haunt, at Fort House,
in Broadstairs. As he was about to enter the stationer's shop, with
the intention of buying the needful writing-paper, for the purpose
of returning home with it, and at once setting to work upon his next
number, not one word of which was yet written, he stood aside for a
moment at the threshold to allow a lady to pass in before him. He
then went on to relate--with a vivid sense still upon him of mingled
enjoyment and dismay in the mere recollection--how the next instant he
had overheard this strange lady asking the person behind the counter for
the new green number. When it was handed to her, "Oh, this," said she,
"I have read. I want the next one." The next one she was thereupon told
would be out by the end of the month. "Listening to this, unrecognised,"
he added, in conclusion, "knowing the purpose for which I was there, and
remembering that not one word of the number she was asking for was yet
written, for the first and only time in my life, I felt--frightened!"
So much for the circumstantial account put forth of this Reading at
Peterborough, and of the purely imaginary nervousness displayed by
the Reader, who, on the contrary, there, as elsewhere, was throughout
perfectly self-possessed.

On Saturday, the 22nd December, 1855, in the Mechanics' Hall at
Sheffield, another of these Readings was given, it being the "Carol," as
usual, and the proceeds being in aid of the funds of that institution.
The Mayor of Sheffield, who presided upon the occasion, at the close of
the proceedings, presented to the author, as a suitable testimonial
from a number of his admirers in that locality, a complete set of table

An occasional Reading, moreover, was given at Chatham, to assist in
defraying the expenses of the Chatham, Rochester, Strood, and Brompton
Mechanics' Institution, of which the master of Gadshill was for thirteen
years the President. His titular or official connection with this
institute, in effect, was that of Perpetual President. His interest in
it in that character ceased only with his life. Throughout the whole of
the thirteen years during which he presided over its fortunes, he was
in every imaginable way its most effective and energetic supporter. Six
Readings in all were given by him at the Chatham Mechanics' Institution,
in aid of its funds. The first, which was the "Christmas Carol," took
place on the 27th December, 1857, the new Lecture Hall, which was
appropriately decorated with evergreens and brilliantly illuminated,
being crowded with auditors, conspicuous among whom were the officers of
the neighbouring garrison and dockyard. The second, which consisted of
"Little Dombey" and "The Trial Scene from Pickwick," came off on the
29th December, 1858. Long before any arrangement had been definitively
made in regard to this second Reading, the local newspaper, in an
apparently authoritative paragraph, announced, "on the best authority,"
that another Reading-was immediately to be given, by Mr. Dickens, in
behalf of the Mechanics' Institution. It is characteristic of him that
he, thereupon, wrote to the Chatham newspaper, "I know nothing of your
'best authority,' except that he is (as he always is) preposterously
and monstrously wrong." Eventually this Reading was arranged for,
nevertheless, and came off at the date already mentioned. A third
Reading at Chatham, comprising within it "The Poor Traveller" (the
opening of which had a peculiar local interest),"Boots" at
the "Holly Tree Inn," and "Mrs. Gamp," took place in 1860, on the 18th
December. A fourth was given there on the 16th January, 1862, when the
Novelist read his six selected chapters from "David Copperfield." A
fifth, consisting of "Nicholas Nickleby at Dotheboys Hall," and "Mr.
Bob Sawyer's-Party," took place in 1863, on the 15th December. Finally,
there came off the sixth of these Chatham readings, on the 19th
December, 1865, when the "Carol" was repeated, with the addition of the
great case of "Bardell versus Pickwick." Upwards of £400 were thus, as
the fruit of these exhilarating entertainments, poured into the coffers
of the Chatham Institute. It can hardly be wondered at that, in the
annual reports issued by the committee, emphatic expression should have
been more than once given to the deep sense of gratitude entertained
by them for the services rendered to the institution by its illustrious
president-A fragmentary portion of that issued by the committee in
the January of 1864--referring, as it does, to-Charles Dickens, in
association with his home and his favourite haunts down at Gadshill--we
are here tempted to give, as indicative of the feelings of pride and
admiration with which the great author was regarded by his own
immediate neighbours. After referring to the large sums realised for the
institution through the Readings thus generously given by its president,
the committee went on to say in this report, at the beginning of 1864,
"Simply to have the name of one whose writings have become household
words at every home and hearth where the English language is spoken,
associated with their efforts for the public entertainment and
improvement, must be considered a great honour and advantage. But, when
to this is added the large pecuniary assistance derived from such a
connection, your committee find that they--and, of course, the members
whom they represent--owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Dickens, which words
can but poorly express. They trust that the home which he now occupies
in the midst of the beautiful woodlands of Kent, and so near to the
scene of his boyish memories and associations, may long be to him one of
happiness and prosperity. If Shakspere, our greatest national poet, had
before made Gadshill a classic spot, surely it is now doubly consecrated
by genius since Dickens, the greatest and most genial of modern
humorists, as well as one of the most powerful and pathetic delineators
of human character, has fixed his residence there. To those who have so
often and so lately been moved to laughter and tears by the humour and
pathos of the inimitable writer and reader, and who have profited by his
gratuitous services to the institution, your committee feel that
they need make no apology for dwelling at some length upon this most
agreeable part of their report." Thus profound were the feelings of
respect, affection, and admiration with which the master-humorist was
regarded by those who lived, and who were proud of living, in his own
immediate neighbourhood.

On the evening of Tuesday, the 30th June, 1857, Charles Dickens read for
the first time in London, at the then St. Martin's Hall, now the Queen's
Theatre, in Long Acre. The occasion was one, in many respects, of
peculiar interest. As recently as on the 8th of that month, Douglas
Jerrold had breathed his last, quite unexpectedly. Dying in the fulness
of his powers, and at little more than fifty years of age, he had passed
away, it was felt, prematurely. As a tribute of affection to his memory,
and of sympathy towards his widow and orphan children, those among his
brother authors who had been more intimately associated with him in his
literary career, organised, in the interests of his bereaved family, a
series of entertainments. And in the ordering of the programme it was so
arranged that this earliest metropolitan reading of one of his smaller
works by Charles Dickens should be the second of these entertainments.
Densely crowded in every part, St. Martin's Hall upon this occasion was
the scene of as remarkable a reception and of as brilliant a success as
was in any way possible. It was a wonderful success financially. As an
elocutionary--or, rather, as a dramatic--display, it was looked forward
to with the liveliest curiosity. The author's welcome when he
appeared upon the platform was of itself a striking attestation of his

Upwards of fourteen years have elapsed since the occasion referred to,
yet we have still as vividly in our remembrance, as though it were but
an incident of yesterday, the enthusiasm of the reception then accorded
to the great novelist by an audience composed, for the most part,
of representative Londoners. The applause with which he was greeted,
immediately upon his entrance, was so earnestly prolonged and sustained,
that it threatened to postpone the Reading indefinitely. Silence having
at last been restored, however, the Reader's voice became audible in the
utterance of these few and simple words, by way of preliminary:--

     "Ladies and gentlemen, I have the honour to read
     "to you 'A Christmas Carol,' in four staves. Stave
     "one, 'Marley's Ghost.'"

The effect, by the way, becoming upon the instant rather incongruous,
as the writer of this very well remembers, when, through a sudden and
jarring recollection of what the occasion was that had brought us all
together, the Reader began, with a serio-comic inflection, "Marley was
dead: to begin with. There's no doubt whatever about that. The register
of his burial was signed." And so on through those familiar introductory
sentences, in which Jacob Marley's demise is insisted upon with such
ludicrous particularity. The momentary sense of incongruity here
referred to was lost, however, directly afterwards, as everyone's
attention became absorbed in the author's own relation to us of his
world-famous ghost-story of Christmas.

Whereas the First Reading of the tale down in the provinces had occupied
three hours in its delivery, the First Reading of it in the metropolis
had been; diminished by half an hour. Beginning at 8 p.m., and ending
at very nearly 10.30 p. m., with merely five minutes' interruption
about midway, the entertainment so enthralled and delighted the audience
throughout, that its close, after two hours and a half of the keenest
attention, was the signal for a long outburst of cheers, mingled with
the waving of hats and handkerchiefs. The description of the scene
there witnessed is in noway exaggerated. It is the record of our own

And the enthusiasm thus awakened among Charles Dickens's first London
audience can hardly be wondered at, when we recall to mind Thackeray's
expression of opinion in regard to that very same story of the Christmas
Carol immediately after its publication, when he wrote in _Fraser_,
July, 1844, under his pseudonym of M. A. Titmarsh: "It seems to me a
national benefit, and to every man and woman who-reads it a personal
kindness;" adding, "The last two people I heard speak of it were
women; neither knew the other, or the author, and both said, by way of
criticism, 'God bless him!'" Precisely in the same way, it may here be
said, in regard to that first night of his own public reading of it in
St. Martin's Hall, that there was a genial grasp of the hand in the look
of every kind face then turned towards the platform, and a "God bless
him" in every one of the ringing cheers that accompanied his departure.

A Reading of the "Carol" was given by its author in the following
December down at Coventry, in aid of the funds of the local institute.
And about a twelvemonth afterwards, on the 4th of December, 1858, in
grateful acknowledgment of what was regarded in those cases always as a
double benefaction (meaning the Reading itself and its golden proceeds),
the novelist was entertained at a public banquet, at the Castle Hotel,
Coventry, when a gold watch was presented to him as a testimonial of
admiration from the leading inhabitants.

Finally, as the last of all these non-professional readings by our
author, there was given on Friday the 26th of March, 1858, a reading
of the "Christmas Carol," in the Music Hall at Edinburgh. His audience
consisted of the members of, or subscribers to, the Philosophical
Institution. At the close of the evening the Lord Provost, who had been
presiding, presented to the Beader a massive and ornate silver wassail
bowl. Seventeen years prior to that, Charles Dickens had been publicly
entertained in Edinburgh,--Professor Wilson having been the chairman of
the banquet given then in his honour. He had been at that time enrolled
a burgess and guildbrother of the ancient corporation of the metropolis
of Scotland. He had, among other incidents of a striking character
marking his reception there at the same period, seen, on his chance
entrance into the theatre, the whole audience rise spontaneously in
recognition of him, the musicians in the orchestra, with a courtly
felicity, striking up the cavalier air of "Charley is my Darling."
If only out of a gracious remembrance of all this, it seemed not
inappropriate that the very last of the complimentary readings should
have been given by the novelist at Edinburgh, and that the Lord Provost
of Edinburgh should, as if by way of stirrup-cup, have handed to the
Writer and Reader of the "Carol," that souvenir from its citizens, in
honour of the author himself and of his favourite theme, Christmas.

It was in connection with the organisation of the series of
entertainments, arranged during the summer of 1857, in memory of
Jerrold, and in the interests of Jerrold's family, that the attention
of Charles Dickens was first of all awakened to a recognition of the
possibility that he might, with good reason, do something better than
carry out his original intention, that, namely, of dropping these
Readings altogether, as simply exhausting and unremunerative. He had
long since come to realise that it could in no conceivable way whatever
derogate from the dignity of his position as an author, to appear thus
in various parts of the United Kingdom, before large masses of his
fellow-countrymen, in the capacity of a Public Reader. His so appearing
was a gratification to himself as an artist, and was clearly enough also
a gratification to his hearers, as appreciators of his twofold art, both
as Author and as Reader. He perceived clearly enough, therefore, that
his labours in those associated capacities were perfectly compatible;
that, in other words, he might, if he so pleased, quite reasonably
accept the duties devolving upon him as a Reader, as among his
legitimate avocations.

Conspicuous among those who had shared in the getting up of the Jerrold
entertainments--including among them, as we have seen, the first of
his own Readings in London--the novelist had especially observed the
remarkable skill or aptitude, as a general organiser, manifested from
first to last by the Honorary Secretary, into whose hands, in point
of fact, had fallen the responsibility of the entire management. This
Honorary Secretary was no other than Albert Smith's brother Arthur--one
who was not only the right-hand, as it were, of the Ascender of Mont
Blanc, and of the Traveller in China, but who (behind the scenes, and
unknown to the public) was the veritable wire-puller, prompter,
Figaro, factotum of that _farceur_.among story-tellers, and of that
laughter-moving patterer among public entertainers. Arthur Smith, full
of resource, of contrivance, and of readiness, possessed in fact all the
qualifications essential to a rapid organiser. He was, of all men who
could possibly have been hit upon, precisely the very one to undertake
in regard to an elaborate enterprise, like that of a long series of
Readings in the metropolis, and of a comprehensive tour of Readings
in the provinces, the responsible duties of its commercial management.
Brought together accidentally at the time of the Jerrold testimonial,
the Honorary Secretary of the fund and the Author-reader of the "Carol"
came, as it seems now, quite naturally, to be afterwards intimately
associated with one another, more in connection with the scheme of
professional Readings, which reasonably grew up at last out of the
previous five years' Readings, of a purely complimentary character.

Altogether, as has been said on an earlier page, Charles Dickens cannot
have given less than some Five Hundred Readings. As a professional
Reader alone he gave considerably over Four Hundred. Beginning in the
spring of 1858, and ending in the spring of 1870, his career in that
capacity extended at intervals over a lapse of twelve years: those
twelve years embracing within them several distinct tours in England,
Ireland, and Scotland, and in the United States; and many either
entirely distinct or carefully interwoven series in London at St.
Martin's Hall, at the Hanover Square Rooms, and at St. James's Hall,

The first series in the metropolis, and the first tour in the United
Kingdom, were made in 1858, under Mr. Arthur Smith's management. The
second provincial tour, partly in 1861, partly in 1862, and two sets of
readings in London, one at the St. James's Hall in 1862, the other at
the Hanover Square Rooms in 1863, took place under Mr. Thomas Headland's
management. As many as four distinct, and all of them important tours,
notably one on the other side of the Atlantic, were carried out
between 1866 and 1869, both years inclusive, under Mr. George Dolby's
management. As showing at once the proportion of the enormous aggregate
of 423 Readings, with winch these three managers were concerned, it may
be added here that while the first-mentioned had to do with 111, and the
second with 70, the third and last-mentioned had to do with as many as
242 altogether.

It was on the evening of Thursday, the 29th of April, 1858, that
Charles Dickens first made his appearance upon a platform in a strictly
professional character as a public Reader. Although, hitherto, he had
never once read for himself, he did so then avowedly--not merely by
printed announcement beforehand, but on addressing himself by word of
mouth to the immense audience assembled there in St. Martin's Hall. The
Reading selected for the occasion was "The Cricket on the Hearth," but
before its commencement, the author spoke as follows, doing so with well
remembered clearness of articulation, as though he were particularly
desirous that every word should be thoroughly weighed by his hearers,
and taken to heart, by reason of their distinctly explaining the
relations in which he and they would, thenceforth stand towards each

     "Ladies and Gentlemen,--It may, perhaps, be
     "known to you that, for a few years past I have been
     "accustomed occasionally to read some of my shorter
     "books to various audiences, in aid of a variety of
     "good objects, and at some charge to myself both in
     "time and money. It having at length become im-
     "possible in any reason to comply with these always
     "accumulating demands, I have had definitely to
     "choose between now and then reading on my own
     "account as one of my recognised occupations, or not
     "reading at all. I have had little or no difficulty in
     "deciding on the former course.

     "The reasons that have led me to it--besides the
     "consideration that it necessitates no departure what-
     "ever from the chosen pursuits of my life--are three-
     "fold. Firstly, I have satisfied myself that it can
     "involve no possible compromise of the credit and
     "independence of literature. Secondly, I have long
     "held the opinion, and have long acted on the opinion,
     "that in these times whatever brings a public man
     "and his public face to face, on terms of mutual con-
     "fidence and respect, is a good thing. Thirdly, I
     "have had a pretty large experience of the interest
     "my hearers are so generous as to take in these occa-
     "sions, and of the delight they give to me, as a tried
     "means of strengthening those relations, I may
     "almost say of personal friendship, which it is my
     "great privilege and pride, as it is my great respon-
     "sibility, to hold with a multitude of persons who will
     "never hear my voice, or see my face.

     "Thus it is that I come, quite naturally, to be here
     "among you at this time. And thus it is that I pro-
     "ceed to read this little book, quite as composedly as
     "I might proceed to write it, or to publish it in any
     "other way."

Remembering perfectly well, as we do, the precision with which he
uttered every syllable of this little address, and the unmistakable
cordiality with which its close was greeted, we can assert with
confidence that Reader and Audience from the very first instant stood
towards each other on terms of mutually respectful consideration.
Remembering perfectly well, as we do, moreover, the emotion with which
his last words were articulated and listened to on the occasion of his
very last or Farewell Reading in the great hall near Piccadilly--and
more than two thousand others must still perfectly well remember that
likewise--we may no less confidently assert that those feelings had
known no abatement, but on the contrary, had, during the lapse of many
delightful years, come to be not only confirmed but intensified.

Sixteen Readings were comprised in that first series in London, at St.
Martin's Hall. Inaugurated, as we have seen, on the 29th of April, 1858,
the series was completed on the 22nd of the ensuing July. It may here
be interesting to mention that, midway in the course of these Sixteen
Readings, he gave for the first time in London, on Thursday the 10th of
June, "The Story of Little Dombey," and on the following Thursday, the
17th of June, also for the first time in London, "The Poor Traveller,"
"Boots at the Holly Tree Inn," and "Mrs. Gamp." Whatever the subject of
the Reading, whatever the state of the weather, the hall was crowded
in every part, from the stalls to the galleries. Eleven days after the
London season closed, the Reader and his business manager began their
enormous round of the provinces.

As many as Eighty-Seven Readings were given in the course of this one
provincial excursion. The first took place on Monday, the 2nd of August,
at Clifton; the last on Saturday, the 13th of November, at Brighton.
The places visited in Ireland included Dublin and Belfast, Cork and
Limerick. Those traversed in Scotland comprised Edinburgh and Dundee,
Aberdeen, Perth, and Glasgow. As for England, besides the towns already
named, others of the first importance were taken in quick succession, an
extraordinary amount of rapid railway travelling being involved in the
punctual carrying out of the prescribed programme. However different in
their general character the localities might be, the Readings somehow
appeared to have some especial attraction for each, whether they were
given in great manufacturing towns, like Manchester or Birmingham; in
fashionable watering-places, like Leamington or Scarborough; in busy
outports, like Liverpool or Southampton; in ancient cathedral towns,
like York or Durham, or in seaports as removed from each other, as
Plymouth and Portsmouth. Localities as widely separated as Exeter from
Harrogate, as Oxford from Halifax, or as Worcester from Sunderland,
were visited, turn by turn, at the particular time appointed. In a
comprehensive round, embracing within it Wakefield and Shrewsbury,
Nottingham and Leicester, Derby and Ruddersfield, the principal great
towns were taken one after another. At Hull and Leeds, no less than at
Chester and Bradford, as large and enthusiastic audiences were gathered
together as, in their appointed times also were attracted to the
Readings, in places as entirely dissimilar as Newcastle and Darlington,
or as Sheffield and Wolverhampton.

The enterprise was, in its way, wholly unexampled. It extended over
a period of more than three months altogether. It brought the popular
author for the first time face to face with a multitude of his readers
in various parts of the three kingdoms. And at every place, without
exception throughout the tour, the adventure was more than justified, as
a source of artistic gratification alike to himself and to his hearers,
no less than as a purely commercial undertaking, the project throughout
proving successful far beyond the most sanguine anticipations. Though
the strain upon his energies, there can be no doubt of it, was very
considerable, the Reader had brought vividly before him in recompense,
on Eighty-Seven distinct occasions, the most startling proofs of his
popularity--the financial results, besides this, when all was over,
yielding substantial evidence of his having, indeed, won "golden
opinions" from all sorts of people.

His provincial tour, it has been seen, closed at Brighton on the 13th of
November. Immediately after this, it was announced that three Christmas
Readings would be given in London at St. Martin's Hall--the first and
second on the Christmas Eve and the Boxing Day of 1858, those being
respectively Friday and Monday, and the third on Twelfth Night,
Thursday, the 6th of January, 1859. Upon each of these occasions the
"Christmas Carol" and the "Trial from Pickwick," were given to audiences
that were literally overflowing, crowds of applicants each evening
failing to obtain admittance. In consequence of this, three other
Readings were announced for Thursday, the 13th, for Thursday, the 20th,
and for Friday, the 28th of January--the "Carol" and "Trial" being fixed
for the last time on the 13th; the Reading on the second of these
three supplementary nights being "Little Dombey" and the "Trial from
Pickwick;" the last of the three including within it, besides the
"Trial," "Mrs. Gamp" and the "Poor Traveller." As affording
conclusive proof of the sustained success of the Readings as a popular
entertainment, it may here be added that advertisements appeared on the
morrow of the one last mentioned, to the effect that "it has been found
unavoidable to appoint two more Readings of the 'Christmas Carol' and
the 'Trial from Pickwick'"--those two, by the way, being, from first to
last, the most attractive of all the Readings. On Thursday, the 3rd,
and on Tuesday, the 8th of February, the two last of these supplementary
Readings in London, the aggregate of which had thus been extended from
Three to Eight, were duly delivered. And in this way were completed the
111 Readings already referred to as having been given under Mr. Arthur
Smith's management.

Upwards of two years and a half then elapsed without any more of the
Readings being undertaken, either in the provinces or in the metropolis.
During 1860, in fact, Great Expectations was appearing from week to
week in _All the Year Round_. And it was a judicious rule with our
author--broken only at the last, and fatally, at the very end of his
twofold career as Writer and as Reader--never to give a series of
Readings while one of his serial stories was being produced. At length,
however, in the late summer, or early autumn of 1861, the novelist was
sufficiently free from literary pre-occupations for another tour, and
another series of Readings in London to be projected. The arrangements
for each were sketched out by Mr. Arthur Smith, as the one still
entrusted with the financial management of the undertaking. His health,
however, was so broken by that time, that it soon became apparent that
he could not reasonably hope to superintend in person the carrying out
of the new enterprise. It was decided, therefore, provisionally, that
Mr. Headland, who, upon the former occasion, had acted with him, should
now, under his direction and as his representative, undertake the
actual management. Before the projected tour of 1861 actually commenced,
however, Mr. Arthur Smith had died, in September. The simply provisional
arrangement lapsed in consequence, and upon Mr. Headland himself
devolved the responsibility of carrying out the plans sketched out by
his predecessor.

Although about the same time that had been allotted to the First Tour,
namely a whole quarter, had been set apart for the Second, the latter
included within it but very little more than half the number of Readings
given in the earlier and more rapid round of the provinces. The Second
Tour, in point of fact--beginning on Monday, the 28th of October, 1861,
at Norwich, and terminating on Thursday, the 30th of January, 1862, at
Chester--comprised within it Forty-Seven, instead of, as on the former
occasion, Eighty-Seven readings altogether. Many of the principal towns
and cities of England, not visited during the more comprehensive sweep
made in 1858, through the three kingdoms, were now reached--the tour,
this time, being restricted within the English boundaries. Lancaster and
Carlisle, for example, Hastings and Canterbury, Ipswich and Colchester,
were severally included in the new programme. Resorts of fashion, like
Torquay and Cheltenham, were no longer overlooked. Preston in the north,
Dover in the south, were each in turn the scene of a Reading. Bury St.
Edmund's, in 1861, was reached on the 30th of October, and on the 25th
of November an excursion was even made to the far-off border town of
Berwick-upon-Tweed. Less hurried and less laborious than the first, this
second tour was completed, as we have said, at Chester, just before the
close of the first month of 1862, namely, on the 30th of January.

Then came the turn once more of London, where a series of Ten Readings
was given in the St. James's Hall, Piccadilly. These ten Readings,
beginning on Thursday, the 13th of March, were distributed over sixteen
weeks, ending on Friday, the 27th of June. Another metropolitan series,
still under Mr. Headland's management, was given as nearly as possible
at the same period of the London season in the following twelvemonth.
The Hanover Square Booms were the scene of these Readings of 1863, which
began on Monday, the 2nd of March, and ended on Saturday, the 13th of
June, numbering in all not ten, as upon the last occasion, but Thirteen.

During the winter of this year, Two notable Readings were given by the
Novelist at the British Embassy, in Paris, their proceeds being devoted
to the British Charitable Fund in that capital. These Readings were so
brilliantly successful, that, by particular desire, they were, a little
time afterwards, supplemented by a Third, which was quite as numerously
attended as either of its predecessors. The audience upon each occasion,
partly English, partly French, comprised among their number many of
the most gifted and distinguished of the Parisians. These three
entertainments were given under the immediate auspices of the Earl
Cowley, then Her Majesty's ambassador to the court of Napoleon III.

A considerable interval now elapsed, extending in fact over nearly three
years altogether, before the author again appeared upon the platform in
his capacity as a Reader, either in London or in the Provinces. During
his last provincial tour, there had been some confusion caused to
the general arrangements by reason of the abrupt but unavoidable
postponement of a whole week's Readings, previously announced as coming
off, three of them at Liverpool, one at Chester, and two at Manchester.
These six readings instead, however, of duly taking place, as originally
arranged, between the 16th and the 21st of December, 1861, had to
be given four weeks later on, between the 13th and the 30th of the
following January. The disarrangement of the programme thus caused arose
simply from the circumstance of the wholly unlooked-for and lamented
death of H. E. H. the Prince Consort. Another confusion in the carefully
prepared plans for one of the London series, again, had been caused by
an unexpected difficulty, at the last moment, in securing the great
Hall in Piccadilly, that having been previously engaged on the required
evenings for a series of musical entertainments. Hence the selection
for that season of the Hanover Square Rooms, which, at any rate for the
West-end public, could not but be preferable to that earliest scene
of the London Readings, St. Martin's Hall, Long Acre. Apart from
every other consideration, however, the Novelist's remembrance of the
confusions and disarrangements which had been incidental to his last
provincial tour, and to the last series of his London Readings, rather
disinclined him to hasten the date of his re-appearance in his character
as a public Reader. As it happened, besides, after the summer of 1863,
nearly two years elapsed, between the May of 1864 and the November
of 1865, during which he was in a manner precluded from seriously
entertaining any such project by the circumstance that the green numbers
of "Our Mutual Friend" were, all that while, in course of publication.
Even when that last of his longer serial stories had been completed, it
is doubtful whether he would have cared to take upon himself anew the
irksome stress and responsibility inseparable from one of those doubly
laborious undertakings--a lengthened series of Readings in London,
coupled with, or rather interwoven with, another extended tour through
the provinces.

As it fortunately happened, however, very soon after the completion
of "Our Mutual Friend," Charles Dickens had held out to him a double
inducement to undertake once more the duties devolving upon him in his
capacity as a Reader. The toil inseparable from the Readings themselves,
as well as the fatigue resulting inevitably from so much rapid
travelling hither and thither by railway during the period set apart for
their delivery, would still be his. But at the least, according to the
proposition now made to him, the Reader would be relieved from further
care as to the general supervision, and at any rate, from all sense
of responsibility in the revived project as a purely financial or
speculative undertaking. The Messrs. Chappell, of New Bond Street,
a firm skilled in the organizing of public entertainments of various
kinds, chiefly if not exclusively until then, entertainments of a
musical character, offered, in fact, in 1866 to assume to themselves
thenceforth the whole financial responsibility of the Readings in the
Metropolis and throughout the United Kingdom. According to the proposal
originally submitted to the Novelist by the Messrs. Chappell, and at
once frankly accepted by him, a splendid sum was guaranteed to him
in remuneration. Twice afterwards those terms were considerably
increased,--and upon each occasion, it should be added, quite

Another inducement was held out to the Reader besides that of his being
relieved from all further sense of responsibility in the undertaking as
a merely speculative enterprise. It related to the chance of his finding
himself released also from any further sense of solicitude as to the
conduct of the general business management. The inducement, here,
however, was of course in no way instantly recognizable. Experience
alone could show the fitness for his post of the Messrs. Chappell's
representative. As good fortune would have it, nevertheless, here
precisely was an instance in which Mr. Layard's famous phrase about the
right man in the right place, was directly applicable. As a thoroughly
competent business manager, and as one whose companionship of itself had
a heartening influence in the midst of enormous toil, Mr. Dolby speedily
came to be recognised as the very man for the position, as the very one
who in all essential respects it was most desirable should have been

A series of Thirty Readings was at once planned under his supervision.
It consisted for the first time of a tour through England and Scotland,
interspersed with Readings every now and then in the Metropolis. The
Reader's course in this way seemed to be erratic, but the whole scheme
was admirably well arranged beforehand, and once entered upon, was
carried out with the precision of clockwork. These thirty Readings,
in 1866, began and ended at St. James's Hall, Piccadilly. The opening
night was that of Tuesday, the 10th of April, the closing night that
of Tuesday, the 12th of June. Between those dates half-a-dozen other
Readings were given from the same central platform in London, the
indefatigable author making his appearance meanwhile alternately in the
principal cities of the United Kingdom. Besides revisiting in this way
(some of these places repeatedly) in the north, Edinburgh and Glasgow
and Aberdeen, in the south and south-west, Clifton and Portsmouth, as
well as Liverpool and Manchester intermediately--Charles Dickens
during the course of this tour read for the first time at Bristol, at
Greenwich, and in the Crystal Palace at Sydenham.

The inauguration of the series of Readings now referred to had a
peculiar interest imparted to it by the circumstance that, on the
evening of Tuesday, the 10th of April, 1866, there was first of all
introduced to public notice the comic patter and pathetic recollections
of the Cheap Jack, Doctor Marigold.

Half a year afterwards a longer series of the Readings began under the
organisation of the Messrs. Chappell, and under the direction of
Mr. Dolby as their business manager. It took place altogether under
precisely similar circumstances as the last, with this only difference
that the handsome terms of remuneration originally guaranteed to
the author were, as already intimated, considerably and voluntarily
increased by the projectors of the enterprise, the pecuniary results of
the first series having been so very largely beyond their expectations.
Fifty Readings instead of thirty were now arranged for--Ireland being
visited as well as the principal towns and cities of England and
Scotland. Six Readings were given at Dublin, and one at Belfast; four
were given at Glasgow, and two at Edinburgh. Bath, for the first time,
had the opportunity of according a public welcome to the great humorist,
some of the drollest scenes in whose earliest masterpiece occur in the
city of Bladud, as every true Pickwickian very well remembers. Then,
also, for the first time, he was welcomed--by old admirers of his in his
capacity as an author, new admirers of his thenceforth in his later
and minor capacity as a Reader--at Swansea and Gloucester, at Stoke and
Blackburn, at Hanley and Warrington. Tuesday, the 15th of January, 1867,
was the inaugural night of the series, when "Barbox, Brothers," and
"The Boy at Mugby," were read for the first time at St. James's Hall,
Piccadilly. Monday, the 13th of May, was the date of the last night of
the season, which was brought to a close upon the same platform, the
success of every Reading, without exception, both in London and in the
provinces, having been simply unexampled.

It was shortly after this that the notion was first entertained by the
Novelist of entering upon that Reading Tour in America, which has since
become so widely celebrated. Overtures had been made to him repeatedly
from the opposite shores of the Atlantic, with a view to induce him
to give a course of Readings in the United States. Speculators would
gladly, no doubt, have availed themselves of so golden an opportunity
for turning to account his immense reputation. There were those,
however, at home here, who doubted as to the advisability of the author
entering, under any conceivable circumstances, upon an undertaking
obviously involving in its successful accomplishment an enormous amount
of physical labour and excitement. Added to this, the project was
inseparable in any case--however favourable might be the manner of
its ultimate arrangement--from a profound sense of responsibility all
through the period that would have to be set apart for its realisation.
It was among the more remarkable characteristics of Charles Dickens
that, while he was endowed with a brilliant imagination, and with a
genius in many ways incomparable, he was at the same time gifted with
the clearest and soundest judgment, being, in point of fact, what is
called a thoroughly good man of business. Often as he had shewn this
to be the case during the previous phases of his career, he never
demonstrated the truth of it so undeniably as in the instance of this
proposed Reading Tour in the United States. Determined to understand at
once whether the scheme, commended by some, denounced by others, was in
itself, to begin with, feasable, and after that advisable, he despatched
Mr. Dolby to America for the purpose of surveying the proposed scene of
operations. Immediately on his emissary's return, Dickens drew up a few
pithy sentences, headed by him, "The Case in a Nutshell." His decision
was what those more immediately about him had for some time anticipated.
He made up his mind to go, and to go quite independently. The Messrs.
Chappell, it should be remarked at once, had no part whatever in
the enterprise. The Author-Reader accepted for himself the sole
responsibility of the undertaking. As a matter of course, he retained
Mr. Dolby as his business manager, despatching him again across the
Atlantic, when everything had been arranged between them, to the end
that all should be in readiness by the time of his own arrival.

Within the brief interval which then elapsed, Between the business
manager's return to, and the Author-Reader's departure for, America,
that well-remembered Farewell Banquet was given to Charles Dickens,
which was not unworthy of signalising his popularity and his reputation.
He himself, upon the occasion, spoke of it as that "proud night,"
recognising clearly enough, as he could hardly fail to do, in the
gathering around him, there in Freemasons' Hall, on the evening of the
2nd of November, 1867, one of the most striking incidents in a career
that had been almost all sunshine, both from within and from without,
from the date of its commencement. It was there, in the midst of what
he himself referred to, at the time, as that "brilliant representative
company," while acknowledging the presence around him of so many of his
brother artists, "not only in literature, but also in the fine arts," he
availed himself of the opportunity to relate very briefly the story of
his setting out once more for America. "Since I was there before," he
said, "a vast, entirely new generation has arisen in the United States.
Since I was there before, most of the best known of my books have
been written and published. The new generation and the books have come
together and have kept together, until at last numbers of those who have
so widely and constantly read me, naturally desiring a little variety
in the relations between us, have expressed a strong wish that I should
read myself. This wish at last conveyed to me, through public channels
and business channels, has gradually become enforced by an immense
accumulation of letters from individuals and associations of
individuals, all expressing in the same hearty, homely, cordial,
unaffected way a kind of personal interest in me; I had almost said a
kind of personal affection for me, which I am sure you will agree with
me, it would be dull insensibility on my part not to prize." Hence, as
he explained, his setting forth on that day week upon his second visit
to America, with a view among other purposes, according to his own
happy phrase, to use his best endeavours "to lay down a third cable of
intercommunication and alliance between the old world and the new."
The illustrious chairman who presided over that Farewell Banquet,
Lord Lytton, had previously remarked, speaking in his capacity as a
politician, "I should say that no time could be more happily chosen
for his visit;" adding, "because our American kinsfolk have conceived,
rightly or wrongfully, that they have some cause of complaint against
ourselves, and out of all England we could not have selected an envoy
more calculated to allay irritation and to propitiate good will." As one
whose cordial genius was, in truth, a bond of sympathy between the two
great kindred nationalities, Charles Dickens indeed went forth in
one sense at that time, it might almost have been said, in a
semi-ambassadorial character, not between the rulers, but between the
peoples. The incident of his visit to America could in no respect be
considered a private event, but, from first to last, was regarded,
and reasonably regarded, as a public and almost as an international
occurrence. "Happy is the man," said Lord Lytton, on that 2nd of
November, when proposing the toast of the evening in words of eloquence
worthy of himself and of his theme, "Happy is the man who makes clear
his title deeds to the royalty of genius, while he yet lives to enjoy
the gratitude and reverence of those whom he has subjected to his sway.
Though it is by conquest that he achieves his throne, he at least is
a conqueror whom the conquered bless, and the more despotically he
enthralls the dearer he becomes to the hearts of men." Observing, in
conclusion, as to this portion of his argument, "Seldom, I say, has that
kind of royalty been quietly conceded to any man of genius until his
tomb becomes his throne, and yet there is not one of us now present who
thinks it strange that it is granted without a murmur to the guest whom
we receive to-night." As if in practical recognition of the prerogative
thus gracefully referred to by his brother-author, a royal saloon
carriage on Friday, the 8th of November, conveyed Charles Dickens from
London to Liverpool. On the following morning he took his departure on
board the _Cuba_ for the United States, arriving at Boston on Tuesday,
the 19th, when the laconic message "Safe and well," was flashed home by
submarine telegraph.

The Readings projected in America were intended to number up as many as
eighty altogether. They actually numbered up exactly Seventy-Six. They
were inaugurated by the first of the Boston Readings on Monday, the 2nd
of December, 1867. Extending over an interval of less than five months,
they closed in Steinway Hall on Monday, the 20th April, 1868, with the
last of the New York Readings. From beginning to end, the enthusiasm
awakened by these Readings was entirely unparalleled. Simply to ensure
a chance of purchasing the tickets of admission, a queue of applicants
a quarter of a mile long would pass a whole winter's night patiently
waiting in sleet and snow, out in the streets, to be in readiness for
the opening of the office-doors when the sale of tickets should have
commenced. Blankets and in several instances mattresses were brought
with them by some of the more provident of these nocturnal wayfarers,
many of whom of course were notoriously middle-men who simply
speculated, with immense profit to themselves, in selling again at
enormously advanced prices the tickets which were invariably dispensed
by the business manager at the fixed charges originally announced.

As curiously illustrative of the first outburst of this enthusiasm even
before the Novelist's arrival--on the very eve of that arrival, as it
happened--mention may here be made of the simple facts in regard to the
sale of tickets on Monday, the 18th of November. During the whole of
that day, from the first thing in the morning to the last thing at
night, Mr. Dolby sat there at his desk in the Messrs. Ticknor and
Fields' bookstore, literally doing nothing but sell tickets as fast
as he could distribute them and take the money. For thirteen hours
together, without taking bite or sup, without ever once for a passing
moment quitting the office-stool on which he was perched--fortunately
for him behind a strong barricade--he answered the rush of applicants
that steadily pressed one another onwards to the pigeon-hole, each
drifting by exhausted when his claims were satisfied. The indefatigable
manager took in moneys paid down within those thirteen consecutive hours
as many as twelve thousand dollars.

During the five months of his stay in America, four Readings a week were
given by the Novelist to audiences as numerous as the largest building
in each town of a suitable character could by any contrivance be made
to contain. The average number of those present upon each of these
occasions may be reasonably estimated as at the very least 1500
individuals. Remembering that there were altogether seventy-six
Readings, this would show at once that upwards of one hundred thousand
souls (114,000) listened to the voice of the great Author reading, what
they had so often before read themselves, and raising their own voices
in return to greet his ears with their ringing acclamations. At a
moderate estimate, again, just as we have seen that each Reading
represented 1500 as the average number of the audience, that audience
represented, in its turn, in cash, at the lowest computation, nett
proceeds amounting to fully $3000. At Rochester, for example, in the
State of New York, was the smallest house anywhere met with in the whole
course of these American Readings, and even that yielded $2500, the
largest house in the tour, on the other hand, netting as much as $6000
and upwards. Multiplying, therefore, the reasonably-mentioned average of
$3000 by seventy-six, as the aggregate number of the Readings, we arrive
at the astounding result that in this tour of less than five months the
Author-Reader netted altogether the enormous sum of $228,000. Supposing
gold to have been then at par, that lump sum would have represented
in our English currency what if spoken of even in a whisper would,
according to Hood's famous witticism, have represented something like
"the roar of a Forty Thousand Pounder!" Even as it was, then, gold
being at 39 1/2 per cent, premium, with 1/4 per cent, more deducted on
commission--virtually a drop of nearly 40 per cent, altogether!--the
result was the winning of a fortune in what, but for the fatigue
involved in it, might have been regarded as simply a holiday excursion.

The fatigue here referred to, however, must have been something very
considerable. Its influence was felt all the more, no doubt, by reason
of the Novelist having had to contend during upwards of four hard
winter months, as he himself laughingly remarked just before his return
homewards, with "what he had sometimes been quite admiringly assured,
was a true American catarrh!" Nevertheless, even with its depressing and
exhausting influence upon him, he not only contrived to carry out the
project upon which he had adventured, triumphantly to its appointed
close, but even upon one of the most inclement days of an unusually
inclement season, namely, on Saturday, the 29th of February, 1868, he
actually took part as one of the umpires in the good-humoured frolic of
a twelve-mile walking match, up hill and down dale, through the snow,
on the Milldam road, between Boston and Newton, doing every inch of the
way, heel and toe, as though he had been himself one of the competitors.
The first six miles having been accomplished by the successful
competitor in one hour and twenty-three minutes, and the return six
in one hour and twenty-five minutes, the Novelist--although, with his
light, springy step, he had observantly gone the whole distance himself,
as we have seen, in his capacity as umpire,--presided blithely, in
celebration of this winter day's frolic, at a sumptuous little banquet,
given by him at the Parker House, a banquet that Lucullus would hardly
have disdained. Having appeared before his last audience in America
on the 20th of April, 1868, at New York, the Author-Reader addressed
through them to all his other auditors in the United States, after
that final Reading was over, a few genial and generous utterances of
farewell. Among other things, he said to them,--"The relations which
have been set up between us, while they have involved for me something
more than mere devotion to a task, have been sustained by you with the
readiest sympathy and the kindest acknowledgment. Those relations must
now be broken for ever. Be assured, however, that you will not pass
from my mind. I shall often realise you as I see you now, equally by
my winter fire, and in the green English summer weather. I shall
never recall you as a mere audience, but rather as a host of
personal friends,--and ever with the greatest gratitude, tenderness,
and consideration." Two days before that last of all these American
Readings, he had been entertained at a public banquet in New York, on
the 18th of April, at Delmonico's. Two days after the final American
Reading and address of farewell, he took his departure from New York on
board the _Russia_, on Wednesday, the 22nd of April, arriving on Friday,
the 1st of May, at Liverpool.

Scarcely a month had elapsed after his return homewards, when the
prospective and definitive close of the great author's career as a
public Reader was formally announced. Again the Messrs. Chappell, of
New Bond Street, appeared between the Novelist and the public as
intermediaries. They intimated through their advertisement, that
"knowing it to be the determination of Mr. Dickens finally to retire
from public Readings, soon after his return from America, they (as
having been honoured with his confidence on former occasions) made
proposals to him, while he was still in the United States achieving
his recent brilliant successes there, for a final farewell series of
Readings in this country." They added that "their proposals were at once
accepted in a manner highly gratifying to them;" and that the series,
which would commence in the ensuing autumn, would comprehend, besides
London, several of the chief towns and cities of England, Ireland, and
Scotland. Looking back to this preliminary advertisement now, there is a
melancholy significance in the emphasis with which it was observed--"It
is scarcely necessary to add that any announcement made in connection
with these Farewell Readings will be strictly adhered to and considered
final; and that on no consideration whatever will Mr. Dickens be induced
to appoint an extra night in any place in which he shall have been
announced to read for the last time." According to promise, in the
autumn, these well-remembered Farewell Readings commenced. They were
intended to run on to the number of one hundred altogether. Beginning
within the first week of October, they were not to end until the third
week of the ensuing May. As it happened, Seventy-Four Readings were
given in place of the full hundred. On Tuesday, the 6th of October,
1868, the series was commenced. On Thursday, the 22nd of April, 1869,
its abrupt termination was announced, by a telegram from Preston, that
caused a pang of grief and anxiety to the vast multitude of those to
whom the very name of Charles Dickens had, for more than thirty years,
been endeared. The intimation conveyed through that telegram was the
fact of his sudden and alarming illness. Already, in the two preceding
months, though the public generally had taken no notice of the
circumstance, three of the Readings had, for various reasons, been
unavoidably given up--one at Hull, fixed for the 12th of March, and
previously one at Glasgow, fixed for the 18th, and another at Edinburgh,
fixed for the 19th of February. Otherwise than in those three instances,
the sequence of Readings marked on the elaborate programme had been most
faithfully adhered to; the Reader, indeed, only succumbing at last under
the nervous exhaustion caused by his own indomitable perseverance.

It is, now, matter of all but absolute certainty that his immense
energies, his elastic temperament, and his splendid constitution had
all of them, long before this, been cruelly overtaxed and overweighted.
Unsuspected by any of us at the time, he had, there can be little doubt
of it, received the deadliest shock to his whole system as far back
as on the 9th of June, 1865, in that terrible railway accident at
Staplehurst, on the fifth anniversary of which fatal day, by a strange
coincidence, he breathed his last. His intense vitality deceived himself
and everybody else, however, until it was all too late. The extravagant
toil he was going through for months together--whirling hither and
thither in express trains, for the purpose of making one exciting
public appearance after another, each of them a little world of animated
impersonations--he accomplished with such unfailing and unflagging
vivacity, with such an easy step, such an alert carriage, with such an
animated voice and glittering eye, that for a long while at least we
were under the illusion. Hurrying about England, Ireland, and Scotland
as he was during almost the whole of the last quarter of 1868 and during
the whole of the first quarter of 1869--dividing his time not only
between Liverpool and Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow, Dublin and
Belfast, with continual returns to his central reading-platform in the
great Hall near Piccadilly, but visiting afterwards as well nearly
all the great manufacturing towns and nearly all the fashionable
watering-places--the wonder is now not so much that he gave in at last
to the exorbitant strain, but that he did not give in much sooner.

A single incident will suffice to show the pace at which he was going
before the overwrought system gave the first sign of its _being_
overwrought. On the evening of Thursday, the 11th of March, 1869, an
immense audience crowded the Festival Concert Room at York, the people
there having only that one opportunity of attending a Farewell Reading.
As they entered the room, each person received a printed slip of
paper, on which was read, "The audience are respectfully informed that
carriages have been ordered tonight at half-past nine. Without altering
his Reading in the least, Mr. Dickens will shorten his usual pauses
between the Parts, in order that he may leave York by train a few
minutes after that time. He has been summoned," it was added, "to
London, in connection with a late sad occurrence within the general
knowledge, but a more particular reference to which would be out of
place here." His attendance, in point of fact, was suddenly required at
the funeral of a dear friend of his in the metropolis. To the funeral he
had to go. From the poignantly irksome duty of the Reading he could not
escape. Giving the latter even as proposed, he would barely have time to
catch the up express, so as to arrive in town by the aid of rapid night
travelling, and be true to the melancholy rendezvous at the scene of his
friend's obsequies. The Readings that night were three, and they were
given in rapid succession, the Reader, after the first and second,
instead of withdrawing, as usual, for ten minutes' rest into his
retiring room at the back of the platform, merely stepping for an
instant or two behind the screen at the side of the platform, putting
his lips to some iced champagne, and stepping back at once to the
reading-desk. The selected Readings were these--"Boots at the Holly-Tree
Inn," the murder scene of "Sikes and Nancy," and the grotesque monologue
of "Mrs. Gamp." The Archbishop and the other principal people of York
were there conspicuously noticeable in the stalls, eagerly listening and
keenly observant, evidently in rapt attention throughout the evening,
but more especially during the powerfully acted tragic incident from
"Oliver Twist." The Reading, as a whole, was more than ordinarily
successful--parts of it were exceptionally impressive. Directly it
was over, the Reader, having had a _coupé_ previously secured for his
accommodation in the express, was just barely enabled, at a rush, to
catch the train an instant or so before its starting. Then only, after
it had started, could he give a thought to his dress, changing his
clothes and snatching a morsel of supper in the railway carriage as he
whirled on towards London. The occasion referred to serves, at any
rate, to illustrate the wear and tear to which the Author had rendered
himself, through these Readings, more or less continually liable.

The jeopardy in which it placed his life at last was alarmingly
indicated by the peremptory order of his medical adviser, Mr. Frank
Beard, of Welbeck Street--immediately on his arrival in Preston on the
22nd of April, in answer to a telegram summoning him thither upon
the instant from London--that the Readings must be stopped then and
thenceforth. When this happened, a fortnight had not elapsed after the
grand Banquet given in honour of Charles Dickens at St. George's Hall,
in Liverpool. As the guest of the evening, he had, there and then, been
"cheered to the echo" by seven hundred enthusiastic admirers of his
presided over by the Mayor of Liverpool. That was on Saturday, the 10th
of April, during a fortnight's blissful rest in the whirling round of
the Readings. Immediately that fortnight was over, the whirling round
began again its momentarily interrupted gyrations. Three days in
succession there was a Reading at Leeds--on Thursday, the 15th, Friday,
the 16th, and Saturday, the 17th of April. On Monday, the 19th, there
was a Reading at Blackburn; on Tuesday, the 20th, another at Bolton; on
Wednesday, the 21st, another at Southport. Then came the morning of the
22nd, on the evening of which Thursday he was to have read at Preston.
By the then Dickens's medical adviser had arrived from London, the
audience had already begun assembling. Thereupon, not only was that
particular Reading prohibited, but, by the same wise mandate, all
thought of resuming the course, or even a portion of it, afterwards,
was as peremptorily interdicted. In one sense, it is only matter for
wistful regret, now, that that judicious interdict was so far removed,
three-quarters of a year afterwards, that the twelve Final Readings of
Farewell which were given at the St. James' Hall in the spring of 1870,
beginning on Tuesday, the 11th of January, and ending on Tuesday, the
15th of March, were' assented to as in any way reasonable.

That even these involved an enormous strain upon the system, was proved
to absolute demonstration by the statistics jotted down with the utmost
precision during the Readings, as to the fluctuations of the Reader's
pulse immediately before and immediately after each of his appearances
upon the platform, mostly two, but often three, appearances in a
single evening. The acceleration of his pulse has, to our knowledge,
upon some of these occasions been something extraordinary. Upon the
occasion of his last and grandest Reading of the Murder, for example,
as he stepped upon the platform, resolved, apparently, upon outdoing
himself, he remarked, in a half-whisper to the present writer,
just before advancing from the cover of the screen to the familiar
reading-desk, "I shall tear myself to pieces." He certainly never acted
with more impassioned earnestness--though never once, for a single
instant, however, overstepping the boundaries of nature. His pulse just
before had been tested, as usual, keenly and carefully, by his most
sedulous and sympathetic medical attendant. It was counted by him just
as keenly and carefully directly afterwards--the rise then apparent
being something startling, almost alarming, as it seemed to us under the

Those twelve Farewell Readings are all the more to be regretted now when
we come to look back at them, on our recalling to remembrance the fact
that then, for the first time since he assumed to himself the position
of a Public Reader professionally, Dickens consented to give a series of
Readings at the very period when he was producing one of his imaginative
works in monthly instalments. He appeared to give himself no rest
whatever, when repose, at any rate for a while, was most urgently
required. He seemed to have become his own taskmaster precisely at
the time when he ought to have taken the repose he had long previously
earned, by ministering so largely and laboriously to the world's

Summing up in a few words what has already been related in detail,
one passing sentence may here recall to recollection the fact, that in
addition to the various works produced by the Novelist during the
last three lustres of his energetic life as a man of letters, he had
personally, within that busy interval of fifteen years, given in round
numbers at a moderate computation some 500 of these Public Readings--423
in a strictly professional capacity, the rest, prior to 1858, purely
out of motives of generosity, in his character as a practical
philanthropist. In doing this he had addressed as many as five hundred
enormous audiences, whose rapt attention he had always secured, and
who had one and all of them, without exception, welcomed his coming and
going with enthusiasm. During this period he had travelled over many
thousands of miles, by railway and steam-packet. In a single tour,
that of the winter of 1867 and 1868, in America, he had appeared before
upwards of 100,000 persons, earning, at the same time, over 200,000
dollars within an interval of very little more than four months

Later on, the circumstances surrounding the immediate close of this
portion of the popular author's life, as a Public Reader of his own
works, will be described when mention is made of his final appearance
in St. James's Hall, on the night of his Farewell Reading. Before any
particular reference is made, however, to that last evening, it may
be advisable, as tending to make this record more complete, that there
should now be briefly passed in review, one after another, those minor
stories, and fragments of the larger stories, the simple recounting
of which by his own lips yielded so much artistic delight to a great
multitude of his contemporaries. Whatever may thus be remarked in
regard to these Readings will be written at least from a vivid personal
recollection; the writer, throughout, speaking, as before observed, from
his intimate knowledge of the whole of this protracted episode in the
life of the Novelist.

Whatever aid to the memory besides might have been thought desirable,
he has had ready to hand all through, in the marked copies of the very
books from which the author read upon these occasions, or from which, at
the least, he had the appearance of reading. For, especially towards
the last, Charles Dickens hardly ever glanced, even momentarily, at the
printed pages, simply turning the leaves mechanically as they lay open
before him on the picturesque little reading-desk. Besides the Sixteen
Readings actually given, there were Four others which were so far
meditated that they were printed separately as "Readings," though the
reading copies of them that have been preserved, were never otherwise
prepared by their author-compiler for representation. One of these
the writer remembers suggesting to the Novelist, as a characteristic
companion or contrast to Dr. Marigold,--meaning "Mrs. Lirriper."
Another, strange to say,--about the least likely of all his stories one
would have thought to have been thus selected,--was "The Haunted Man." A
third was "The Prisoner of the Bastile," which would, for certain, have
been one of Dickens's most powerful delineations. The fourth, if only
in remembrance of the Old Bailey attorney, Mr. Jaggers, of the convict
Magwitch, and of Joe the blacksmith, the majority would probably have
been disposed to regret almost more than Mrs. Lirriper. Though the
lodging-house keeper would have been welcome, too, for her own sake,
as who will not agree in saying, if merely out of a remembrance of the
"trembling lip" put up towards her face, speaking of which the good
motherly old soul exclaims, "and I dearly kissed it;" or, bearing in
mind, another while, her preposterous reminiscence of the "impertinent
little cock-sparrow of a monkey whistling with dirty shoes on the clean
steps, and playing the harp on the area railings with a hoop-stick."
Actually given or only meditated, the whole of these twenty
Readings--meaning the entire collection of the identical marked copies
used by the Novelist himself on both sides of the Atlantic--have, for
the verification of this retrospect, been placed for the time being in
the writer's possession. Selecting from among them those merely which
are familiar to the public, from their having been actually produced,
he here proposes cursorily to glance one by one through the well-known
series of Sixteen.


It can hardly be any matter for wonder that the "Christmas Carol" was,
among all the Readings, the author's own especial favourite! That it
was so, he showed from first to last unmistakeably. He began with it in
1853, and ended with it in 1870, upon the latter occasion appending to
the long since abbreviated narrative, that other incomparable evidence
of his powers as a humorist, "The Trial from Pickwick." Whoever went for
the first time to see and hear Charles Dickens read one or other of his
writings, did well in selecting a night when he was going to relate his
immortal ghost story of Christmas. In compliance with the well-known
wish of the Novelist, the audience, as a rule, contrived to assemble
and to have actually taken their places several minutes before the time
fixed for the Reader's appearance upon the platform. Occasionally
it happened, nevertheless, that a stray couple or so would be still
drifting in, here and there, among the serried ranks of the stalls,
when, book in hand, with a light step, a smile on his face, and a flower
in his button-hole, the author had already rapidly advanced and
taken his place before his quaintly constructed but graceful little
reading-desk. Then it was, perhaps, at those very times, that a
stranger to the whole scene regarded himself almost as under a personal
obligation to these vexatious stragglers. For, until every one of
them had quietly settled down, there stood the Novelist, cheerfully,
patiently, glancing to the right and to the left, taking the bearings of
his night's company, as one might say, with an air of the most perfect
ease and self-possession. Whosoever, consequently, was in attendance
there for the first time, had an opportunity, during any such momentary
pause, of familiarising himself with the appearance of the famous
writer, with whose books he had probably been intimately acquainted for
years upon years previously, but whom until then he had never had the
chance of beholding face to face.

Everyone, even to the illiterate wayfarers in the public streets, had,
to a certain extent, long since come to know what manner of man Charles
Dickens was by means of his widely-scattered photographs. But, there,
better than any photograph, was the man himself,--the master of all
English humorists, the most popular author during his own lifetime that
ever existed; one whose stories for thirty years together had been read
with tears and with laughter, and whose books had won for him personal
affection, as well as fame and fortune. Anyone seeing him at those
moments for the first time, would unquestionably think--How like he
was to a very few indeed, how utterly unlike the vast majority of his
countless cartes-de-visites! To the last there was the bright,
animated, alert carriage of the head--phrenologically a noble
head--physiognomically a noble countenance. Encountering him within
a very few weeks of his death, Mr. Arthur Locker has said, "I was
especially struck with the brilliancy and vivacity of his eyes:" adding,
"there seemed as much life and animation in them as in twenty ordinary
pairs of eyes." Another keen observer, Mr. Arthur Helps, has in the
same spirit exclaimed, "What portrait can do justice to the frankness,
kindness, and power of his eyes?" None certainly that ever was painted
by the pencil of the sunbeam, or by the brush of a Royal Academician.
Fully to realise the capacity for indicating emotion latent in them,
and informing his whole frame--his hands for example, in their every
movement, being wonderfully expressive--those who attended these
Readings soon came to know, that you had but to listen to his variable
and profoundly sympathetic voice, and to watch the play of his handsome

The different original characters introduced in his stories, when he
read them, he did not simply describe, he impersonated: otherwise to
put it, for whomsoever he spoke, he spoke in character. Thus, when
everything was quiet in the crowded assembly, and when the ringing
applause that always welcomed his appearance, but which he never by any
chance acknowledged, had subsided--when he began: "A Christmas Carol, in
four staves. Stave one, Marley's Ghost. Marley was dead to begin with."
Having remarked, yet further, that "there was no doubt whatever about
that," the register of his burial being signed by this functionary, that
and the other--when he added, "_Scrooge_ signed it; and Scrooge's name
was good upon 'Change for anything he chose to put his hand to"--Scrooge
in the flesh was, through the very manner of the utterance of his name,
brought vividly and upon the instant before the observant listener. "Oh!
but he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, was Scrooge!" _That_
we knew instinctively, without there being any need whatever for our
hearing one syllable of the description of him, admirably given in the
book, but suppressed in the Reading, judiciously suppressed enough,
because, for that matter, we saw and heard it without any necessity for
its being explained. As one might say--quoting here a single morsel from
the animated description of Scrooge, that was actually illustrated
by Scrooge's impersonator--it all "spoke out shrewdly in his grating
voice!" And it was thus, not merely with regard to the leading
personages of the little acted drama, as, turn by turn, they were
introduced; precisely the same artistic care was applied by the
impersonating realist to the very least among the minor characters,
filling in, so to speak, little incidental gaps in the background. A
great fat man with a monstrous chin, for example, was introduced just
momentarily in the briefest street-dialogue, towards the close of
this very Reading, who had only to open his lips once or twice for
an instant, yet whose individuality was in that instant or two so
thoroughly realised, that he lives ever since then in the hearers'
remembrance. When, in reply to some one's inquiry, as to what was
the cause of Scrooge's (presumed) death?--this great fat man with the
monstrous chin answered, with a yawn, in two words, "God knows!"--he was
before us there, as real as life, as selfish, and as substantial. So was
it also with the grey-haired rascal, Joe, of the rag-and-bottle shop;
with Topper, when he pronounced himself, as a bachelor, to be "a
wretched outcast;" with the Schoolmaster, when he "glared on Master
Scrooge with ferocious condescension, and threw him into a dreadful
state of mind by shaking hands with him," all of whom were indicated by
the merest touch or two, and yet each of whom was a living and breathing
and speaking verisimilitude.

There was produced, to begin with, however, a sense of exhilaration in
the very manner with which Dickens commenced the Reading of one of his
stories, and which was always especially noticeable in the instance
of this particular ghost story of his about Christmas. The opening
sentences were always given in those cheery, comfortable tones,
indicative of a double relish on the part of a narrator--to wit, his own
enjoyment of the tale he is going to relate, and his anticipation of
the enjoyment of it by those who are giving him their attention.
Occasionally, at any rate during the last few years, his voice was husky
just at the commencement, but as he warmed to his work, with him at
all times a genuine labour of love, everything of that kind disappeared
almost at the first turn of the leaf. The genial inflections of the
voice, curiously rising, in those first moments of the Reading, at the
end of every sentence, there was simply no resisting. Had there been a
wedding guest present, he would hardly have repined in not being able to
obey the summons of the loud bassoon. The narrator had his will with one
and all. However large and however miscellaneous the audience, from the
front of the stalls to the back of the gallery, every one listened to
the familiar words that fell from his lips, from the beginning to the
end, with unflagging attention. There could be small room for marvel at
this, however, in the instance of the "Carol," on first reading
which, Thackeray spoke of its author as that "delightful genius!" The
_Edinburgh_ editor, Lord Jeffrey, at the very same time, namely,
towards the close of 1843, on the morrow of the little book's original
publication, avowing, in no less glowing terms, that he had been nothing
less than charmed by the exquisite apologue: "chiefly," as he declared,
"for the genuine goodness which breathes all through it, and is the true
inspiring angel by which its genius has been awakened." Never since he
had first--and that but a very few years previously--taken pen in hand
as a story-teller, had this "delightful genius" sat down in a happier
vein for writing anything, than when he did so for the purpose
of recounting how Scrooge was converted, by a series of ghostly
apparitions, from the error of his utterly selfish way in life, until
then, as a tough-skinned, ingrained curmudgeon.

Characters and incidents, brought before us anew in the Reading, were
all so cordially welcomed,--the former being such old friends, the
latter so familiarly within our knowledge! Insomuch that many passages
were, almost word for word, remembered by those who, nevertheless,
listened as if curious to learn what might follow, yet who could
readily, any one of them, have prompted the Reader, that is the Author
himself, supposing by some rare chance he had happened, just for one
moment, to be at fault. It is curious to observe, on turning over
the leaves of the marked copy of this Reading, the sententious little
marginal notes for his own guidance, jotted down by the hand of this
wonderful master of elocutionary effect. "Narrative" is written on the
side of p. 5 where Scrooge's office, on Christmas Eve, is described,
just before mention is made of the Clerk's dismal little cell seeming to
be "a sort of tank," and of his fire being so small that it looked like
"one coal," and of his trying at last to warm himself by the candle, "in
which effort, not being a man of strong imagination, he failed." Again,
"Cheerful" is penned on the side of p. 6, where Scrooge's Nephew comes
in at a burst with "A Merry Christmas, uncle! God save you!"

After Scrooge's inhuman retort of "Bah! humbug!" not a word was added of
the descriptive sentence immediately following. Admirable though every
word of it is, however, one could hardly regret its suppression. Is it
asked why? Well then, for this simple reason--the force of which will
be admitted by anyone who ever had the happiness of grasping Charles
Dickens's hand in friendship--that his description of Scrooge's Nephew
was, quite unconsciously but most accurately, in every word of it, a
literal description of himself, just as he looked upon any day in the
blithest of all seasons, after a brisk walk in the wintry streets or on
the snowy high road. "He had so heated himself with rapid walking in the
fog and frost, this Nephew of Scrooge's, that he was all in a glow; his
face was ruddy and handsome; his eyes sparkled, and his breath smoked
again." The Novelist himself was depicted there to a nicety. No need,
therefore, was there for even one syllable of this in the Reading.
Scrooge's Nephew was visibly before us, without a word being uttered.

To our thinking, it has always seemed as if the one chink through which
Scrooge's sympathies are got at and his heart-strings are eventually
touched, is discernable in his keen sense of humour from the very
outset. It is precisely through this that there seems hope, from the
very beginning, of his proving to be made of "penetrable stuff." When,
after his monstrous "Out upon merry Christmas!" he goes on to say, "If
I had my will every idiot who goes about with 'merry Christmas' on his
lips should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of
holly in his heart: he should!" one almost feels as if he were laughing
in his sleeve from the very commencement. Instance, as yet more
strikingly to the point in respect to what we are here maintaining, the
wonderfully comic effect of the bantering remarks addressed by him to
the Ghost of Jacob Marley all through their confabulation, even when the
spectre's voice, as we are told, was disturbing the very marrow in
his bones. True, it is there stated that, all through that portentous
dialogue, he was only trying to be smart "as a means of distracting his
own attention." But the jests themselves are too delicious, one would
say, for mere make-believes. Besides which, hear his laugh at the end of
the book! Hardly that of one really so long out of practice--"a splendid
laugh, a most illustrious laugh, the father of a long, long line of
brilliant laughs!" A laugh, one might suppose, as contagious as that of
his own Nephew when he was "so inexpressibly tickled that he was obliged
to get up off the sofa and stamp!" Speaking of which our author writes
so delectably, "If you should happen by any unlikely chance to know a
man more blest in a laugh than Scrooge's Nephew, all I can say is, I
should like to know him too. Introduce him to me, and I'll cultivate
his acquaintance." At which challenge one might almost have been tempted
anticipatively to say at a venture--Scrooge! Good-humoured argument
apart, however, what creatures were those who, one by one--sometimes, it
almost seemed, two or three of them together--appeared and disappeared
upon the platform, at the Reader's own good-will and pleasure!

After Scrooge's "Good afternoon!"--delivered with irresistibly ludicrous
iteration--we caught something more than a distant glimpse of the Clerk
in the tank, when--on Scrooge's surly interrogation, if he will want
all day to-morrow?--the Reader replied in the thinnest and meekest of
frightened voices, "If quite convenient, sir!" It brought into full
view instantaneously, and for the first time, the little Clerk whom one
followed in imagination with interest a minute afterwards on his "going
down a slide at the end of a lane of boys twenty times in honour of
Christmas, and then, with the long ends of his white comforter dangling
below his waist (for he boasted no greatcoat) running home as hard as
he could pelt to play at blind man's buff." Instantly, upon the heels
of this, we find noted on the margin, p. 18, "Tone to mystery." The
spectral illusion of the knocker on Scrooge's house-door, looking for
all the world not like a knocker, but like Marley's face, "with a dismal
light about it like a bad lobster in a dark cellar," prepared the
way marvellously for what followed. Numberless little tid-bits of
description that anybody else would have struck out with reluctance, as,
for instance, that of Scrooge looking cautiously behind the street door
when he entered, "as if he half expected to be terrified with the sight
of Marley's pigtail sticking out into the hall," were unhesitatingly
erased by the Reader, as, from his point of view, not necessarily to
the purpose. Then, after the goblin incident of the disused bell slowly
oscillating until it and all the other bells in the house rang loudly
for a while--afterwards becoming in turn just as suddenly hushed--we got
to the clanking approach, from the sub-basement of the old building,
of the noise that at length came on through the heavy door of Scrooge's
apartment! "And"--as the Reader said with startling effect, while
his voice rose to a hurried outcry as he uttered the closing
exclamation--"upon its coming in, the dying flame leaped up, as though
it cried, '_I know him! Marley's Ghost!_'" The apparition, although
the description of it was nearly stenographically abbreviated in the
Reading, appeared to be, in a very few words, no less startlingly
realised. "Same face, usual waistcoat, tights, boots," even to the
spectral illusion being so transparent that Scrooge (his own marrow,
then, we may presume, becoming sensitized) looking through his
waistcoat "could see the two back buttons on the coat behind"--with
the incorrigible old joker's cynical reflection to himself that "he had
often heard Marley spoken of as having no bowels, but had never believed
it until then." The grotesque humour of his interview with the spectre
seemed scarcely to have been realised, in fact, until their colloquy was
actually listened to in the Reading.

Scrooge's entreaty addressed to the Ghost, when the latter demanded a
hearing, "Don't be flowery, Jacob, pray!" was only less laughable, for
example, than the expression of the old dreamer's visage when Marley
informed him that he had often sat beside him invisibly! Promised a
chance and hope in the fixture--a chance and hope of his dead partner's
procuring--Scrooge's "Thank 'ee!"--full of doubt--was a fitting prelude
to his acknowledgment of the favour when explained. "You will be
haunted," quoth the Ghost, "by three Spirits." The other faltering,
"I--I think I'd rather not:" and then quietly hinting afterwards,
"Couldn't I take 'em all at once, and have it over, Jacob?"

As for the revelations made to Ebenezer Scrooge by those three memorable
Spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, who can ever hope to
relate them and impersonate them as they were related and impersonated
by the Author himself of this peerless ghost-story! Fezziwig, for
example, with his calves shining like moons, who, after going
through all the intricacies of the country dance, bow, corkscrew,
thread-the-needle, and back again to your place, cut--"cut so deftly
that he appeared to wink with his legs, and came upon his feet again
without a stagger!" The very Fiddler, who "went up to the lofty desk
and made an orchestra of it, and tuned like fifty stomach-aches!" Master
Peter Cratchit, again, arrayed in his father's shirt collars, who,
rejoicing to find himself so gallantly attired, at one moment "yearned
to show his linen in the fashionable parks," and at another, hearing his
sister Martha talk of some lord who "was much about as tall as Peter,
pulled up his collars so high that you couldn't have seen him if you
had been there." As for the pathetic portions of the narrative, it is
especially observable in regard to those, that they were anything rather
than made too much of. There, more particularly, the elisions were
ruthless. Looking through the marked copy, it really would appear that
only a very few indeed of the salient points were left in regard to the
life and death of Tiny Tim. Bob's visit to the death-bed was entirely
unmentioned. Even the words "Spirit of Tiny Tim, thy childish essence
was from God!" were never uttered. Two utterances there _were_, however,
the one breathing an exquisite tenderness, the other indicative of a
long-suppressed but passionate outburst of grief, that thrilled to
the hearts of all who heard them, and still, we doubt not, haunt their
recollection. The one--where the mother, laying her mourning needlework
upon the table, put her hand up to her face. "'The colour hurts my
eyes,' she said. The colour? Ah! poor Tiny Tim!" The other, where the
father, while describing the little creature's grave, breaks down in a
sudden agony of tears. "It would have done you good to see how green a
place it is. But you'll see it often. I promised him that I would walk
there on a Sunday--_My little, little child! My little child!_" It was a
touch of nature that made the Reader and his world of hearers, upon the
instant, kin. The tearful outcry brimmed to the eyes of those present
a thousand visible echoes. "He broke down all at once. He couldn't help
it," said the Reader, adding in subdued accents the simple words, "If
he could have helped it, he and his child would have been further apart
perhaps than they were." With that ended all reference to the home-grief
at Bob Cratchit's. Everything else in relation to the loss of Tiny Tim
was foregone unhesitatingly.

The descriptive passages were cut out by wholesale. While the Christmas
dinner at Scrooge's Clerk's, and the Christmas party at Scrooge's
Nephew's, were left in almost in their entirety, the street-scenes and
shop-window displays were obliterated altogether. Nothing at all was
said about the "great round, pot-bellied baskets of chestnuts, shaped
like the waistcoats of jolly old gentlemen lolling at the doors and
tumbling into the streets in their apoplectic opulence." Nothing about
the ruddy, brown-faced, broad-girthed Spanish onions, shining in the
fatness of their growth like Spanish friars, and "winking from their
shelves in wanton slyness at the girls as they went by, and glanced
demurely at the hung-up mistletoe." Nothing about the canisters of tea
and coffee "rattled up and down like juggling tricks," or about the
candied fruits, "so caked and spotted with molten sugar as to make the
coldest lookers-on feel faint, and subsequently bilious."

Nay, we were denied even a momentary glimpse, on the snow-crusted
pavement at nightfall, of that group of handsome girls, all hooded and
fur-booted, and all chattering at once, tripping lightly off to some
near neighbour's house, "where, woe upon the single man who saw them
enter--artful witches, well they knew it--in a glow!" Topper was there,
however, and the plump sister in the lace tucker, and the game of
Yes-and-No, the solution to which was, "It's your uncle Scro-o-o-o-oge!"
Happiest of all these non-omissions, as one may call them, there
was that charming picture of Scrooge's niece by marriage, which--as
brightly, exquisitely articulated by the lips of her imaginer--was
like the loveliest girl-portrait ever painted by Greuze. "She was very
pretty, exceedingly pretty. With a dimpled, surprised-looking, capital
face; a ripe little mouth, that seemed made to be kissed--as no doubt it
was; all kinds of good little dots about her chin, that melted into one
another when she laughed; and the sunniest pair of eyes you ever saw
in any little creature's head. Altogether she was what you would
have called provoking, you know; but satisfactory, too. Oh, perfectly
satisfactory." The grave face and twinkling eyes with which this
cordial acquiescence in the conclusion arrived at was expressed were
irresistibly exhilarating. Just in the same way there was a sort of
parenthetical smack of the lips in the self-communing of Scrooge when,
at the very close of the story, after hesitating awhile at his Nephew's
door as to whether he should knock, he made a dash and did it. "Is your
master at home, my dear?" said Scrooge. "_Nice girl! very._" Then, as to
the cordiality of his reception by his Nephew, what could by possibility
have expressed it better than the look, voice, manner of the Reader.
"'Will you let me in, Fred?' _Let him in! It is a mercy he didn't shake
his arm off._" The turkey that "never could have stood upon its legs,
that bird," but must have "snapped 'em short off in a minute, like
sticks of sealing-wax!"--the remarkable boy who was just about its
size, and who, when told to go and buy it, cried out "Walk-ER!"--Bob
Cratchit's trying to overtake nine o'clock with his pen on his arriving
nearly twenty minutes afterwards; his trembling and getting a little
nearer the ruler when regenerated Scrooge talks about raising his
salary, prior to calling him Bob, and, with a clap on the back, wishing
him a merry Christmas!--brought, hilariously, the whole radiant Reading
of this wonderful story to its conclusion. It was a feast of humour
and a flow of fun, better than all the yule-tide fare that ever was
provided--fuller of good things than any Christmas pudding of plums and
candied fruit-peel--more warming to the cockles of one's heart,
whatever those may be, than the mellowest wassail-bowl ever brimmed to
over-flowing. No wonder those two friends of Thackeray, who have been
already mentioned, and who were both of them women, said of the Author
of the "Carol," by way of criticism, "God bless him!" This being
exclaimed by them, as will be remembered, simply after reading it to
themselves. If only they had heard him read it!


Reader and audience about equally, one may say, revelled in the "Trial
from Pickwick." Every well-known person in the comic drama was looked
for eagerly, and when at last Serjeant Buzfuz, as we were told, "rose
with more importance than he had yet exhibited, if that were possible,
and said, 'Call Samuel Weller,'" a round of applause invariably greeted
the announcement of perhaps the greatest of all Dickens's purely
humorous characters. The Reading copy of this abbreviated report of
the great case of _Bardell v. Pickwick_ has, among the complete set of
Readings, one very striking peculiarity. Half-bound in scarlet morocco
like all the other thin octavos in the collection, its leaves though
yellow and worn with constant turning like the rest, are wholly _un_like
those of the others in this, that the text is untouched by pen or
pencil. Beyond the first condensation of that memorable 34th chapter
of Pickwick, there is introduced not one single alteration by way of
after-thought. Struck off at a heat, as it was, that first humorous
report of the action for breach of promise of marriage brought by Martha
Bardell against Samuel Pickwick admitted in truth in no way whatever of
improvement. Anything like a textual change would have been resented by
the hearers--every one of them Pickwickian, as the case might be, to
a man, woman, or child--as in the estimation of the literary court,
nothing less than a high crime and misdemeanour. Once epitomised for
the Reading, the printed version, at least of the report, was left
altogether intact. Nevertheless, strange to say, there was perhaps no
Reading out of the whole series of sixteen, in the delivery of which
the Author more readily indulged himself with an occasional gag. Every
interpolation of this kind, however, was so obviously introduced on
the spur of the moment, so refreshingly spontaneous and so ludicrously
_apropos_, that it was always cheered to the very echo, or, to put
the fact not conventionally but literally, was received with peals of
laughter. Thus it was in one instance, as we very well remember, in
regard to Mr. Justice Stareleigh--upon every occasion that we saw
him, one of the Reader's most whimsical impersonations. The little
judge--described in the book as "all face and waistcoat"--was presented
to view upon the platform as evidently with no neck at all (to speak
of), and as blinking with owl-like stolidity whenever he talked, which
he always did under his voice, and with apparently a severe cold in the
head. On the night more particularly referred to, Sam Weller, being
at the moment in the witness-box, had just replied to the counsel's
suggestion, that what he (Sam) meant by calling Mr. Pickwick's "a very
good service" was "little to do and plenty to get."--"Oh, quite enough
to get, sir, as the soldier said ven they ordered him three hundred and
fifty lashes." Thereupon--glowering angrily at Sam, and blinking his
eyes more than ever--Mr. Justice Stareleigh remarked, with a heavier
cold in the head than hitherto, in a severe monotone, and with the
greatest deliberation, "You must not tell us what the soldier says
unless the soldier is in court, unless that soldier comes here in
uniform, and is examined in the usual way--it's not evidence." Another
evening, again, we recall quite as clearly to mind, when the Reader was
revelling more even than was his wont, in the fun of this representation
of the trial-scene, he suddenly seemed to open up the revelation of an
entirely new phase in Mr. Winkle's idiosyncrasy. Under the badgering of
Mr. Skimpin's irritating examination, as to whether he was or was not
a particular friend of Mr. Pickwick the defendant, the usually placable
Pickwickian's patience upon this occasion appeared gradually and at last
utterly to forsake him. "I have known Mr. Pickwick now, as well as I can
recollect at this moment, nearly----"

"Pray, Mr. Winkle, do not evade the question. Are you or are you not
a particular friend of the defendant's?" "I was just about to say----"
"Will you, or will you not, answer my question, sir?" "Why, God bless my
soul, I was just about to say that------" Whereupon the Court, otherwise
Mr. Justice Stareleigh, blinking faster than ever, blurted out severely,
"If you don't answer the question you'll be committed to prison, sir!"
And then, but not till then, Mr. Winkle was sufficiently restored to
equanimity to admit at last, meekly, "Yes, he was!"

In the Reading of the Trial the first droll touch was the
well-remembered reference to the gentlemen in wigs, in the barristers'
seats, presenting as a body "all that pleasing variety of nose and
whisker for which the bar of England is so justly celebrated." Even the
allusion to those among their number who carried a brief "scratching
their noses with it to impress the fact more strongly on the observation
of the spectators," and the other allusion to those who hadn't a brief,
carrying instead red-labelled octavos with "that under-done-pie-crust
cover, technically known as law calf," was each, in turn, welcomed with
a flutter of amusement. Every point, however minute, told, and told
eifectively. More eifectively than if each was heard for the first
time, because all were thoroughly known, and, therefore, thoroughly well
appreciated. The opening address of Serjeant Buzfuz every one naturally
enough regarded as one of the most mirth-moving portions of the whole
representation. In the very exordium of it there was something eminently
absurd in the Serjeant's extraordinarily precise, almost mincing
pronunciation. As where he said, that "never in the whole course of his
professional experience--never from the first moment of his applying
himself to the study and practice of the law--had he approached a case
with such a heavy sense of respon-see-bee-lee-ty imposed upon him--a
respon-see-bee-lee-ty he could never have supported were he not," and so
forth. Again, a wonderfully ridiculous effect was imparted by the Reader
to his mere contrasts of manner when, at one moment, in the bland and
melancholy accents of Serjeant Buzfuz, he referred to the late Mr.
Bardell as having "glided almost imperceptibly from the world to seek
elsewhere for that repose and peace which a custom-house can never
afford," adding, the next instant in his own voice, and with the most
cruelly matter-of-fact precision, "This was a pathetic description of
the decease of Mr. Bardell, who had been knocked on the head with
a quart-pot in a public-house cellar." The gravity of the Reader's
countenance at these moments, with, now and then, but very rarely, a
lurking twinkle in the eye, was of itself irresistibly provocative of
laughter. Even upon the Serjeant's mention of the written placard hung
up in the parlour window of Goswell Street, bearing this inscription,
"Apartments furnished for single gentlemen: inquire within," the
sustained seriousness with which he added, that there the forensic
orator paused while several gentlemen of the jury "took a note of the
document," one of that intelligent body inquiring, "There is no date to
that, is there, sir?" made fresh ripples of laughter spread from it as
inevitably as the concentric circles on water from the dropping of a
pebble. The crowning extravagances of this most Gargantuan of comic
orations were always of course the most eagerly welcomed, such, for
example, as the learned Serjeant's final allusion to Pickwick's
coming before the court that day with "his heartless tomato-sauce and
warming-pans," and the sonorous close of the impassioned peroration
with the plaintiff's appeal to "an enlightened, a high-minded, a
right-feeling, a conscientious, a dispassionate, a sympathising, a
contemplative jury of her civilised countrymen." It was after this,
however, that the true fun of the Reading began with the examination
and cross-examination of the different witnesses. These, as a matter of
course, were acted, not described.

Mrs. Cluppins first entered the box, with her feelings, so far as they
could be judged from her voice, evidently all but too many for her. Her
fluttered reply showed this at the very commencement, in answer to an
inquiry as to whether she remembered one particular morning in July
last, when Mrs. Bar-dell was dusting Pickwick's apartment. "Yes, my lord
and jury, I do." "Was that sitting-room the first-floor front?" "Yes, it
were, sir"--something in the manner of Mrs. Crupp when at her faintest.
The suspicious inquiry of the red-faced little Judge, "What were
you doing in the back-room, ma'am?" followed--on her replying
lackadaisically, "My lord and jury, I will not deceive you"--by his
blinking at her more fiercely, "You had better not, ma'am," were only
exceeded in comicality by Justice Stare-leigh's bewilderment a moment
afterwards, upon her saying that she "see Mrs. Bardell's street-door on
the jar."

Judge (in immense astonishment).--"On the what?"

Counsel.--"Partly open, my lord."

Judge (with more owl-like stolidity than ever).--"She said on the jar."

Counsel.--"It's all the same, my lord."

Then--blinking more quickly than before, with a furtive glance at
witness, and a doubtful look of abstraction into space--the little Judge
made a note of it.

As in Mrs. Cluppins' faintness there was a recognizable touch of Mrs.
Crupp, when the spasms were engendering in the nankeen bosom of that
exemplary female, so also in the maternal confidences volunteered by the
same witness, there was an appreciable reminder of another lady who
will be remembered as having been introduced at the Coroner's Inquest
in Bleak House as "Anastasia Piper, gentlemen." Regarding that as a
favourable opportunity for informing the court of her own domestic
affairs, through the medium of a brief dissertation, Mrs. Cluppins was
interrupted by the irascible Judge at the most interesting point in her
revelations, when, having mentioned that she was already the mother of
eight children, she added, that "she entertained confident
expectations of presenting Mr. Cluppins with a ninth about that day
six months"--whereupon the worthy lady was summarily hustled out of the

Nathaniel Winkle, however, consoled us immediately. Don't we remember
how, even before he could open his lips, he was completely disconcerted?
Namely, when, bowing very respectfully to the little Judge, he had that
complimentary proceeding acknowledged snappishly with, "Don't look at
me, sir; look at the jury----" Mr. Winkle, in obedience to the mandate,
meekly looking "at the place where he thought that the jury might
be." Don't we remember also perfectly well how the worst possible
construction was cast by implication beforehand upon his probable reply
to the very first question put to him, namely, by the mere manner in
which that first question was put? "Now, sir, have the goodness to
let his lordship and the jury know what your name is, will you?" Mr.
Skimpin, in propounding this inquiry, inclining his head on one side and
listening with great sharpness for the answer, "as if to imply that he
rather thought Mr. Winkle's natural taste for perjury would induce him
to give some name which did not belong to him." Giving in, absurdly, his
surname only; and being asked immediately afterwards, if possible still
more absurdly, by the Judge, "Have you any Christian name, sir?" the
witness, in the Reading, more naturally and yet more confusedly even
it seemed than in the book, got that eminent functionary into a great
bewilderment as to whether he (Mr. Winkle) were called Nathaniel Daniel,
or Daniel Nathaniel. Bewildered himself, in his turn, and that
too almost hopelessly, came Mr. Winkle's reply, "No, my lord; only
Nathaniel--not Daniel at all." Irascibly, the Judge's, "What did you
tell me it was Daniel for, then, sir?" Shamefaced and yet irritably,
"I didn't, my lord." "You did, sir!"--with great indignation, topped by
this cogent reasoning,--"How could I have got Daniel on my notes, unless
you told me so, sir?" Nothing at all was said about it in the Reading;
but, again and again, Mr. Winkle, as there impersonated, while
endeavouring to feign an easiness of manner, was made to assume, in his
then state of confusion, "rather the air of a disconcerted pickpocket."

Better almost than Mr. Winkle himself, however, as an impersonation,
was, in look, voice, manner, Mr. Skimpin, the junior barrister, under
whose cheerful but ruthless interrogations that unfortunate gentleman
was stretched upon the rack of examination. His (Mr. Skimpin's) cheery
echoing--upon every occasion when it was at last extorted from his
victim--of the latter's answer (followed instantly by his own taunts and
insinuations), remains as vividly as anything at all about this Reading
in our recollection. When at length Mr. Winkle, with no reluctance in
the world, but only seemingly with reluctance, answers the inquiry as to
whether he is a particular friend of Pickwick, "Yes, I am!"--"Yes, you
are!" said Mr. Skimpin (audibly to the court, but as if it were only to
himself). "And why couldn't you say that at once, sir? Perhaps you know
the plaintiff, too--eh, Mr. Winkle?" "I don't know her; I've seen her!"
"Oh, _you don't know her, but you've seen her!_ Now have the goodness to
tell the gentlemen of the jury what you mean by _that_, Mr. Winkle." As
to how this unfortunate witness, after being driven to the confines of
desperation, on being at last released, "rushed with delirious haste"
to the hotel, "where he was discovered some hours after by the waiter,
groaning in a hollow and dismal manner, with his head buried beneath the
sofa cushions"--not a word was said in the Reading.

A flavour of the fun of Mrs. Sanders's evidence was given, but only a
passing flavour of it, in reference to Mr. Sanders having, in the course
of their correspondence, often called her duck, but never chops, nor yet
tomato-sauce--he being particularly fond of ducks--though possibly, if
he had been equally fond of chops and tomato-sauce, he might have called
her that instead, as a term of affection.

_The_ evidence of all, however, was that of Sam Weller, no less to
the enjoyment of the Author, it was plain to see, than to that of his
hearers. After old Weller's hoarse and guttural cry from the gallery,
"Put it down a wee, my lord," in answer to the inquiry whether the
immortal surname was to be spelt with a V. or a W.; Sam's quiet "I
rayther suspect it was my father, my lord," came with irresistible
effect from the Reader, as also did his recollection of something "wery
partickler" having happened on the memorable morning, out of which had
sprung the whole of this trial of Bardell v. Pickwick, namely, that he
himself that day had "a reg'lar new fit out o' clothes." Beyond all the
other Wellerisms, however, was Sam's overwhelmingly conclusive answer to
counsel's inquiry in regard to his not having seen what occurred, though
he himself, at the time, was in the passage, "Have you a pair of eyes,
Mr. Weller?" "Yes, I _have_ a pair of eyes; and that's just it If they
wos a pair o' patent double-million magnifying gas microscopes of hextra
power, p'r'aps I might be able to see through two flights o' stairs
and a deal door; but _bein'_ only eyes, you see, my wision's limited."
Better by far, in our estimation, nevertheless, than the smart Cockney
facetiousness of the inimitable Sam; better than the old coachman's
closing lamentation, "Vy worn't there a alleybi?" better than Mr.
Winkle, or Mrs. Cluppins, or Serjeant Buzfuz, or than all the rest
of those engaged in any capacity in the trial, put together, was the
irascible little Judge, with the blinking eyes and the monotonous
voice--himself, in his very _pose_, obviously, "all face and waistcoat."
Than Mr. Justice Stareleigh there was, in the whole of this most
humorous of all the Readings, no more highly comic impersonation.


The sea-beach at Yarmouth formed both the opening and the closing scene
of this Reading, in six chapters, from "David Copperfield." In its
varied portraiture of character and in the wonderful descriptive
power marking its conclusion, it was one of the most interesting and
impressive of the whole series in its delivery. Through it, we renewed
our acquaintance more vividly than ever with handsome, curry-headed,
reckless, heartless Steerforth! With poor, lone, lorn Mrs. Gummidge,
not only when everythink about her went contrairy, but when her better
nature gushed forth under the great calamity befalling her benefactor.
With pretty little Emily, and bewitching little Dora. With Mr. Micawber,
his shirt-collar, his eye-glass, the condescending roll in his voice,
and his intermittent bursts of confidence. With Mrs. Micawber, who,
as the highest praise we can bestow upon her, is quite worthy of her
husband, and who is always, it will be remembered, so impassioned in her
declaration that, come what may, she never _will_ desert Mr. Micawber!
With Traddles, and his irrepressible hair, even a love-lock from which
had to be kept down by Sophy's preservation of it in a clasped locket!
With Mr. Peggotty, in fine, who, in his tender love for his niece, is,
according to his own account, "not to-look at, but to think on," nothing
less than a babby in the form of a great sea Porkypine! Remembering the
other originals, crowding the pages of the story in its integrity, how
one would have liked to have seen even a few more of them impersonated
by the protean Novelist! That "most wonderful woman in the world," Aunt
Betsey, for example; or that most laconic of carriers, Mr. Barkis; or,
to name yet one other, Uriah Heep, that reddest and most writhing of
rascally attornies. As it was, however, there were abundant realizations
within the narrow compass of this Reading of the principal persons
introduced in the autobiography of David Copperfield. The most loveable,
by the way, of all the young heroes portrayed in the Dickens' Gallery
was there, to begin with, for example--the peculiar loveableness
of David being indicated as plainly as by any means through the
extraordinary variety of pet names given to him by one or another in the
course of the narrative. For, was he not the "Daisy" of Steerforth, the
"Doady" of Dora, the "Trotwood" of Aunt Betsy, and the "Mas'r Davy" of
the Yarmouth boatmen, just as surely as he was the "Mr. Copper-full"
of Mrs. Crupp, the "Master Copperfield" of Uriah Heep, and the "Dear
Copperfield" of Mr. Wilkins Micawber?

That "The Personal History and Experiences of David Copperfield
the Younger" was, among all its author's works, his own particular
favourite, he himself, in his very last preface to it, in 1867, formally
acknowledged. Several years previously, while sauntering with him to
and fro one evening on the grass-plot at Gadshill, we remember receiving
from him that same admission. "Which of all your books do you think
I regard as incomparably your best?" "Which?" "David Copperfield." A
momentary pause ensuing, he added, readily and without the smallest
reservation, "You are quite right." The acknowledgment then made as
to this being in fact his own opinion was thus simply but emphatically
expressed. Pen in hand, long afterwards, he made the same admission,
only with yet greater emphasis, when the Preface to the new edition of
the story in 1867 was thus closed by Charles Dickens--"Of all my books,
I like this the best. It will be easily believed that I am a fond parent
to every child of my fancy, and that no one can ever love that family as
dearly as I love them. But, like many fond parents, I have in my heart
of hearts a favourite child. And his name is 'David Copperfield.'"
Having that confession from his own lips and under his own hand, it will
be readily understood that the Novelist always took an especial delight
when, in the course of his Readings, the turn came for that of "David

One of the keenest sensations of pleasure he ever experienced as a
Reader--as he himself related to us with the liveliest gratification,
evidently, even in the mere recollection of the incident--occurred
in connection with this very Reading. Strange to say, moreover,
it occurred, not in England or in America, in the presence of an
English-speaking audience, but in Paris, and face to face with an
audience more than half of which was composed of Frenchmen. And the
hearer who caused him, there, that artistic sense, one might almost call
it thrill of satisfaction---was a Frenchman! All that was expressed
on the part of this appreciative listener, being uttered by him
instantaneously in a half-whispered, monosyllabic ejaculation. As we
have already explained upon an earlier page, the Readings which took
place in Paris, and which were in behalf of the British Charitable Fund
in that capital, were given there before a densely crowded but very
select audience at the British Embassy, Lord Cowley being then her
Majesty's ambassador. The Reading on the occasion referred to was "David
Copperfield," and the Reader became aware in the midst of the hushed
silence, just after he had been saying, in the voice of Steerforth,
giving at the same moment a cordial grasp of the hand to the briny
fisherman he was addressing: "Mr. Peggotty, you are a thoroughly good
fellow, and deserve to be as happy as you are to-night. My hand upon
it!" when, turning round, he added, still as Steerforth, but speaking
in a very different voice and offering a very different hand-grip, as
though already he were thinking to himself what a chuckle-headed fellow
the young shipwright was--"Ham, I give you joy, my boy. My hand upon
that too!" The always keenly observant Novelist became aware of a
Frenchman, who was eagerly listening in the front row of the stalls,
suddenly exclaiming to himself, under his breath, "Ah--h!"--having
instantly caught the situation! The sound of that one inarticulate
monosyllable, as he observed, when relating the circumstance, gave the
Reader, as an artist, a far livelier sense of satisfaction than any that
could possibly have been imparted by mere acclamations, no matter how
spontaneous or enthusiastic.

As a Reading, it always seemed to us, that "David Copperfield" was cut
down rather distressingly. That, nevertheless, was unavoidable. Turning
in off Yarmouth sands, we went straight at once through the "delightful
door" cut in its side, into the old black barge or boat, high and dry
there on the sea-beach, and which was known to us nearly as familiarly
as to David himself, as the odd dwelling-house inhabited by Mr.
Peggotty. All the still-life of that beautifully clean and tidy interior
we had revealed to us again, as of old: lockers, boxes, table, Dutch
clock, chest of drawers--even tea-tray, only that we failed to hear
anything said about the painting on the tea-tray, representing "a lady
with a parasol, taking a walk with a military-looking child, who was
trundling a hoop." The necessities of condensation in the same way
restricted the definition of Mr. Peggotty's occupation in the Reading,
to the simple mention of the fact that he dealt in lobsters, crabs, and
craw-fish, without any explanation at all as to those creatures being
heaped together in a little wooden out-house "in a state of wonderful
conglomeration with one another, and never leaving off pinching whatever
they laid hold of." Little Emily appeared as a beautiful young woman,
and no longer as the prattling lassie who, years before had confided
to her playfellow, David, how, if ever she were a lady, she would give
uncle Dan, meaning Mr. Peggotty, "a sky-blue coat, with diamond buttons,
nankeen trousers, a red velvet waistcoat, a cocked hat, a large gold
watch, a silver pipe, and a box of money." Mrs. Gummidge, as became a
faithful widow, was still fretting after the Old 'Un. Ham, something of
Mr. Peggotty's own build, as the latter described him, "a good deal o'
the sou-wester in him, wery salt, but on the whole, a honest sort of
a chap, too, with his 'art in the right place," had just made good his
betrothal to the little creature he had seen grow up there before him,
"like a flower," when, at the very opening of the Reading, into the
old Yarmouth boat, walked "Mas'r Davy" and his friend Steerforth. Mr.
Peggotty's explanation to his unexpected but heartily welcomed visitors
as to how the engagement between Ham and Emily, had but just then been
brought about, opened up before the audience in a few words the whole
scheme of the tragic little dramatic tale about to be revealed to them
through a series of vivid impersonations.

The idiomatic sentences of the bluff fisherman, as in their racy
vernacular they were blithely given utterance to by the manly voice of
the Reader, seemed to supply a fitting introduction to the drama, as
though from the lips of a Yarmouth Chorus. Scarcely had the social
carouse there in the old boat, on that memorable evening of Steerforth's
introduction, been recounted, when the whole drift of the story was
clearly foreshadowed in the brief talk which immediately took place
between him and David as they walked townwards across the sands towards
their hotel. "Daisy,--for though that's not the name your godfathers
and godmothers gave you, you're such a fresh fellow, that it's the name
I best like to call you by--and I wish, I wish, I wish you could give it
to me!" That of itself had its-significance. But still more significant
was David's mention of his looking in at Steerforth's bed-room on the
following morning, before himself going away alone, and of his there
finding the handsome scapegrace fast asleep, "lying easily, with his
head upon his-arm," as he had often seen him lie in the old school
dormitory. "Thus in this silent hour I left him," with mournful
tenderness, exclaimed the Reader, in the words and accents of his young
hero. "Never more, O God forgive you, Steerforth! to touch that passive
hand in love and friendship. Never, never more!" The revelation of his
treachery, towards the pretty little betrothed of the young shipwright,
followed immediately afterwards, on the occasion of David's next visit,
some months later, to the old boat on the flats at Yarmouth.

The wonder still is to us, now that we are recalling to mind the salient
peculiarities of this Reading, as we do so, turning over leaf by leaf
the marked copy of it, from which the Novelist read; the wonder, we
repeat, still is to us how, in that exquisite scene, the very words that
have always moved us most in the novel were struck out in the delivery,
are rigidly scored through here with blue inkmarks in the reading copy,
by the hand of the Reader-Novelist. Those words we mean which occur,
where Ham, having on his arrival, made a movement as if Em'ly were
outside, asked Mas'r Davy to "come out a minute," only for him, on his
doing so, to find that Em'ly was not there, and that Ham was deadly
pale. "Ham! what's the matter?" was gasped out in the Reading.
But--_not_ what follows, immediately on that, in the original
narrative: "'Mas'r Davy!' Oh, for his broken heart, how dreadfully he
wept!" Nor yet the sympathetic exclamations of David, who, in the novel,
describes himself as paralysed by the sight of such grief, not knowing
what he thought or what he dreaded; only able to look at him,--yet
crying out to him the next moment, "Ham! Poor, good fellow! For heaven's
sake tell me what's the matter?" Nothing of this: only--"My love, Mas'r
Davy--the pride and hope of my 'art, her that I'd have died for, and
would die for now--she's gone!" "Gone?" "Em'ly's run away!" Ham, _not_
then adding in the Reading, "Oh, Mas'r Davy, think _how_ she's run away,
when I pray my good and gracious God to kill her (her that is so dear
above all things) sooner than let her come to ruin and disgrace!" Yet,
for all that, in spite of these omissions--it can hardly by any chance
have been actually by reason of them--the delivery of the whole scene
was singularly powerful and affecting. Especially in the representation
of Mr. Peggotty's profound grief, under what is to him so appalling a
calamity. Especially also in the revelation of Mrs. Gummidge's pity for
him, her gratitude to him, and her womanly tender-heartedness.

In charming relief to the sequel of this tragic incident of the
bereavement of the Peggottys, came David's love passages with Dora, and
his social unbendings with Mr. Micawber. Regaling the latter inimitable
personage, and his equally inimitable wife, together with David's old
schoolfellow, Tradelles, on a banquet of boiled leg of mutton, very red
inside and very pale outside, as well as upon a delusive pigeon-pie,
the crust of which was like a disappointing phrenological head, "full of
lumps and bumps, with nothing particular underneath," David afforded us
the opportunity of realising, within a very brief interval, something
at least of the abundant humour associated with Mrs. Micawber's worldly
wisdom, and Mr. Micawber's ostentatious impecuniosity. A word, that
last, it always seems to us--describing poverty, as it does, with such
an air of pomp--especially provided beforehand for Mr. Micawber (out of
a prophetic anticipation or foreknowledge of him) by the dictionary.

The mere opening of the evening's entertainment at David Copperfield's
chambers on this occasion, enabled the Humorist to elicit preliminary
roars of laughter from his audience by his very manner of saying, with a
deliciously ridiculous prolongation of the liquid consonant forming the
initial of the last word--"As to Mrs. Micawber, I don't know whether it
was the effect of the cap, or the lavender water, or the phis, or the
fire, or the wax-candles, but she came out of my room comparatively
speaking l-l-lovely!"

As deliciously ridiculous was the whole scene between Dora and David,
where the latter, at length, takes courage to make his proposal--"Jip
barking madly all the time "--Dora crying the while and trembling.
David's eloquence increasing, the more he raved, the more Jip
barked--each, in his own way, getting more mad every moment! Even when
they had got married by licence, "the Archbishop of Canterbury invoking
a blessing, and doing it as cheap as it could possibly be expected,"
their domestic experiences were sources of unbounded merriment.

As, for example, in connection with their servant girl's cousin in the
Life Guards, "with such long legs that he looked like the afternoon
shadow of somebody else." Finally, closing the whole of this ingenious
epitome of the original narrative, came that grand and wonderfully
realistic description of the stupendous storm upon the beach at
Yarmouth, upon the extraordinary power of which as a piece of
declamation we have already at some length commented. There, in the
midst of the dying horrors of that storm--there, on those familiar
sands, where Mas'r Davy and Little Em'ly had so often looked for shells
when they were children, on the very spot where some lighter fragments
of the old boat, blown down the night before, had been scattered by the
tempest, David Copperfield was heard describing, in the last mournful
sentence of the Reading, how he saw _him_ lying with his curly head upon
his arm, as he had often seen him lie when they were at school together.


A Fairy Tale of Home was here related, that in its graceful and
fantastic freaks of fancy might have been imagined by the Danish poet,
Hans Christian Andersen. In its combination of simple pathos and genial
drollery, however, it was a story that no other could by possibility
have told than the great English Humorist. If there was something really
akin to the genius of Andersen, in the notion of the Cricket with its
shrill, sharp, piercing voice resounding through the house, and seeming
to twinkle in the outer darkness like a star, Dickens, and no other
could, by any chance, have conjured up the forms of either Caleb
Plummer, or Gruff-and-Tackleton. The cuckoo on the Dutch clock, now like
a spectral voice, now hiccoughing on the assembled company, as if he
had got drunk for joy; the little haymaker over the dial mowing down
imaginary grass, jerking right and left with his scythe in front of a
Moorish palace; the hideous, hairy, red-eyed jacks-in-boxes; the flies
in the Noah's arks, that "an't on that scale neither as compared with
elephants;" the giant masks, having a certain furtive leer, "safe to
destroy the peace of mind of any young gentlemen between the ages of six
and eleven, for the whole Christmas or Midsummer vacation," were all of
them like dreams of the Danish poet, coloured into a semblance of life
by the grotesque humour of the English Novelist. But dear little Dot,
who was rather of the dumpling's shape--"but I don't myself object to
that"--and good, lumbering John Peerybingle, her husband, often so near
to something or another very clever, according to his own account, and
Boxer, the carrier's dog, "with that preposterous nothing of a fag-end
of a tail of his, describing circles of barks round the horse, making
savage rushes at his mistress, and facetiously bringing himself to
sudden stops,"--all bear upon them unmistakably the sign-manual of Boz.

As originally recounted in the Christmas story-book, the whole narrative
was comprised within a very few pages, portioned out into three little
chirps. Yet the letter-press was illustrated profusely by pencils as
eminent as those of Daniel Maclise, of Clarkson Stanfield, of Richard
Doyle, of John Leech, of Sir Edwin Landseer. The charming little fairy
tale, moreover, was inscribed to Lord Jeffrey. It was a favourite of
his, as it still is of many another critic north and south of the
Tweed, light, nay trivial, though the materials out of which the homely
apologue is composed. It can hardly be wondered at, however, remembering
how less than four years prior to its first publication, a literary
reviewer, no less formidable than Professor Wilson--while abstaining,
in his then capacity as chairman of the public banquet given to Charles
Dickens at Edinburgh, from attempting, as he said, anything like "a
critical delineation of our illustrious guest"--nevertheless, added
emphatically, "I cannot but express in a few ineffectual words the
delight which every human bosom feels in the benign spirit which
pervades all his creations." Christopher North thus further expressed
his admiration then of the young English Novelist--"How kind and good
a man he is," the great Critic exclaimed, laying aside for a while the
crutch with which he had so often, in the Ambrosian Nights, brained many
an arrant pretender to the title of genius or of philanthropist, and
turning his lion-like eyes, at the moment beaming only with cordiality,
on the then youthful face of Dickens,--"How kind and good a man he is
I need not say, nor what strength of genius he has acquired by that
profound sympathy with his fellow-creatures, whether in prosperity and
happiness, or overwhelmed with unfortunate circumstances." Purely and
simply, in his capacity as an imaginative writer, the Novelist had
already (then in the June of 1841) impressed thus powerfully the heart
and judgment of John Wilson, of Christopher North, of the inexorable
Rhadamanthus of _Blackwood_ and the "Noctes." Afterwards, but a very
little more than two years afterwards, came the "Carol." The following
winter rang out the "Chimes." The Christmas after that was heard the
chirping of the "Cricket."

Four years previously Professor Wilson, on the occasion referred to, had
remarked of him most truly,--"He has not been deterred by the aspect of
vice and wickedness, and misery and guilt, from seeking a spirit of good
in things evil, but has endeavoured by the might of genius to transmute
what was base into what is precious as the beaten gold;" observing,
indeed, yet further--"He has mingled in the common walks of life; he
has made himself familiar with the lower orders of society." As if in
supplementary and conclusive justification of those words, Dickens,
within less than five years afterwards, had woven his graceful and
pathetic fancies about the homely joys and sorrows of Bob Cratchit,
of Toby Veck, and of Caleb Plummer, of a little Clerk, a little
Ticket-porter, and a little Toy-maker. His pen at these times was like
the wand of Cinderella's fairy godmother, changing the cucumber into a
gilded chariot, and the lizards into glittering retainers.

At the commencement of this Reading but very little indeed was said
about the Cricket, hardly anything at all about the kettle. Yet, as
everybody knows, "the kettle began it" in the story-book. The same right
of precedence was accorded to the kettle in the author's delivery of his
fairy tale by word of mouth, but otherwise its comfortable purring song
was in a manner hushed. One heard nothing about its first appearance on
the hearth, when "it would lean forward with a drunken air, and dribble,
a very idiot of a kettle," any more than of its final pæan, when, after
its iron body hummed and stirred upon the fire, the lid itself, the
recently rebellious lid, performed a sort of jig, and clattered "like
a deaf and dumb young cymbal that had never known the use of its twin
brother." Here, again, in fact, as with so many other of these Readings
from his own books by our Novelist, the countless good things scattered
abundantly up and down the original descriptions--inimitable touches of
humour that had each of them, on the appreciative palate, the effect of
that verbal bon-bon, the bon-mot--were sacrificed inexorably, apparently
without a qualm, and certainly by wholesale. What the Reader looked to
throughout, was the human element in his imaginings when they were to be

Let but one of these tid-bits be associated directly with the fanciful
beings introduced in the gradual unfolding of the incidents, and it
might remain there untouched, Thus, for example, when the Carrier's
arrival at his home came to be mentioned, and the Reader related how
John Peerybingle, being much taller, as well as much older than his
wife, little Dot, "had to stoop a long way down to kiss her"--the words
that followed thereupon were happily _not_ omitted: "but she was worth
the trouble,--six foot six with the lumbago might have done it." Several
of John's choicest--all-but jokes were also retained. As, where Dot
is objecting to be called by that pet diminutive, "'Why, what else are
you?' returned John, looking down upon her with a smile, and giving her
waist as light a squeeze as his huge hand and arm could give, 'A dot
and'--here he glanced at the baby--'a dot and carry'--I won't say it,
for fear I should spoil it; but I was very near a joke. I don't know as
ever I was nearer." Tilly Slowboy and her charge, the baby, were, upon
every mention of them in the Reading, provocative of abundant laughter.
The earliest allusion to Miss Slowboy recording these characteristic
circumstances in regard to her costume, that it "was remarkable for the
partial development, on all possible and impossible occasions, of some
flannel vestment of a singular structure, also for affording glimpses in
the region of the back of a pair of stays, in colour a dead green." On
the introduction of the Mysterious Stranger--apparently all but stone
deaf--from the Carrier's cart, where he had been forgotten, the comic
influence of the Reading became irresistible.

Stranger (on noticing Dot) interrogatively to John.--"Your Daughter?"

Carrier, with the voice of a boatswain.--"Wife."

Stranger, with his hand to his ear, being not quite certain that he has
caught it.--"Niece?"

Carrier, with a roar.--"Wife."

Satisfied at last upon that point, the stranger asks of John, as a new
matter of curiosity to him, "Baby, yours?" Whereupon the Reader, _as_
John, "gave a gigantic nod, equivalent to an answer in the affirmative,
delivered through a speaking-trumpet."

Stranger, still unsatisfied, inquiring,--"Girl?".--"Bo-o-oy!" was
bellowed back by John Peerybingle. It was when Mrs. Peerybingle herself
took up the parable, however, that the merriment excited among the
audience became fairly irrepressible. Scarcely had the nearly stone-deaf
stranger added, in regard to the "Bo-o-oy,"--"Also very young, eh?"
(a comment previously applied by him to Dot) when the Reader, as Mrs.
Peerybingle, instantly struck in, at the highest pitch of his
voice, that is, of her voice (the comic effect of this being simply
indescribable)--"Two months and three da-ays! Vaccinated six weeks
ago-o! Took very fine-ly! Considered, by the doctor, a remarkably
beautiful chi-ild! Equal to the general run of children at five months
o-old! Takes notice in a way quite won-der-ful! May seem impossible to
you, but feels his feet al-ready!" Directly afterwards, Caleb
Plummer appeared upon the scene, little imagining that in the
Mysterious-Stranger would be discovered, later on, under the disguise
of that nearly stone-deaf old gentleman, his (Caleb's) own dear boy,
Edward, supposed to have died in the golden South Americas. Little
Caleb's inquiry of Mrs. Peerybingle,--"You couldn't have the goodness to
let me pinch Boxer's tail, Mum, for half a moment, could you?" was
one of the welcome whimsicalities of the Reading. "Why, Caleb! what a
question!" naturally enough was Dot's instant exclamation. "Oh, never
mind, Mum!" said the little toy-maker, apologetically, "He mightn't like
it perhaps"--adding, by way of explanation--"There's a small order just
come in, for barking dogs; and I should wish to go as close to Natur' as
I could, for sixpence!" Caleb's employer, Tackleton, in his large
green cape and bull-headed looking mahogany tops, was then described as
entering pretty much in the manner of what one might suppose to be that
of an ogrish toy-merchant. His character came out best perhaps--meaning,
in another sense, that is, at its worst--when the fairy spirit of
John's house, the Cricket, was heard chirping; and Tackleton asked,
grumpily,--"Why don't you kill that cricket? I would! I always do!
I hate their noise!" John exclaiming, in amazement,--"You kill your
crickets, eh?" "Scrunch 'em, sir!" quoth Tackleton. One of the most
wistfully curious thoughts uttered in the whole of the Reading was the
allusion to the original founder of the toy-shop of Gruff and Tackleton,
where it was remarked (such a quaint epitome of human life!) that under
that same crazy roof, beneath which Caleb Plummer and Bertha, his blind
daughter, found shelter as their humble home,--"the Gruff before last
had, in a small way, _made toys for a generation of old boys and girls,
who had played with them, and found them out, and broken them, and gone
to sleep_." Another wonderfully comic minor character was introduced
later on in the eminently ridiculous person of old Mrs. Fielding--in
regard to in-door gloves, a foreshadowing of Mrs. Wilfer--in the matter
of her imaginary losses through the indigo trade, a spectral precursor,
or dim prototype, as one might say, of Mrs. Pipchin and the Peruvian
mines. Throughout the chief part of the dreamy, dramatic little story,
the various characters, it will be remembered, are involved in a mazy
entanglement of cross purposes. Mystery sometimes, pathos often, terror
for one brief interval, rose from the Reading of the "Home Fairy-Tale."
There was a subdued tenderness which there was no resisting in the
revelation to the blind girl, Bertha, of the illusions in which she had
been lapped for years by her sorcerer of a lather, poor little Caleb,
the toy-maker. There was at once a tearful and a laughing earnestness
that took the Reader's audience captive, not by any means unwillingly,
when little Dot was, at the last, represented as "clearing it all up at
home" (indirectly, to the great honour of the Cricket's reputation,
by the way) to her burly husband--good, stupid, worthy, "clumsy man in
general,"--John Peerybingle, the Carrier. The one inconsistent person in
the whole story, it must be admitted, was Tackleton, who turned out
at the very end to be rather a good fellow than otherwise. Fittingly
enough, in the Reading as in the book, when the "Fairy Tale of Home"
was related to its close, when Dot and all the rest were spoken of as
vanished, a broken child's-toy, we were told, yet lay upon the ground,
and still upon the hearth was heard the song of the Cricket.


A variety of attractive Readings might readily have been culled from
Nicholas Nickleby's Life and Adventures. His comical experiences as
a strolling-player in the Company of the immortal Crummleses--his
desperate encounter with Sir Mulberry Hawk on the footboard of the
cabriolet--his exciting rescue of Madeline from an unholy alliance
with Gride, the miser, on the very morning fixed for the revolting
marriage--his grotesque association for a while with the Kenwigses and
their uncle Lilliyick--his cordial relations with the Brothers Cheeryble
and old Tim Linkinwater--any one of these incidents in the career of the
most high spirited of all the young heroes of our Novelist, would have
far more than simply justified its selection as the theme of one of
these illustrative entertainments. Instead of choosing any one of those
later episodes in the fictitious history of Nicholas Nickleby, however,
the author of that enthralling romance of everyday life, picked out, by
preference, the earliest of all his young hero's experiences--those
in which, at nineteen years of age, he was brought into temporary
entanglement with the domestic economy of Dotheboys Hall, and at the
last into personal conflict with its one-eyed principal, the rascally
Yorkshire school-master.

The Gadshill collection of thin octavos, comprising the whole series of
Readings, includes within it two copies of "Mrs. Gamp" and two copies of
"Nicholas Nickleby." Whereas, on comparing the duplicates of Mrs. Gamp,
the two versions appear to be so slightly different that they are all
but identical, a marked contrast is observable at a glance between the
two Nicklebys. Each Reading is descriptive, it is true, of his sayings
and doings at the Yorkshire school. But, even externally, one of the two
copies is marked "Short Time,"--the love-passages with Miss Squeers bemg
entirely struck out, and no mention whatever being made of John Browdie,
the corn-factor. The wretched school, the sordid rascal who keeps
it, Mrs. Squeers, poor, forlorn Smike, and a few of his scarecrow
companions--these, in the short-time version, and these alone,
constitute the young usher's surroundings. In here recalling to
recollection the "Nicholas Nickleby" Reading at all, however, we select,
as a matter of course, the completer version, the one for which the
generality of hearers had an evident preference: the abbreviated version
being always regarded as capital, so far as it went; but even at the
best, with all the go and dash of its rapid delivery, insufficient.

Everything, even, we should imagine, to one un-acquainted with the
novel, was ingeniously explained by the Reader in a sentence or two at
starting. Nicholas Nickleby was described as arriving early one November
morning, at the Saracen's Head, to join, in his new capacity (stripling
though he was) as scholastic assistant, Mr. Squeers, "the cheap--the
terribly cheap" Yorkshire schoolmaster. The words just given in inverted
commas are those written in blue ink in the Novelist's handwriting on
the margin of his longer Reading copy. As also are the following words,
epitomising in a breath the position of the young hero when the story
commences--"Inexperienced, sanguine, and thrown upon the world with
no adviser, and his bread to win," the manuscript interpolation thus
intimates: the letterpress then relating in its integrity that Nicholas
had engaged himself as tutor at Mr. Wackford Squeers's academy, on the
strength of the memorable advertisement in the London newspapers.
The advertisement, that is, comprising within it the long series of
accomplishments imparted to the students at Dotheboys Hall, including
"single-stick" (if required), together with "fortification, and every
other branch of classical literature." The Reader laying particular
stress, among other items in the announcement, upon "No extras, no
vacations, and diet unparalleled;" and upon the finishing touch (having
especial reference to the subject in hand), "An able assistant wanted:
annual salary, £5! A master of arts would be preferred!" Immediately
after this, in the Reading, came the description of Mr. Squeers, several
of the particulars in regard to whose villainous appearance always told
wonderfully: as, where it was said "he had but one eye, and the popular
prejudice runs in favour of two;" or, again, where in reference to his
attire--it having been mentioned that his coat-sleeves were a great deal
too-long and his trousers a great deal too short--it was added that "he
appeared ill at ease in his clothes, and as if he were in a perpetual
state of astonishment at finding himself so respectable." Listening to
the Reader, we were there, in the coffee-room of the Saracen's Head--the
rascal Squeers in the full enjoyment of his repast of hot toast and
cold round of beef, the while five little boys sat opposite hungrily and
thirstily expectant of their share in a miserable meal of two-penn'orth
of milk and thick bread and butter for three. "Just fill that mug up
with lukewarm water, William, will you?" "To the wery top, sir? Why the
milk will be drownded!" "_Serve it right for being so dear!_" Squeers
adding with a chuckle, as he pounded away at his own coffee and
viands,--"Conquer your passions, boys, and don't be eager after
wittles." To see the Reader as Squeers, stirring the mug of lukewarm
milk and water, and then smacking his lips with an affected relish after
tasting a spoonful of it, before reverting to his own fare of buttered
toast and beef, was to be there with Nicholas, a spectator on that
wintry morning in the Snow Hill Tavern, watching the guttling pedagogue
and the five little famished expectants. Only when Squeers, immediately
before the signal for the coach starting, wiped his mouth, with a
self-satisfied "Thank God for a good breakfast," was the mug rapidly
passed from mouth to mouth at once ravenously and tantalizingly. The
long and bitter journey on the north road, through the snow, was barely
referred to in the Reading; due mention, however, being made, and always
tellingly, of Mr. S queers's habit of getting down at nearly every
stage--"to stretch his legs, he said,--and as he always came back with
a very red nose, and composed himself to sleep directly, the stretching
seemed to answer." Immediately on the wayfarers' arrival at Dotheboys,
Mrs. Squeers, arrayed in a dimity night-jacket, herself a head taller
than Mr. Squeers, was always introduced with great effect, as seizing
her Squeery by the throat and giving him two loud kisses in rapid
succession, like a postman's knock. The audience then scarcely had time
to laugh over the interchange of questions and answers between the happy
couple, as to the condition of the cows and pigs, and, last of all,
the boys, ending with Madame's intimation that "young Pitcher's had a
fever," followed up by Squeers's characteristic exclamation, "No! damn
that chap, he's always at something of that sort"--when there came
the first glimpse of poor Smike, in a skeleton suit, and large boots
originally made for tops, too patched and ragged now for a beggar;
around his throat "a tattered child's frill only half concealed by a
coarse man's neckerchief." Anxiously observing Squeers, as he emptied
his overcoat of letters and papers, the boy did this, we were told, with
an air so dispirited and hopeless, that Nicholas could hardly bear to
watch him. "Have you--did anybody--has nothing been heard--about me?"
were then (in the faintest, frightened voice!) the first stammered
utterances of the wretched drudge. Bullied into silence by the brutal
schoolmaster, Smike limped away with a vacant smile, when we heard the
female scoundrel in the dimity night-jacket saying,--"I'll tell you
what, Squeers, I think that young chap's turning silly."

Inducted into the loathsome school-room on the following morning by
Squeers himself, Nicholas, first of all, we were informed, witnessed
the manner in which that arrant rogue presided over "the first class in
English spelling and philosophy," practically illustrating his mode of
tuition by setting the scholars to clean the w-i-n win, d-e-r-s ders,
winders--to weed the garden--to rub down the horse, or get rubbed
down themselves if they didn't do it well. Nicholas assisted in the
afternoon, moreover, at the report given by Mr. Squeers on his return
homewards after his half-yearly visit to the metropolis. Beginning,
though this last-mentioned part of the Reading did, with Squeers's
ferocious slash on the desk with his cane, and his announcement, in the
midst of a death-like silence--

"Let any boy speak a word without leave, and I'll take the skin off that
boy's back!" many of the particulars given immediately afterwards by
the Reader were, in spite of the surrounding misery, irresistibly
provocative of laughter. Ample justification for this, in truth, is
very readily adduceable. Mr. Squeers having, through his one eye, made
a mental abstract of Cobbey's letter, for example, Cobbey and the whole
school were thus feelingly informed of its contents--"Oh! Cobbey's
grandmother is dead, and his uncle John has took to drinking. Which is
all the news his sister sends, except eighteen-pence--which will just
pay for that broken square of glass! Mrs. Squeers, my dear, will you
take the money?" Another while, Graymarsh's maternal aunt, who "thinks
Mrs. Squeers must be a angel," and that Mr. Squeers is too good for this
world, "would have sent the two pairs of stockings, as desired, but
is short of money, so forwards a tract instead," and so on; "Ah-! a
delightful letter--very affecting, indeed!" quoth Squeers. "It was
affecting in one sense!" observed the Reader; "for Graymarsh's maternal
aunt was strongly supposed by her more intimate friends to be his
maternal parent!" Perhaps the epistle from Mobbs's mother-in-law was the
best of all, however--the old lady who "took to her bed on hearing that
he wouldn't eat fat;" and who "wishes to know by an early post where he
expects to go to, if he quarrels with his vittles?" adding, "This was
told her in the London newspapers--not by Mr. Squeers, for he is too
kind and too good to set anybody against anybody!"

As an interlude, overflowing with fun, came Miss Squeers's
tea-drinking--the result of her suddenly falling in love with the new
usher, and that chiefly by reason of the straightness of his legs, "the
general run of legs at Dotheboys Hall being crooked." How John Browdie
(with his hair damp from washing) appeared upon the occasion in a clean
shirt--"whereof thecollars might have belonged to some giant
ancestor,"--and greeted the assembled company, including his intended,
Tilda Price, "with a grin that even the collars could not conceal," the
creator of the worthy Yorkshireman went on to describe, with a gusto
akin to the relish with which every utterance of John Browdie's was
caught up by the listeners. Whether he spoke in good humour or in ill
humour, the burly cornfactor was equally delightful. One while saying,
laughingly, to Nicholas, across the bread-and-butter plate which they
had just been emptying between them, "Ye wean't get bread-and-butther
ev'ry neight, I expect, mun. Ecod, they dean't put too much intif 'em.
Ye'll be nowt but skeen and boans if you stop here long eneaf. Ho! ho!
ho!"--all this to Nicholas's unspeakable indignation. Or, another while,
after chafing in jealousy for a long time over the coquetries going on
between Tilda Price and Nicholas--the Yorkshireman flattening his own
nose with his clenched fist again and again, "as if to keep his hand in
till he had an opportunity of exercising it on the nose of some other
gentleman,"--until asked merrily by his betrothed to keep his glum
silence no longer, but to say something: "Say summat?" roared John
Browdie, with a mighty blow on the table; "Weal, then! what I say 's
this--Dang my boans and boddy, if I stan' this ony longer! Do ye gang
whoam wi' me; and do yon loight and toight young whipster look sharp out
for a brokken head next time he cums under my hond. Cum whoam, tell'e,
cum whoam!" After Smike's running away, and his being brought back
again, had been rapidly recounted, what nearly every individual member
of every audience in attendance at this Reading was eagerly on the watch
for all along, at last, in the fullness of time, arrived,--the execrable
Squeers receiving, instead of administering, a frightful beating, in the
presence of the whole school; having carefully provided himself
beforehand, as all were rejoiced to remember, with "a fearful instrument
of flagellation, strong, supple, wax-ended, and new!"

So real are the characters described by Charles Dickens in his life-like
fictions, and so exactly do the incidents he relates as having befallen
them resemble actual occurrences, that we recall to recollection at this
moment the delight with which the late accomplished Lady Napier once
related an exact case in point, appealing, as she did so, to her
husband, the author of the "Peninsular War," to corroborate the-accuracy
of her retrospect! Telling how she perfectly well remembered, when the
fourth green number of "Nicholas Nickleby" was just out, one of her
home group, who had a moment before caught sight of the picture of the
flogging in a shop-window, rushed in with the startling announcement--as
though he were bringing with him the news of some great victory--"What
do you think? _Nicholas has thrashed Squeers!_" As the Novelist read
this chapter, or rather the condensation of this chapter, it was for all
the world like assisting in person at that sacred and refreshing rite!

"Is every boy here?"

Yes, every boy was there, and so was every observant listener, in eager
and--knowing what was coming--in delighted expectation. As Squeers was
represented as "glaring along the lines," to assure himself that every
boy really _was_ there, what time "every eye drooped and every head
cowered down," the Reader, instead of uttering one word of what the
ruffianly schoolmaster ought then to have added: "Each boy keep to
his place. Nickleby! you go to your desk, sir!"--instead of saying one
syllable of this, contented himself with obeying his own manuscript
marginal direction, in one word--Pointing! The effect of this simple
gesture was startling--particularly when, after the momentary hush with
which it was always accompanied, he observed quietly,--"There was a
curious expression in the usher's face, but he took his seat without
opening his lips in reply." Then, when the schoolmaster had dragged in
the wretched Smike by the collar, "or rather by that fragment of his
jacket which was nearest the place where his collar ought to have been,"
there was a horrible relish in his saying, over his shoulder for a
moment, "Stand a little out of the way, Mrs. Squeers, my dear; _I've
hardly got room enough!_" The instant one cruel blow had fallen--"Stop!"
was cried in a voice that made the rafters ring--even the lofty rafters
of St. James's Hall.

Squeers, with the glare and snarl of a wild beast.--"Who cried stop?"

Nicholas.--"I did! This must not go on!"

Squeers, again, with a frightful look.--"Must not go on?"

Nicholas.--"Must not! Shall not! I will prevent it!"

Then came Nicholas Nickleby's manly denunciation of the scoundrel,
interrupted one while for an instant by Squeers screaming out, "Sit
down, you--beggar!" and followed at its close by the last and crowning
outrage, consequent on a violent outbreak of wrath on the part of
Squeers, who spat at him and struck him a blow across the face with his
instrument of torture: when Nicholas, springing upon him, wrested the
weapon from his hand, and pinning him by the throat--don't we all exult
in the remembrance of it?--"beat the ruffian till he roared for mercy."

After that climax has been attained, two other particulars are alone
worthy of being recalled to recollection in regard to this Reading.
First, the indescribable heartiness of John Browdie's cordial
shake-of-the-hand with Nicholas Nickleby on their encountering each
other by accident upon the high road. "Shake honds? Ah! that I weel!"
coupled with his ecstatic shout (so ecstatic that his horse shyed at
it), "Beatten schoolmeasther! Ho! ho! ho! Beatten schoolmeasther!
Who ever heard o' the loike o' that, noo? Give us thee hond agean,
yoongster! Beatten schoolmeasther! Dang it, I loove thee for 't!"
Finally, and as the perfecting touch of tenderness between the two
cousins, then unknown to each other as such, in the early morning light
at Boroughbridge, we caught a glimpse of Nicholas and Smike passing,
hand in hand, out of the old barn together.


Quite as exhilarating in its way as the all-but dramatised report of the
great breach of promise case tried before Mr. Justice Stareleigh, was
that other condensation of a chapter from "Pickwick," descriptive of
Mr. Bob Sawyer's Party. It was a Reading, in the delivery of which
the Reader himself had evidently the keenest sense of enjoyment. As
a humorous description, it was effervescent with fun, being written
throughout in the happiest, earliest style of the youthful genius of
Boz, when the green numbers were first shaking the sides of lettered and
unlettered Englishmen alike with Homeric laughter. Besides this, when
given by him as a Reading, it comprised within it one of his very
drollest impersonations. If only as the means of introducing us to Jack
Hopkins, it would have been most acceptable. But, inimitable though Jack
was, he was, at the least, thoroughly well companioned.

As a relish of what was coming, there was that preliminary account of
the locality in which the festivities were held, to wit, Lant Street, in
the borough of Southwark, the prevailing repose of which, we were
told, "sheds a gentle melancholy upon the soul"--fully justifying its
selection as a haven of rest by any one who wished "to abstract himself
from the world, to remove himself from the reach of temptation, to place
himself beyond the possibility of any inducement to look out of
window!" As specimens of animated nature, familiarly met with in the
neighbourhood, "the pot-boy, the muffin youth, and the baked potato
man," had about them a perennial freshness. Whenever we were reminded,
again, in regard to the principal characteristics of the population that
it was migratory, "usually disappearing on the verge of quarter-day, and
generally by night," her Majesty's revenues being seldom collected in
that happy valley, its rents being pronounced dubious, and its water
communication described as "frequently cut off," we found in respect to
the whole picture thus lightly-sketched in, that age did not wither nor
custom stale its infinite comicality.

It was when the familiar personages of the story were, one after
another, introduced upon the scene, however, that the broad Pickwickian
humour of it all began in earnest to be realised. After we had listened
with chuckling enjoyment to the ludicrously minute account given of the
elaborate preparations made for the reception of the visitors, even in
the approaches to Mr. Bob Sawyer's apartment, down to the mention of the
kitchen candle with a long snuff, that "burnt cheerfully on the ledge of
the staircase window," we had graphically rendered the memorable scene
between poor, dejected Bob and his little spitfire of a landlady, Mrs.
Raddle. _So_ dejected and generally suppressed was Bob in the Reading,
however, that we should hardly have recognised that very archetype
of the whole _genus_ of rollicking Medical Students, as originally
described in the pages of Pickwick, where he is depicted as attired
in "a coarse blue coat, which, without being either a great-coat or a
surtout, partook of the nature and qualities of both," having about him
that sort of slovenly smartness and swaggering gait peculiar to young
gentlemen who smoke in the streets by day, and shout and scream in the
same by night, calling waiters by their Christian names, and altogether
bearing a resemblance upon the whole to something like a dissipated
Robinson Crusoe. Habited, Bob still doubtless was, in the plaid trousers
and the large, rough coat and double-breasted waistcoat, but as for the
"swaggering gait" just mentioned not a vestige of it remained. Nor could
that be wondered at, indeed, for an instant, beholding and hearing, as
we did, the shrill ferocity with which Mrs. Raddle had it out with him
about the rent immediately before the arrival of his guests.

It is one of the distinctive peculiarities of Charles Dickens as a
humorous Novelist, that the cream or quintessence of a jest is very
often given by him quite casually in a parenthesis. It was equally
distinctive of his peculiarities as a Reader, that the especial charm
of his drollery was often conveyed by the merest aside. Thus it was with
him in reference to Mrs. Raddle's "confounded little bill," when--in
between Ben Allen's inquiry, "How long has it been running?" and Bob
Sawyer's reply, "Only about a quarter and a month or so"--the Reader
parenthetically remarked, with a philosophic air, "A bill, by the way,
is the most extraordinary locomotive engine that the genius of man ever
produced: it would keep on running during the longest lifetime without
ever once stopping of its own accord." Thus also was it, when he added
meditatively to Bob's hesitating explanation to Mrs. Raddle, "the fact
is that I have been disappointed in the City to-day"--"Extraordinary
place that City: astonishing number of men always _are_ getting
disappointed there." Hereupon it was that that fiercest of little women,
Mrs. Raddle, who had entered "in a tremble with passion and pale with
rage," fairly let out at her lodger. Her incidental bout with Mr. Ben
Allen, when he soothingly(!) interpolated, "My good soul," was, in
the Reading, in two senses, a memorable diversion. Beginning with a
sarcastic quivering in her voice, "I am not _aweer_, sir, that you have
any right to address your conversation to _me_. I don't think I let
these apartments to _you_, sir--" Mrs. Raddle's anger rose through an
indignant _crescendo_, on Ben Allen's remonstrating, "But you are such
an unreasonable woman"--to the sharp and biting interrogation, "I beg
your parding, young man, but will you have the goodness to call me that
again, sir?"

Ben Allen, meekly and somewhat uneasy on his own account,--"I didn't
make use of the word in any invidious sense, ma'am."

Landlady, louder and more imperatively,--"I beg your parding, young man,
but _who_ do you call a woman? Did you make that remark to me, sir?"

"_Why, bless my heart!_"

"Did you apply that name to me, I ask of you, sir?"

On his answering, Well, of course he did!--then, as she retreated
towards the open room-door, came the last outburst of her invectives,
high-pitched in their voluble utterance, against him, against them
both, against everybody, including Mr. Raddle in the kitchen--"a base,
faint-hearted, timorous wretch, that's afraid to come upstairs and face
the ruffinly creaturs--that's _afraid_ to come--that's afraid!"
Ending with her screaming descent of the stairs in the midst of a loud
double-knock, upon the arrival just then of the Pickwickians, when, "in
an uncontrollable burst of mental agony," Mrs. Raddle threw down all
the umbrellas in the passage, disappearing into the back parlour with an
awful crash. In answer to the cheerful inquiry from Mr. Pickwick,--"Does
Mr. Sawyer live here?" came the lugubrious and monotonously intoned
response, all on one note, of the aboriginal young person, the gal
Betsey (one of the minor characters in the original chapter, and yet,
as already remarked, a superlatively good impersonation in the
Reading)--"Yes; first-floor. It's the door straight afore you when you
get's to the top of the stairs"--with which the dirty slipshod in
black cotton stockings disappeared with the candle down the kitchen
stair-case, leaving the unfortunate arrivals to grope their way up as
they best could. Welcomed rather dejectedly by Bob on the first-floor
landing, where Mr. Pickwick put, not, as in the original work, his hat,
but, in the Reading, "his foot" in the tray of glasses, they were very
soon followed, one after another, by the remainder of the visitors.
Notably by a sentimental young gentleman with a nice sense of honour,
and, most notably of all (with a heavy footstep, very welcome indeed
whenever heard) by Jack Hopkins. Jack was at once the Hamlet and the
Yorick of the whole entertainment--all-essential to it--whose very look
(with his chin rather stiff in the stock), whose very words (short,
sharp, and decisive) had about them a drily and all-but indescribably
humorous effect. As spoken by the Novelist himself, Jack Hopkins's
every syllable told to perfection. His opening report immediately on
his arrival, of "rather a good accident" just brought into the casualty
ward--only, it was true, a man fallen out of a four-pair-of-stairs
window; but a very fair case, _very_ fair case indeed!--was of itself
a dexterous forefinger between the small ribs to begin with. Would the
patient recover? Well, no--with an air of supreme indifference--no, he
should rather say he wouldn't. But there must be a splendid operation,
though, on the morrow--magnificent sight if Slasher did it! Did he
consider Mr. Slasher a good operator? "Best alive: took a boy's leg
out of the socket last week--boy ate five apples and a gingerbread cake
exactly two minutes after it was all over;--boy said he wouldn't lie
there to be made game of; and he'd tell his mother if they didn't
begin." To hear Dickens say this in the short, sharp utterances of Jack
Hopkins, to see his manner in recounting it, stiff-necked, and with a
glance under the drooping eyelids in the direction of Mr. Pickwick's
listening face, was only the next best thing to hearing him and seeing
him, still in the person of Jack Hopkins, relate the memorable anecdote
about the child swallowing the necklace--pronounced in Jack Hopkins's
abbreviated articulation of it, _neck-luss_--a word repeated by him
a round dozen times at the least within a few seconds in the reading
version of that same anecdote. How characteristically and comically the
abbreviations were multiplied for the delivery of it, by the very voice
and in the very person, as it were, of Jack Hopkins, who shall say! As,
for example--"Sister, industrious girl, seldom treated herself to bit
of finery, cried eyes out, at loss of--neck-luss; looked high and low
for--neck-luss. Few days afterwards, family at dinner--baked, shoulder
of mutton and potatoes, child wasn't hungry, playing about the room,
when family suddenly heard devil of a noise like small hail-storm."
How abbreviated passages like these look, as compared with the
original--could only be rendered comprehensible upon the instant, by
giving in this place a facsimile of one of the pages relating to Jack
Hopkins's immortal story about the--neck-luss, exactly as it appears
in the marked copy of the Reading of "Mr. Bob Sawyer's Party," a page
covered all over, as will be observed, with minute touches in the
Novelist's own handwriting.

Nothing at all in the later version of this Reading was said about the
prim person in cloth boots, who unsuccessfully attempted all through the
evening to make a joke. Of him the readers of "Pickwick" will very well
remember it to have been related that he commenced a long story about
a great public character, whose name he had forgotten, making a
particularly happy reply to another illustrious individual whom he had
never been able to identify, and, after enlarging with great minuteness
upon divers collateral circumstances distantly connected with the
anecdote, could not for the life of him recollect at that precise
moment what the anecdote was--although he had been in the habit, for the
last ten years, of telling the story with great applause! While disposed
to regret the omission of this preposterously natural incident from the
revised version of the Reading, and especially Bob Sawyer's concluding
remark in regard to it, that he should very much like to hear the end of
it, for, _so far as it went_, it was, without exception, the very best
story he had ever heard--we were more than compensated by another
revisive touch, by which Mr. Hopkins, instead of Mr. Gunter, in the pink
shirt, was represented as one of the two interlocutors in the famous
quarrel-scene: the other being Mr. Noddy, the scorbutic youth, with the
nice sense of honour. Through this modification the ludicrous effect of
the squabble was wonderfully enhanced, as where Mr. Noddy, having been
threatened with being "pitched out o' window" by Mr. Jack Hopkins,
said to the latter, "I should like to see you do it, sir," Jack Hopkins
curtly retaliating--"You shall _feel_ me do it, sir, in half a minute."
The reconciliation of the two attained its climax of absurdity in
the Reading, when Mr. Noddy, having gradually allowed his feelings to
overpower him, professed that he had ever entertained a devoted personal
attachment to Mr. Hopkins. Consequent upon this, Mr. Hopkins, we were
told, replied, that, "on the whole, he rather preferred Mr. Noddy to
his own _mother_"--the word standing, of course, as "brother" in the
original. Summing it all up, the Reader would then add, with a rise and
fall of the voice at almost every other word in the sentence, the mere
sound of which was inexpressibly ludicrous--"Everybody said the whole
dispute had been conducted in a manner" (here he would sometimes gag)
"that did equal credit to the head and heart of both parties concerned."

Another gag, of which there is no sign in the marked copy, those who
attended any later delivery of this Reading will well remember he was
fond of introducing. This was immediately after Mrs. Raddle had put an
end to the evening's enjoyment in the very middle of Jack Hopkins' song
(with a chorus) of "The King, God bless him," carolled forth by Jack
to a novel air compounded of the "Bay of Biscay" and "A Frog he would
a-wooing go"--when poor, discomfited Bob (after turning pale at the
voice of his dreaded landlady, shrilly calling out, "Mr. Saw-yer! Mr.
Saw-yer!") turned reproachfully on the over-boisterous Jack Hopkins,
with, "I _thought_ you were making too much noise, Jack. You're such
a fellow for chorusing! You're always at it. You came into the world
chorusing; and I believe you'll go out of it chorusing." Through their
appreciation of which--more even than through their remembrance of
Mrs. Raddle's withdrawal of her nightcap, with a scream, from over the
staircase banisters, on catching sight of Mr. Pickwick, saying, "Get
along with you, you old wretch! Old enough to be his grandfather, you
willin! You're worse than any of 'em!"--the hearers paid to the Reader
of Bob Sawyer's Party their last tribute of laughter.


As poetical in its conception, and also, intermittently, in its
treatment, as anything he ever wrote, this Goblin Story of Some Bells
that Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In, was, in those purely
goblin, or more intensely imaginative portions of it, one of the most
effective of our Author's Readings. Hence its selection by him for his
very first Reading on his own account in St. Martin's Hall, Long Acre.
Listening, as we did, then and afterwards, to the tale, as it was told
by his own sympathetic lips, much of the incongruity, otherwise no
doubt apparent in the narrative, seemed at those times to disappear
altogether. The incongruity, we mean, observable between the queer
little ticket-porter and the elfin phantoms of the belfry; between
Trotty Veck, in his "breezy, goose-skinned, blue-nosed, red-eyed,
stony-toed, tooth-chattering" stand-point by the old church-door, and
the Goblin Sight beheld by him when he had clambered up, up, up among
the roof-beams of the great church-tower. As the story was related in
its original form, it was rung out befittingly from the Chimes in four
quarters. As a Reading it was subdivided simply into three parts.

Nothing whatever was preserved (by an error as it always seemed to
us) of the admirable introduction. The story-teller piqued no one into
attention by saying--to begin with--"There are not many people who
would care to sleep in a church." Adding immediately, with delightful
particularity, "I don't mean at sermon time in warm weather (when the
thing has actually been done once or twice), but in the night, and
alone." Not a word was uttered in the exordium of the Reading about
the dismal trick the night-wind has in those ghostly hours of wandering
round and round a building of that sort, and moaning as it goes; of its
trying with a secret hand the windows and the doors, fumbling for some
crevice by which to enter, and, having got in, "as one not finding what
it seeks, whatever that may be," of its wailing and howling to issue
forth again; of its stalking through the aisles and gliding round and
round the pillars, and "tempting the deep organ;" of its soaring up to
the roof, and after striving vainly to rend the rafters, flinging itself
despairingly upon the stones below, and passing mutteringly into the
vaults! Anon, coming up stealthily--the Christmas book goes on to
say--"It has a ghostly sound, lingering within the Altar, where it
seems to chant in its wild way of Wrong and Murder done, and false Gods
worshipped, in defiance of the Tables of the Law, which look so fair and
smooth, but are so flawed and broken. Ugh! Heaven preserve us, sitting
snugly round the fire!--it has an awful voice that Wind at Midnight,
singing in a church!" Of all this and of yet more to the like purpose,
not one syllable was there in the Reading, which, on the contrary, began
at once point-blank: "High up in the steeple of an old church, far
above the town, and far below the clouds, dwelt the 'Chimes' I tell
of." Directly after which the Reader, having casually mentioned the
circumstance of their just then striking twelve at noon, gave utterance
to Trotty Yeck's ejaculatory reflection: "Dinner-time, eh? Ah! There's
nothing more regular in its coming round than dinner-time, and there's
nothing less regular in its coming round than dinner." Followed by his
innocently complacent exclamation: "I wonder whether it would be worth
any gentleman's while, now, to buy that observation for the Papers, or
the Parliament!" The Reader adding upon the instant, with an explanatory
aside, that "Trotty was only joking," striving to console himself
doubtless for the exceeding probability there was before him, at the
moment, of his going, not for the first time, dinnerless.

In the thick of his meditations Trotty was startled--those who ever
attended this Reading will remember how pleasantly--by the unlooked-for
appearance of his pretty daughter Meg. "And not alone!" as she told him
cheerily. "Why you don't mean to say," was the wondering reply of the
old ticket-porter, looking curiously the while at a covered basket
carried in Margaret's hand, "that you have brought------"

Hadn't she! It was burning hot--scalding! He must guess from the
steaming flavour what it was! Thereupon came the by-play of the
Humorist--after the fashion of Munden, who, according to Charles Lamb,
"understood a leg of mutton in its quiddity." It was thus with the
Reader when he syllabled, with watering lips, guess after guess at the
half-opened basket. "It ain't--I suppose it ain't polonies? [sniffing].
No. It's--it's mellower than polonies. It's too decided for trotters.
Liver? No. There's a mildness about it that don't answer to liver.
Pettitoes? No. It ain't faint enough for pettitoes. It wants the
stringiness of cock's heads. And I know it ain't sausages. I'll tell you
what it is. No, it isn't, neither. Why, what am I thinking of! I shall
forget my own name next. It's tripe!" Forthwith, to reward him for
having thus hit it off at last so cleverly, Meg, as she expressed it,
with a flourish, laid the cloth, meaning the pocket-handkerchief in
which the basin of tripe had been tied up, and actually offered the
sybarite who was going to enjoy the unexpected banquet, a choice of
dining-places! "Where will you dine, father? On the post, or on the
steps? How grand we are: two places to choose from!" The weather being
dry, and the steps therefore chosen, those being rheumatic only in the
damp, Trotty Veck was not merely represented by the Reader as feasting
upon the tripe, but as listening meanwhile to Meg's account of how it
had all been arranged that she and her lover Eichard should, upon the
very next day, that is, upon New Year's Day, be married.

In the midst of this agreeable confabulation--Richard himself having in
the interim become one of the party--the little old ticket-porter,
the pretty daughter, and the sturdy young blacksmith, were suddenly
scattered. The Reader went on to relate how this happened, with
ludicrous accuracy, upon the abrupt opening of the door, around the
steps of which they were gathered--a flunkey nearly putting his foot in
the tripe, with this indignant apostrophe, "Out of the vays, here, will
you? You must always go and be a settin' on our steps, must you? You
can't go and give a turn to none of the neighbours never, can't you?"
Adding, even, a moment afterwards, with an aggrieved air of almost
affecting expostulation, "You're always a being begged and prayed upon
your bended knees, you are, to let our door-steps be? Can't you let
'em be?" Nothing more was seen or heard of that footman, and yet in the
utterance of those few words of his the individuality of the man somehow
was thoroughly realised. Observing him, listening to him, as he stood
there palpably before us, one seemed to understand better than ever
Thackeray's declaration in regard to those same menials in plush
breeches, that a certain delightful "quivering swagger" of the
calves about them, had for him always, as he expressed it, "a frantic
fascination!" Immediately afterwards, however, as the Reader turned
a new leaf, in place of the momentary apparition of that particular
flunkey, three very different persons appeared to step across the
threshold on to the platform. Low-spirited, Mr. Filer, with his hands in
his trousers-pockets. The red-faced gentleman who was always vaunting,
under the title of the "good old times," some undiscoverable past which
he perpetually lamented as his deceased Millennium. And finally--as
large as life, and as real--Alderman Cute. As in the original Christmas
book, so also in the Reading, the one flagrant improbability was the
consumption by Alderman Cute of the last lukewarm tid-bit of tripe left
by Trotty Veck down at the bottom of the basin--its consumption, indeed,
by any alderman, however prying or gluttonous. Barring that, the whole
of the first scene of the "Chimes" was alive with reality, and with a
curious diversity of human character. In the one that followed, and in
which Trotty conveyed a letter to Sir Joseph Rowley, the impersonation
of the obese hall-porter, later on identified as Tugby, was in every
way far beyond that of the pompous humanitarian member of parliament. A
hall-porter this proved to be whose voice, when he had found it--"which
it took him some time to do, for it was a long way off, and hidden under
a load of meat"--was, in truth, as the Author's lips expressed it, and
as his pen had long before described it in the book, "a fat whisper."
Afterwards when re-introduced, Tugby hardly, as it appeared to us,
came up to the original description. When the stout old lady, his
supposititious wife, formerly, or rather really, all through, Mrs.
Chickenstalker, says, in answer to his inquiries as to the weather,
one especially bitter winter's evening, "Blowing and sleeting hard, and
threatening snow. Dark, and very cold"--Tugby's almost apoplectic reply
was delicious, no doubt, in its suffocative delivery. "I'm glad to think
we had muffins for tea, my dear. It's a sort of night that's meant for
muffins. Likewise crumpets; also Sally Lunns." But, for all that,
we invariably missed the sequel--which, once missed, could hardly be
foregone contentedly. We recalled to mind, for example, such descriptive
particulars in the original story as that, in mentioning each successive
kind of eatable, Tugby did so "as if he were musingly summing up his
good actions," or that, after this, rubbing his fat legs and jerking
them at the knees to get the fire upon the yet unroasted parts, he
laughed as if somebody had tickled him! We bore distinctly enough
in remembrance, and longed then to have heard from the lips of the
Reader--in answer to the dream-wife's remark, "You're in spirits,
Tugby, my dear!"--Tugby's fat, gasping response, "No,--No. Not
particular. I'm a little elewated. The muffins came so pat!" Though,
even if that addition had been vouchsafed, we should still, no doubt,
have hungered for the descriptive particulars that followed, relating
not only how the former hall-porter chuckled until he was black in the
face--having so much ado, in fact, to become any other colour, that
his fat legs made the strangest excursions into the air--but that Mrs.
Tugby, that is, Chickenstalker, after thumping him violently on the
back, and shaking him as if he were a bottle, was constrained to cry
out, in great terror, "Good gracious, goodness, lord-a-mercy, bless
and save the man! What's he a-doing?" To which all that Mr. Tugby can
faintly reply, as he wipes his eyes, is, that he finds himself a little

Another omission in the Reading was, if possible, yet more surprising,
namely, the whole of Will Fern's finest speech: an address full of
rustic eloquence that one can't help feeling sure would have told
wonderfully as Dickens could have delivered it. However, the story,
foreshortened though it was, precisely as he related it, was told with
a due regard to its artistic completeness. Margaret and Lilian, the
old ticket-porter and the young blacksmith, were the principal
interlocutors. Like the melodrama of Victorine, it all turned out,
of course, to be no more than "the baseless fabric of a vision," the
central incidents of the tale, at any rate, being composed of "such
stuff as dreams are made of." How it all came to be evolved by
the "Chimes" from the slumbering brain of the queer, little old
ticket-porter was related more fully and more picturesquely, no doubt,
in the printed narrative, but in the Reading, at the least, it was
depicted with more dramatic force and passion. The merest glimmering,
however, was afforded of the ghostly or elfin spectacle, as seen by
the "mind's eye" of the dreamer, and which in the book itself was
so important an integral portion of the tale, as there unfolded,
constituting, as it did, for that matter, the very soul or spirit of
what was meant by "The Chimes."

Speaking of the collective chimes of a great city, Victor Hugo has
remarked in his prose masterpiece that, in an ordinary way, the noise
issuing from a vast capital is the talking of the city, that at night it
is the breathing of the city, but that when the bells are ringing it
is the singing of the city. Descanting upon this congenial theme,
the poet-novelist observes, in continuation, that while at first the
vibrations of each bell rise straight, pure, and in a manner separate
from that of the others, swelling by degrees, they blend, melt, and
amalgamate in magnificent concert until they become at length one mass
of sonorous vibrations, which, issuing incessantly from innumerable
steeples, float, undulate, bound, whirl over the city, expanding at last
far beyond the horizon the deafening circle of their oscillations. What
has been said thus superbly, though it may be somewhat extravagantly, by
Hugo, in regard to "that _tutti_ of steeples, that column of sound, that
cloud or sea of harmony," as he variously terms it, has been said less
extravagantly, but quite as exquisitely, by Charles Dickens, in regard
to the chimes of a single belfry. After this New Year's tale of his was
first told, there rang out from the opposite shores of the Atlantic,
that most wonderful tintinnabulation in all literature, "The Bells" of
Edgar Poe--which is, among minor poems, in regard to the belfry, what
Southey's "Lodore" is to the cataract, full, sonorous, and exhaustive.
And there it is, in that marvellous little poem of "The Bells," that the
American lyrist, as it has always seemed to us, has caught much of the
eltrich force and beauty and poetic significance of "The Chimes" as
they were originally rung forth in the prose-poetry of the English

     "And the people--ah, the people--
     They that dwell up in the steeple,
     All alone,
     And who tolling, tolling, tolling,
     In that muffled monotone,
     Feel a glory in so rolling
     On [or from] the human heart a stone--
     They are neither man nor woman--
     They are neither brute nor human--
     They are Ghouls:
     And their king it is who tolls;
     And he rolls, rolls, rolls,
     A pæan from the hells."

Charles Dickens, in his beautiful imaginings in regard to the Spirits
of the Bells--something of the grace and goblinry of which, Maclise's
pencil shadowed forth in the lovely frontispiece to the little volume
in the form in which it was first of all published--has exhausted the
vocabulary of wonder in his elvish delineation of the Goblin Sight
beheld in the old church-tower on New Year's Eve by the awe-stricken

In the Reading one would naturally have liked to have caught some
glimpse at least of the swarmmg out to view of the "dwarf-phantoms,
spirits, elfin creatures of the Bells;" to have seen them "leaping,
flying, dropping, pouring from the Bells," unceasingly; to have realised
them anew as a listener, just as the imaginary dreamer beheld them all
about him in his vision--"round him on the ground, above him in the air,
clambering from him by the ropes below, looking down upon him from the
massive iron-girded beams, peeping in upon him through the chinks and
loopholes in the walls, spreading away and away from him in enlarging
circles, as the water-ripples give place to a huge stone that suddenly
comes plashing in among them." In their coming and in their going, the
sight, it will be remembered, was equally marvellous. Whether--as the
Chimes rang out--we read of the dream-haunted, "He saw them [these
swarming goblins] ugly, handsome, crippled, exquisitely formed. He saw
them young, he saw them old, he saw them kind, he saw them cruel, he saw
them merry, he saw them grim, he saw them dance, he heard them sing,
he saw them tear their hair, and heard them howl"--diving, soaring,
sailing, perching, violently active in their restlessness--stone, brick,
slate, tile, transparent to the dreamer's gaze, and pervious to their
movements--the bells all the while in an uproar, the great church
tower vibrating from parapet to basement! Or, whether--when the Chimes
ceased--there came that instantaneous transformation! "The whole swarm
fainted; their forms collapsed, their speed deserted them; they
sought to fly, but in the act of falling died and melted into air. One
straggler," says the book, "leaped down pretty briskly from the surface
of the Great Bell, and alighted on his feet, but he was dead and gone
before he could turn round." After it has been added that some thus
gambolling in the tower "remained there, spinning over and over a little
longer," becoming fainter, fewer, feebler, and so vanishing--we read,
"The last of all was one small hunchback, who had got into an echoing
corner, where he twirled and twirled, and floated by himself a long
time; showing such perseverance, that at last he dwindled to a leg, and
even to a foot, before he finally retired; but he vanished in the end,
and then the tower was silent." Nothing of this, however, was given in
the Reading, the interest of which was almost entirely restricted to the
fancied fluctuation of fortunes among the human characters. All of
the pathetic and most of the comic portions of the tale were
happily preserved. When, in the persons of the Tugbys, "fat company,
rosy-cheeked company, comfortable company," came to be introduced, there
was an instant sense of exhilaration among the audience.

A roar invariably greeted the remark, "They were but two, but they
were red enough for ten." Similarly pronounced was the reception of the
casual announcement of the "stone pitcher of terrific size," in which
the good wife brought her contribution of "a little flip" to the final
merry-making. "Mrs. Chicken-stalker's notion of a little flip did honour
to her character," elicited a burst of laughter that was instantly
renewed when the Reader added, that "the pitcher reeked like a
volcano," and that "the man who carried it was faint." The Drum, by
the way--braced tight enough, as any one might admit in the original
narrative--seemed rather slackened, and was certainly less effective,
in the Reading. One listened in vain for the well-remembered parenthesis
indicative of its being the man himself, and not the instrument. "The
Drum (who was a private friend of Trotty's) then stepped forward,
and" offered--evidently with a hiccough or two--his greeting of good
fellowship, "which," as we learn from the book, "was received with
a general shout." The Humorist added thereupon, in his character as
Storyteller, not in his capacity as Reader, "The Drum was rather drunk,
by-the-bye; but never mind." A band of music, with marrow-bones
and cleavers and a set of hand-bells--clearly all of them under the
direction of the Drum--then struck up the dance at Meg's wedding.
But, after due mention had been made of how Trotty danced with Mrs.
Chickenstalker "in a step unknown before or since, founded on his own
peculiar trot," the story closed in the book, and closed also in the
Reading, with words that, in their gentle and harmonious flow, seemed
to come from the neighbouring church-tower as final echoes from "The
Chimes" themselves.


[Illustration: Little-Dombey.jpg]

The hushed silence with which the concluding passages of this Reading
were always listened to, spoke more eloquently than any applause could
possibly have done, of the sincerity of the emotions it awakened. A
cursory glance at the audience confirmed the impression produced by
that earlier evidence of their rapt and breathless attention. It is
the simplest truth to say that at those times many a face illustrated
involuntarily the loveliest line in the noblest ode in the language,
where Dryden has sung even of a warrior--

     "And now and then a sigh he heaved,
      And tears began to flow."

The subdued voice of the Reader, moreover, accorded tenderly with one's
remembrance of his own acknowledgment ten years after his completion of
the book from which this story was extracted, that with a heavy heart he
had walked the streets of Paris alone during the whole of one winter's
night, while he and his little friend parted company for ever! Charles
Young's son, the vicar of Ilminster, has, recently, in his own Diary
appended to his memoir of his father, the tragedian, related a curious
anecdote, illustrative, in a very striking way, of the grief--the
profound and overwhelming grief--excited in a mind and heart like
those of Lord Jeffrey, by the imaginary death of another of these
dream-children of Charles Dickens. The editor of the _Edinburgh Review_,
we there read, was surprised by Mrs. Henry Siddons, seated in his
library, with his head on the table, crying. "Delicately retiring," we
are then told, "in the hope that her entrance had been unnoticed," Mrs.
Siddons observed that Jeffrey raised his head and was kindly beckoning
her back. The Diary goes on: "Perceiving that his cheek was flushed
and his eyes suffused with tears, she apologised for her intrusion,
and begged permission to withdraw. When he found that she was seriously
intending to leave him, he rose from his chair, took her by both hands,
and led her to a seat." Then came the acknowledgment prefaced by Lord
Jeffrey's remark that he was "a great goose to have given way so."
Little Nell was dead! The newly published number of "Master Humphrey's
Clock" (No. 44) was lying before him, in which he had just been reading
of the general bereavement!

Referring to another of these little creatures' deaths, that of Tiny
Tim, Thackeray wrote in the July number of _Fraser_, for 1844, that
there was one passage regarding it about which a man would hardly
venture to speak in print or in public "any more than he would of any
other affections of his private heart."

It has been related, even of the burly demagogue, O'Connell, that
on first reading of Nell's death in the Old Curiosity Shop, he
exclaimed--his eyes running over with tears while he flung the leaves
indignantly out of the window--"he should not have killed her--he should
not have killed her: she was too good!"

Finally, another Scotch critic and judge, Lord Cockburn, writing to the
Novelist on the very morrow of reading the memorable fifth number of
"Dombey and Son," in which the death of Little Paul is so exquisitely
depicted--offering his grateful acknowledgments to the Author for the
poignant grief he had caused him--added, "I have felt my heart purified
by those tears, and blessed and loved you for making me shed them."

Hardly can it be matter for wonder, therefore, remarking how the printed
pages would draw such tokens of sympathy from men like Cockburn, and
Jeffrey, and Thackeray, and O'Connell, that a mixed audience showed
traces of emotion when the profoundly sympathetic voice of Dickens
himself related this story of the Life and Death of Little Dombey. Yet
the pathetic beauty of the tale, for all that, was only dimly hinted at
throughout,--the real pathos of it, indeed, being only fully indicated
almost immediately before its conclusion. Earlier in the Reading, in
fact, the drollery of the comic characters introduced--of themselves
irresistible--would have been simply paramount, but for the incidental
mention of the mother's death, when clinging to that frail spar within
her arms, her little daughter, "she drifted out upon the dark and
unknown sea that rolls round all the world." Paul's little wistful face
looked out every now and then, it is true, from among the fantastic
forms and features grouped around him, with a growing sense upon the
hearer of what was really meant by the child being so "old-fashioned."
But the ludicrous effect of those surrounding characters was nothing
less than all-mastering in its predominance.

There was Mrs. Pipchin, for example, that grim old lady with a mottled
face like bad marble, who acquired an immense reputation as a manager
of children, by the simple device of giving them everything they didn't
like and nothing that they did! Whose constitution required mutton chops
hot and hot, and buttered toast in similar relays! And with whom one of
Little Dombey's earliest dialogues in the Reading awakened invariably
such bursts of hearty laughter! Seated in his tall, spindle-legged
arm-chair by the fire, staring steadily at the exemplary Pipchin, Little
Paul, we were told, was asked [in the most snappish voice possible], by
that austere female, What he was thinking about?

"You," [in the gentlest childlike voice] said Paul, without the least

"And what are you thinking about me?"

"I'm--thinking--how old--you must be."

"You mustn't say such things as that, young gentleman. That'll never

"Why not [slowly and wonderingly]?"

"Never you mind, sir [shorter and sharper than ever]. Remember the
story of the little boy that was gored to death by a mad bull for asking

"If the bull [in a high falsetto voice and with greater deliberation
than ever] was mad, how did he know that the boy asked questions? Nobody
can go and whisper secrets to a mad bull. I don't believe that story."

Little Dombey's fellow-sufferers at Mrs. Pipchin's were hardly less
ludicrous in their way than that bitter old victim of the Peruvian mines
in her perennial weeds of black bombazeen. Miss Pankey, for instance,
the mild little blue-eyed morsel of a child who was instructed by the
Ogress that "nobody who sniffed before visitors ever went to heaven!"
And her associate in misery, one Master Bitherstone, from India, who
objected so much to the Pipchinian system, that before Little Dombey had
been in the house five minutes, he privately consulted that gentleman
if he could afford him any idea of the way back to Bengal! What the
Pipchinian system was precisely, the Reader indicated perhaps the most
happily by his way of saying, that instead of its encouraging a child's
mind to develop itself, like a flower, it strove to open it by force,
like an oyster. Fading slowly away while he is yet under Mrs. Pipchin's
management, poor little Paul, as the audience well knew, was removed on
to Doctor Blimber's Academy for Young Gentlemen. There the humorous
company gathered around Paul immediately increased. But, before his
going amongst them, the Reader enabled us more vividly to realise, by an
additional touch or two, the significance of the peculiarity of being
"old fashioned," for which the fading child appeared in everybody's eyes
so remarkable.

Wheeled down to the beach in a little invalid-carriage, he would cling
fondly to his sister Florence. He would say to any chance child who
might come to bear him company [in a soft, drawling, half-querulous
voice, and with the gravest look], "Go away, if you please. Thank you,
but I don't want you." He would wonder to himself and to Floy what the
waves were always saying--always saying! At about the middle of the 47th
page of the Reading copy of this book about Little Dombey, the copy
from which Dickens Read, both in England and America, there is, in
his handwriting, the word--"Pause." It occurs just in between Little
Dombey's confiding to his sister, that if she were in India he should
die of being so sorry and so lonely! and the incident of his suddenly
waking up at another time from a long sleep in his little carriage on
the shingles, to ask her, not only "What the rolling waves are saying so
constantly, but What place is over there?--far away!--looking eagerly,
as he inquires, towards some invisible region beyond the horizon!" That
momentary pause will be very well remembered by everyone who attended
this Reading.

One single omission we are still disposed to regret in the putting
together of the materials for this particular Reading from the original
narrative. In approaching Dr. Blimber's establishment for the first
time, we would gladly have witnessed the sparring-match, as one may say,
on the very threshold, between Mrs. Pipchin the Ogress in bombazeen and
the weak-eyed young man-servant who opens the door! The latter of
whom, having "the first faint streaks or early dawn of a grin on his
countenance--(it was mere imbecility)" as the Author himself explains
parenthetically--Mrs. Pipchin at once takes it into her head, is
inspired by impudence, and snaps at accordingly. Of this we saw nothing,
however, in the Reading. We heard nothing of Mrs. Pipchin's explosive,
"How dare you laugh behind the gentleman's back?" or of the weak-eyed
young man's answering in consternation, "I ain't a laughing at nobody,
ma'am." Any more than of the Ogress saying a while later, "You're
laughing again, sir!" or of the young man, grievously oppressed,
repudiating the charge with, "I _ain't_. I never see such a thing
as this!" The old lady as she passed on with, "Oh! he was a precious
fellow," leaving him, who was in fact all meekness and incapacity,
"affected even to tears by the incident." If we saw nothing, however, of
that retainer of Dr. Blimber, we were introduced to another, meaning the
blue-coated, bright-buttoned butler, "who gave quite a winey flavour
to the table-beer--he poured it out so superbly!" We had Dr. Blimber
himself, besides, with his learned legs, like a clerical pianoforte--a
bald head, highly polished, and a chin so double, it was a wonder how
he ever managed to shave into the creases. We had Miss Blimber, in
spectacles, like a ghoul, "dry and sandy with working in the graves
of deceased languages." We had Mrs. Blimber, not learned herself, but
pretending to be so, which did quite as well, languidly exclaiming at
evening parties, that if she could have known Cicero, she thought she
could have died contented. We had Mr. Feeder, clipped to the stubble,
grinding out his classic stops like a barrel-organ of erudition. Above
all, we had Toots, the head boy, or rather "the head and shoulder
boy," he was so much taller than the rest! Of whom in that intellectual
forcing-house (where he had "gone through" everything so completely,
that one day he "suddenly left off blowing, and remained in the
establishment a mere stalk") people had come at last to say, "that the
Doctor had rather overdone it with young Toots, and that when he began
to have whiskers he left off having brains." From the moment when Young
Toots's voice was first heard, in tones so deep, and in a manner
so sheepish, that "if a lamb had roared it couldn't have been more
surprising," saying to Little Dombey with startling suddenness, "How
are you?"--every time the Reader opened his lips, as speaking in that
character, there was a burst of merriment. His boastful account
always called forth laughter--that his tailor was Burgess and Co.,
"fash'nable, but very dear." As also did his constantly reiterated
inquiries of Paul--always as an entirely new idea--"I say--it's not
of the slightest consequence, you know, but I should wish to mention
it--how are you, you know?" Hardly less provocative of mirth was
Briggs's confiding one evening to Little Dombey, that his head ached
ready to split, and "that he should wish himself dead if it wasn't for
his mother and a blackbird he had at home."

Wonderful fun used to be made by the Beader of the various incidents at
the entertainment given upon the eve of the vacations by Doctor and Mrs.
Blimber to the Young Gentlemen and their Friends, when "the hour was
half-past seven o'clock, and the object was quadrilles." The Doctor
pacing up and down in the drawing-room, full dressed, before anybody had
arrived, "with a dignified and unconcerned demeanour, as if he thought
it barely possible that one or two people might drop in by-and-by!" His
exclaiming, when Mr. Toots and Mr. Feeder were announced by the butler,
and as if he were extremely surprised to see them, "Aye, aye, aye!
God bless my soul!" Mr. Toots, one blaze of jewellery and buttons, so
undecided, "on a calm revision of all the circumstances," whether it
were better to have his waistcoat fastened or unfastened both at top and
bottom, as the arrivals thickened, so influencing him by the force of
example, that at the last he was "continually fingering that article of
dress as if he were performing on some instrument!" Thoroughly enjoyable
though the whole scene was in its throng of ludicrous particulars, it
merely led the way up appreciably and none the less tenderly, for all
the innocent laughter, to the last and supremely pathetic incidents of
the story as related thenceforth (save only for one startling instant)
_sotto voce_, by the Reader.

The exceptional moment here alluded to, when his voice was suddenly
raised, to be hushed again the instant afterwards, came at the very
opening of the final scene by Little Dombey's death-bed, where the
sunbeams, towards evening, struck through the rustling blinds and
quivered on the opposite wall like golden water. Overwhelmed, as little
Paul was occasionally, with "his only trouble," a sense of the swift and
rapid river, "he felt forced," the Reader went on to say, "to try and
stop it--to stem it with his childish hands, or choke its way with
sand--and when he saw it coming on, resistless, he cried out!" Dropping
his voice from that abrupt outcry instantly afterwards, to the gentlest
tones, as he added, "But a word from Florence, who was always at his
side, restored him to himself"--the Reader continued in those subdued
and tender accents to the end.

The child's pity for his father's sorrowing, was surpassed only, as
all who witnessed this Reading will readily recollect, by the yet more
affecting scene with his old nurse. Waking upon a sudden, on the last
of the many evenings, when the golden water danced in shining ripples on
the wall, waking mind and body, sitting upright in his bed--

"And who is this? Is this my old nurse?" asked the child, regarding with
a radiant smile a figure coming in.

"Yes, yes. No other stranger would have shed those tears at sight of
him, and called him her dear boy, her pretty boy, her own poor blighted
child. No other woman would have stooped down by his bed and taken up
his wasted hand and put it to her lips and breast, as one who had some
right to fondle it. No other woman would have so forgotten everybody
there but him and Floy, and been so full of tenderness and pity."

The child's words coming then so lovingly: "Floy! this is a kind good
face! I am glad to see it again. Don't go away, old nurse! Stay here!
Good bye!" prepared one exquisitely for the rest. "Not goodbye?" "Ah,
yes! good-bye!"

Then the end! The child having been laid down again with his arms
clasped round his sister's neck, telling her that the stream was lulling
him to rest, that now the boat was out at sea and that there was shore
before him, and--Who stood upon the bank! Putting his hands together "as
he had been used to do at his prayers "--not removing his arms to do it,
but folding them so behind his sister's neck--"Mamma is like you, Floy!"
he cried; "I know her by the face! But tell them that the picture on
the stairs at school is not Divine enough. The light about the head is
shining on me as I go!"

Then came two noble passages, nobly delivered.

First--when there were no eyes unmoistened among the listeners--

"The golden ripple on the wall came back again, and nothing else stirred
in the room. The old, old fashion! The fashion that came in with our
first garments, and will last unchanged until our race has run its
course, and the wide firmament is rolled up like a scroll. The old, old

And lastly--with a tearful voice--

"Oh, thank God, all who see it, for that older fashion yet of
Immortality! And look upon us, Angels of young children, with regards
not quite estranged, when the swift river bears us to the ocean!"

Remembering which exquisite words as he himself delivered them, having
the very tones of his voice still ringing tenderly in our recollection,
the truth of that beautiful remark of Dean Stanley's comes back anew
as though it were now only for the first time realised, where, in
his funeral sermon of the 19th June, 1870, he said that it was the
inculcation of the lesson derived from precisely such a scene as this
which will always make the grave of Charles Dickens seem "as though it
were the very grave of those little innocents whom he created for our
companionship, for our instruction, for our delight and solace." The
little workhouse-boy, the little orphan girl, the little cripple,
who "not only blessed his father's needy home, but softened the rude
stranger's hardened conscience," were severally referred to by the
preacher when he gave this charming thought its affecting application.
But, foremost among these bewitching children of the Novelist's
imagination, might surely be placed the child-hero of a story closing
hardly so much with his death as with his apotheosis.


It remains still a matter of surprise how so much was made out of this
slight sketch by the simple force of its humorous delivery. "Mr. Chops,
the Dwarf," as, indeed, was only befitting, was the smallest of all the
Readings. The simple little air that so caught the dreamer's fancy, when
played upon the harp by Scrooge's niece by marriage, is described after
all, as may be remembered by the readers of the Carol, to to have been
intrinsically "a mere nothing; you might learn to whistle it in
two minutes." Say that in twenty minutes, or, at the outside, in
half-an-hour, any ordinarily glib talker might have rattled through
these comic recollections of Mr. Magsman, yet, when rattled through by
Dickens, the laughter awakened seems now in the retrospect to have been
altogether out of proportion. In itself the subject was anything
but attractive, relating, as it did, merely to the escapade of a
monstrosity. The surroundings are ignoble, the language is illiterate,
the narrative from first to last is characterised by its grotesque
extravagance. Yet the whole is presented to view in so utterly ludicrous
an aspect, that one needs must laugh just as surely as one listened.
Turning over the leaves now, and recalling to mind the hilarity they
used to excite even among the least impressionable audience whenever
they were fluttered (there are not a dozen of them altogether) on
the familiar reading-desk, one marvels over the success of such an
exceedingly small oddity as over the remembrance, let us say, of the
brilliant performance of a fantasia on the jew's-harp by Rubenstein.

Nevertheless, slight though it is, the limning all through has touches
of the most comic suggestiveness. Magsman's account of the show-house
during his occupancy is sufficiently absurd to begin with--"the picter
of the giant who was himself the heighth of the house," being run up
with a line and pulley to a pole on the roof till "his 'ed was coeval
with the parapet;" the picter of the child of the British Planter
seized by two Boa Constrictors, "not that we never had no child, nor
no Constrictors either;" similarly, the picter of the Wild Ass of the
Prairies, "not that _we_ never had no wild asses, nor wouldn't have had
'em at a gift." And to crown all, the picter of the Dwarf--who was "a
uncommon small man, he really was. Certainly not so small as he was made
out to be; but where _is_ your Dwarf as is?" A picter "like him, too
considering, with George the Fourth, in such a state of astonishment
at him as his Majesty couldn't with his utmost politeness and stoutness
express." Wrote up the Dwarf was, we are told by Mr. Magsman, as Major
Tpschoffski--"nobody couldn't pronounce the name," he adds, "and it
never was intended anybody should." Corrupted into Chopski by the
public, he gets called in the line Chops, partly for that reason,
"partly because his real name, if he ever had any real name (which was
dubious), was Stakes." Wearing a diamond ring "(or quite as good to
look at)" on his forefinger, having the run of his teeth, "and he was
a Woodpecker to eat--but all dwarfs are," receiving a good salary, and
gathering besides as his perquisites the ha'pence collected by him in a
Chaney sarser at the end of every entertainment, the Dwarf never has
any money somehow. Nevertheless, having what his admiring proprietor
considers "a fine mind, a poetic mind," Mr. Chops indulges himself in
the pleasing delusion that one of these days he is to Come Into his
Property, his ideas respecting which are never realised by him so
powerfully as when he sits upon a barrel-organ and has the handle
turned! "Arter the wibration has run through him a little time,"
says Mr. Magsman, "he screeches out, 'Toby, I feel my property
a-coming--gr-r-rind away! I feel the Mint a-jingling in me. I'm
a-swelling out into the Bank of England!' Such," reflectively observes
his proprietor, "is the influence of music on a poetic mind!" Adding,
however, immediately afterwards, "Not that he was partial to any other
music but a barrel-organ; on the contrairy, hated it." Indulging in
day-dreams about Coming Into his Property and Going Into Society, for
which he feels himself formed, and to aspire towards which is his avowed
ambition, the mystery, as to where the Dwarf's salary and ha'pence
all go, is one day cleared up by his winning a prize in the Lottery, a
half-ticket for the twenty-five thousand pounder.

Mr. Chops Comes Into his Property--twelve thousand odd hundred. Further
than that, he Goes Into Society "in a chay and four greys with silk
jackets." It was at this turning-point in the career of his large-headed
but diminutive hero that the grotesque humour of the Reader would play
upon the risible nerves of his hearers, as, according to Mr. Disraeli's
phrase, Sir Robert Peel used to play upon the House of Commons, "like
an old fiddle." Determined to Go Into Society in style, with his twelve
thousand odd hundred, Mr. Chops, we are told, "sent for a young man
he knowed, as had a very genteel appearance, and was a Bonnet at a
gaming-booth. Most respectable brought up," adds Mr. Magsman--"father
having been imminent in the livery-stable line, but unfortunate in a
commercial crisis through painting a old grey ginger-bay, and sellin'
him with a pedigree." In intimate companionship with this Bonnet, "who
said his name was Normandy, which it warn't," Mr. Magsman, on invitation
by note a little while afterwards, visits Mr. Chops at his lodgings in
Pall Mall, London, where he is found carousing not only with the Bonnet
but with a third party, of whom we were then told with unconscionable
gravity, "When last met, he had on a white Roman shirt, and a bishop's
mitre covered with leopard-skin, and played the clarionet all wrong in
a band at a Wild Beast Show." How the reverential Magsman, finding the
three of them blazing away, blazes away in his turn while remaining in
their company, who, that once heard it, has forgotten? "I made the round
of the bottles," he says--evidently proud of his achievement--"first
separate (to say I had done it), and then mixed 'em altogether (to say
I had done it), and then tried two of 'em as half-and-half, and then
t'other two; altogether," he adds, "passin' a pleasin' evenin' with
a tendency to feel muddled." How all Mr. Chop's blazing away is to
terminate everybody but himself perceives clearly enough from the

Normandy having bolted with the plate, and "him as formerly wore the
bishop's mitre" with the jewels, the Dwarf gets out of society by being,
as he significantly expresses it, "sold out," and in this plight
returns penitently one evening to the show-house of his still-admiring
proprietor. Mr. Magsman happens at the moment to be having a dull
_tête-à-tête_ with a young man without arms, who gets his living by
writing with his toes, "which," says the low-spirited narrator, "I had
taken on for a month--though he never drawed--except on paper." Hearing
a kicking at the street-door, "'Halloa!' I says to the young man,
'what's up?' He rubs his eyebrows with his toes, and he says, 'I can't
imagine, Mr. Magsman'--which that young man [with an air of disgust]
never _could_ imagine nothin', and was monotonous company." Mr.
Chops--"I never dropped the 'Mr.' with him," says his again proprietor;
"the world might do it, but not me"--eventually dies. Having sat upon
the barrel-organ over night, and had the handle turned through all the
changes, for the first and only time after his fall, Mr. Chops is found
on the following morning, as the disconsolate Magsman expresses it,
"gone into much better society than either mine or Pall Mall's." Out
of such unpromising materials as these could the alembic of a genius
all-embracing in its sympathies extract such an abundance of innocent
mirth--an illiterate showman talking to us all the while about such
people as the Bonnet of a gaming-booth, or a set of monstrosities he
himself has, for a few coppers, on exhibition. Yet, as Mr. Magsman
himself remarks rather proudly when commenting on his own establishment,
"as for respectability,--if threepence ain't respectable, what is?"


Apart altogether from the Readings of Charles Dickens, has the reader of
this book any remembrance of the original story of "The Poor Traveller"?
If he has, he will recognise upon the instant the truth of the words in
which we would here speak of it, as of one of those, it may be, slight
but exquisite sketches, which are sometimes, in a happy moment,
thrown off by the hand of a great master. Comparatively trivial
in itself--carelessly dashed off, apparently hap-hazard--having no
pretension about it in the least, it is anything, in short, but a
finished masterpiece. Yet, for all that, it is marked, here and there,
by touches so felicitous and inimitable in their way, that we hardly
find the like in the artist's more highly elaborated and ambitious
productions. Not that one would speak of it, however, as of a drawing
upon toned paper in neutral tint, or as of a picture pencilled in sepia
or with crayons; one would rather liken it to a radiant water-colour,
chequered with mingled storm and sunshine, sparkling with lifelike
effects, and glowing with brilliancy. And yet the little work is one,
when you come to look into it, that is but the product of a seemingly
artless _abandon_, in which without an effort the most charming results
have been arrived at, obviously upon the instant, and quite unerringly.

Trudging down to Chatham, footsore and without a farthing in his pocket,
it is in this humble guise first of all that he comes before us, this
Poor Traveller. Christian name, Eichard, better known as Dick, his own
surname dropped upon the road, he assumes that of Doubledick--being
thenceforth spoken of all through the tale, even to the very end of it,
by his new name, as Eichard Doubledick. A scapegrace, a ne'er-do-well,
an incorrigible, hopeless of himself, despaired of by others, he has
"gone wrong and run wild." His heart, still in the right place, has been
sealed up. "Betrothed to a good and beautiful girl whom he had loved
better than she--or perhaps even he--believed," he had given her cause,
in an evil hour, to tell him solemnly that she would never marry any
other man; that she would live single for his sake, but that her lips,
"that Mary Marshall's lips," would never address another word to him
on earth, bidding him in the end--Go! and Heaven forgive him! Hence,
in point of fact, this journey of his on foot down to Chatham, for the
purpose of enlisting, if possible, in a cavalry regiment, his object
being to get shot, though he himself thinks in his devil-may-care
indifference, that "he might as well ride to death as be at the trouble
of walking." Premising simply that his hero's age is at this time
twenty-two, and his height five foot ten, and that, there being no
cavalry at the moment in Chatham, he enlists into a regiment of the
line, where he is glad to get drunk and forget all about it, the Author
readily made the path clear for the opening up of his narrative.

Whenever Charles Dickens introduced this tale among his Readings, how
beautifully he related it! After recounting how Private Doubledick was
clearly going to the dogs, associating himself with the dregs of every
regiment, seldom being sober and constantly under punishment, until
it became plain at last to the whole barracks that very soon indeed
he would come to be flogged, when the Reader came at this point to the
words--"Now the captain of Doubledick's company was a young gentleman
not above five years his senior, whose eyes had an expression in them
which affected Private Doubledick in a very remarkable way"--the effect
was singularly striking. Out of the Reader's own eyes would look the
eyes of that Captain, as the Author himself describes them: "They were
bright, handsome, dark eyes, what are called laughing eyes generally,
and, when serious, rather steady than severe." But, he immediately went
on to say, they were the only eyes then left in his narrowed world
that could not be met without a sense of shame by Private Doubledick.
Insomuch that if he observed Captain Taunton coming towards him, even
when he himself was most callous and unabashed, "he would rather turn
back and go any distance out of the way, than encounter those two
handsome, dark, bright eyes." Here it was that came, what many will
still vividly remember, as one of the most exquisitely portrayed
incidents in the whole of this Reading--the interview between Captain
Taunton and Private Doubledick!

The latter, having passed forty-eight hours in the Black Hole, has been
just summoned, to his great dismay, to the Captain's quarters. Having
about him all the squalor of his incarceration, he shrinks from making
his appearance before one whose silent gaze even was a reproach.
However, not being so mad yet as to disobey orders, he goes up to the
officers' quarters immediately upon his release from the Black Hole,
twisting and breaking in his hands as he goes along a bit of the straw
that had formed its decorative furniture.

"'Come in!'

"Private Doubledick pulled off his cap, took a stride forward and stood
in the light of the dark bright eyes."

From that moment until the end of the interview, the two men alternately
were standing there distinctly before the audience upon the platform.

"Doubledick! do you know where you are going to?"

"To the devil, sir!"

"Yes, and very fast."

Thereupon one did not hear the words simply, one saw it done precisely
as it is described in the original narrative: "Private Richard
Doubledick turned the straw of the Black Hole in his mouth and made a
_miserable_ salute of acquiescence." Captain Taunton then remonstrates
with him thus earnestly: "Doubledick, since I entered his Majesty's
service, a boy of seventeen, I have been pained to see many men of
promise going that road; but I have never been _so_ pained to see a man
determined to make the shameful journey, as I have been, ever since you
joined the regiment, to see _you_." At this point in the printed story,
as it was originally penned, one reads that "Private Richard Doubledick
began to find a film stealing over the floor at which he looked; also to
find the legs of the Captain's breakfast-table turning crooked as if he
saw them through water." Although those words are erased in the reading
copy, and were not uttered, pretty nearly the effect of them was visible
when, after a momentary pause, the disheartened utterance was faltered

"I am only a common soldier, sir. It signifies very little what such a
poor brute comes to."

In answer to the next remonstrance from his officer, Doubledick's words
are blurted out yet more despairingly--

"I hope to get shot soon, sir, and then the regiment, and the world
together, will be rid of me!"

What are the descriptive words immediately following this in the printed
narrative? They also were visibly expressed upon the platform. "Looking
up he met the eyes that had so strong an influence over him. He put his
hand before his own eyes, and the breast of his disgrace-jacket swelled
as if it would fly asunder." His observant adviser thereupon quietly
but very earnestly remarks, that he "would rather see this in him
(Doubledick) than he would see five thousand guineas counted out upon
the table between them for a gift to his (the Captain's) good mother,"
adding suddenly, "Have you a mother?" Doubledick is thankful to say she
is dead. Reminded by the Captain that if his praises were sounded from
mouth to mouth through the whole regiment, through the whole army,
through the whole country, he would wish she had lived to say with pride
and joy, "He is my son!" Doubledick cries out, "Spare me, sir! She would
never have heard any good of me. She would never have had any pride or
joy in owning herself my mother. Love and compassion she might have had,
and would always have had, I know; but not--spare me, sir! I am a broken
wretch quite at your mercy." By this time, according to the words of the
writing, according only to the eloquent action of the Reading, "He had
turned his face to the wall and stretched out his _imploring_ hand."
How eloquently that "imploring hand" spoke in the agonised, dumb
supplication of its movement, coupled as it was with the shaken frame
and the averted countenance, those who witnessed this Reading will
readily recall to their recollection. As also the emotion expressed in
the next broken utterances exchanged by the interlocutors:--

"My friend------"

"God bless you, sir!"

Captain Taunton, interrupted for the moment, adding--

"You are at the crisis of your fate, my friend. Hold your course
unchanged a little longer, and you know what must happen, _I_ know
better than ever you can imagine, that after that has happened you are a
lost man. No man who could shed such tears could bear such marks."

Doubledick, replying in a low shivering voice, "I fully believe it,
sir," the young Captain adds--

"But a man in any station can do his duty, and in doing it can earn his
own respect, even if his case should be so very unfortunate and so very
rare, that he can earn no other man's. A common soldier, poor brute
though you called him just now, has this advantage in the stormy times
we live in, that he always does his duty before a host of sympathising
witnesses. Do you doubt that he may so do it as to be extolled through
a whole regiment, through a whole army, through a whole country? Turn
while you may yet retrieve the past and try."

With a nearly bursting heart Richard cries out, "I will! I ask but one
witness, sir!" The reply is instant and significant, "I understand you.
I will be a watchful and a faithful one." It is a compact between them,
a compact sealed and ratified. "I have heard from Private Doubledick's
own lips," said the narrator, and in tones how manly and yet how tender
in their vibration, "that he dropped down upon his knee, kissed that
officer's hand, arose, and went out of the light of the dark bright
eyes, an altered man." From the date to them both of this memorable
interview he followed the two hither and thither among the battle-fields
of the great war between England in coalition with the other nations of
Europe and Napoleon.

Wherever Captain Taunton led, there, "close to him, ever at his side,
firm as a rock, true as the sun, brave as Mars," would for certain be
found that famous soldier Sergeant Doubledick. As Sergeant-Major the
latter is shown, later on, upon one desperate occasion cutting his
way single-handed through a mass of men, recovering the colours of his
regiment, and rescuing his wounded Captain from the very jaws of death
"in a jungle of horses' hoofs and sabres"--for which deed of gallantry
and all but desperation, he is forthwith raised from the ranks,
appearing no longer as a non-commissioned officer, but as Ensign
Doubledick. At last, one fatal day in the trenches, during the siege of
Badajos, Major Taunton and Ensign Doubledick find themselves hurrying
forward against a party of French infantry. At this juncture, at the
very moment when Doubledick sees the officer at the head of the
enemy's soldiery--"a courageous, handsome, gallant officer of
five-and-thirty"--waving his sword, and with an eager and excited
cry rallying his men, they fire, and Major Taunton has dropped. The
encounter closing within ten minutes afterwards on the arrival of
assistance to the two Englishmen, "the best friend man ever had" is laid
upon a coat spread out upon the wet clay by the heart-riven subaltern,
whom years before his generous counsel had rescued from ignominious
destruction. Three little spots of blood are visible on the shirt of
Major Taunton as he lies there with the breast of his uniform opened.

"Dear Doubledick,--I am dying."

"For the love of Heaven, no! Taunton! My preserver, my guardian angel,
my witness! Dearest, truest, kindest of human beings! Taunton! For God's

To listen to that agonised entreaty as it started from the trembling
and one could almost have fancied whitened lips of the Reader, was to
be with him there upon the instant on the far-off battle-field. Taunton
dies "with his hand upon the breast in which he had revived a soul."
Doubledick, prostrated and inconsolable in his bereavement, has but two
cares seemingly for the rest of his existence--one to preserve a packet
of hair to be given to the mother of the friend lost to him; the other,
to encounter that French officer who had rallied the men under whose
fire that friend had fallen. "A new legend," quoth the narrator, "now
began to incubate among our troops; and it was, that when he and the
French officer came face to face once more, there would be weeping in
France." Failing to meet him, however, through all the closing scenes
of the great war, Doubledick, by this time promoted to his lieutenancy,
follows the old regimental colours, ragged, scarred, and riddled with
shot, through the fierce conflicts of Quatre Bras and Ligny, falling at
last desperately wounded--all but dead--upon the field of Waterloo.

How, having been tenderly nursed during the total eclipse of an
appallingly lengthened period of unconsciousness, he wakes up at last in
Brussels to find that during a little more than momentary and at first
an utterly forgotten interval of his stupor, he has been married to the
gentle-handed nurse who has been all the while in attendance upon him,
and who is no other, of coarse, than his faithful first love, Mary
Marshall! How, returning homewards, an invalided hero, Captain
Doubledick becomes, in a manner, soon afterwards, the adopted son of
Major Taunton's mother! How the latter, having gone, some time later, on
a visit to a French family near Aix, is followed by her other son, her
other self, he has almost come to be, "now a hardy, handsome man in
the full vigour of life," on his receiving from the head of the house
a gracious and courtly invitation for "the honour of the company of cet
homme si justement célèbre, Monsieur le Capitaine Richard Double-dick!"
These were among the incidents in due sequence immediately afterwards

Arriving at the old chateau upon a fête-day, when the household are
scattered abroad in the gardens and shrubberies at their rejoicings,
Captain Double-dick passes through the open porch into the lofty
stone hall. There, being a total stranger, he is almost scared by the
intrusive clanking of his boots. Suddenly he starts back, feeling his
face turn white! For, in the gallery looking down at him, is the French
officer whose picture he has carried in his mind so long and so far.
The latter, disappearing in another instant for the staircase, enters
directly afterwards with a bright sudden look upon his countenance,
"Such a look as it had worn in that fatal moment," so well and so
terribly remembered! All this was portrayed with startling vividness
by the Author of the little sketch in his capacity as the sympathetic
realizer of the dreams of his own imagination.

Exquisite was the last glimpse of the delineation, when the
Captain--after many internal revulsions of feeling, while he gazes
through the window of the bed-chamber allotted to him in the old
château, "whence he could see the smiling prospect and the peaceful
vineyards "--thinks musingly to himself, "Spirit of my departed friend,
is it through thee these better thoughts are rising in my mind! Is it
thou who hast shown me, all the way I have been drawn to meet this man,
the blessings of the altered time! Is it thou who hast sent thy stricken
mother to me, to stay my angry hand! Is it from thee the whisper comes,
that this man only did his duty as thou didst--and as I did through thy
guidance, which saved me, here on earth--and that he did no more!"
Then it was, we were told, there came to him the second and crowning
resolution of his life: "That neither to the French officer, nor to the
mother of his departed friend, nor to any soul while either of the two
was living, would he breathe what only _he_ knew." Then it was that
the author perfected his Reading by the simple utterance of its closing
words--"And when he touched that French officer's glass with his own
that day at dinner, he secretly forgave him--forgave him in the name of
the Divine Forgiver." With a moral no less noble and affecting, no
less grand and elevating than this, the lovely idyll closed. The final
glimpse of the scene at the old Aix château was like the view of a
sequestered orchard through the ivied porchway of a village church.
The concluding words of the prelection were like the sound of the organ
voluntary at twilight, when the worshippers are dispersing.


A whimsical and delightful recollection comes back to the writer of
these pages at the moment of inscribing as the title of this Reading
the name of the preposterous old lady who is the real heroine of "Martin
Chuzzlewit." It is the remembrance of Charles Dickens's hilarious
enjoyment of a casual jest thrown out, upon his having incidentally
mentioned--as conspicuous among the shortcomings of the first acting
version of that story upon the boards of the Lyceum--the certainly
surprising fact that Mrs. Gamp's part, as originally set down for
Keeley, had not a single "which" in it. "Why, it ought actually to
have begun with one!" was the natural exclamation of the person he was
addressing, who added instantly, with affected indignation, "Not one?
Why, next they'll be playing Macbeth without the Witches!" The joyous
laugh with which this ludicrous conceit was greeted by the Humorist,
still rings freshly and musically in our remembrance. And the
recollection of it is doubtless all the more vivid because of the
mirthful retrospect having relation to one of the most recent of
Dickens's blithe home dinners in his last town residence immediately
before his hurried return to Gad's Hill in the summer of 1870. Although
we were happily with him afterwards, immediately before the time came
when we could commune with him no more, the occasion referred to is one
in which we recall him to mind as he was when we saw him last at his
very gayest, radiant with that sense of enjoyment which it was
his especial delight to diffuse around him throughout his life so

Among all his humorous creations, Mrs. Gamp is perhaps the most
intensely original and the most thoroughly individualised. She is not
only a creation of character, she is in herself a creator of character.
To the Novelist we are indebted for Mrs. Gamp, but to Mrs. Gamp herself
we are indebted for Mrs. Harris. That most mythical of all imaginary
beings is certainly quite unique; she is strictly, as one may say, _sui
generis_ in the whole world of fiction. A figment born from a figment;
one fancy evolved from another; the shadow of a shadow. If only in
remembrance of that one daring adumbration from Mrs. Gamp'sinner
consciousness, that purely supposititious entity "which her name,
I'll not deceive you, is Harris," one would say that Mr. Mould, the
undertaker, has full reason for exclaiming, in regard to Mrs. Gamp,
"I'll tell you what, that's a woman whose intellect is immensely
superior to her station in life. That's a woman who observes and
reflects in a wonderful manner." Mr. Mould becomes so strongly impressed
at last with a sense of her exceptional merits, that in a deliciously
ludicrous outburst of professional generosity he caps the climax of his
eulogium by observing, "She's the sort of woman, now, that one would
almost feel disposed to bury for nothing--and do it neatly, too!"
Thoroughly akin, by the way, to which exceedingly questionable
expression of goodwill on the part of Mr. Mould, is Mrs. Gamp's equally
confiding outburst of philanthropy from _her_ point of view, where she
remarks--of course to her familiar, as Socrates when communing with his
Daemon--"'Mrs. Harris,' I says to her, 'don't name the charge, for if I
could afford to lay my fellow-creeturs out for nothink, I would gladly
do it, sich is the love I bears 'em.'"

A benevolent unbosoming, or self-revelation, that last, on the part of
Mrs. Gamp, so astoundingly outspoken of its kind, that it forces upon
one, in regard to her whole character, the almost inevitable
reflection that her grotesque and inexhaustible humour, like Falstaff's
irrepressible and exhilarating wit, redeems what would be otherwise
in itself utterly irredeemable. For, as commentators have remarked, in
regard to Shakspere's Fat Knight, that Sir John is an unwieldy mass
of every conceivable bad quality, being, among other things, a liar,
a coward, a drunkard, a braggart, a cheat, and a debauchee, one might
bring, if not an equally formidable, certainly an equally lengthened,
indictment against the whole character of Mrs. Gamp, justifying the
validity of each disreputable charge upon the testimony of her own

In its way, the impersonation of Mrs. Gamp by her creator was nearly
as surprising as his original delineation of her in his capacity as
Novelist. Happily, to bring out the finer touches of the humorous in her
portraiture, there were repeated asides in the Reading, added to which
other contrasting characters were here and there momentarily introduced.
Mr. Pecksniff--hardly recognisable, by the way, _as_ Mr. Pecksniff--took
part, but a very subordinate part, in the conversation, as did Mr.
Mould also, and as, towards the close of it, likewise did Mrs. Prig of
Bartlemy's. But, monopolist though Mrs. Gamp showed herself to be in her
manner of holding forth, her talk never degenerated into a monologue.

Mr. Pecksniff setting forth in a hackney cabriolet to-arrange, on behalf
of Jonas Chuzzlewit, for the funeral of the latter's father, in regard
to which he is enjoined to spare no expense, arrives, in due course, in
Kings-gate-street, High Holborn, in quest of the female functionary--"a
nurse and watcher, and performer of nameless offices about the dead,
whom the undertaker had recommended." His destination is reached when
he stands face to face with the lady's lodging over the bird-fancier's,
"next door but one to the celebrated mutton-pie shop, and directly
opposite to the original cats'-meat warehouse." Here Mr. Pecksniff's
performance upon the knocker naturally arouses the whole neighbourhood,
it, the knocker, being so ingeniously constructed as to wake the street
with ease, without making the smallest impression upon the premises to
which it was addressed. Everybody is at once under the impression that,
as a matter of course, he is "upon an errand touching not the close of
life, but the other end"--the married ladies, especially, crying out
with uncommon interest, "Knock at the winder, sir, knock at the winder!
Lord bless you, don't lose no more time than you can help,--knock at the
winder!" Mrs. Gamp herself, when roused, is under the same embarrassing
misapprehension. Immediately, however, Mr. Pecksniff has explained the
object of his mission, Mrs. Gamp, who has a face for all occasions,
thereupon putting on her mourning countenance, the surrounding matrons,
while rating her visitor roundly, signify that they would be glad to
know what he means by terrifying delicate females with "his corpses!"
The unoffending gentleman eventually, after hustling Mrs. Gamp into the
cabriolet, drives off "overwhelmed with popular execration."

Here it is that Mrs. Gamp's distinctive characteristics begin to
assert themselves conspicuously. Her labouring under the most erroneous
impressions as to the conveyance in which she is travelling, evidently
confounding it with mail-coaches, insomuch that, in regard to her
luggage, she clamours to the driver to "put it in the boot," her
absorbing anxiety about the pattens, "with which she plays innumerable
games of quoits upon Mr. Pecksniff's legs," her evolutions in that
confined space with her most prominently visible chattel, "a species
of gig umbrella," prepare the way for her still more characteristic
confidences. Then in earnest--she had spoken twice before that from
her window over the bird-fancier's--but then in earnest, on their
approaching the house of mourning, her voice, in the Reading, became
recognisable. A voice snuffy, husky, unctuous, the voice of a fat old
woman, one so fat that she is described in the book as having had a
difficulty in looking over herself--a voice, as we read elsewhere in the
novel, having borne upon the breeze about it a peculiar fragrance,
"as if a passing fairy had hiccoughed, and had previously been to a

"'And so the gentleman's dead, sir! Ah! the more's the pity!'--(_She
didn't even know his name_.)--'But it's as certain as being born, except
that we can't make our calc'lations as exact. Ah, dear!'"

Simply to hear those words uttered by the Reader--especially the
interjected words above italicised--was to have a relish of anticipation
at once for all that followed. Mrs. Gamp's pathetic allusion,
immediately afterwards, to her recollection of the time "when Gamp
was summonsed to his long home," and when she "see him a-laying in the
hospital with a penny-piece on each eye, and his wooden leg under his
left arm," not only confirmed the delighted impression of the hearers
as to their having her there before them in her identity, but was the
signal for the roars of laughter that, rising and falling in volume all
through the Reading, terminated only some time after its completion.

Immediately after came the first introduction by her of the name of Mrs.
Harris. "At this point," observed the narrator, "she was fain to stop
for breath. And," he went on directly to remark, with a combination of
candour and seriousness that were in themselves irresistibly ludicrous,
"advantage may be taken of the circumstance to state that a fearful
mystery surrounded this lady of the name of Harris, whom no one in the
circle of Mrs. Gamp's acquaintance had ever seen; neither did any human
being know her place of residence--the prevalent opinion being that she
was a phantom of Mrs. Gamp's brain, created for the purpose of holding
complimentary dialogues with her on all manner of subjects." Eminently
seasonable, as a preliminary flourish in this way, is the tribute paid
by her to Mrs. Gamp's abstemiousness, on the understanding that is,
that the latter's one golden rule of life, is complied with--"'Leave the
bottle on the chimbley-piece, and don't ast me to take none, but let me
put my lips to it when I am so dispoged, and then, Mrs. Harris, I says,
I will do what I am engaged to, according to the best of my ability.'
'Mrs. Gamp' she says, in answer, 'if ever there was a sober creetur to
be got at eighteen-pence a day for working people, and three-and-six
for gentlefolks,--night-watching being a extra charge,--you are that
inwallable person. Never did I think, till I know'd you, as any woman
could sick-nurse and monthly likeways, on the little that you takes to
drink.' 'Mrs. Harris, ma'am,' I says to her, 'none on us knows what we
can do till we tries; and wunst _I_ thought so too. But now,' I says,
'my half a pint of porter fully satisfies; perwisin', Mrs. Harris, that
it's brought reg'lar, and draw'd mild.'" Not but occasionally even that
modest "sip of liquor" she finds so far "settling heavy on the chest"
as to necessitate, every now and then, a casual dram by way of extra

It was so arranged in the Reading that, immediately upon the completion
of Mrs. Gamp's affecting narrative of the confidential opinions of
her sobriety entertained by Mrs. Harris, Mr. Mould, the undertaker,
opportunely presented to the audience his well-remembered
countenance--"a face in which a queer attempt at melancholy was at odds
with a smirk of satisfaction." The impersonation, here, was conveyed in
something better than the unsatisfactory hint by which that attempted
in regard to Mr. Pecksniff was alone to be expressed. Speaking of Old
Chuzzlewit's funeral, as ordered by his bereaved son, Mr. Jonas, with
"no limitation, positively no limitation in point of expense,"
the undertaker observes to Mr. Pecksniff, "This is one of the most
impressive cases, sir, that I have seen in the whole course of my
professional experience. Anything so filial as this--anything so
honourable to human nature, anything _so_ expensive, anything so
calculated to reconcile all of us to the world we live in--never yet
came under my observation. It only proves, sir, what was so forcibly
expressed by the lamented poet,--buried at Stratford,--that there
is good in everything." Even the very manner of his departure was
delicious: "Mr. Mould was going away with a brisk smile, when he
remembered the occasion," we read in the narrative and saw on the
platform. "Quickly becoming depressed again, he sighed; looked into the
crown of his hat, as if for comfort; put it on without finding any; and
slowly departed."

The spirit and substance of the whole Reading, however, were, as a
matter of course, Mrs. Gamp and her grotesque remembrances, drawn,
these latter from the inexhaustible fund of her own personal and
mostly domestic experiences. "Although the blessing of a daughter," she
observed, in one of her confiding retrospects, "was deniged me, which,
if we had had one, Gamp would certainly have drunk its little shoes
right off its feet, as with one precious boy he did, and arterwards sent
the child a errand to sell his wooden leg for any liquor it would fetch
as matches in the rough; which was truly done beyond his years, for
ev'ry individgie penny that child lost at tossing for kidney pies, and
come home arterwards quite bold, to break the news, and offering to
drown'd himself if such would be a satisfaction to his parents." At
another moment, when descanting upon all her children collectively
in one of her faithfully reported addresses to her familiar: "'My own
family,' I says, 'has fallen out of three-pair backs, and had damp
doorsteps settled on their lungs, and one was turned up smilin' in
a bedstead unbeknown. And as to husbands, there's a wooden leg gone
likeways home to its account, which in its constancy of walking into
public-'ouses, and never coming out again till fetched by force, was
quite as weak as flesh, if not weaker."

Somehow, when those who were assisting at this Reading, as the phrase
is, had related to them the manner in which Mrs. Gamp entered on her
official duties in the sick chamber, they appeared to be assisting also
at her toilette: as, for example, when "she put on a yellow nightcap
of prodigious size, in shape resembling a cabbage, having previously
divested herself of a row of bald old curls, which could scarcely
be called false they were so innocent of anything approaching to
deception." One missed sadly at this point in the later version of this
Reading what was included in her first conversation on the doormat as
to her requirements for supper enumerated after this fashion, "in tones
expressive of faintness," to the housemaid: "I think, young woman, as I
could peck a little bit of pickled salmon, with a little sprig of fennel
and a sprinkling o' white pepper. I takes new bread, my dear, with jest
a little pat o' fredge butter and a mossel o' cheese. With respect to
ale, if they draws the Brighton Tipper at any 'ouse nigh here, I
takes that ale at night, my love; not as I cares for it myself, but on
accounts of its being considered wakeful by the doctors; and whatever
you do, young woman, don't bring me more than a shilling's worth of
gin-and-water, warm, when I rings the bell a second time; for that is
always my allowange, and I never takes a drop beyond. In case there
should be sich a thing as a cowcumber in the 'ouse, I'm rather partial
to 'em, though I am but a poor woman." Winding all up,--with one of
those amazing confusions of a Scriptural recollection which prompts
her at another time in the novel to exclaim, in regard to the Ankworks
package, "'I wish it was in Jonadge's belly, I do,' appearing to confound
the prophet with the whale in that mysterious aspiration,"--by observing
at this point, "Rich folks may ride on camels, but it ain't so easy for
'em to see out of a needle's eye. That is my comfort, and I hope I knows
it." One whole chapter of "Martin Chuzzlewit," with the exception of the
merest fragment of it--_the_ chapter pre-eminently in relation to Mrs.
Gamp--we always regretted as having been either overlooked or purposely
set aside in the compilation both of the earlier and the later version
of this Reading, the chapter, that is, in which Mrs. Gamp and Mrs. Prig
converse together in the former's sleeping apartment.

The mere description of the interior of that chamber, related by the
Author's lips, would have been so irresistibly ridiculous--the tent
bedstead ornamented with pippins carved in timber, that tumbled down
on the slightest provocation like a wooden shower-bath--the chest of
drawers, from which the handles had long been pulled off, so that its
contents could only be got at either by tilting the whole structure
until all the drawers fell out together, or by opening each of them
singly with knives like oysters--the miscellaneous salad bought for
twopence by Betsey Prig on condition that the vendor could get it all
into her pocket (including among other items a green vegetable of an
expansive nature, of such magnificent proportions that before it could
be got either in or out it had to be shut up like an umbrella), which
was happily accomplished in High Holborn, to the breathless interest of
a hackney-coach stand.

One inestimable portion, however, of this memorable occasion of
festivity between those frequend pardners, Betsey Prig and Sairey Gamp,
was, by a most ingenious dovetailing together of two disjointed parts,
incorporated with the adroitly compacted materials of a Reading that
was as brief as the laughter provoked by it was boisterous and
inextinguishable. As to the manner of the dovetailing, it will be
readily recalled to recollection. Immediately upon Mrs. Gamp's awaking
at the close of her night watch, we were told that Mrs. Prig relieved
punctually, but that she relieved in an ill temper. "The best among us
have their failings, and it must be conceded of Mrs. Prig," observed the
Reader with a hardly endurable gravity of explanation, "that if there
were a blemish in the goodness of her disposition, it was a habit she
had of not bestowing all its sharp and acid properties upon her patients
(as a thoroughly amiable woman would have done), but of keeping
a considerable remainder for the service of her friends." Looking
offensively at Mrs. Gamp, and winking her eye, as Mrs. Prig does
immediately upon her entrance, it is felt by the former to be necessary
that Betsey should at once be made sensible of her exact station in
society; wherefore Mrs. Gamp prefaced a remonstrance with--

"Mrs. Harris, Betsey------"

"Bother Mrs. Harris!"

Then it was that the Reader added:--

"Mrs. Gamp looked at Betsey with amazement, incredulity, and
indignation. Mrs. Prig, winking her eye tighter, folded her arms and
uttered these tremendous words:--

"'I don't believe there's no sich a person!'

"With these expressions, she snapped her fingers, once, twice, thrice,
each time nearer to Mrs. Gamp, and then turned away as one who felt
that there was now a gulf between them that nothing could ever bridge

The most comic of all the Readings closed thus abruptly with a roar.


Even the immortal Boots at the White Hart, Borough, who was first
revealed to us in a coarse striped waistcoat with black calico sleeves
and blue glass buttons, drab breeches and gaiters, and who answered to
the name of Sam, would not, we are certain, have disdained to have been
put in friendly relations with Cobbs, as one in every way worthy of
his companionship. The Boots at the Holly Tree Inn, though more lightly
sketched, was quite as much of an original creation in his way as that
other Christmas friend of ours, the warm-hearted and loquacious Cheap
Jack, Doctor Marigold. And each of those worthies, it should be added,
had really about him an equal claim to be regarded, as an original
creation, as written, or as impersonated by the Author. As a character
orally portrayed, Cobbs was fully on a par with Doctor Marigold.
Directly the Reader opened his lips, whether as the Boots or as the
Cheap Jack, the Novelist seemed to disappear, and there instead, talking
glibly to us from first to last just as the case might happen to be, was
either the patterer on the cart footboard or honest Cobbs touching
his hair with a bootjack. His very first words not only lead up to
his confidences, but in the same breath struck the key-note of his
character. "Where had he been? Lord, everywhere! What had he been? Bless
you, everything a'most. Seen a good deal? Why, of course he had. Would
be easier for him to tell what he hadn't seen than what he had. Ah! A
deal, it would. What was the curiosest thing he'd seen? Well! He didn't
know--couldn't name it momently--unless it was a Unicorn, and he see
_him_ over at a Fair. But"--and here came the golden retrospect, a fairy
tale of love told by a tavern Boots, and told all through, moreover, as
none but a Boots could tell it--"Supposing a young gentleman not eight
year'old, was to run away with a fine young woman of seven, might I
think _that_ a queer start? Certainly! Then, that was a start as he
himself had had his blessed eyes on--and he'd cleaned the shoes they
run away in--and they was so little he couldn't get his hand into 'em."
Whereupon, following up the thread of his discourse, Boots would take
his crowd of hearers, quite willingly on their part, into the heart of
the charming labyrinth.

The descriptive powers of Cobbs, it will be admitted, were for one thing
very remarkable. Master Harry Walmers' father, for instance, he hits off
to a nicety in a phrase or two. "He was a gentleman of spirit, and good
looking, and held his head up when he walked, and had what you may call
Fire about him:" adding, that he wrote poetry, rode, ran, cricketed,
danced and acted, and "done it all equally beautiful." Another and
a very significant touch, by the way, was imparted to that same
portraiture later on, just, in point of fact before the close of Cobbs's
reminiscence, and one so lightly given that it was conveyed through a
mere passing parenthesis--namely, where the young father was described
by Boots as standing beside Master Harry Walmers' bed, in the Holly Tree
Inn, looking down at the little sleeping face, "looking wonderfully
like it," says Cobbs, who adds, "(they do say as he ran away with Mrs.
Walmers)." Although Boots described Master Harry's father from the
first as "uncommon proud of him, as his only child, you see," the worthy
fellow took especial care at once to add, that "he didn't spoil him
neither." Having a will of his own, and a eye of his own, and being one
that would be minded, while he never tired of hearing the fine bright
boy "sing his songs about Young May Moons is beaming, love, and When he
who adores thee has left but the name, and that: still," said Boots, "he
kept the command over the child, and the child _was_ a child, and
it's very much to be wished more of 'em was." At the particular
period referred to in this portion of his narrative, Boots informed us
pleasantly, that he came to know all about it by reason of his being in
his then capacity as Mr. Wahners' under-gardener, always about in the
summer time, near the windows, on the lawn "a-mowing and sweeping, and
weeding and pruning, and this and that"--with his eyes and ears open,
of course, we may presume, in a manner befitting his intelligence.

Perhaps, there was after all nothing better in the delivery of the whole
of this Reading, than the utterance of the two words italicised below
in the first dialogue, reported by Boots as having taken place between
himself and Master Harry Walmers, junior, when "that mite," as Boots
calls him, stops one day, along with the fine young woman of seven
already mentioned, where Boots (then under-gardener, remember) was
hoeing weeds in the gravel:--

"'Cobbs,' he says, 'I like _you._' 'Do you, sir? I'm proud to hear it.'
'Yes, I do, Cobbs. Why do I like you, do you think, Cobbs?' 'Don't know,
Master Harry, I'm sure.' 'Because Norah likes you, Cobbs.' 'Indeed, sir?
That's very gratifying.' 'Gratifying, Cobbs? It is better than millions
of the brightest diamonds, to be liked by Norah?' '_Certainly_, sir.'"

Confirmed naturally enough in his good opinion of Cobbs by this thorough
community of sentiment, Master Harry, who has been given to understand
from the latter that he is going to leave, and, further than that, on
inquiring, that he wouldn't object to another situation "if it was
a good 'un," observes, while tucking that other mite in her little
sky-blue mantle under his arm, "Then, Cobbs, you shall be our head
gardener when we are married." Boots, thereupon, in the person of the
Reader, went on to describe how "the babies with their long bright
curling hair, their sparkling eyes, and their beautiful light tread,
rambled about the garden deep in love," sometimes here, sometimes there,
always under his own sympathetic and admiring observation, until one
day, down by the pond, he heard Master Harry say, "Adorable Norah, kiss
me and say you love me to distraction." Altogether Cobbs seemed exactly,
and with delicious humour, to define the entire situation when he
declared, that "on the whole the contemplation of them two babies had a
tendency to make him feel as if he was in love himself--only he didn't
know who with!"

The delightful gravity of countenance (with a covert sparkle in the eye
where the daintiest indications of fun were given by the Reader) lent a
charm of its own to the merest nothing, comparatively, in the whimsical
dialogues he was reporting. Master Harry, for example, having confided
to Cobbs one evening, when the latter was watering the flowers, that he
was going on a visit to his grandmama at York--"'Are you indeed, sir? I
hope you'll have a pleasant time. I'm going into Yorkshire myself, when
I leave here.' 'Are you going to your grandmama's, Cobbs?' 'No, sir.
I haven't got such a thing.' 'Not as a grandmama, Cobbs?' 'No, sir.'"
Immediately after which, on the boy observing to his humble confidant,
that he shall be so glad to go because "Norah's going," Cobbs, naturally
enough, as it seemed, took occasion to remark, "You'll be all right
then, sir, with your beautiful sweetheart by your side." Whereupon we
realised more clearly than ever the delicate whimsicality of the whole
delineation, when we saw, as well as heard, the boy return a-flushing,
"Cobbs, I never let anybody joke about that when I can prevent them,"
Cobbs immediately explaining in all humility, "It wasn't a joke,
sir--wasn't so meant." No wonder, Boots had exclaimed previously: "And
the courage of that boy! Bless you, he'd have throwed off his little
hat and tucked up his little sleeves and gone in at a lion, he would--if
they'd happened to meet one, and she [Norah] had been frightened." At
the close of Boots's record of this last-quoted conversation with Master
Harry, came one of the drollest touches in the Reading--"'Cobbs,' says
that boy, 'I'll tell you a secret. At Norah's house, they have been
joking her about me, and [with a wondering look] pretending to laugh at
our being engaged! Pretending to make game of it, Cobbs!' 'Such, sir,' I
says, 'is the depravity of human natur.'" A glance during the utterance
of which words, either at the Reader himself or at his audience, was
something enjoyable.

Hardly less inspiriting in its way was the incidental mention, directly
after this by Cobbs, of the manner in which he gave Mr. Walmers notice,
not that he'd anything to complain of--"'Thanking you, sir, I find
myself as well sitiwated here as I could hope to be anywheres. The truth
is, sir, that I'm a going to seek my fortun.' 'O, indeed, Cobbs?' he
says, 'I hope you may find it.'" Boots hereupon giving his audience
the assurance, with the characteristic touch of the bootjack to his
forehead, that "he hadn't found it yet!"

Then came the delectable account of the elopement--full, true, and
particular--from the veracious lips of Cobbs himself, at that time, and
again some years afterwards, when he came to call up his recollections,
Boots at the Holly Tree Inn. Passages here and there in his description
of the incident were irrisistibly laughable. Master Harry's going down
to the old lady's in York, for example, "which old lady were so wrapt up
in that child as she would have give that child the teeth in her head
(if she had had any)." The arrival of "them two children," again at the
Holly Tree Inn, he, as bold as brass, tucking her in her little sky-blue
mantle under his arm, with the memorable dinner order, "Chops and cherry
pudding for two!" Their luggage, even, when gravely enumerated--the lady
having "a parasol, a smelling bottle, a round and a half of cold
buttered toast, eight peppermint drops, and a doll's hair-brush;" the
gentleman having "about half a dozen yards of string, a knife, three or
four sheets of writing paper folded up surprisingly small, a orange, and
a chaney mug with his name on it." Several of the little chance phrases,
the merest atoms of exclamation here and there, will still be borne in
mind as having had an intense flavour of fun about them, as syllabled in
the Reading. Boots's "Sir, to you," when his governor, the hotel-keeper,
proposes to run over to York to quiet their friends' minds, while Cobbs
keeps his eye upon the innocents! Master Harry's replying to Boots'
suggestion, that they should wile away the time by a walk down
Love-lane--"'Get out with you, Cobbs!'--that was that there boy's
expression." The glee of the children was prettily told too on their
finding "Good Cobbs! Dear Cobbs!" among the strangers around them at
their temporary halting-place. They themselves appearing smaller than
ever in his eyes, by reason of his finding them "with their little legs
entirely off the ground, of course--and it really is not possible to
express how small them children looked!--on a e-normous sofa;" immense
at any time, but looking like a Great Bed of Ware then by comparison.

How, during the governor's absence in search of their friends, Cobbs,
feeling himself all the while to be "the meanest rascal for deceiving
'em, that ever was born," gets up a cock and a bull story about a pony
he's acquainted with, who'll take them on nicely to Gretna Green--but
who was not at liberty the first day, and the next was only "half
clipped, you see, and couldn't be took out in that state for fear it
should strike to his inside"--was related with the zest of one who had
naturally the keenest relish possible for every humorous particular.
Finding the lady in tears one time when Boots goes to see how the
runaway couple are getting on, "Mrs. Harry Walmers, junior, fatigued,
sir?" asks Cobbs. "Yes, she is tired, Cobbs; but she is not used to be
away from home, and she has been in low spirits again. Cobbs, do you
think you could bring a biffin, please?"--"I ask your pardon, sir, What
was it you ------?" "I think a Norfolk biffin would rouse her, Cobbs."
Restoratives of that kind, Boots would seem to have regarded as too
essential to Mrs. Harry Walmers junior's happiness. Hence, when he comes
upon the pair over their dinner of "biled fowl and bread-and-butter
pudding," Boots privately owns that "he could have wished to have seen
her more sensible to the woice of love, and less abandoning of herself
to the currants in the pudding." According to Cobbs's own account of the
gentleman, however, it should be added that _he_ too could play his part
very effectively at table, for--having mentioned another while, how the
two of them had ordered overnight sweet milk-and-water and toast and
currant jelly for breakfast--when Cobbs comes upon them the next morning
at their meal, he describes Master Harry as sitting behind his breakfast
cup "a tearing away at the jelly as if he had been his own father!"

Remorseful in the thought of betraying them, Boots at one moment
declared, that rather than combine any longer against them, he would by
preference "have had it out in half-a-dozen rounds with the governor!"
And at another time, when the said governor had returned from York,
"with Mr. Walmers and a elderly lady," Boots, while conducting Mr.
Walmers upstairs, could not for the life of him help pausing at the
room door, with, "I beg your pardon, sir, I hope you are not angry with
Master Harry. For Master Harry's a fine boy, sir, and will do you credit
and honour." Boots signifying while he related the circumstance, that
"if the fine boy's father had contradicted him in the state of mind in
which he then was, he should have 'fetched him a crack' and took the
consequences." As for the appreciation of Master Harry by the female
dependents at the Holly Tree, there were two allusions to _that_--one
general, as may be said, the other particular--that were always the
most telling hits, the two chief successes of the Reading. Who that once
heard it, for example, has forgotten the Author's inimitable manner
of saying, as the Boots--"The way in which the women of that
house--_without_ exception--_every_ one of 'em--married _and_
single--took to that boy when they heard the story, is surprising. It
was as much as could be done to keep 'em from dashing into the room and
kissing him. They climbed up all sorts of places, at the risk of their
lives, to look at him through a pane of glass. _They was seven deep at
the key-hole!_" The climax of fun came naturally at the close, however,
when, having described how Mr. Walmers lifted his boy up to kiss the
sleeping "little warm face of little Mrs. Harry Walmers, junior," at the
moment of their separation, Boots, that is the Reader, cried out in the
shrill voice of one of the chambermaids, "_It's a shame to part 'em!_"

Two reflections indulged in by Boots during the course of his narrative,
being among the pleasantest in connection with this most graceful of all
the purely comic Readings, may here, while closing these allusions to
it, be recalled to mind not inappropriately. One--where Cobbs "wished
with all his heart there was any impossible place where them two babies
could have made an impossible marriage, and have lived impossibly happy
ever afterwards." The other--where, with genial sarcasm, Boots propounds
this brace of opinions by way of general summing up--"Firstly, that
there are not many couples on their way to be married who are half as
innocent as them two children. Secondly, that it would be a jolly good
thing for a great many couples on their way to be married, if they could
only be stopped in time, and brought back separate." With which cynical
scattering of sugar-plums in the teeth, of married and single, the
blithe Reading was laughingly brought to its conclusion.


Nobody but the writer of this little freak of fancy could possibly have
rendered the Reading of it in public worthy even of toleration. Perhaps
no Reading that could be selected presents within the same compass so
many difficulties to the audience who are listening, and to the
Reader who is hardy enough to adventure upon its delivery. The closing
incidents of the narrative are in themselves so improbable, we had all
but said so impossible! Polly, at once so quaint and so captivating,
when her words are perused upon the printed page, is so incapable of
having her baby-prattle repeated by anybody else, without the imminent
risk, the all but certainty, of its degenerating into mere childishness.
It can scarcely be wondered, therefore, that "Barbox Brothers," though
it actually was Read, and Read successfully, was hardly ever repeated.
Everybody who has once looked into the story will bear in mind how,
quite abruptly, almost haphazard, it comes to be narrated.

The lumbering, middle-aged, grey-headed hero of it, in obedience to
the whim of a moment, gets out of a night train at the great central
junction of the whole railway system of England. A drenching rain-storm
and a windy platform, darkness and solitude are, to begin with, the
agreeable surroundings of this eccentric traveller. He is stranded
there, not high and dry, anything but that--on the contrary, soaked
through and through, and at very low level indeed--during what the local
officials regard as their deadest time in all the twenty-four hours:
what one of them, later on, terms emphatically their deadest and
buriedest time.

Already, even here, before the tale itself is in any way begun, the
Author of it, in his capacity as Reader, somehow, by the mere manner of
his delivery of a descriptive sentence or two, contrived to realise
to his hearers in a wonderfully vivid way the strange incidents of
the traffic in a scene like this, at those blackest intervals between
midnight and daybreak. Now revealing--"Mysterious goods trains,
covered with palls, and gliding on like vast weird funerals, conveying
themselves guiltily away, as if their freight had come to a secret and
unlawful end." Now, again--"Half miles of coal pursuing in a Detective
manner, following when they led, stopping when they stopped, backing
when they backed." One while the spectacle, conjured up by a word or two
was that of--"Unknown languages in the air, conspiring in red, green,
and white characters." Another, with startling effect, it was--"An
earthquake, with thunder and lightning, going up express to London."
Here it is that Barbox Brothers, in the midst of these ghostly
apparitions, is eventually extricated from the melancholy plight
in which he finds himself saturated and isolated in the middle of a
spiderous web of railroads.

His extricator is--Lamps! A worthy companion portrait to that of
cinderous Mr. Toodles, the stoker, familiar to the readers of Dombey.
Characters, those two, quite as typical, after their fashion, of the
later railway period of Dickens, as even Sam Weller, the boots, and Old
Weller, the coachman, were of his earlier coaching period in the days of
Pickwick. To see him, in his capacity as Lamps, when excited, take what
he called "a rounder"--that is to say, giving himself, with his oily
handkerchief rolled up in the form of a ball, "an elaborate smear from
behind the right ear, up the cheek, across the forehead, and down the
other cheek, behind his left ear," after which operation he is described
as having shone exceedingly--was to be with him, again, at once, in his
greasy little cabin, which was suggestive to the sense of smell of a
cabin in a whaler. How it came to pass that Lamps sang comic songs,
of his own composition, to his bed-ridden daughter Phoebe, by way of
enlivening her solitude, and how Phoebe, while manipulating the threads
on her lace-pillow, as though she were playing a musical instrument,
taught her little band of children to chant to a pleasant tune the
multiplication-table, and so fix it and other useful knowledge indelibly
upon the tablets of their memory, the Author-Reader would then relate,
as no other Reader, however gifted, who was not also the Author, would
have been allowed to do, supposing this latter had had the hardihood to
attempt the relation.

As the Reading advanced, the difficulties not only increased, they
became tenfold, immediately upon the introduction of Polly. Dickens,
however, conquered them all somehow. But to anybody else, setting forth
the story histrionically, impersonating the characters as they appeared,
these difficulties would by necessity have been insuperable or simply
overwhelming. Catching the very little fair-haired girl's Christian
name readily enough, when she comes up to him in the street, with the
surprising announcement, "O! if you please, I am lost!" Barbox Brothers
can't for the life of him conjecture what her surname is,--carefully
imitating, though he does, the sound that comes from the childish lips,
each time on its repetition. Hazarding "Trivits," first of all,
then "Paddens," then "Tappi-tarver." Eventually, when the two arrive
hand-in-hand at Barbox Brothers' hotel, nobody there could make out
her name as she set it forth, "except one chambermaid, who said it was
Constantinople--which it wasn't."

No wonder Barbox feels bigger and heavier in person every minute when he
is being catechised by Polly! Asked by her if he knows any stories, and
compelled to answer, "No! What a dunce you must be, mustn't you?" says
Polly. Frightened nearly out of his wits at the dinner-table, when they
are feasting together, by her getting on her feet upon her chair to
reward him with a kiss, and then toppling forward among the dishes--he
himself crying out in dismay, "Gracious angels! Whew! I thought we were
in the fire, Polly!"--"What a coward you are, ain't you?" says Polly,
when replaced.

Upon the next morning, when brought down to breakfast, after a
comfortable night's sleep, passed by the child in a bed shared with "the
Constantinopolitan chambermaid," Polly, "by that time a mere heap of
dimples," poses poor, unwieldy Barbox by asking him, in a wheedling
manner, "What are we going to do, you dear old thing?" On his suggesting
their having a sight, at the Circus, of two long-tailed ponies, speckled
all over--"No, no, no!" cries Polly, in an ecstasy. When he afterwards
throws out a proposition that they shall also look in at the toy-shop,
and choose a doll--"Not dressed," ejaculates Polly; "No, no, no--not
dressed!" Barbox replying, "Full dressed; together with a house, and
all things necessary for housekeeping!" Polly gives a little scream, and
seems in danger of falling into a swoon of bliss. "What a darling you
are!" she languidly exclaims, leaning back in her chair: "Come and
be hugged." All this will indicate plainly enough the difficulties
investing every sentence of this Reading, capped as they all are by the
astounding _denouement_ of the plot--Polly turning out to be (sly
little thing!) the purposely-lost daughter of Barbox Brothers' old love,
Beatrice, and of her husband, Tresham, for whom Barbox had not only been
jilted, but by whom Barbox had been simultaneously and rather heavily

Perhaps the pleasantest recollection of the whole Reading is, not
Polly--the small puss turns out to be such a cunningly reticent little
emissary--but her Doll, a "lovely specimen of Circassian descent,
possessing as much boldness of beauty as was reconcileable with
extreme feebleness of mouth," and combining a sky-blue pelisse with
rose-coloured satin trousers, and a black velvet hat, "the latter
seemingly founded on the portraits of the late Duchess of Kent." One is
almost reconciled to Polly, however,--becoming oblivious for the moment
of her connivance in her mother's secret device, and reminiscent only
of her own unsophisticated mixture of prattle and impertinence--on
learning, immediately after this elaborate description of the gorgeous
doll of her choice, that "the name of this distinguished foreigner was
(on Polly's authority) Miss Melluka."


Several _gamins_ have been contributed to our literature by
Dickens--quite as typical and quite as truthful in their way, each of
them, as Hugo's Gavroche. There is Jo the poor crossing-sweeper. There
is the immortal Dodger. There is his pal the facetious Charley Bates.
And there is that delightful boy at the end of "The Carol," who conveys
such a world of wonder through his simple reply of "Why, Christmas Day!"
The boy who is "as big," he says himself, as the prize turkey, and who
gets off at last quicker than a shot propelled by the steadiest hand at
a trigger! Scattered up and down the Boz fictions, there are abundant
specimens of a _genus_ that, in one instance, is actually termed by
the Humorist, "a town-made little boy"--this is in the memorable street
scene where Squeers hooks Smike by the coat-collar with the handle of
his umbrella. He is always especially great in his delineation of what
one might call the human cock-sparrows of London. Kit, at the outset of
his career, is another example; and Tom Scott yet another.

Sloppy carries us away into the suburbs, thereby taking us in a manner
off the stones, and otherwise represents in his own proper person,
buttons and all, less one of the dapper urchins we are now more
particularly referring to, than the shambling hobbledehoy. Even in
the unfinished story with which the Author's voluminous writings were
closed, there was portrayed an entirely novel specimen, one marked by
the most grotesque extravagance, in the shape of that impish malignant,
"the Deputy," whose pastime at once and whole duty in life seemed to be
making a sort of vesper cock-shy of Durdles and his dinner-bundle.

Conspicuous among these comic boys of Dickens may be remembered one who,
instead of being introduced in any of the Novelist's larger works, from
the Pickwick Papers clown to Edwin Drood, interpolates himself, as
may be said, among one of the groups of Christmas stories, through
the medium of a shrill monologue. "The Boy at Mugby," to wit, the one
exhilarated and exhilarating appreciate of the whole elaborate system of
Refreshmenting in this Isle of the Brave and Land of the Free, by which
he means to say Britannia.

Laconically, "I am the Boy at Mugby," he announces. "That's about what
_I_ am." His exact location he describes almost with the precision of
one giving latitude and longitude--explaining to a nicety where his
stand is taken. "Up in a corner of the Down Refreshment Room at Mugby
Junction," in the height of twenty-seven draughts [he's counted 'em,
he tells us parenthetically, as they brush the First Class, hair
twenty-seven ways], bounded on the nor'-west by the beer, and so on. He
himself, he frankly informs you--in the event of your ever presenting
yourself there before him at the counter, in quest of nourishment of any
kind, either liquid or solid--will seem not to hear you, and will appear
"in a absent manner to survey the Line through a transparent medium
composed of your head and body," determined evidently not to serve you,
that is, as long as you can possibly bear it! "That's me!" cries the
Boy at Mugby, exultantly,--adding, with an intense relish for his
occupation, "what a delightful lark it is!" As for the eatables and
drinkables habitually set forth upon the counter, by what he generally
speaks of as the Refreshmenters, quoth the Boy at Mugby, in a _naif_
confidence, addressed to you in your capacity at once as applicant and
victim, "when you're telegraphed, you should see 'em begin to pitch the
stale pastry into the plates, and chuck the sawdust sang-wiches under
the glass covers, and get out the--ha, ha!--the sherry--O, my eye, my
eye!--for your refreshment." Once or twice in a way only, "The Boy at
Mugby" was introduced among the Readings, and then merely as a slight
stop-gap or interlude. Thoroughly enjoying the delivery of it himself,
and always provoking shouts of laughter whenever this colloquial morsel
was given, the Novelist seemed to be perfectly conscious himself that
it was altogether too slight and trivial of its kind, to be worthy of
anything like artistic consideration; that it was an "airy nothing" in
its way, to which it was scarcely deserving that he should give more
than name and local habitation.

Critically regarded, it had its inconsistencies too, both as a writing
and as a Reading. There was altogether too much precocity for a genuine
boy, in the nice discrimination with which the Boy at Mugby hit off the
contrasting nationalities. The foreigner, for example, who politely,
hat in hand, "beseeched Our Young Ladies, and our Missis," for a "leetel
gloss hoif prarndee," and who, after being repelled, on trying to help
himself, exclaims, "with hands clasped and shoulders riz: 'Ah! is it
possible this; that these disdaineous females are placed here by the
administration, not only to empoisen the voyagers, but to affront them!
Great Heaven! How arrives it? The English people. Or is he then a slave?
Or idiot?'" Hardly would a veritable boy, even an urchin so well "to the
fore" with his epoch, as the Boy at Mugby, depict so accurately, much
less take off, with a manner so entirely life-like, the astounded
foreigner, any more than he would the thoroughly wide-awake and gaily
derisive American. The latter he describes as alternately trying and
spitting out first the sawdust and then the--ha, ha!--the sherry, until
finally, on paying for both and consuming neither, he says, very loud,
to Our Missis, and very good tempered, "I tell Yew what 'tis ma'arm. I
la'af. Theer! I la'af, I Dew. I oughter ha' seen most things, for I hail
from the unlimited side of the Atlantic Ocean, and I haive travelled
right slick over the Limited, head on, through Jeerusalem and the East,
and likeways France and Italy, Europe, Old World, and I am now upon the
track to the Chief European Village; but such an Institution as Yew and
Yewer fixins, solid _and_ liquid, afore the glorious Tarnal I never
did see yet! And if I hain't found the eighth wonder of Monarchical
Creation, in finding Yew and Yewer fixins, solid and liquid, in a
country where the people air not absolute Loo-naticks, I am Extra
Double Darned with a nip and frizzle to the innermost grit!
Wheerfore--Theer!--I la'af! I Dew, ma'arm. I la'af!" A calotype, or
rather, literally, a speaking likeness, so true to the life as that,
would be a trifle, we take it, beyond the mimetic powers and the keenly
observant faculties even of a Boy whose senses had been wakened up by
the twenty-seven cross draughts of the Refreshment Room at Mugby.

As to the fun made of the bandolining by Our Young Ladies, and of Our
Missis's lecture on Foreign Refreshmenting, and of Sniff's corkscrew
and his servile disposition, it is intentionally fooling, no doubt,
but it is--excellent fooling! As was admirably said in the number of
_Macmillan_ for January, 1871, by the anonymous writer of a Reminiscence
of the Amateur Theatricals at Tavistock House,--the remark following
immediately after Charles Dickens's version of the Ghost's Song in Henry
Fielding's burlesque of Tom Thumb,--"Nonsense, it may be said, all this;
but the nonsense of a great genius has always something of genius in
it." Had not Swift his "little language" to Stella, to "Stellakins," to
"roguish, impudent, pretty M. D.?" Than some of which little language,
quoth Thackeray, in commenting upon it, "I know of nothing more manly,
more tender, more exquisitely touching." Again, had not Pope, in
conjunction with the Dean, his occasional unbending also as a _farceur_,
in the wilder freaks and oddities of Martinus Scriblerus? So was it
here with one who was beyond all doubt, more intensely a Humorist
than either, when he wrote or read such harmless sarcasms and innocent
whimsicalities, as those alternately underlying, and overlaying the
boyish fun of this juvenile Refreshmenter at Mugby Junction.


Already mention has been made of the extraordinary care lavished, as
a general rule, by the Novelist upon the preparation of these Readings
before they were, each in turn, submitted for the first time to public
scrutiny. A strikingly illustrative instance of this may be here
particularised. It occurred upon the occasion of a purely experimental
Reading of "Doctor Marigold," which came off privately, on the evening
of the 18th of March, 1866, in the drawing-room of Charles Dickens's
then town residence, in Southwick Place, Tyburnia. Including, among
those present, the members of his own home circle, his entire audience
numbered no more than ten persons altogether. Four, at any rate, of that
party may be here identified, each of whom doubtless still bears the
occasion referred to vividly in his remembrance,--Robert Browning the
poet, Charles Fechter the actor, Wilkie Collins the novelist, and John
Forster the historian of the Commonwealth. Even in private, Dickens had
never Read "Doctor Marigold" until that evening. Often as he Read it
afterwards, he never Read it with a more contagious air of exhilaration.
He hardly ever, in fact, gave one of his almost wholly comic and but
incidentally pathetic Readings _so_ effectively. In every sentence there
was a zest or relish that was irresistible. The volubility of the "poor
chap in the sleeved-waistcoat" sped the Reading on with a rapidity quite
beyond anticipation, when the time, which had been carefully marked at
the commencement of the Reading, came to be notified at its conclusion.
That the merest first rehearsal should have run off thus glibly seemed
just simply incomprehensible. With the sense of this surprise still
fresh upon us, the tentative Reading being at the time only a
few seconds completed, everything was explained, however, by a
half-whispered remark made, to the present writer, in passing, by the
Novelist--made by him half-weariedly, yet half-laughingly--"There! If
I have gone through that already to myself once, I have gone through it
two--hundred--times!" It was not lightly or carelessly therefore, as
may now be seen, that Charles Dickens, in his later capacity--not
pen-in-hand, or through green monthly numbers, but standing at a
reading-desk upon a public platform--undertook the office of a popular

Resolved throughout his career as a Reader to acquit himself of those
newly-assumed responsibilities to the utmost of his powers, to the
fullest extent of his capabilities, both physical and intellectual, he
applied his energies to the task, with a zeal that, it is impossible not
to recognise now, amounted in the end to nothing less than (literally)
self-sacrifice. But for the devotion of his energies thus unstintingly
to the laborious task upon which he had adventured--a task involving in
its accomplishment an enormous amount of rapid travelling by railway,
keeping him for months together, besides, in one ceaseless whirl of
bodily and mental excitement--his splendid constitution, sustained and
strengthened as it was by his wholesome enjoyment of out-of-door life,
and his habitual indulgence in bathing and pedes-trianism, gave him
every reasonable hope of reaching the age of an octogenarian.

Bearing in mind in addition to the wear-and-tear of the Readings in
England and America, the nervous shock of that terrible railway accident
at Staplehurst, on the 9th of June, 1865, the lamentable catastrophe of
exactly five years afterwards to the very day, that of the 9th of June,
1870, becomes readily comprehensible. Because of his absorption in his
task, however, all through, he was unconscious for the most part of the
wasting influence of his labours, or, if he was so at all towards the
close of his career, he was so, even then, only fitfully and at the
rarest intervals. Precisely in the same way, it may be remarked, in
regard to those who watched his whole course as a Reader, that so facile
and so pleasureable to himself, as well as to them, appeared to be the
novel avocation which had come of late years to be alternated with
his more accustomed toil as an author, that it rendered even the most
observant amongst them unconscious in their turn of the disastrously
exhausting influence of this unnatural blending together of two
professions. A remorseful sense of this comes back upon us now, when it
is all too late, in our remembrance of that remark made by the Novelist
immediately after the Private Reading of "Doctor Marigold," a remark
then regarded as simply curious and interesting, but now having about it
an almost painful significance. Never was work more thoroughly or more
conscientiously done, from first to last, than in the instance of these

In the minute elaboration of the care with which they were prepared, in
the vivacity with which they were one and all of them delivered, in the
punctuality with which, whirled like a shuttle in a loom, to and fro,
hither and thither, through all parts of the United Kingdom and of the
United States, the Reader kept, link by link, an immensely-lengthened
chain of appointments, until the first link was broken suddenly at
Preston--one can recognise at length the full force of those simple
words uttered by him upon the occasion of his Farewell Reading, where
he spoke of himself as "a faithful servant of the public, always imbued
with a sense of duty to them, and always striving to do his best."
Among the many radiant illustrations that have been preserved of how
thoroughly he did his best, not the least brilliant in its way was this
eminently characteristic Reading of "Doctor Mari-gold."

All through it, from the very beginning down to the very end of
his Confidences, the Cheap Jack, in his belcher neckcloth and his
sleeved-waistcoat with the mother-o'-pearl buttons, was there talking
to us, as only he could talk to us, from the foot-board of his cart. He
remained thus before us from his first mention of his own father having
always consistently called himself Willum to the moment when little
Sophy--the third little Sophy--comes clambering up the steps, and
reveals that she at least is not deaf and dumb by crying out to him,
"Grandfather!" As for the patter of Doctor Marigold, it is among the
humorous revelations of imaginative literature. Hear him when he is
perhaps the best worth listening to, when he is in his true rostrum,
when his bluchers are on his native foot-board, and his name is, more
intensely than ever, Doctor Marigold! Don't we all remember him there,
for example, on a Saturday night in the market-place--"Here's a pair of
razors that'll shave you closer than the board of guardians; here's a
flat-iron worth its weight in gold; here's a frying-pan artificially
flavoured with essence of beefsteaks to that degree that you've only got
for the rest of your lives to fry bread and dripping in it and there
you are replete with animal food; here's a genuine chronometer-watch, in
such a solid silver case that you may knock at the door with it when you
come home late from a social meeting, and rouse your wife and family
and save up your knocker for the postman; and here's half a dozen
dinner-plates that you may play the cymbals with to charm the baby when
it's fractious. Stop! I'll throw you in another article, and I'll give
you that, and it's a rolling-pin; and if the baby can only get it well
into it's mouth when its teeth is coming, and rub the gums once with
it, they'll come through double in a fit of laughter equal to being
tickled." And so on, ringing the changes on a thousand wonderful
conceits and whimsicalities that come tumbling out one after another in
inexhaustible sequence and with uninterrupted volubility.

The very Prince of Cheap Jacks, surely, is this Doctor Marigold! And,
more than that, one who makes good his claim to the title of wit,
humorist, satirist, philanthropist, and philosopher.

As for his philosophic contentment, what can equal that as implied in
his summing up of his own humble surroundings? "A roomy cart, with the
large goods hung outside, and the bed slung underneath it when on the
road; an iron-pot and a kettle, a fireplace for the cold weather, a
chimney for the smoke, a hanging-shelf and a cupboard, a dog and a
horse. What more do you want? You draw off on a bit of turf in a green
lane or by the roadside, you hobble your old horse and turn him grazing,
you light your fire upon the ashes of the last visitors, you cook your
stew, and you wouldn't call the Emperor of France your father."

As for his wit, hear him describe--"What? Why, I'll tell you! It's made
of fine gold, and it's not broke, though there's a hole in the middle of
it, and it's stronger than any fetter that was ever forged. What else
is it? I'll tell you. It's a hoop of solid gold wrapped in a
silver curl-paper that I myself took off the shining locks of the
ever-beautiful old lady in Threadneedle Street, London city. I wouldn't
tell you so, if I hadn't the paper to show, or you mightn't believe it
even of me. Now, what else is it? It's a man-trap, and a hand-cuff, the
parish stocks and a leg-lock, all in gold and all in one. Now, what else
is it? It's a wedding-ring!"

As for something far better than any mere taste of his skill as a
satirist, see the whole of his delectable take off--in contradistinction
to himself, the itinerant Cheap Jack--of the political Dear Jack in the
public marketplace.

As for his philanthropy, it is unobtrusively proclaimed by the drift
of his whole narrative, and especially by two or three among the more
remarkable of its closing incidents.

As for his powers as a humorist, they may be found there _passim_, being
scattered broadcast all through his autobiographic recollections.

To those recollections are we not indebted for a whole gallery of
inimitable delineations? The Cheap Jack's very dog, for instance, who
had taught himself out of his own head to growl at any person in the
crowd that bid as low as sixpence! Or Pickleson the giant, with a
little head and less in it. Of whom, observes Doctor Marigold, "He was
a languid young man, which I attribute to the distance betwixt his
extremities." About whom, when a sixpence is given to him by Doctor
Marigold, the latter remarks in a preposterous parenthesis, "(for he
was kept as short as he was long!)" As for Dickens's high falsetto, when
speaking in the person of this same Pickleson, with a voice that, as
Doctor Marigold says, seemed to come from his eyebrows, it was only just
a shade more excruciatingly ridiculous than his guttural and growling
objurgations in the character of the giant's proprietor, the fe-rocious

With all his modest appetite for the simpler pleasures of existence,
Doctor Marigold betrays in one instance, by the way, the taste of a
_gourmet_. "I knocked up a beefsteak-pudding for one," he says, "with
two kidneys, a dozen oysters, and a couple of mushrooms thrown in:"
adding, with a fine touch of nature drawn from experience, "It's a
pudding to put a man in good humour with everything, except the two
bottom buttons of his waistcoat."

Incomparably the finest portion of all this wonderfully original sketch
of Doctor Marigold, both in the Writing and in the Reading, was that in
which the poor Cheap Jack is represented as going through his customary
patter on the foot-board with his poor little Sophy--the first of the
three Sophies, his own by birth, and not simply by adoption--the while
she is slowly dying on his shoulder. Thackeray was right when he said of
the humour of Dickens, "It is a mixture of love and wit." Laughter and
tears, with him, lay very near--speaking of him as an author, we may say
by preference--lie very near indeed together. It is in those passages
in which they come in astonishingly rapid alternation, and at moments
almost simultaneously, that he is invariably at his very best. The
incident here alluded to is one of these more exquisite descriptions,
and it was one, that, by voice and look and manner, he himself most
exquisitely delineated. When the poor Cheap Jack, with Sophy holding
round his neck, steps out from the shelter of the cart upon the
foot-board, and the waiting crowd all set up a laugh on seeing
them--"one chuckle-headed Joskin (that I hated for it) making a bid
'tuppence for her!'"--Doctor Marigold begins his tragi-comic allocution.
It is sown thickly all through with the most whimsical of his conceits,
but it is interrupted also here and there with infinitely pathetic
touches of tenderness.

Fragmentary illustrations of either would but dimly shadow forth,
instead of clearly elucidating, what is here meant in the recollection
of those who can still recall this Reading of "Doctor Marigold" to
their remembrance. Those who never heard it as it actually fell from the
Author's lips, by turning to the original sketch, and running through
that particular portion of it to themselves, may more readily conjecture
than by the aid of mere piecemeal quotation, all that the writer of
those riant and tearful pages would be capable of accomplishing by its
utterance, bringing to its delivery, as he could, so many of the rarer
gifts of genius, and so many also of the rarest accomplishments of art.


On Saturday, the 14th of November, 1868, there were assembled together
in front of the great platform in St. James's Hall, Piccadilly, as fit
audience, but few, somewhere about fifty of the critics, artists, and
literary men of London. A card of invitation, stamped with a facsimile
of the well-known autograph of Charles Dickens, and countersigned by
the Messrs. Chappell and Company, had, with a witty significance, bidden
them to that rendezvous for a "Private Trial of the Murder in Oliver
Twist." The occasion, in point of fact, was a sort of experimental
rehearsal of the last and most daring of all these vividly dramatic
Readings by the popular Novelist.

Conscious himself that there was a certain amount of audacity in
his adventuring thus upon a delineation so really startling in its
character, he was not unnaturally desirous of testing its fitness for
representation before the public, first of all in the presence of
those who were probably the best qualified to pronounce a perfectly
dispassionate opinion. It certainly appeared somewhat dubious at the
first, that question as to the suitability for portrayal before mixed
assemblages, of one of the most powerfully tragic incidents ever
depicted by him in the whole range of his voluminous contributions
to imaginative literature. The passages selected to this end from his
famous story of Oliver Twist were those relating more particularly to
the Murder of Nancy by Bill Sikes. A ghastlier atrocity than that murder
could hardly be imagined. In the book itself, as will be remembered, the
crime is painted as with a brush dipped in blood rather than pigment.
The infamous deed is there described in language worthy of one of the
greatest realists in fictitious narrative. Henri de Balzac, even in
his more sanguinary imaginings, never showed a completer mastery of the

Remembering all this, and feeling perfectly assured at the same time,
that the scene then about to be depicted by the Author in person, would
most certainly lose nothing of its terror in the representation, the
acknowledgment may here be made by the writer of these pages, that, on
entering the Hall that evening, he was in considerable doubt as to what
might be the result of the experiment. Compared with the size of the
enormous building, the group of those assembled appeared to be the
merest handful of an audience clustered together towards the front
immediately below the platform of the orchestra. Standing at the back
of this group, the writer recalls to mind, in regard to that evening,
a circumstance plainly enough indicating how fully his own unexpressed
uncertainty was akin to that of the Author-Reader himself. The
circumstance, namely, that Charles Dickens, immediately on entering the
hall, before taking his place at his reading-desk upon the platform,
came round, and after exchanging a few words with him, uttered this
earnest Aside,--"I want you to watch this particularly, for I am very
doubtful about it myself!" Before that Experimental Reading was half
over, however, all doubt upon the matter was utterly dissipated. In the
powerful effect of it, the murder-scene immeasurably surpassed anything
he had ever achieved before as an impersonator of his own creations. In
its climax, it was as splendid a piece of tragic acting as had for many
years been witnessed.

What, in effect, was Macready's comment upon it some months afterwards,
when, with an especial eye to the great tragedian's opinion, "Sikes and
Nancy" was given at Cheltenham? It was laconic enough, but it afforded a
world of pleasure to the Author-Actor when his old friend--himself the
hero of so many tragic triumphs--summed up his estimate, by saying,
characteristically, "Two Macbeths!"

Four of the imaginary beings of the novel were introduced, or, it should
rather be said, were severally produced before us as actual embodiments.
Occasionally, during one of the earlier scenes, it is true that the
gentle voice of Rose Maylie was audible, while a few impressive words
were spoken there also at intervals by Mr. Brownlow. But, otherwise,
the interlocutors were four, and four only: to wit--Nancy, Bill Sikes,
Morris Bolter, otherwise Noah Claypole, and the Jew Fagin. Than those
same characters no four perhaps in the whole range of fiction could
be more widely contrasted. Yet, widely contrasted, utterly dissimilar,
though they are, in themselves, the extraordinary histrionic powers of
their creator, enabled him to present them to view, with a rapidity
of sequence or alternation, so astonishing in its mingled facility and
precision, that the characters themselves seemed not only to be before
us in the flesh, but sometimes one might almost have said were there
simultaneously. Each in turn as portrayed hy him--meaning portrayed hy
him not simply in the hook hut hy himself in person--was in its way a
finished masterpiece.

Looking at the Author as he himself embodied these creations--Fagin,
the Jew, was there completely, audibly, visibly before us, by a sort
of transformation! Here, in effect--as several years previously in the
midst of his impersonation of Wilmot in Lord Lytton's comedy of Not
so Bad as we Seem, namely, where, in the garret, the young
patrician affects for a while to be Edmund Curll the bookseller--the
impersonator's very stature, each time Fagin opened his lips, seemed
to be changed instantaneously. Whenever he spoke, there started before
us--high-shouldered, with contracted chest, with birdlike claws, eagerly
anticipating hy their every movement the passionate words fiercely
struggling for utterance at his lips--that most villainous old tutor of
young thieves, receiver of stolen goods, and very devil incarnate: his
features distorted with rage, his penthouse eyebrows (those wonderful
eyebrows!) working like the antennæ of some deadly reptile, his whole
aspect, half-vulpine, half-vulture-like, in its hungry wickedness.

Whenever _he_ spoke, again, Morris Bolter--quite as instantly, just as
visibly and as audibly--was there upon the platform. Listening to him,
though we were all of us perfectly conscious of doing, through the
Protean voice, and looking at him through the variable features of the
Novelist, we somehow saw, no longer the Novelist, but--each time Noah
Clay-pole said a word--that chuckle-headed, long-limbed, clownish,
sneaking varlet, who is the spy on Nancy, the tool of Fagin, and
the secret evil-genius of Sikes, hounding the latter on, as he does,
unwittingly, to the dreadful deed of homicide.

As for the Author's embodiment of Sikes--the burly ruffian with thews of
iron and voice of Stentor--it was only necessary to hear that infuriated
voice, and watch the appalling blows dealt by his imaginary bludgeon
in the perpetration of the crime, to realise the force, the power, the
passion, informing the creative mind of the Novelist at once in
the original conception of the character, and then, so many years
afterwards, in its equally astonishing representation.

It was in the portrayal of Nancy, however, that the genius of the
Author-Actor found the opportunity, beyond all others, for its most
signal manifestation. Only that the catastrophe was in itself, by
necessity so utterly revolting, there would have been something
exquisitely pathetic in many parts of that affecting delineation. The
character was revealed with perfect consistency throughout--from the
scene of suppressed emotion upon the steps of London Bridge, when she
is scared with the eltrich horror of her forebodings, down to her last
gasping, shrieking apostrophes, to "Bill, clear Bill," when she sinks,
blinded by blood, under the murderous blows dealt upon her upturned face
by her brutal paramour.

Then, again, the horror experienced by the assassin afterwards! So far
as it went, it was as grand a reprehension of all murderers as hand
could well have penned or tongue have uttered. It had about it something
of the articulation of an avenging voice not against Sikes only, but
against all who ever outraged, or ever dreamt of outraging, the sanctity
of human life. And it was precisely this which tended to sublimate an
incident otherwise of the ghastliest horror into a homily of burning
eloquence, the recollection of which among those who once saw it
revealed through the lips, the eyes, the whole aspect of Charles Dickens
will not easily be obliterated. The moral drawn from it--and there
was this moral interpenetrating or impregnating the whole--became
appreciable, it might even have been by Sikes himself, from the
first moment the ruffian realised that the crime had been actually
accomplished. It spoke trumpet-tongued from the very instant when he
recoiled from "it!" Nancy no more, but thenceforth flesh and blood--"But
such flesh, and so much blood!" Nevertheless, in that Experimental
Reading of the 14th of November, 1868, the effect of all this appeared,
in the estimation of the present writer, to have been in a great measure
marred by the abruptness with which, almost the instant after the crime
had been committed, the Reading was terminated. Sikes burnt upon
the hearth the blood-stained weapon with which the murder had been
perpetrated---was startled for a moment by the hair upon the end of the
club shrinking to a light cinder and whirling up the chimney--and then,
dragging the dog (whose very feet were bloody) after him, and locking
the door, left the house. There, the Experimental Reading abruptly
terminated. It seemed not only insufficient, but a lost opportunity.
Insomuch, that the writer, on the following day, remonstrated with the
Novelist as earnestly as possible, urging him to append to the Reading
as it then stood some fragmentary portion, at least, of the chapter
descriptive of the flight, so that the remorseful horror of Sikes
might be more fully realised. Of the reasonableness of this objection,
however, Dickens himself was so wholly unconvinced, that, in the midst
of his arguments against it, he wrote, in a tone of good-humoured
indignation, "My dear fellow, believe me that no audience on earth could
be held for ten minutes after the girl's death. Give them time, and they
would be revengeful for having had such a strain put upon them. Trust
me to be right. I stand there, and I know." Than this nothing could very
well have been more strongly expressed, as indicative of the conclusion
at which he had deliberately arrived.

So frankly open to conviction was he, nevertheless, that, not disdaining
to defer to the judgment of another when his own had been convinced, the
Reading was eventually, after all, lengthened out by a very remarkable
addition. The printed copy of this fragment of Oliver Twist,
artistically compacted together as "A Reading," has, appended to it,
in blue ink, three pages of manuscript in the Novelist's familiar
handwriting, in which, with a cunning mastery of all the powers of
condensation, he has compacted together in a few sentences what he
always gave with wonderful effect before the public, the salient
incidents of the murderer's flight, ending with his own destruction, and
even his dog's, from the housetop.

Nothing that could most powerfully realise to the audience the ruffian's
sense of horror and abhorrence has been there overlooked. The ghastly
figure follows him everywhere. He hears its garments rustling in the
leaves. "If _he_ stopped, _it_ stopped. If _he_ ran, _it_ followed."
Turning at times to beat the phantom off, though it should strike him
dead, the hair rises on his head, and his blood stands still, for it has
turned with him and is behind him! Throwing himself on his back upon
the road--"At his head it stood, silent, erect, and still: a human
gravestone with its epitaph in Blood."

What is as striking as anything in all this Reading, however--that is,
in the Reading copy of it now lying before us as we write--is the mass
of hints as to byplay in the stage directions for himself, so to speak,
scattered up and down the margin. "Fagin raised his right hand, and
shook his trembling forefinger in the air," is there, on p. 101, in
print. Beside it, on the margin in MS., is the word "Action." Not a word
of it was said. It was simply _done_. Again, immediately below that on
the same page--Sikes' loquitur--"'Oh! you haven't, haven't you?' passing
a pistol into a more convenient pocket ['Action,' again, in MS. on the
margin.]' That's lucky for one of us--which one that is don't matter.'"
Not a word was said about the pistol--the marginal direction was simply
attended to. On the opposite page, in print, "Fagin laid his hand upon
the bundle, and locked it in the cupboard. But he did not take his
eyes off the robber for an instant." On the margin in MS., oddly but
significantly underlined, are the words, "Cupboard Action." So
again afterwards, as a rousing self-direction, one sees notified in
manuscript, on p. 107, the grim stage direction, "Murder Coming."

As certainly as the "Trial from Pickwick" was the most laughter-moving
of all the Readings, and as the "Story of Little Dombey," again, was the
most pathetic, "Sikes and Nancy" was in all respects the most powerfully
dramatic and, in the grand tragic force of it, in many ways, the most
impressive and remarkable.


In recording the incident of his Farewell Reading, there comes back to
us a yet later recollection of the great Novelist; and illustrating,
as it does, his passionate love for the dramatic art, it may here be
mentioned not inappropriately.

It relates simply to a remark suddenly made by him--and which had been
suggested, so far as we can remember, by nothing we had been talking
about previously--towards the close of our very last suburban walk
together. Going round by way of Lambeth one afternoon in the early
summer of 1870, we had skirted the Thames along the Surrey bank, had
crossed the river higher up, and on our way back were returning at
our leisure through Westminster; when, just as we were approaching the
shadow of the old Abbey at Poet's Corner, under the roof-beams of
which he was so soon to be laid in his grave, with a rain of tears and
flowers, he abruptly asked--

"What do you think would be the realisation of one of my most cherished
day-dreams?" Adding, instantly, without waiting for airy answer, "To
settle down now for the remainder of my life within easy distance of
a great theatre, in the direction of which I should hold supreme
authority. It should be a house, of course, having a skilled and noble
company, and one in every way magnificently appointed. The pieces acted
should be dealt with according to my pleasure, and touched up here and
there in obedience to my own judgment; the players as well as the plays
being absolutely under my command. There," said he, laughingly, and in a
glow at the mere fancy, "_that's_ my daydream!"

Dickens's delighted enjoyment, in fact, of everything in any way
connected with the theatrical profession, was second only to that shown
by him in the indulgence of the master-passion of his life, his love of

The way in which he threw himself into his labours, as a Reader, was
only another indication of his intense affection for the dramatic art.
For, as we have already insisted, the Readings were more than simply
Readings, they were in the fullest meaning of the words singularly
ingenious and highly elaborated histrionic performances. And his
sustained success in them during fifteen years altogether, and, as
we have seen, through as many as five hundred representations, may be
accounted for in the same way as his still more prolonged success, from
the beginning of his career as a Novelist down to its very close, from
the Pickwick Papers to Edwin Drood, otherwise, during an interval of
four-and-thirty consecutive years, as the most popular author of his

The secret of his original success, and of the long sustamment of it
in each of these two careers--as Writer and as Reader--is in a great
measure discoverable in this, that whatever powers he possessed he
applied to their very uttermost. Whether as Author or as Impersonator,
he gave himself up to his appointed task, not partially or
intermittingly, but thoroughly and indefatigably.

His rule in life, in this way, he has himself clearly explained in the
forty-second chapter of David Copperfield. What he there says about
David's industry and perseverance, applies as directly to himself, as
what he also relates in regard to his young hero's earlier toils as a
parliamentary reporter, and his precocious fame as a writer of fiction.
Speaking at once for David and for himself, he there writes for both or
for either, "Whatever I have tried to do in life, I have tried with all
my heart to do well; whatever I have devoted myself to, I have devoted
myself to completely; in great aims and in small I have always been
thoroughly in earnest. I have never believed it possible that any
natural or improved ability can claim immunity from the companionship
of the steady, plain, hard-working qualities, and hope to gain its
end. There is no substitute for thorough-going, ardent, and sincere
earnestness. Never to put one hand to anything on which I could throw
my whole self; and never to affect depreciation of my work, whatever
it was, I find now to have been my golden rules." What is there said
applies far more recognisably to the real Charles Dickens than to the
imaginary David Copperfield.

Attestations of the truth of this were discoverable, at every turn, in
regard to his regular system, his constant method, nay, his minutest
tricks of habit, so to speak, both as Reader and as Novelist. It was
so when as an Author, for example, note was taken, now of his careful
forecast of a serial tale on as many slips as there were to be green
monthly numbers; now of his elaborately corrected and recorrected
manuscripts; now of the proof-sheets lying about, for revision at any
and every spare moment, during the month immediately before publication.
Or, when, on the other hand, in his capacity as a Reader, regard was had
to the scrupulous exactitude with which the seemingly trivial minutiae
of what one might call the mere accompaniments, were systematically
cared for or methodised. Announced to read, for instance, for the first
time in some town he had never before visited for that purpose, or in
some building in which his voice had never before been raised, he
would go down to the empty hall long before the hour appointed for the
Reading, to take the bearings, as he would say, or, in other words,
to familiarise himself with the place beforehand. His interest in his
audience, again, was something delightful. He was hardly less keenly
observant of them than they of him. Through a hole in the curtain at
the side, or through a chink in the screen upon the platform, he would
eagerly direct your attention to what never palled upon his own, namely,
the effect of the suddenly brightened sea of faces on the turning up
of the gas, immediately before the moment of his own appearance at the

The evening at length came for his very last appearance at that familiar
little reading-desk, on Tuesday, the 15th of March, 1870, on the
platform of the St. James's Hall, Piccadilly. The largest audience ever
assembled in that immense building, the largest, as already intimated,
that ever can be assembled there for purely Reading purposes, namely,
when the orchestra and the upper end of the two side-galleries have
necessarily to be barred or curtained off from the auditorium, were
collected together there under the radiant pendants of the glittering
ceiling, every available nook and corner, and all the ordinary gangways
of the Great Hall being completely occupied. The money value of the
house that night was £422. Crowds were unable to obtain admittance at
the entrances in the Quadrant and in Piccadilly, long before the hour
fixed for the Farewell Reading. Inside the building 2034 persons were
seated there, eagerly awaiting the Novelist's appearance. The enthusiasm
of his reception when eight o'clock came, and he advanced to the centre
of the platform, of itself told plainly enough, as plainly as the
printed hills announcing the fact in red, back, and yellow, that it was
his last appearance.

The Readings selected were, as the very best that could have been
chosen, his own favourites--"The Christmas Carol," and the "Trial from
Pickwick." He never read better in his life than he did on that last
evening. Evidently enough, he was nerved to a crowning effort. And by
sympathy his audience--his last audience--responded to him throughout by
their instant and intense appreciation. Not a point was lost. Every good
thing told to the echo, that is, through the echoing laughter. Scrooge,
Fezziwig, the Fiddler, Topper, every one of the Cratchits, everybody in
"The Carol," including the Small Boy who is so great at repartee, all
were welcomed in turn, as became them, with better than acclamations. It
was the same exactly with the "Trial from Pickwick"--Justice Stareleigh,
Serjeant Buzfuz, Mr. Winkle, Mrs. Cluppins, Sam Weller, one after
another appearing for a brief interval, and then disappearing for ever,
each of them a delightfully humorous, one of them in particular, the
Judge, a simply incomparable impersonation.

Then came the moment of parting between the great Author and his
audience--that last audience who were there as the representatives of
his immense public in both hemispheres. When the resounding applause
that greeted the close of that Final Reading had died out, there was a
breathless hush as Charles Dickens, who had for once lingered there
upon the platform, addressed to his hearers, with exquisitely clear
articulation, but with unmistakably profound emotion, these few and
simple words of farewell:--

     "Ladies and Gentlemen,--It would be worse than
     "idle, for it would be hypocritical and unfeeling, if I
     "were to disguise that I close this episode in my life
     "with feelings of very considerable pain. For some
     "fifteen years in this hall, and in many kindred places,
     "I have had the honour of presenting my own che-
     "rished ideas before you for your recognition, and in
     "closely observing your reception of them have en-
     "joyed an amount of artistic delight and instruction,
     "which perhaps it is given to few men to know. In
     "this task and in every other I have ever undertaken
     "as a faithful servant of the public, always imbued
     "with the sense of duty to them, and always striving
     "to do his best, I have been uniformly cheered by the
     "readiest response, the most generous sympathy, and
     "the most stimulating support. Nevertheless, I have
     "thought it well, at the full flood-tide of your favour,
     "to retire upon those older associations between us,
     "which date from much further back than these,
     "thenceforth to devote myself exclusively to the art
     "that first brought us together. Ladies and gentle-
     "men, in two short weeks from this time I hope that
     "you may enter, in your own homes, on a new series
     "of readings at which my assistance will be indispen-
     "sable ; but from these garish lights I vanish now for
     "evermore, with a heartfelt, grateful, respectful, and
     "affectionate fare well."

The manly, cordial voice only faltered once at the very last. The
mournful modulation of it in the utterance of the words, "From these
garish lights I vanish now for evermore" lingers to this moment like a
haunting melody in our remembrance. Within a few weeks afterwards those
very words were touchingly inscribed on the Funeral Card distributed at
the doors of Westminster Abbey on the day of the Novelist's interment in
Poet's Corner. As he moved from the platform after the utterance of the
last words of his address and, with his head drooping in emotion, passed
behind the screen on his way to his retiring-room, a cordial hand was
placed for one moment with a sympathetic grasp upon his shoulder. The
popularity won by Charles Dickens, even among the million who never saw
him or spoke with him, amounted to nothing less than personal affection.
Among his friends and intimates no great author has ever been more
truly or more tenderly beloved. The prolonged thunder of applause that
followed him to his secluded room at the back of the platform, whither
he had withdrawn alone, recalled him after the lapse of some minutes for
another instant into the presence of his last audience, from whom, with
a kiss of his hand, he then indeed parted for evermore.



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