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Title: Dickens - English Men of Letters
Author: Ward, Adolphus William, Sir, 1837-1924
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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 "Dickens - English Men of Letters" ***

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English Men of Letters







  JOHNSON               Leslie Stephen.
  GIBBON                 J. C. Morison.
  SCOTT                   R. H. Hutton.
  SHELLEY                J. A. Symonds.
  HUME                    T. H. Huxley.
  GOLDSMITH              William Black.
  DEFOE                  William Minto.
  BURNS                   J. C. Shairp.
  SPENSER                 R. W. Church.
  THACKERAY           Anthony Trollope.
  BURKE                    John Morley.
  MILTON                 Mark Pattison.
  HAWTHORNE            Henry James, Jr.
  SOUTHEY                    E. Dowden.
  CHAUCER                   A. W. Ward.
  BUNYAN                  J. A. Froude.
  COWPER                 Goldwin Smith.
  POPE                  Leslie Stephen.
  BYRON                    John Nichol.
  LOCKE                  Thomas Fowler.
  WORDSWORTH                  F. Myers.
  DRYDEN                 G. Saintsbury.
  LANDOR                 Sidney Colvin.
  DE QUINCEY              David Masson.
  LAMB                   Alfred Ainger.
  BENTLEY                   R. C. Jebb.
  DICKENS                   A. W. Ward.
  GRAY                     E. W. Gosse.
  SWIFT                 Leslie Stephen.
  STERNE                  H. D. Traill.
  MACAULAY           J. Cotter Morison.
  FIELDING               Austin Dobson.
  SHERIDAN               Mrs. Oliphant.
  ADDISON              W. J. Courthope.
  BACON                   R. W. Church.
  COLERIDGE               H. D. Traill.
  SIR PHILIP SIDNEY      J. A. Symonds.
  KEATS                  Sidney Colvin.

12mo, Cloth, 75 cents per volume.

_Other volumes in preparation._


_Any of the above works will be sent by mail, postage prepaid, to any part
of the United States or Canada, on receipt of the price._


At the close of a letter addressed by Dickens to his friend John Forster,
but not to be found in the English editions of the _Life_, the writer adds
to his praises of the biography of Goldsmith these memorable words: "I
desire no better for my fame, when my personal dustiness shall be past the
control of my love of order, than such a biographer and such a critic."
Dickens was a man of few close friendships--"his breast," he said, "would
not hold many people"--but, of these friendships, that with Forster was
one of the earliest, as it was one of the most enduring. To Dickens, at
least, his future biographer must have been the embodiment of two
qualities rarely combined in equal measure--discretion and candour. In
literary matters his advice was taken almost as often as it was given, and
nearly every proof-sheet of nearly every work of Dickens passed through
his faithful helpmate's hands. Nor were there many important decisions
formed by Dickens concerning himself in the course of his manhood to which
Forster was a stranger, though, unhappily, he more than once counselled in

On Mr. Forster's _Life of Charles Dickens_, together with the three
volumes of _Letters_ collected by Dickens's eldest daughter and his
sister-in-law--his "dearest and best friend"--it is superfluous to state
that the biographical portion of the following essay is mainly based. It
may be superfluous, but it cannot be considered impertinent, if I add that
the shortcomings of the _Life_ have, in my opinion, been more frequently
proclaimed than defined; and that its merits are those of its author as
well as of its subject.

My sincere thanks are due for various favours shown to me in connexion
with the production of this little volume by Miss Hogarth, Mr. Charles
Dickens, Professor Henry Morley, Mr. Alexander Ireland, Mr. John Evans,
Mr. Robinson, and Mr. Britton. Mr. Evans has kindly enabled me to correct
some inaccuracies in Mr. Forster's account of Dickens's early Chatham days
on unimpeachable first-hand evidence. I also beg Captain and Mrs. Budden
to accept my thanks for allowing me to see Gad's Hill Place.

I am under special obligations to Mr. R. F. Sketchley, Librarian of the
Dyce and Forster Libraries at South Kensington, for his courtesy in
affording me much useful aid and information. With the kind permission of
Mrs. Forster, Mr. Sketchley enabled me to supplement the records of
Dickens's life, in the period 1838-'41, from a hitherto unpublished
source--a series of brief entries by him in four volumes of _The Law and
Commercial Daily Remembrancer_ for those years. These volumes formed no
part of the Forster bequest, but were added to it, under certain
conditions, by Mrs. Forster. The entries are mostly very brief; and
sometimes there are months without an entry. Many days succeed one another
with no other note than "Work."

Mr. R. H. Shepherd's _Bibliography of Dickens_ has been of considerable
service to me. May I take this opportunity of commending to my readers, as
a charming reminiscence of the connexion between _Charles Dickens and
Rochester_, Mr. Robert Langton's sketches illustrating a paper recently
printed under that title?

Last, not least, as the Germans say, I wish to thank my friend Professor
T. N. Toller for the friendly counsel which has not been wanting to me on
this, any more than on former occasions.

A. W. W.



  PREFACE                                v

    BEFORE "PICKWICK"                    1

    FROM SUCCESS TO SUCCESS             20

    STRANGE LANDS                       49

    "DAVID COPPERFIELD"                 85

    CHANGES                            108

    LAST YEARS                         146






Charles Dickens, the eldest son, and the second of the eight children, of
John and Elizabeth Dickens, was born at Landport, a suburb of Portsea, on
Friday, February 7, 1812. His baptismal names were Charles John Huffham.
His father, at that time a clerk in the Navy Pay Office, and employed in
the Portsmouth Dock-yard, was recalled to London when his eldest son was
only two years of age; and two years afterwards was transferred to
Chatham, where he resided with his family from 1816 to 1821. Thus Chatham,
and the more venerable city of Rochester adjoining, with their
neighbourhood of chalk hills and deep green lanes and woodland and
marshes, became, in the words of Dickens's biographer, the birthplace of
his fancy. He looked upon himself as, to all intents and purposes, a
Kentish man born and bred, and his heart was always in this particular
corner of the incomparable county. Again and again, after Mr. Alfred
Jingle's spasmodic eloquence had, in the very first number of _Pickwick_,
epitomised the antiquities and comforts of Rochester, already the scene of
one of the _Sketches_, Dickens returned to the local associations of his
early childhood. It was at Chatham that poor little David Copperfield, on
his solitary tramp to Dover, slept his Sunday night's sleep "near a
cannon, happy in the society of the sentry's footsteps;" and in many a
Christmas narrative or uncommercial etching the familiar features of town
and country, of road and river, were reproduced, before in _Great
Expectations_ they suggested some of the most picturesque effects of his
later art, and before in his last unfinished romance his faithful fancy
once more haunted the well-known precincts. During the last thirteen years
of his life he was again an inhabitant of the loved neighbourhood where,
with the companions of his mirthful idleness, he had so often made
holiday; where, when hope was young, he had spent his honey-moon; and
whither, after his last restless wanderings, he was to return, to seek
such repose as he would allow himself, and to die. But, of course, the
daily life of the "very queer small boy" of that early time is only quite
incidentally to be associated with the grand gentleman's house on Gad's
Hill, where his father, little thinking that his son was to act over again
the story of Warren Hastings and Daylesford, had told him he might some
day come to live, if he were to be very persevering, and to work hard. The
family abode was in Ordnance (not St. Mary's) Place, at Chatham, amidst
surroundings classified in Mr. Pickwick's notes as "appearing to be
soldiers, sailors, Jews, chalk, shrimps, offices, and dock-yard men." But
though the half-mean, half-picturesque aspect of the Chatham streets may
already at an early age have had its fascination for Dickens, yet his
childish fancy was fed as fully as were his powers of observation. Having
learned reading from his mother, he was sent with his elder sister, Fanny,
to a day-school kept in Gibraltar Place, New Road, by Mr. William Giles,
the eldest son and namesake of a worthy Baptist minister, whose family had
formed an intimate acquaintance with their neighbours in Ordnance Row. The
younger Giles children were pupils at the school of their elder brother
with Charles and Fanny Dickens, and thus naturally their constant
playmates. In later life Dickens preserved a grateful remembrance, at
times refreshed by pleasant communications between the families, of the
training he had received from Mr. William Giles, an intelligent as well as
generous man, who, recognising his pupil's abilities, seems to have
resolved that they should not lie fallow for want of early cultivation.
Nor does there appear to be the slightest reason for supposing that this
period of his life was anything but happy. For his sister Fanny he always
preserved a tender regard; and a touching little paper, written by him
after her death in womanhood, relates how the two children used to watch
the stars together, and make friends with one in particular, as belonging
to themselves. But obviously he did not lack playmates of his own sex; and
it was no doubt chiefly because his tastes made him disinclined to take
much part in the rougher sports of his school-fellows, that he found
plenty of time for amusing himself in his own way. And thus it came to
pass that already as a child he followed his own likings in the two
directions from which they were never very materially to swerve. He once
said of himself that he had been "a writer when a mere baby, an actor

Of these two passions he could always, as a child and as a man, be "happy
with either," and occasionally with both at the same time. In his tender
years he was taken by a kinsman, a Sandhurst cadet, to the theatre, to
see the legitimate drama acted, and was disillusioned by visits behind the
scenes at private theatricals; while his own juvenile powers as a teller
of stories and singer of comic songs (he was possessed, says one who
remembers him, of a sweet treble voice) were displayed on domestic chairs
and tables, and then in amateur plays with his school-fellows. He also
wrote a--not strictly original--tragedy, which is missing among his
_Reprinted Pieces_. There is nothing unique in these childish doings, nor
in the circumstance that he was an eager reader of works of fiction; but
it is noteworthy that chief among the books to which he applied himself,
in a small neglected bookroom in his father's house, were those to which
his allegiance remained true through much of his career as an author.
Besides books of travel, which he says had a fascination for his mind from
his earliest childhood, besides the "Arabian Nights" and kindred tales,
and the English Essayists, he read Fielding and Smollett, and Cervantes
and Le Sage, in all innocence of heart, as well as Mrs. Inchbald's
collection of farces, in all contentment of spirit. Inasmuch as he was no
great reader in the days of his authorship, and had to go through hard
times of his own before, it was well that the literature of his childhood
was good of its kind, and that where it was not good it was at least gay.
Dickens afterwards made it an article of his social creed that the
imagination of the young needs nourishment as much as their bodies require
food and clothing; and he had reason for gratefully remembering that at
all events the imaginative part of his education had escaped neglect.

But these pleasant early days came to a sudden end. In the year 1821 his
family returned to London, and soon his experiences of trouble began.
Misfortune pursued the elder Dickens to town, his salary having been
decreased already at Chatham in consequence of one of the early efforts at
economical reform. He found a shabby home for his family in Bayham Street,
Camden Town; and here, what with the pecuniary embarrassments in which he
was perennially involved, and what with the easy disposition with which he
was blessed by way of compensation, he allowed his son's education to take
care of itself. John Dickens appears to have been an honourable as well as
a kindly man. His son always entertained an affectionate regard for him,
and carefully arranged for the comfort of his latter years; nor would it
be fair, because of a similarity in their experiences, and in the grandeur
of their habitual phraseology, to identify him absolutely with the
immortal Mr. Micawber. Still less, except in certain details of manner and
incident, can the character of the elder Dickens be thought to have
suggested that of the pitiful "Father of the Marshalsea," to which prison,
almost as famous in English fiction as it is in English history, the
unlucky navy-clerk was consigned a year after his return to London.

Every effort had been made to stave off the evil day; and little Charles,
whose eyes were always wide open, and who had begun to write descriptive
sketches of odd personages among his acquaintance, had become familiar
with the inside of a pawnbroker's shop, and had sold the paternal
"library" piecemeal to the original of the drunken second-hand bookseller,
with whom David Copperfield dealt as Mr. Micawber's representative. But
neither these sacrifices nor Mrs. Dickens's abortive efforts at setting up
an educational establishment had been of avail. Her husband's creditors
_would not_ give him time; and a dark period began for the family, and
more especially for the little eldest son, now ten years old, in which,
as he afterwards wrote, in bitter anguish of remembrance, "but for the
mercy of God, he might easily have become, for any care that was taken of
him, a little robber or a little vagabond."

Forster has printed the pathetic fragment of autobiography, communicated
to him by Dickens five-and-twenty years after the period to which it
refers, and subsequently incorporated with but few changes in the
_Personal History of David Copperfield_. Who can forget the thrill with
which he first learned the well-kept secret that the story of the solitary
child, left a prey to the cruel chances of the London streets, was an
episode in the life of Charles Dickens himself? Between fact and fiction
there was but a difference of names. Murdstone & Grinby's wine warehouse
down in Blackfriars was Jonathan Warren's blacking warehouse at Hungerford
Stairs, in which a place had been found for the boy by a relative, a
partner in the concern; and the bottles he had to paste over with labels
were in truth blacking-pots. But the menial work and the miserable pay,
the uncongenial companionship during worktime, and the speculative devices
of the dinner-hour were the same in each case. At this time, after his
family had settled itself in the Marshalsea, the haven open to the little
waif at night was a lodging in Little College Street, Camden Town,
presenting even fewer attractions than Mr. Micawber's residence in Windsor
Terrace, and kept by a lady afterwards famous under the name of Mrs.
Pipchin. His Sundays were spent at home in the prison. On his urgent
remonstrance--"the first I had ever made about my lot"--concerning the
distance from his family at which he was left through the week, a back
attic was found for him in Lant Street, in the Borough, "where Bob Sawyer
lodged many years afterwards;" and he now breakfasted and supped with his
parents in their apartment. Here they lived in fair comfort, waited upon
by a faithful "orfling," who had accompanied the family and its fortunes
from Chatham, and who is said by Forster to have her part in the character
of the Marchioness. Finally, after the prisoner had obtained his
discharge, and had removed with his family to the Lant Street lodgings, a
quarrel occurred between the elder Dickens and his cousin, and the boy was
in consequence taken away from the business.

He had not been ill-treated there; nor indeed is it ill-treatment which
leads to David Copperfield's running away in the story. Nevertheless, it
is not strange that Dickens should have looked back with a bitterness very
unusual in him upon the bad old days of his childish solitude and
degradation. He never "forgot" his mother's having wished him to remain in
the warehouse; the subject of his employment there was never afterwards
mentioned in the family; he could not bring himself to go near old
Hungerford Market so long as it remained standing; and to no human being,
not even to his wife, did he speak of this passage in his life until he
narrated it in the fragment of autobiography which he confided to his
trusty friend. Such a sensitiveness is not hard to explain; for no man is
expected to dilate upon the days "when he lived among the beggars in St.
Mary Axe," and it is only the Bounderbies of society who exult, truly or
falsely, in the sordid memories of the time before they became rich or
powerful. And if the sharp experiences of his childhood might have ceased
to be resented by one whom the world on the whole treated so kindly, at
least they left his heart unhardened, and helped to make him ever tender
to the poor and weak, because he too had after a fashion "eaten his bread
with tears" when a puny child.

A happy accident having released the David Copperfield of actual life from
his unworthy bondage, he was put in the way of an education such as at
that time was the lot of most boys of the class to which he belonged. "The
world has done much better since in that way, and will do far better yet,"
he writes at the close of his description of _Our School_, the "Wellington
House Academy," situate near that point in the Hampstead Road where modest
gentility and commercial enterprise touch hands. Other testimony confirms
his sketch of the ignorant and brutal head-master; and doubtless this
worthy and his usher, "considered to know everything as opposed to the
chief who was considered to know nothing," furnished some of the features
in the portraits of Mr. Creakle and Mr. Mell. But it has been very justly
doubted by an old school-fellow whether the statement "We were First Boy"
is to be regarded as strictly historical. If Charles Dickens, when he
entered the school, was "put into Virgil," he was not put there to much
purpose. On the other hand, with the return of happier days had come the
resumption of the old amusements which were to grow into the occupations
of his life. A club was founded among the boys at Wellington House for the
express purpose of circulating short tales written by him, and he was the
manager of the private theatricals which they contrived to set on foot.

After two or three years of such work and play it became necessary for
Charles Dickens once more to think of earning his bread. His father, who
had probably lost his official post at the time when, in Mr. Micawber's
phrase, "hope sunk beneath the horizon," was now seeking employment as a
parliamentary reporter, and must have rejoiced when a Gray's Inn solicitor
of his acquaintance, attracted by the bright, clever looks of his son,
took the lad into his office as a clerk at a modest weekly salary. His
office associates here were perhaps a grade or two above those of the
blacking warehouse; but his danger now lay rather in the direction of the
vulgarity which he afterwards depicted in such samples of the profession
as Mr. Guppy and Mr. Jobling. He is said to have frequented, in company
with a fellow-clerk, one of the minor theatres, and even occasionally to
have acted there; and assuredly it must have been personal knowledge which
suggested the curiously savage description of _Private Theatres_ in the
_Sketches by Boz_, the all but solitary _unkindly_ reference to theatrical
amusements in his works. But whatever his experiences of this kind may
have been, he passed unscathed through them; and during the year and a
half of his clerkship picked up sufficient knowledge of the technicalities
of the law to be able to assail its enormities without falling into
rudimentary errors about it, and sufficient knowledge of lawyers and
lawyers' men to fill a whole chamber in his gallery of characters.

Oddly enough, it was, after all, the example of the father that led the
son into the line of life from which he was easily to pass into the career
where success and fame awaited him. The elder Dickens having obtained
employment as a parliamentary reporter for the _Morning Herald_, his son,
who was living with him in Bentinck Street, Manchester Square, resolved to
essay the same laborious craft. He was by this time nearly seventeen years
of age, and already we notice in him what were to remain, through life,
two of his most marked characteristics--strength of will, and a
determination, if he did a thing at all, to do it thoroughly. The art of
short-hand, which he now resolutely set himself to master, was in those
days no easy study, though, possibly, in looking back upon his first
efforts, David Copperfield overestimated the difficulties which he had
conquered with the help of love and Traddles. But Dickens, whose education
no Dr. Strong had completed, perceived that in order to succeed as a
reporter of the highest class he needed something besides the knowledge of
short-hand. In a word, he lacked reading; and this deficiency he set
himself to supply as best he could by a constant attendance at the British
Museum. Those critics who have dwelt on the fact that the reading of
Dickens was neither very great nor very extensive, have insisted on what
is not less true than obvious; but he had this one quality of the true
lover of reading, that he never professed a familiarity with that of which
he knew little or nothing. He continued his visits to the Museum, even
when in 1828 he had become a reporter in Doctors' Commons. With this
occupation he had to remain as content as he could for nearly two years.
Once more David Copperfield, the double of Charles Dickens in his youth,
will rise to the memory of every one of his readers. For not only was his
soul seized with a weariness of Consistory, Arches, Delegates, and the
rest of it, to which he afterwards gave elaborate expression in his story,
but his heart was full of its first love. In later days he was not of
opinion that he had loved particularly wisely; but how well he had loved
is known to every one who after him has lost his heart to Dora. Nothing
came of the fancy, and in course of time he had composure enough to visit
the lady who had been its object in the company of his wife. He found that
Jip was stuffed as well as dead, and that Dora had faded into Flora; for
it was as such that, not very chivalrously, he could bring himself to
describe her, for the second time, in _Little Dorrit_.

Before at last he was engaged as a reporter on a newspaper, he had, and
not for a moment only, thought of turning aside to another profession. It
was the profession to which--uncommercially--he was attached during so
great a part of his life, that when he afterwards created for himself a
stage of his own, he seemed to be but following an irresistible
fascination. His best friend described him to me as "a born actor;" and
who needs to be told that the world falls into two divisions only--those
whose place is before the foot-lights, and those whose place is behind
them? His love of acting was stronger than himself; and I doubt whether he
ever saw a play successfully performed without longing to be in and of it.
"Assumption," he wrote in after days to Lord Lytton, "has charms for me--I
hardly know for how many wild reasons--so delightful that I feel a loss
of, oh! I can't say what exquisite foolery, when I lose a chance of being
some one in voice, etc., not at all like myself." He loved the theatre and
everything which savoured of histrionics with an intensity not even to be
imagined by those who have never felt a touch of the same passion. He had
that "belief in a play" which he so pleasantly described as one of the
characteristics of his life-long friend, the great painter, Clarkson
Stanfield. And he had that unextinguishable interest in both actors and
acting which makes a little separate world of the "quality." One of the
staunchest friendships of his life was that with the foremost English
tragedian of his age, Macready; one of the delights of his last years was
his intimacy with another well-known actor, the late Mr. Fechter. No
performer, however, was so obscure or so feeble as to be outside the pale
of his sympathy. His books teem with kindly likenesses of all manner of
entertainers and entertainments--from Mr. Vincent Crummles and the more or
less legitimate drama, down to Mr. Sleary's horse-riding and Mrs. Jarley's
wax-work. He has a friendly feeling for Chops the dwarf, and for Pickleson
the giant; and in his own quiet Broadstairs he cannot help tumultuously
applauding a young lady "who goes into the den of ferocious lions, tigers,
leopards, etc., and pretends to go to sleep upon the principal lion, upon
which a rustic keeper, who speaks through his nose, exclaims, 'Behold the
abazid power of woobad!'" He was unable to sit through a forlorn
performance at a wretched country theatre without longing to add a
sovereign to the four-and-ninepence which he had made out in the house
when he entered, and which "had warmed up in the course of the evening to
twelve shillings;" and in Bow Street, near his office, he was beset by
appeals such as that of an aged and greasy suitor for an engagement as
Pantaloon: "Mr. Dickens, you know our profession, sir--no one knows it
better, sir--there is no right feeling in it. I was Harlequin on your own
circuit, sir, for five-and-thirty years, and was displaced by a boy,
sir!--a boy!" Nor did his disposition change when he crossed the seas; the
streets he first sees in the United States remind him irresistibly of the
set-scene in a London pantomime; and at Verona his interest is divided
between _Romeo and Juliet_ and the vestiges of an equestrian troupe in the

What success Dickens might have achieved as an actor it is hardly to the
present purpose to inquire. A word will be said below of the success he
achieved as an amateur actor and manager, and in his more than
half-dramatic readings. But, the influence of early associations and
personal feelings apart, it would seem that the artists of the stage whom
he most admired were not those of the highest type. He was subdued by the
genius of Frédéric Lemaître, but blind and deaf to that of Ristori. "Sound
melodrama and farce" were the dramatic species which he affected, and in
which as a professional actor he might have excelled. His intensity might
have gone for much in the one, and his versatility and volubility for more
in the other; and in both, as indeed in any kind of play or part, his
thoroughness, which extended itself to every detail of performance or
make-up, must have stood him in excellent stead. As it was, he was
preserved for literature. But he had carefully prepared himself for his
intended venture, and when he sought an engagement at Covent Garden, a
preliminary interview with the manager was postponed only on account of
the illness of the applicant.

Before the next theatrical season opened he had at last--in the year
1831--obtained employment as a parliamentary reporter, and after some
earlier engagements he became, in 1834, one of the reporting staff of the
famous Whig _Morning Chronicle_, then in its best days under the
editorship of Mr. John Black. Now, for the first time in his life, he had
an opportunity of putting forth the energy that was in him. He shrunk from
none of the difficulties which in those days attended the exercise of his
craft. They were thus depicted by himself, when a few years before his
death he "held a brief for his brothers" at the dinner of the Newspaper
Press Fund: "I have often transcribed for the printer from my short-hand
notes important public speeches in which the strictest accuracy was
required, and a mistake in which would have been to a young man severely
compromising; writing on the palm of my hand, by the light of a dark
lantern, in a post-chaise and four, galloping through a wild country, and
through the dead of the night, at the then surprising rate of fifteen
miles an hour.... I have worn my knees by writing on them on the old back
row of the old gallery of the old House of Commons; and I have worn my
feet by standing to write in a preposterous pen in the old House of Lords,
where we used to be huddled together like so many sheep kept in waiting,
say, until the woolsack might want restuffing. Returning home from excited
political meetings in the country to the waiting press in London, I do
verily believe I have been upset in almost every description of vehicle
known in this country. I have been in my time belated on miry by-roads,
towards the small hours, forty or fifty miles from London, in a wheelless
carriage, with exhausted horses and drunken post-boys, and have got back
in time for publication, to be received with never-forgotten compliments
by the late Mr. Black, coming in the broadest of Scotch from the broadest
of hearts I ever knew." Thus early had Dickens learnt the secret of
throwing himself into any pursuit once taken up by him, and of half
achieving his task by the very heartiness with which he set about it. When
at the close of the parliamentary session of the year 1836 his labours as
a reporter came to an end, he was held to have no equal in the gallery.
During this period his naturally keen powers of observation must have been
sharpened and strengthened, and that quickness of decision acquired which
constitutes, perhaps, the most valuable lesson that journalistic practice
of any kind can teach to a young man of letters. To Dickens's experience
as a reporter may likewise be traced no small part of his political creed,
in which there was a good deal of infidelity; or, at all events, his
determined contempt for the parliamentary style proper, whether in the
mouth of "Thisman" or of "Thatman," and his rooted dislike of the
"cheap-jacks" and "national dustmen" whom he discerned among our orators
and legislators. There is probably no very great number of Members of
Parliament who are heroes to those who wait attendance on their words.
Moreover, the period of Dickens's most active labours as a reporter was
one that succeeded a time of great political excitement; and when men wish
thankfully to rest after deeds, words are in season.

Meanwhile, very tentatively and with a very imperfect consciousness of the
significance for himself of his first steps on a slippery path, Dickens
had begun the real career of his life. It has been seen how he had been a
writer as a "baby," as a school-boy, and as a lawyer's clerk, and the time
had come when, like all writers, he wished to see himself in print. In
December, 1833, the _Monthly Magazine_ published a paper which he had
dropped into its letter-box, and with eyes "dimmed with joy and pride" the
young author beheld his first-born in print. The paper, called _A Dinner
at Poplar Walk_, was afterwards reprinted in the _Sketches by Boz_ under
the title of _Mr. Minns and his Cousin_, and is laughable enough. His
success emboldened him to send further papers of a similar character to
the same magazine, which published ten contributions of his by February,
1835. That which appeared in August, 1834, was the first signed "Boz," a
nickname given by him in his boyhood to a favourite brother. Since Dickens
used this signature not only as the author of the _Sketches_ and a few
other minor productions, but also as "editor" of the _Pickwick Papers_, it
is not surprising that, especially among his admirers on the Continent and
in America, the name should have clung to him so tenaciously. It was on
a steamboat near Niagara that he heard from his state-room a gentleman
complaining to his wife: "Boz keeps himself very close."

But the _Monthly Magazine_, though warmly welcoming its young
contributor's lively sketches, could not afford to pay for them. He was
therefore glad to conclude an arrangement with Mr. George Hogarth, the
conductor of the _Evening Chronicle_, a paper in connexion with the great
morning journal on the reporting staff of which he was engaged. He had
gratuitously contributed a sketch to the evening paper as a personal
favour to Mr. Hogarth, and the latter readily proposed to the proprietors
of the _Morning Chronicle_ that Dickens should be duly remunerated for
this addition to his regular labours. With a salary of seven instead of,
as heretofore, five guineas a week, and settled in chambers in Furnival's
Inn--one of those old legal inns which he loved so well--he might already
in this year, 1835, consider himself on the high-road to prosperity. By
the beginning of 1836 the _Sketches by Boz_ printed in the _Evening
Chronicle_ were already numerous enough, and their success was
sufficiently established to allow of his arranging for their
republication. They appeared in two volumes, with etchings by Cruikshank,
and the sum of a hundred and fifty pounds was paid to him for the
copyright. The stepping-stones had been found and passed, and on the last
day of March, which saw the publication of the first number of the
_Pickwick Papers_, he stood in the field of fame and fortune. Three days
afterwards Dickens married Catherine Hogarth, the eldest daughter of the
friend who had so efficiently aided him in his early literary ventures.
Mr. George Hogarth's name thus links together the names of two masters of
English fiction; for Lockhart speaks of him when a writer to the signet
in Edinburgh as one of the intimate friends of Scott. Dickens's
apprenticeship as an author was over almost as soon as it was begun; and
he had found the way short from obscurity to the dazzling light of
popularity. As for the _Sketches by Boz_, their author soon repurchased
the copyright for more than thirteen times the sum which had been paid to
him for it.

In their collected form these _Sketches_ modestly described themselves as
"illustrative of every-day life and every-day people." Herein they only
prefigured the more famous creations of their writer, whose genius was
never so happy as when lighting up, now the humorous, now what he chose to
term the romantic, side of familiar things. The curious will find little
difficulty in tracing in these outlines, often rough and at times coarse,
the groundwork of more than one finished picture of later date. Not a few
of the most peculiar features of Dickens's humour are already here,
together with not a little of his most characteristic pathos. It is true
that in these early _Sketches_ the latter is at times strained, but its
power is occasionally beyond denial, as, for instance, in the brief
narrative of the death of the hospital patient. On the other hand, the
humour--more especially that of the _Tales_--is not of the most refined
sort, and often degenerates in the direction of boisterous farce. The
style, too, though in general devoid of the pretentiousness which is the
bane of "light" journalistic writing, has a taint of vulgarity about it,
very pardonable under the circumstances, but generally absent from
Dickens's later works. Weak puns are not unfrequent; and the diction but
rarely reaches that exquisite felicity of comic phrase in which _Pickwick_
and its successors excel. For the rest, Dickens's favourite passions and
favourite aversions alike reflect themselves here in small. In the
description of the election for beadle he ridicules the tricks and the
manners of political party-life, and his love of things theatrical has its
full freshness upon it--however he may pretend at Astley's that his
"histrionic taste is gone," and that it is the audience which chiefly
delights him. But of course the gift which these _Sketches_ pre-eminently
revealed in their author was a descriptive power that seemed to lose sight
of nothing characteristic in the object described, and of nothing humorous
in an association suggested by it. Whether his theme was street or river,
a Christmas dinner or the extensive groves of the illustrious dead (the
old clothes shops in Monmouth Street), he reproduced it in all its shades
and colours, and under a hundred aspects, fanciful as well as real. How
inimitable, for instance, is the sketch of "the last cab-driver, and the
first omnibus cad," whose earlier vehicle, the omnipresent "red cab," was
not the gondola, but the very fire-ship of the London streets.

Dickens himself entertained no high opinion of these youthful efforts; and
in this he showed the consciousness of the true artist, that masterpieces
are rarely thrown off at hazard. But though much of the popularity of the
_Sketches_ may be accounted for by the fact that commonplace people love
to read about commonplace people and things, the greater part of it is due
to genuine literary merit. The days of half-price in theatres have
followed the days of coaching; "Honest Tom" no more paces the lobby in a
black coat with velvet facings and cuffs, and a D'Orsay hat; the Hickses
of the present time no longer quote "Don Juan" over boarding-house
dinner-tables; and the young ladies in Camberwell no longer compare young
men in attitudes to Lord Byron, or to "Satan" Montgomery. But the
_Sketches by Boz_ have survived their birth-time; and they deserve to be
remembered among the rare instances in which a young author has no sooner
begun to write than he has shown a knowledge of his real strength. As yet,
however, this sudden favourite of the public was unaware of the range to
which his powers were to extend, and of the height to which they were to




Even in those years of which the record is brightest in the story of his
life, Charles Dickens, like the rest of the world, had his share of
troubles--troubles great and small, losses which went home to his heart,
and vexations manifold in the way of business. But in the history of his
early career as an author the word failure has no place.

Not that the _Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club_, published as they
were in monthly numbers, at once took the town by storm; for the public
needed two or three months to make up its mind that "Boz" was equal to an
effort considerably in advance of his _Sketches_. But when the popularity
of the serial was once established, it grew with extraordinary rapidity
until it reached an altogether unprecedented height. He would be a bold
man who should declare that its popularity has very materially diminished
at the present day. Against the productions of _Pickwick_, and of other
works of amusement of which it was the prototype, Dr. Arnold thought
himself bound seriously to contend among the boys of Rugby; and twenty
years later young men at the university talked nothing but _Pickwick_, and
quoted nothing but _Pickwick_, and the wittiest of undergraduates set the
world at large an examination paper in _Pickwick_, over which pretentious
half-knowledge may puzzle, unable accurately to "describe the common
Profeel-machine," or to furnish a satisfactory definition of "a red-faced
Nixon." No changes in manners and customs have interfered with the hold of
the work upon nearly all classes of readers at home; and no translation
has been dull enough to prevent its being relished even in countries where
all English manners and customs must seem equally uninteresting or equally

So extraordinary has been the popularity of this more than thrice
fortunate book, that the wildest legends have grown up as to the history
of its origin. The facts, however, as stated by Dickens himself, are few
and plain. Attracted by the success of the _Sketches_, Messrs. Chapman &
Hall proposed to him that he should write "something" in monthly numbers
to serve as a vehicle for certain plates to be executed by the comic
draughtsman, Mr. R. Seymour; and either the publishers or the artist
suggested as a kind of leading notion, the idea of a "Nimrod Club" of
unlucky sportsmen. The proposition was at Dickens's suggestion so modified
that the plates were "to arise naturally out of the text," the range of
the latter being left open to him. This explains why the rather artificial
machinery of a club was maintained, and why Mr. Winkle's misfortunes by
flood and field hold their place by the side of the philanthropical
meanderings of Mr. Pickwick and the amorous experiences of Mr. Tupman. An
original was speedily found for the pictorial presentment of the hero of
the book, and a felicitous name for him soon suggested itself. Only a
single number of the serial had appeared when Mr. Seymour's own hand put
an end to his life. It is well known that among the applicants for the
vacant office of illustrator of the _Pickwick Papers_ was Thackeray--the
senior of Dickens by a few months--whose style as a draughtsman would have
been singularly unsuited to the adventures and the gaiters of Mr.
Pickwick. Finally, in no altogether propitious hour for some of Dickens's
books, Mr. Hablot Browne ("Phiz") was chosen as illustrator. Some happy
hits--such as the figure of Mr. Micawber--apart, the illustrations of
Dickens by this artist, though often both imaginative and effective, are
apt, on the one hand, to obscure the author's fidelity to nature, and on
the other, to intensify his unreality. _Oliver Twist_, like the
_Sketches_, was illustrated by George Cruikshank, a pencil humourist of no
common calibre, but as a rule ugly with the whole virtuous intention of
his heart. Dickens himself was never so well satisfied with any
illustrator as with George Cattermole (_alias_ "Kittenmoles"), a
connection of his by marriage, who co-operated with Hablot Browne in
_Master Humphrey's Clock_; in his latest works he resorted to the aid of
younger artists, whose reputation has since justified his confidence. The
most congenial of the pictorial interpreters of Dickens, in his brightest
and freshest humour, was his valued friend John Leech, whose services,
together occasionally with those of Doyle, Frank Stone, and Tenniel, as
well as of his faithful Stanfield and Maclise, he secured for his
Christmas books.

The _Pickwick Papers_, of which the issue was completed by the end of
1837, brought in to Dickens a large sum of money, and after a time a
handsome annual income. On the whole this has remained the most general
favourite of all his books. Yet it is not for this reason only that
_Pickwick_ defies criticism, but also because the circumstances under
which the book was begun and carried on make it preposterous to judge it
by canons applicable to its author's subsequent fictions. As the serial
proceeded, the interest which was to be divided between the inserted
tales, some of which have real merit, and the framework, was absorbed by
the latter. The rise in the style of the book can almost be measured by
the change in the treatment of its chief character, Mr. Pickwick himself.
In a later preface, Dickens endeavoured to illustrate this change by the
analogy of real life. The truth, of course, is that it was only as the
author proceeded that he recognised the capabilities of the character, and
his own power of making it, and his book with it, truly lovable as well as
laughable. Thus, on the very same page in which Mr. Pickwick proves
himself a true gentleman in his leave-taking from Mr. Nupkins, there
follows a little bit of the idyl between Sam and the pretty housemaid,
written with a delicacy that could hardly have been suspected in the
chronicler of the experiences of Miss Jemima Evans or of Mr. Augustus
Cooper. In the subsequent part of the main narrative will be found
exemplified nearly all the varieties of pathos of which Dickens was
afterwards so repeatedly to prove himself master, more especially, of
course, in those prison scenes for which some of our older novelists may
have furnished him with hints. Even that subtle species of humour is not
wanting which is content to miss its effect with the less attentive
reader; as in this passage concerning the ruined cobbler's confidences to
Sam in the Fleet:

    "The cobbler paused to ascertain what effect his story had produced on
    Sam; but finding that he had dropped asleep, knocked the ashes out of
    his pipe, _sighed_, put it down, drew the bedclothes over his head,
    and went to sleep too."

Goldsmith himself could not have put more of pathos and more of irony into
a single word.

But it may seem out of place to dwell upon details such as this in view
of the broad and universally acknowledged comic effects of this
masterpiece of English humour. Its many genuinely comic characters are as
broadly marked as the heroes of the least refined of sporting novels, and
as true to nature as the most elaborate products of Addison's art. The
author's humour is certainly not one which eschews simple in favour of
subtle means, or which is averse from occasional desipience in the form of
the wildest farce. Mrs. Leo Hunter's garden-party--or rather "public
breakfast"--at The Den, Eatanswill; Mr. Pickwick's nocturnal descent,
through three gooseberry-bushes and a rose-tree, upon the virgin soil of
Miss Tomkins's establishment for young ladies; the _supplice d'un homme_
of Mr. Pott; Mr. Weller junior's love-letter, with notes and comments by
Mr. Weller senior, and Mr. Weller senior's own letter of affliction
written by somebody else; the footmen's "swarry" at Bath, and Mr. Bob
Sawyer's bachelors' party in the Borough--all these and many other scenes
and passages have in them that jovial element of exaggeration which nobody
mistakes and nobody resents. Whose duty is it to check the volubility of
Mr. Alfred Jingle, or to weigh the heaviness, _quot libras_, of the Fat
Boy? Every one is conscious of the fact that in the contagious high
spirits of the author lies one of the chief charms of the book. Not,
however, that the effect produced is obtained without the assistance of a
very vigilant art. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the character
which is upon the whole the most brilliant of the many brilliant additions
which the author made to his original group of personages. If there is
nothing so humorous in the book as Sam Weller, neither is there in it
anything more pathetic than the relation between him and his master. As
for Sam Weller's style of speech, scant justice was done to it by Mr.
Pickwick when he observed to Job Trotter, "My man is in the right,
although his mode of expressing his opinion is somewhat homely, and
occasionally incomprehensible." The fashion of Sam's gnomic philosophy is
at least as old as Theocritus;[1] but the special impress which he has
given to it is his own, rudely foreshadowed, perhaps, in some of the
apophthegms of his father. Incidental Sam Wellerisms in _Oliver Twist_ and
_Nicholas Nickleby_ show how enduring a hold the whimsical fancy had taken
of its creator. For the rest, the freshness of the book continues the same
to the end; and farcical as are some of the closing scenes--those, for
instance, in which a chorus of coachmen attends the movements of the elder
Mr. Weller--there is even here no straining after effect. An exception
might perhaps be found in the catastrophe of the Shepherd, which is
coarsely contrived; but the fun of the character is in itself neither
illegitimate nor unwholesome. It will be observed below that it is the
constant harping on the same string, the repeated picturing of
professional preachers of religion as gross and greasy scoundrels, which
in the end becomes offensive in Dickens.

On the whole, no hero has ever more appropriately bidden farewell to his
labours than Mr. Pickwick in the words which he uttered at the table of
the ever-hospitable Mr. Wardle at the Adelphi.

    "'I shall never regret,' said Mr. Pickwick, in a low voice--'I shall
    never regret having devoted the greater part of two years to mixing
    with different varieties and shades of human character; frivolous as
    my pursuit of novelty may appear to many. Nearly the whole of my
    previous life having been devoted to business and the pursuit of
    wealth, numerous scenes of which I had no previous conception have
    dawned upon me--I hope to the enlargement of my mind, and to the
    improvement of my understanding. If I have done but little good, I
    trust I have done less harm, and that none of my adventures will be
    other than a source of amusing and pleasant recollection to me in the
    decline of life. God bless you all.'"

Of course Mr. Pickwick "filled and drained a bumper" to the sentiment.
Indeed, it "snoweth" in this book "of meat and drink." Wine, ale, and
brandy abound there, and viands to which ample justice is invariably
done--even under Mr. Tupman's heart-rending circumstances at the (now,
alas! degenerate) Leather Bottle. Something of this is due to the times in
which the work was composed, and to the class of readers for which we may
suppose it in the first instance to have been intended; but Dickens,
though a temperate man, loved the paraphernalia of good cheer, besides
cherishing the associations which are inseparable from it. At the same
time, there is a little too much of it in the _Pickwick Papers_, however
well its presence may consort with the geniality which pervades them. It
is difficult to turn any page of the book without chancing on one of those
supremely felicitous phrases in the ready mintage of which Dickens at all
times excelled. But its chief attraction lies in the spirit of the
whole--that spirit of true humour which calls forth at once merriment,
good-will, and charity.

In the year 1836, which the commencement of the _Pickwick Papers_ has made
memorable in the history of English literature, Dickens was already in the
full tide of authorship. In February, 1837, the second number of
_Bentley's Miscellany_, a new monthly magazine which he had undertaken to
edit, contained the opening chapters of his story of _Oliver Twist_.
Shortly before this, in September and December, 1836, he had essayed two
of the least ambitious branches of dramatic authorship. The acting of
Harley, an admirable dry comedian, gave some vitality to _The Strange
Gentleman_, a "comic burletta," or farce, in two acts, founded upon the
tale in the _Sketches_ called _The Great Winglebury Duel_. It ran for
seventy nights at Drury Lane, and, in its author's opinion, was "the best
thing Harley did." But the adaptation has no special feature
distinguishing it from the original, unless it be the effective bustle of
the opening. _The Village Coquettes_, an operetta represented at the St.
James's Theatre, with music by Hullah, was an equally unpretending effort.
In this piece Harley took one part, that of "a very small farmer with a
very large circle of intimate friends," and John Parry made his _début_ on
the London stage in another. To quote any of the songs in this operetta
would be very unfair to Dickens.[2] He was not at all depressed by the
unfavourable criticisms which were passed upon his libretto, and against
which he had to set the round declaration of Braham, that there had been
"no such music since the days of Shiel, and no such piece since _The
Duenna_." As time went on, however, he became anything but proud of his
juvenile productions as a dramatist, and strongly objected to their
revival. His third and last attempt of this kind, a farce called _The
Lamplighter_, which he wrote for Covent Garden in 1838, was never acted,
having been withdrawn by Macready's wish; and in 1841 Dickens converted it
into a story printed among the _Picnic Papers_, a collection generously
edited by him for the benefit of the widow and children of a publisher
towards whom he had little cause for personal gratitude. His friendship
for Macready kept alive in him for some time the desire to write a comedy
worthy of so distinguished an actor; and, according to his wont, he had
even chosen beforehand for the piece a name which he was not to
forget--_No Thoroughfare_. But the genius of the age, an influence which
is often stronger than personal wishes or inclinations, diverted him from
dramatic composition. He would have been equally unwilling to see
mentioned among his literary works the _Life of Grimaldi_, which he merely
edited, and which must be numbered among forgotten memorials of forgotten

To the earlier part of 1838 belong one or two other publications, which
their author never cared to reprint. The first of these, however, a short
pamphlet entitled _Sunday under Three Heads_, is not without a certain
biographical interest. This little book was written with immediate
reference to a bill "for the better observance of the Sabbath," which the
House of Commons had recently thrown out by a small majority; and its
special purpose was the advocacy of Sunday excursions, and harmless Sunday
amusements, in lieu of the alternate gloom and drunkenness distinguishing
what Dickens called a London _Sunday as it is_. His own love of fresh air
and brightness intensified his hatred of a formalism which shuts its ears
to argument. In the powerful picture of a Sunday evening in London,
"gloomy, close, and stale," which he afterwards drew in _Little Dorrit_,
he almost seems to hold Sabbatarianism and the weather responsible for one
another. When he afterwards saw a Parisian Sunday, he thought it "not
comfortable," so that, like others who hate bigotry, he may perhaps have
come to recognise the difficulty of arranging an English _Sunday as it
might be made_. On the other hand, he may have remembered his youthful
fancy of the good clergyman encouraging a game of cricket after church,
when thirty years later, writing from Edinburgh, he playfully pictured the
counterpart of _Sunday as Sabbath bills would have it_: describing how
"the usual preparations are making for the band in the open air in the
afternoon, and the usual pretty children (selected for that purpose) are
at this moment hanging garlands round the Scott monument preparatory to
the innocent Sunday dance round that edifice with which the diversions
invariably close." The _Sketches of Young Gentlemen_, published in the
same year, are little if at all in advance of the earlier _Sketches by
Boz_, and were evidently written to order. He finished them in precisely a
fortnight, and noted in his diary that "one hundred and twenty-five pounds
for such a book, without any name to it, is pretty well." The _Sketches of
Young Couples_, which followed as late as 1840, have the advantage of a
facetious introduction, suggested by her Majesty's own announcement of her
approaching marriage. But the life has long gone out of these
pleasantries, as it has from others of the same cast, in which many a
mirthful spirit, forced to coin its mirth into money, has ere now spent

It was the better fortune of Dickens to be able almost from the first to
keep nearly all his writings on a level with his powers. He never made a
bolder step forwards than when, in the very midst of the production of
_Pickwick_, he began his first long continuous story, the _Adventures of
Oliver Twist_. Those who have looked at the MS. of this famous novel will
remember the vigour of the handwriting, and how few, in comparison with
his later MSS., are the additions and obliterations which it exhibits.
But here and there the writing shows traces of excitement; for the
author's heart was in his work, and much of it, contrary to his later
habit, was written at night. No doubt he was upheld in the labour of
authorship by something besides ambition and consciousness of strength.
_Oliver Twist_ was certainly written _with a purpose_, and with one that
was afterwards avowed. The author intended to put before his readers--"so
long as their speech did not offend the ear"--a picture of "dregs of
life," hitherto, as he believed, never exhibited by any novelist in their
loathsome reality. Yet the old masters of fiction, Fielding in particular,
as well as the old master of the brush whom Dickens cites (Hogarth), had
not shrunk from the path which their disciple now essayed. Dickens,
however, was naturally thinking of his own generation, which had already
relished _Paul Clifford_, and which was not to be debarred from exciting
itself over _Jack Sheppard_, begun before _Oliver Twist_ had been
completed, and in the self-same magazine. Dickens's purpose was an honest
and a praiseworthy one. But the most powerful and at the same time the
most lovable element in his genius suggested the silver lining to the
cloud. To that unfailing power of sympathy which was the mainspring of
both his most affecting and his most humorous touches, we owe the
redeeming features in his company of criminals; not only the devotion and
the heroism of Nancy, but the irresistible vivacity of the Artful Dodger,
and the good-humour of Charley Bates, which moved Talfourd to "plead as
earnestly in mitigation of judgment" against him as ever he had done "at
the bar for any client he most respected." Other parts of the story were
less carefully tempered. Mr. Fang, the police-magistrate, appears to have
been a rather hasty portrait of a living original; and the whole picture
of Bumble and Bumbledom was certainly a caricature of the working of the
new Poor-law, confounding the question of its merits and demerits with
that of its occasional maladministration. On the other hand, a vein of
truest pathos runs through the whole of poor Nancy's story, and adds to
the effect of a marvellously powerful catastrophe. From Nancy's interview
with Rose at London Bridge to the closing scenes--the flight of Sikes, his
death at Jacob's Island, and the end of the Jew--the action has an
intensity rare in the literature of the terrible. By the side of this
genuine tragic force, which perhaps it would be easiest to parallel from
some of the "low" domestic tragedy of the Elizabethans, the author's comic
humour burst forth upon the world in a variety of entirely new types:
Bumble and his partner; Noah Claypole, complete in himself, but full of
promise for Uriah Heep; and the Jew, with all the pupils and supporters of
his establishment of technical education. Undeniably the story of _Oliver
Twist_ also contains much that is artificial and stilted, with much that
is weak and (the author of _Endymion_ is to be thanked for the word)
"gushy." Thus, all the Maylie scenes, down to the last in which Oliver
discreetly "glides" away from the lovers, are barely endurable. But,
whatever its shortcomings, _Oliver Twist_ remains an almost unique example
of a young author's brilliant success in an enterprise of complete novelty
and extreme difficulty. Some of its situations continue to exercise their
power even over readers already familiarly acquainted with them; and some
of its characters will live by the side of Dickens's happiest and most
finished creations. Even had a sapient critic been right who declared,
during the progress of the story, that Mr. Dickens appeared to have
worked out "the particular vein of humour which had hitherto yielded so
much attractive metal," it would have been worked out to some purpose.
After making his readers merry with _Pickwick_, he had thrilled them with
_Oliver Twist_; and by the one book as by the other he had made them think
better of mankind.

But neither had his vein been worked out, nor was his hand content with a
single task. In April, 1838, several months before the completion of
_Oliver Twist_, the first number of _Nicholas Nickleby_ appeared; and
while engaged upon the composition of these books he contributed to
_Bentley's Miscellany_, of which he retained the editorship till the early
part of 1839, several smaller articles. Of these, the _Mudfog Papers_ have
been recently thought worth reprinting; but even supposing the satire
against the Association for the Advancement of Everything to have not yet
altogether lost its savour, the fun of the day before yesterday refuses to
be revived. _Nicholas Nickleby_, published in twenty numbers, was the
labour of many months, but was produced under so great a press of work
that during the whole time of publication Dickens was never a single
number in advance. Yet, though not one of the most perfect of his books,
it is indisputably one of the most thoroughly original, and signally
illustrates the absurdity of recent attempts to draw a distinction between
the imaginative romance of the past and the realistic novel of the
present. Dickens was never so strong as when he produced from the real;
and in this instance--starting, no doubt, with a healthy prejudice--so
carefully had he inspected the neighbourhood of the Yorkshire schools, of
which Dotheboys Hall was to be held up as the infamous type, that there
seems to be no difficulty in identifying the site of the very school
itself; while the Portsmouth Theatre is to the full as accurate a study
as the Yorkshire school. So, again, as every one knows, the Brothers
Cheeryble were real personages well known in Manchester,[3] where even the
original of Tim Linkinwater still survives in local remembrance. On the
other hand, with how conscious a strength has the author's imaginative
power used and transmuted his materials: in the Squeers family creating a
group of inimitable grotesqueness; in their humblest victim Smike giving
one of his earliest pictures of those outcasts whom he drew again and
again with such infinite tenderness; and in Mr. Vincent Crummles and his
company, including the Phenomenon, establishing a jest, but a kindly one,
for all times! In a third series of episodes in this book, it is
universally agreed that the author has no less conspicuously failed.
Dickens's first attempt to picture the manners and customs of the
aristocracy certainly resulted in portraying some very peculiar people.
Lord Frederick Verisopht, indeed--who is allowed to redeem his character
in the end--is not without touches resembling nature.

    "'I take an interest, my lord,' said Mrs. Wititterly, with a faint
    smile, 'such an interest in the drama.'

    "'Ye-es. It's very interasting,' replied Lord Frederick.

    "'I'm always ill after Shakspeare,' said Mrs. Wititterly. 'I scarcely
    exist the next day. I find the reaction so very great after a tragedy,
    my lord, and Shakspeare is such a delicious creature.'

    "'Ye-es,' replied Lord Frederick. 'He was a clayver man.'"

But Sir Mulberry Hawk is a kind of scoundrel not frequently met with in
polite society; his henchmen Pluck and Pyke have the air of "followers of
Don John," and the enjoyments of the "trainers of young noblemen and
gentlemen" at Hampton races, together with the riotous debauch which
precedes the catastrophe, seem taken direct from the transpontine stage.
The fact is that Dickens was here content to draw his vile seducers and
wicked orgies just as commonplace writers had drawn them a thousand times
before, and will draw them a thousand times again. Much of the hero's talk
is of the same conventional kind. On the other hand, nothing could be more
genuine than the flow of fun in this book, which finds its outlet in the
most unexpected channels, but nowhere so resistlessly as in the
invertebrate talk of Mrs. Nickleby. For her Forster discovered a literary
prototype in a character of Miss Austen's; but even if Mrs. Nickleby was
founded on Miss Bates, in _Emma_, she left her original far behind. Miss
Bates, indeed, is verbose, roundabout, and parenthetic; but the widow
never deviates into coherence.

_Nicholas Nickleby_ shows the comic genius of its author in full activity,
and should be read with something of the buoyancy of spirit in which it
was written, and not with a callousness capable of seeing in so amusing a
scamp as Mr. Mantalini one of Dickens's "monstrous failures." At the same
time this book displays the desire of the author to mould his manner on
the old models. The very title has a savour of Smollett about it; the
style has more than one reminiscence of him, as well as of Fielding and of
Goldsmith; and the general method of the narrative resembles that of our
old novelists and their Spanish and French predecessors. Partly for this
reason, and partly, no doubt, because of the rapidity with which the story
was written, its construction is weaker than is usual even with Dickens's
earlier works. Coincidences are repeatedly employed to help on the
action; and the _dénoûment_, which, besides turning Mr. Squeers into a
thief, reveals Ralph Nickleby as the father of Smike, is oppressively
complete. As to the practical aim of the novel, the author's word must be
taken for the fact that "Mr. Squeers and his school were faint and feeble
pictures of an existing reality, purposely subdued and kept down lest they
should be deemed impossible." The exposure, no doubt, did good in its way,
though perhaps Mr. Squeers, in a more or less modified form, has proved a
tougher adversary to overcome than Mrs. Gamp.

During these years Dickens was chiefly resident in the modest locality of
Doughty Street, whither he had moved his household from the "three rooms,"
"three storeys high," in Furnival's Inn, early in 1837. It was not till
the end of 1839 that he took up his abode, further west, in a house which
he came to like best among all his London habitations, in Devonshire
Terrace, Regent's Park. His town life was, however, varied by long
rustications at Twickenham and at Petersham, and by sojourns at the
sea-side, of which he was a most consistent votary. He is found in various
years of his life at Brighton, Dover, and Bonchurch--where he liked his
neighbours better than he liked the climate; and in later years, when he
had grown accustomed to the Continent, he repeatedly domesticated himself
at Boulogne. But already in 1837 he had discovered the little sea-side
village, as it then was, which for many years afterwards became his
favourite holiday retreat, and of which he would be the _genius loci_,
even if he had not by a special description immortalised _Our English
Watering-place_. Broadstairs--whose afternoon tranquillity even to this
day is undisturbed except by the Ethiopians on their tramp from Margate to
Ramsgate--and its constant visitor, are thus described in a letter
written to an American friend in 1843: "This is a little fishing-place;
intensely quiet; built on a cliff, whereon--in the centre of a tiny
semicircular bay--our house stands; the sea rolling and dashing under the
windows. Seven miles out are the Goodwin Sands (you've heard of the
Goodwin Sands?), whence floating lights perpetually wink after dark, as if
they were carrying on intrigues with the servants. Also there is a big
light-house called the North Foreland on a hill beyond the village, a
severe parsonic light, which reproves the young and giddy floaters, and
stares grimly out upon the sea. Under the cliff are rare good sands, where
all the children assemble every morning and throw up impossible
fortifications, which the sea throws down again at high-water. Old
gentlemen and ancient ladies flirt after their own manner in two
reading-rooms and on a great many scattered seats in the open air. Other
old gentlemen look all day through telescopes and never see anything. In a
bay-window in a one-pair sits, from nine o'clock to one, a gentleman with
rather long hair and no neckcloth, who writes and grins as if he thought
he were very funny indeed. His name is Boz."

Not a few houses at Broadstairs may boast of having been at one time or
another inhabited by him and his. Of the long-desired Fort House, however,
which local perverseness triumphantly points out as the original of _Bleak
House_ (no part even of _Bleak House_ was written there, though part of
_David Copperfield_ was), he could not obtain possession till 1850. As
like Bleak House as it is like Chesney Wold, it stands at the very highest
end of the place, looking straight out to sea, over the little harbour and
its two colliers, with a pleasant stretch of cornfields leading along the
cliff towards the light-house which Dickens promised Lord Carlisle should
serve him as a night-light. But in 1837 Dickens was content with narrower
quarters. The "long small procession of sons" and daughters had as yet
only begun with the birth of his eldest boy. His life was simple and full
of work, and occasional sea-side or country quarters, and now and then a
brief holiday tour, afforded the necessary refreshment of change. In 1837
he made his first short trip abroad, and in the following year,
accompanied by Mr. Hablot Browne, he spent a week of enjoyment in
Warwickshire, noting in his _Remembrancer_: "Stratford; Shakspeare; the
birthplace; visitors, scribblers, old woman (query whether she knows what
Shakspeare did), etc." Meanwhile, among his truest home enjoyments were
his friendships. They were few in number, mostly with men for whom, after
he had once taken them into his heart, he preserved a life-long regard.
Chief of all these were John Forster and Daniel Maclise, the high-minded
painter, to whom we owe a charming portrait of his friend in this youthful
period of his life. Losing them, he afterwards wrote when absent from
England, was "like losing my arms and legs, and dull and tame I am without
you." Besides these, he was at this time on very friendly terms with
William Harrison Ainsworth, who succeeded him in the editorship of the
_Miscellany_, and concerning whom he exclaimed in his _Remembrancer_:
"Ainsworth has a fine heart." At the close of 1838, Dickens, Ainsworth,
and Forster constituted themselves a club called the Trio, and afterwards
the Cerberus. Another name frequent in the _Remembrancer_ entries is that
of Talfourd, a generous friend, in whom, as Dickens finely said after his
death, "the success of other men made as little change as his own." All
these, together with Stanfield, the Landseers, Douglas Jerrold, Macready,
and others less known to fame, were among the friends and associates of
Dickens's prime. The letters, too, remaining from this part of Dickens's
life, have all the same tone of unaffected frankness. With some of his
intimate friends he had his established epistolary jokes. Stanfield, the
great marine painter, he pertinaciously treated as a "very salt"
correspondent, communications to whom, as to a "block-reeving,
main-brace-splicing, lead-heaving, ship-conning, stun'sail-bending,
deck-swabbing son of a sea-cook," needed garnishing with the obscurest
technicalities and strangest oaths of his element. (It is touching to turn
from these friendly buffooneries to a letter written by Dickens many years
afterward--in 1867--and mentioning a visit to "poor dear Stanfield," when
"it was clear that the shadow of the end had fallen on him.... It happened
well that I had seen, on a wild day at Tynemouth, a remarkable sea effect,
of which I wrote a description to him, and he had kept it under his
pillow.") Macready, after his retirement from the stage, is bantered on
the score of his juvenility with a pertinacity of fun recalling similar
whimsicalities of Charles Lamb's; or the jest is changed, and the great
London actor in his rural retreat is depicted in the character of a
country gentleman strange to the wicked ways of the town. As in the case
of many delightful letter-writers, the charm of Dickens as a correspondent
vanishes so soon as he becomes self-conscious. Even in his letters to Lady
Blessington and Mrs. Watson, a striving after effect is at times
perceptible; the homage rendered to Lord John Russell is not offered with
a light hand; on the contrary, when writing to Douglas Jerrold, Dickens is
occasionally so intent upon proving himself a sound Radical that his
vehemence all but passes into a shriek.

In these early years, at all events, Dickens was happy in the society of
his chosen friends. His favourite amusements were a country walk or ride
with Forster, or a dinner at Jack Straw's Castle with him and Maclise. He
was likewise happy at home. Here, however, in the very innermost circle of
his affections, he had to suffer the first great personal grief of his
life. His younger sister-in-law, Miss Mary Hogarth, had accompanied him
and his wife into their new abode in Doughty Street, and here, in May,
1837, she died, at the early age of seventeen. No sorrow seems ever to
have touched the heart and possessed the imagination of Charles Dickens
like that for the loss of this dearly-loved girl, "young, beautiful, and
good." "I can solemnly say," he wrote to her mother a few months after her
death, "that, waking or sleeping, I have never lost the recollection of
our hard trial and sorrow, and I feel that I never shall." "If," ran part
of his first entry in the Diary which he began on the first day of the
following year, "she were with us now, the same winning, happy, amiable
companion, sympathising with all my thoughts and feelings more than any
one I knew ever did or will, I think I should have nothing to wish for but
a continuance of such happiness. But she is gone, and pray God I may one
day, through his mercy, rejoin her." It was not till, in after years, it
became necessary to abandon the project, that he ceased to cherish the
intention of being buried by her side, and through life the memory of her
haunted him with strange vividness. At the Niagara Falls, when the
spectacle of Nature in her glory had produced in him, as he describes it,
a wondrously tranquil and happy peace of mind, he longed for the presence
of his dearest friends, and "I was going to add, what would I give if the
dear girl, whose ashes lie in Kensal Green, had lived to come so far along
with us; but she has been here many times, I doubt not, since her sweet
face faded from my earthly sight." "After she died," he wrote to her
mother in May, 1843, "I dreamed of her every night for many weeks, and
always with a kind of quiet happiness, which became so pleasant to me that
I never lay down at night without a hope of the vision coming back in one
shape or other. And so it did." Once he dreamt of her, when travelling in
Yorkshire; and then, after an interval of many months, as he lay asleep
one night at Genoa, it seemed to him as if her spirit visited him and
spoke to him in words which he afterwards precisely remembered, when he
had awaked, with the tears running down his face. He never forgot her, and
in the year before he died he wrote to his friend: "She is so much in my
thoughts at all times, especially when I am successful and have greatly
prospered in anything, that the recollection of her is an essential part
of my being, and is as inseparable from my existence as the beating of my
heart is!" In a word, she was the object of the one great imaginative
passion of his life. Many have denied that there is any likeness to nature
in the fictitious figure in which, according to the wont of imaginative
workers, he was irresistibly impelled to embody the sentiment with which
she inspired him; but the sentiment itself became part of his nature, and
part of his history. When in writing the _Old Curiosity Shop_ he
approached the death of Little Nell, he shrunk from the task: "Dear Mary
died yesterday, when I think of this sad story."

The _Old Curiosity Shop_ has long been freed from the encumbrances which
originally surrounded it, and there is little except biographical interest
in the half-forgotten history of _Master Humphrey's Clock_. Early in the
year 1840, his success and confidence in his powers induced him to
undertake an illustrated weekly journal, in which he depended solely on
his own name, and, in the first instance, on his own efforts, as a writer.
Such was his trust in his versatility that he did not think it necessary
even to open with a continuous story. Perhaps the popularity of the
_Pickwick Papers_ encouraged him to adopt the time-honoured device of
wrapping up several tales in one. In any case, his framework was in the
present instance too elaborate to take hold of the public mind, while the
characters introduced into it possessed little or nothing of the freshness
of their models in the _Tatler_ and the _Spectator_. In order to
re-enforce Master Humphrey, the deaf gentleman, and the other original
members of his benevolent conclave, he hereupon resorted to a natural, but
none the less unhappy, expedient. Mr. Pickwick was revived, together with
Sam Weller and his parent; and a Weller of the third generation was
brought on the stage in the person of a precocious four-year-old,
"standing with his little legs very wide apart as if the top-boots were
familiar to them, and actually winking upon the house-keeper with his
infant eye, in imitation of his grandfather." A laugh may have been raised
at the time by this attempt, from which, however, every true Pickwickian
must have turned sadly away. Nor was there much in the other contents of
these early numbers to make up for the disappointment. As, therefore,
neither "Master Humphrey's Clock" nor "Mr. Weller's Watch" seemed to
promise any lasting success, it was prudently determined that the story of
the _Old Curiosity Shop_, of which the first portion had appeared in the
fourth number of the periodical, should run on continuously; and when this
had been finished, a very short "link" sufficed to introduce another
story, _Barnaby Rudge_, with the close of which _Master Humphrey's Clock_
likewise stopped.

In the _Old Curiosity Shop_, though it abounds in both grotesquely
terrible and boisterously laughable effects, the key-note is that of an
idyllic pathos. The sense of this takes hold of the reader at the very
outset, as he lingers over the picture, with which the first chapter
concludes, of little Nell asleep through the solitary night in the
curiosity-dealer's warehouse. It retains possession of him as he
accompanies the innocent heroine through her wanderings, pausing with her
in the church-yard where all is quiet save the cawing of the satirical
rooks, or in the school-master's cottage by the open window, through which
is borne upon the evening air the distant hum of the boys at play upon the
green, while the poor school-master holds in his hand the small cold one
of the little scholar that has fallen asleep. Nor is it absent to the last
when Nell herself lies at rest in her little bed. "Her little bird--a poor
slight thing the pressure of a finger would have crushed--was stirring
nimbly in its cage; and the strong heart of its child-mistress was mute
and motionless forever." The hand which drew Little Nell afterwards formed
other figures not less affecting, but none so essentially poetic. Like
many such characters, this requires, for its full appreciation, a certain
tension of the mind; and those who will not, or cannot, pass in some
measure out of themselves, will be likely to tire of the conception, or to
declare its execution artificial. Curiously enough, not only was Little
Nell a favourite of Landor, a poet and critic utterly averse from
meretricious art, but she also deeply moved the sympathy of Lord Jeffrey,
who at least knew his own mind, and spoke it in both praise and blame. As
already stated, Dickens only with difficulty brought himself to carry his
story to its actual issue, though it is hard to believe that he could ever
have intended a different close from that which he gave to it. His whole
heart was in the story, nor could he have consoled himself by means of an
ordinary happy ending.

Dickens's comic humour never flowed in a pleasanter vein than in the _Old
Curiosity Shop_, and nowhere has it a more exquisite element of pathos in
it. The shock-headed, red-cheeked Kit is one of the earliest of those
ungainly figures who speedily find their way into our affections--the odd
family to which Mr. Toots, Tom Pinch, Tommy Traddles, and Joe Gargery
alike belong. But the triumph of this serio-comic form of art in the _Old
Curiosity Shop_ is to be found in the later experiences of Dick Swiveller,
who seems at first merely a more engaging sample of the Bob Sawyer
species, but who ends by endearing himself to the most thoughtless
laugher. Dick Swiveller and his protégée have gained a lasting place among
the favourite characters of English fiction, and the privations of the
Marchioness have possibly had a result which would have been that most
coveted by Dickens--that of helping towards the better treatment of a
class whose lot is among the dust and ashes, too often very bitter ashes,
of many households. Besides these, the story contains a variety of
incidental characters of a class which Dickens never grew weary of drawing
from the life. Messrs. Codlin, Short, and Company, and the rest of the
itinerant showmen, seem to have come straight from the most real of
country fairs; and if ever a _troupe_ of comedians deserved pity on their
wanderings through a callous world, it was the most diverting and the most
dismal of all the mountebanks that gathered round the stew of tripe in
the kitchen of The Jolly Sandboys--Jerry's performing dogs.

    "'Your people don't usually travel in character, do they?' said Short,
    pointing to the dresses of the dogs. 'It must come expensive if they

    "'No,' replied Jerry--'no, it's not the custom with us. But we've been
    playing a little on the road to-day, and we come out with a new
    wardrobe at the races, so I didn't think it worth while to stop to
    undress. Down, Pedro!'"

In addition to these public servants we have a purveyor of diversion--or
instruction--of an altogether different stamp. "Does the caravan look as
if _it_ know'd em?" indignantly demands the proprietress of Jarley's
wax-work, when asked whether she is acquainted with the men of the Punch
show. She too is drawn, or moulded, in the author's most exuberant style
of fun, together with _her_ company, in which "all the gentlemen were very
pigeon-breasted and very blue about the beards, and all the ladies were
miraculous figures; and all the ladies and all the gentlemen were looking
intensely nowhere, and staring with extraordinary earnestness at nothing."

In contrast with these genial products of observation and humour stand the
grotesquely hideous personages who play important parts in the machinery
of the story, the vicious dwarf Quilp and the monstrous virago Sally
Brass. The former is among the most successful attempts of Dickens in a
direction which was full of danger for him, as it is for all writers; the
malevolent little demon is so blended with his surroundings--the
description of which forms one of the author's most telling pictures of
the lonely foulnesses of the river-side--that his life seems natural in
its way, and his death a most appropriate ending to it. Sally Brass,
"whose accomplishments were all of a masculine and strictly legal kind,"
is less of a caricature, and not without a humorously redeeming point of
feminine weakness; yet the end of her and her brother is described at the
close of the book with almost tragic earnestness. On the whole, though the
poetic sympathy of Dickens when he wrote this book was absorbed in the
character of his heroine, yet his genius rarely asserted itself after a
more diversified fashion.

Of _Barnaby Rudge_, though in my opinion an excellent book after its kind,
I may speak more briefly. With the exception of _A Tale of Two Cities_, it
was Dickens's only attempt in the historical novel. In the earlier work
the relation between the foreground and background of the story is
skilfully contrived, and the colouring of the whole, without any elaborate
attempt at accurate fidelity, has a generally true and harmonious effect.
With the help of her portrait by a painter (Mr. Frith) for whose pictures
Dickens had a great liking, Dolly Varden has justly taken hold of the
popular fancy as a charming type of a pretty girl of a century ago. And
some of the local descriptions in the early part of the book are hardly
less pleasing: the Temple in summer, as it was before the charm of
Fountain Court was destroyed by its guardians; and the picturesque
comforts of the Maypole Inn, described beforehand, by way of contrast to
the desecration of its central sanctuary. The intrigue of the story is
fairly interesting in itself, and the gentlemanly villain who plays a
principal part in it, though, as usual, over-elaborated, is drawn with
more skill than Dickens usually displays in such characters. After the
main interest of the book has passed to the historical action of the
George Gordon riots, the story still retains its coherence, and, a few
minor improbabilities apart, is successfully conducted to its close. No
historical novel can altogether avoid the banalities of the species; and
though Dickens, like all the world, had his laugh at the late Mr. G. P. R.
James, he is constrained to introduce the historical hero of the tale,
with his confidential adviser, and his attendant, in the familiar guise of
three horsemen. As for Lord George Gordon himself, and the riots of which
the responsibility remains inseparable from his unhappy memory, the
representation of them in the novel sufficiently accords both with poetic
probability and with historical fact. The poor lord's evil genius, indeed,
Gashford--who has no historical original--tries the reader's sense of
verisimilitude rather hard; such converts are uncommon except among
approvers. The Protestant hangman, on the other hand, has some slight
historical warranty; but the leading part which he is made to play in the
riots, and his resolution to go any lengths "in support of the great
Protestant principle of hanging," overshoot the mark. It cannot be said
that there is any substantial exaggeration in the description of the
riots; thus, the burning of the great distiller's house in Holborn is a
well-authenticated fact; and there is abundant vigour in the narrative.
Repetition is unavoidable in treating such a theme, but in _Barnaby Rudge_
it is not rendered less endurable by mannerism, nor puffed out with

One very famous character in this story was, as personages in historical
novels often are, made up out of two originals.[4] This was Grip the
Raven, who, after seeing the idiot hero of the tale safe through his
adventures, resumed his addresses on the subject of the kettle to the
horses in the stable; and who, "as he was a mere infant when Barnaby was
gray, has very probably gone on talking to the present time." In a later
preface to _Barnaby Rudge_, Dickens, with infinite humour, related his
experiences of the two originals in question, and how he had been
ravenless since the mournful death before the kitchen fire of the second
of the pair, the _Grip_ of actual life. This occurred in the house at
Devonshire Terrace, into which the family had moved two years before (in

As Dickens's fame advanced his circle of acquaintances was necessarily
widened; and in 1841 he was invited to visit Edinburgh, and to receive
there the first great tribute of public recognition which had been paid to
him. He was entertained with great enthusiasm at a public banquet, voted
the freedom of the city, and so overwhelmed with hospitalities that,
notwithstanding his frank pleasure in these honours, he was glad to make
his escape at last, and refreshed himself with a tour in the Highlands.
These excitements may have intensified in him a desire which had for some
time been active in his mind, and which in any case would have been kept
alive by an incessant series of invitations. He had signed an agreement
with his publishers for a new book before this desire took the shape of an
actual resolution. There is no great difficulty in understanding why
Dickens made up his mind to go to America, and thus to interrupt for the
moment a course of life and work which was fast leading him on to great
heights of fame and fortune. The question of international copyright alone
would hardly have induced him to cross the seas. Probably he felt
instinctively that to see men and cities was part of the training as well
as of the recreation which his genius required. Dickens was by nature one
of those artists who when at work always long to be in sympathy with their
public, and to know it to be in sympathy with them. And hitherto he had
not met more than part of his public of readers face to face.




A journey across the Atlantic in midwinter is no child's-play even at the
present day, when, bad though their passage may have been, few people
would venture to confess doubts, as Dickens did, concerning the safety of
such a voyage by steam in heavy weather. The travellers--for Dickens was
accompanied by his wife--had an exceptionally rough crossing, the horrors
of which he has described in his _American Notes_. His powers of
observation were alive in the midst of the lethargy of sea-sickness, and
when he could not watch others he found enough amusement in watching
himself. At last, on January 28, 1842, they found themselves in Boston
harbour. Their stay in the United States lasted about four months, during
which time they saw Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington,
Richmond, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Chicago, and Buffalo. Then they passed by
Niagara into Canada, and after a pleasant visit to Montreal, diversified
by private theatricals with the officers there, were safe at home again in

Dickens had met with an enthusiastic welcome in every part of the States
where he had not gone out of the way of it; in New York, in particular,
he had been fêted, with a fervour unique even in the history of American
enthusiasms, under the resounding title of "the Guest of the Nation."
Still, even this imposed no moral obligation upon him to take the advice
tendered to him in America, and to avoid writing about that country--"we
are so very suspicious." On the other hand, whatever might be his
indignation at the obstinate unwillingness of the American public to be
moved a hair's-breadth by his championship of the cause of international
copyright,[5] this failure could not, in a mind so reasonable as his, have
outweighed the remembrance of the kindness shown to him and to his fame.
But the truth seems to be that he had, if not at first, at least very
speedily, taken a dislike to American ways which proved too strong for him
to the last. In strange lands, most of all in a country which, like the
United States, is not in the least ashamed to be what it is, travellers
are necessarily at the outset struck by details; and Dickens's habit of
minute observation was certain not to let him lose many of them. He was
neither long enough in the country to study very closely, nor was it in
his way to ponder very deeply, the problems involved in the existence of
many of the institutions with which he found fault. Thus, he was indignant
at the sight of slavery, and even ventured to "tell a piece of his mind"
on the subject to a judge in the South; but when, twenty years later, the
great struggle came, at the root of which this question lay, his
sympathies were with the cause of disunion and slavery in its conflict
with the "mad and villanous" North. In short, his knowledge of America
and its affairs was gained in such a way and under such circumstances as
to entitle him, if he chose, to speak to the vast public which he
commanded as an author of men and manners as observed by him; but he had
no right to judge the destinies and denounce the character of a great
people on evidence gathered in the course of a holiday tour.

Nor, indeed, did the _American Notes_, published by him after his return
home, furnish any serious cause of offence. In an introductory chapter,
which was judiciously suppressed, he had taken credit for the book as not
having "a grain of any political ingredient in its whole composition."
Indeed, the contents were rather disappointing from their meagreness. The
author showed good taste in eschewing all reference to his personal
reception, and good judgment in leaving the copyright question
undiscussed. But though his descriptions were as vivid as usual--whether
of the small steamboat, "of about half a pony power," on the Connecticut
river, or of the dismal scenery on the Mississippi, "great father of
rivers, who (praise be to Heaven) has no young children like him!"--and
though some of the figure-sketches were touched off with the happiest of
hands, yet the public, even in 1842, was desirous to learn something more
about America than this. It is true that Dickens had, with his usual
conscientiousness, examined and described various interesting public
institutions in the States--prisons, asylums, and the like; but the book
was not a very full one; it was hardly anything but a sketch-book, with
more humour, but with infinitely less poetic spirit, than the
_Sketch-book_ of the illustrious American author whose friendship had been
one of the chief personal gains of Dickens's journey.

The _American Notes_, for which the letters to Forster had furnished ample
materials, were published in the year of Dickens's return, after he had
refreshed himself with a merry Cornish trip in the company of his old
friend, and his two other intimates, "Stanny" and "Mac." But he had not
come home, as he had not gone out, to be idle. On the first day of the
following year, 1843, appeared the first number of the story which was to
furnish the real _casus discriminis_ between Dickens and the enemies, as
well no doubt as a very large proportion of the friends, whom he had left
behind him across the water. The American scenes in _Martin Chuzzlewit_
did not, it is true, begin till the fifth number of the story; nor is it
probable from the accounts of the sale, which was much smaller than
Dickens had expected, that these particular episodes at first produced any
strong feeling in the English public. But the merits of the book gradually
obtained for it a popularity at home which has been surpassed by that of
but one or two other of Dickens's works; and in proportion to this
popularity was the effect exercised by its American chapters. What that
effect has been, it would be hypocrisy to question.

Dickens, it is very clear, had been unable to resist the temptation of at
once drawing upon the vast addition to his literary capital as a
humourist. That the satire of many of the American scenes in _Martin
Chuzzlewit_ is, as satire, not less true than telling, it needs but a
small acquaintance with American journalism and oratory even at the
present day to perceive; and the heartrending history of Eden, as a type
of some of the settlements "vaunted in England as a mine of Golden Hope,"
at least had the warrant of something more than hearsay and a look in
passing. Nor, as has already been observed, would it have been in
accordance either with human nature, or with the fitness of things, had
Dickens allowed his welcome in America to become to him (as he termed it
in the suppressed Preface to the _Notes_) "an iron muzzle disguised
beneath a flower or two." But the frankness, to say the least, of the
mirror into which he now invited his late hosts to gaze was not likely to
produce grateful compliments to its presenter, nor was the effect softened
by the despatch with which this _souvenir_ of the "guest of the nation"
was pressed upon its attention. No doubt it would have been easy to
reflect that only the evil, not the good, sides of social life in America
were held up to derision and contempt, and that an honourable American
journalist had no more reason to resent the portraiture of Mr. Jefferson
Brick than a virtuous English paterfamilias had to quarrel with that of
Mr. Pecksniff. Unfortunately, offence is usually taken where offence is
meant; and there can be little doubt as to the _animus_ with which Dickens
had written. Only two months after landing at Boston Dickens had declared
to Macready, that "however much he liked the ingredients of this great
dish, he could not but say that the dish itself went against the grain
with him, and that he didn't like it." It was not, and could not be,
pleasant for Americans to find the "_New York Sewer_, in its twelfth
thousand, with a whole column of New Yorkers to be shown up, and all their
names printed," introduced as the first expression of "the bubbling
passions of their country;" or to be certified, apropos of a conversation
among American "gentlemen" after dinner, that dollars, and dollars only,
at the risk of honesty and honour, filled their souls. "No satirist,"
Martin Chuzzlewit is told by a candid and open-minded American, "could, I
believe, breathe this air." But satire in such passages as these borders
too closely on angry invective; and neither the irresistible force nor the
earnest pathos of the details which follow can clear away the suspicion
that at the bottom lay a desire to depreciate. Nor was the general effect
of the American episodes in _Martin Chuzzlewit_ materially modified by
their conclusion, to which, with the best of intentions, the author could
not bring himself to give a genuinely complimentary turn. The Americans
did not like all this, and could not be expected to like it. The tone of
the whole satire was too savage, and its tenor was too hopelessly
one-sided, for it to pass unresented; while much in it was too near the
truth to glance off harmless. It is well known that in time Dickens came
himself to understand this. Before quitting America, in 1868, he declared
his intention to publish in every future edition of his _American Notes_
and _Martin Chuzzlewit_ his testimony to the magnanimous cordiality of his
second reception in the States, and to the amazing changes for the better
which he had seen everywhere around him during his second sojourn in the
country. But it is not likely that the postscript, all the more since it
was added under circumstances so honourable to both sides, has undone, or
will undo, the effect of the text. Very possibly the Americans may, in the
eyes of the English people as well as in their own, cease to be chargeable
with the faults and foibles satirised by Dickens; but the satire itself
will live, and will continue to excite laughter and loathing, together
with the other satire of the powerful book to which it belongs.

For in none of his books is that power, which at times filled their author
himself with astonishment, more strikingly and abundantly revealed than in
_The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit_. Never was his inventive
force more flexible and more at his command; yet none of his books cost
him more hard work. The very names of hero and novel were only the final
fortunate choice out of a legion of notions; though "Pecksniff" as well as
"Charity" and "Mercy" ("not unholy names, I hope," said Mr. Pecksniff to
Mrs. Todgers) were first inspirations. The MS. text too is full of the
outward signs of care. But the author had his reward in the general
impression of finish which is conveyed by this book as compared with its
predecessors; so that _Martin Chuzzlewit_ may be described as already one
of the masterpieces of Dickens's maturity as a writer. Oddly enough, the
one part of the book which moves rather heavily is the opening chapter, an
effort in the mock-heroic, probably suggested by the author's eighteenth
century readings.

A more original work, however, than _Martin Chuzzlewit_ was never
composed, or one which more freshly displays the most characteristic
qualities of its author's genius. Though the actual construction of the
story is anything but faultless--for what could be more slender than the
thread by which the American interlude is attached to the main action, or
more wildly improbable than the hazardous stratagem of old Martin upon
which that action turns?--yet it is so contrived as to fulfil the author's
avowed intention of exhibiting under various forms the evil and the folly
of selfishness. This vice is capable of both serious and comic treatment,
and commended itself in each aspect to Dickens as being essentially
antagonistic to his moral and artistic ideals of human life. A true comedy
of humours thus unfolded itself with the progress of his book, and one for
which the types had not been fetched from afar: "Your homes the scene;
yourselves the actors here," had been the motto which he had at first
intended to put upon his title-page. Thus, while in "the old-established
firm of Anthony Chuzzlewit and Son" selfishness is cultivated as a growth
excellent in itself, and the son's sentiment, "Do other men, for they
would do you," is applauded by his admiring father, in young Martin the
vice rather resembles a weed strong and rank, yet not so strong but that
it gives way at last before a manly endeavour to uproot it. The character
of the hero, though very far from heroic, is worked out with that reliance
upon the fellow-feeling of candid readers which in our great novelists of
the eighteenth century has obtained sympathy for much less engaging
personages. More especially is the young man's loss of self-respect in the
season of his solitary wretchedness depicted with admirable feeling. It
would not, I think, be fanciful to assert that in this story Dickens has
with equal skill distinguished between two species of unselfishness. Mark
Tapley's is the actively unselfish nature, and though his reiteration of
his guiding motive is wearisome and occasionally absurd, yet the power of
coming out jolly under unpropitious circumstances is a genuinely English
ideal of manly virtue. Tom Pinch's character, on the other hand, is
unselfish from innate sweetness; and never has the art of Dickens drawn a
type which, while closely approaching the border-line of the grotesque, is
yet so charmingly true to nature.

Grotesque characters proper are numerous enough in this book, but all the
others pale before the immortal presence of Mrs. Gamp. She had been traced
to an original in real life, but her literary right to stand on her own
legs has been most properly vindicated against any supposition of likeness
to the different type, the subject of Leigh Hunt's _Monthly Nurse_--a
paper, by-the-way, distinguished by shrewdness as well as feeling.
Imagination has never taken bolder flights than those requisite for the
development of Mrs. Gamp's mental processes:

    "'And which of all them smoking monsters is the Ankworks boat, I
    wonder? Goodness me!' cried Mrs. Gamp.

    "'What boat did you want?' asked Ruth.

    "'The Ankworks package,' Mrs. Gamp replied. 'I will not deceive you,
    my sweet. Why should I?'

    "'That is the Antwerp packet in the middle,' said Ruth.

    "'And I wish it was in Jonadge's belly, I do!' cried Mrs. Gamp,
    appearing to confound the prophet with the whale in this miraculous

A hardly inferior exertion of creative power was needed in order to fix in
distinct forms the peculiarities of her diction, nay, to sustain the
unique rhythm of her speech:

    "'I says to Mrs. Harris,' Mrs. Gamp continued, 'only t' other day, the
    last Monday fortnight as ever dawned upon this Piljian's Projiss of a
    mortal wale; I says to Mrs. Harris, when she says to me, "Years and
    our trials, Mrs. Gamp, sets marks upon us all"--"Say not the words,
    Mrs. Harris, if you and me is to be continual friends, for sech is not
    the case."'"

Yet the reality of Mrs. Gamp has been acknowledged to be such that she has
been the death of her sisterhood in a great part (to say the least) of our
hospital wards and sick-rooms; and as for her oddities of tongue, they
are, with the exception of her boldest figures, but the glorified type of
all the utterances heard to this day from charwomen, laundresses, and
single gentlemen's house-keepers. Compared with her, even her friend and
patron, Mr. Mould, and her admirer, Mr. Bailey, and in other parts of the
book the low company at Todgers's and the fine company at Mr. Tigg
Montague's sink into insignificance. The aged Chuffey is a grotesque study
of a very different kind, of which the pathos never loses itself in
exaggeration. As for Pecksniff, he is as far out of the range of
grotesque as, except when moralising over the banisters at Todgers's, he
is out of that of genial characters. He is the richest comic type, while
at the same time one of the truest, among the innumerable reproductions in
English imaginative literature of our favourite national vice--hypocrisy.
His friendliness is the very quintessence of falsehood: "Mr. Pinch," he
cries to poor Tom over the currant-wine and captain's biscuits, "if you
spare the bottle, we shall quarrel!" His understanding with his daughters
is the very perfection of guile, for they confide in him, even when
ignorant of his intentions, because of their certainty "that in all he
does he has his purpose straight and full before him." And he is a man who
understands the times as well as the land in which he lives; for, as M.
Taine has admirably pointed out, where Tartuffe would have been full of
religious phrases, Pecksniff presents himself as a humanitarian
philosopher. Comic art has never more successfully fulfilled its highest
task after its truest fashion than in this picture of the rise and fall of
a creature who never ceases to be laughable, and yet never ceases to be
loathsome. Nothing is wanting in this wonderful book to attest the
exuberance of its author's genius. The kindly poetic spirit of the
Christmas books breathes in sweet Ruth Pinch; and the tragic power of the
closing chapters of _Oliver Twist_ is recalled by the picture of Jonas
before and after his deed of blood. I say nothing of merely descriptive
passages, though in none of his previous stories had Dickens so completely
mastered the secret of describing scenery and weather in their relation to
his action or his characters.

_Martin Chuzzlewit_ ran its course of twenty monthly numbers; but already
a week or two before the appearance of the first of these, Dickens had
bestowed upon the public, young and old, the earliest of his delightful
_Christmas Books_. Among all his productions perhaps none connected him so
closely, and as it were personally, with his readers. Nor could it well
have been otherwise; since nowhere was he so directly intent upon
promoting kindliness of feeling among men--more especially good-will,
founded upon respect, towards the poor. Cheerfulness was, from his point
of view, twin-sister to charity; and sulkiness, like selfishness,
belonged, as an appropriate ort, to the dust-heap of "Tom Tiddler's
Ground." What more fit than that he should mingle such sentiments as these
with the holly and the mistletoe of the only English holiday in which
remains a vestige of religious and poetic feeling? Beyond all doubt there
is much that is tedious in the _cultus_ of Father Christmas, and there was
yet more in the days when the lower classes in England had not yet come to
look upon a sufficiency of periodical holidays as part of their democratic
inheritance. But that Dickens should constitute himself its chief minister
and interpreter was nothing but fit. Already one of the _Sketches_ had
commended a Christmas-dinner at which a seat is not denied even to "poor
Aunt Margaret;" and Mr. Pickwick had never been more himself than in the
Christmas game of Blind-man's-buff at Dingley Dell, in which "the poor
relations caught the people who they thought would like it," and, when the
game flagged, "got caught themselves." But he now sought to reach the
heart of the subject; and the freshness of his fancy enabled him
delightfully to vary his illustrations of a text of which it can do no man
harm to be reminded in as well as out of season.

Dickens's Christmas books were published in the Christmas seasons of
1843-1846, and of 1848. If the palm is to be granted to any one among
them above its fellows, few readers would hesitate, I think, to declare
themselves in favour of _The Cricket on the Hearth_, as tender and
delicate a domestic idyl as any literature can boast. But the informing
spirit proper of these productions, the desire to stir up a feeling of
benevolence, more especially towards the poor and lowly, nowhere shows
itself more conspicuously than in the earliest, _A Christmas Carol in
Prose_, and nowhere more combatively than in the second in date, the
"Goblin Story" of _The Chimes_. Of the former its author declared that he
"wept and laughed and wept again" over it, "and excited himself in a most
extraordinary manner in the composition; and thinking thereof he walked
about the black streets of London, fifteen and twenty miles many a night,
when all the sober folks had gone to bed." Simple in its romantic design
like one of Andersen's little tales, the _Christmas Carol_ has never lost
its hold upon a public in whom it has called forth Christmas thoughts
which do not all centre on "holly, mistletoe, red berries, ivy, turkeys,
geese, game, poultry, brawn, meat, pigs, sausages, oysters, pies,
puddings, fruit, and punch;" and the Cratchit household, with Tiny Tim,
who did not die, are living realities even to those who have not seen Mr.
Toole--an actor after Dickens's own heart--as the father of the family,
shivering in his half-yard of comforter.

In _The Chimes_, composed in self-absorbed solitude at Genoa, he imagined
that "he had written a tremendous book, and knocked the _Carol_ out of the
field." Though the little work failed to make "the great uproar" he had
confidently anticipated, its purpose was certainly unmistakable; but the
effect of hard exaggerations such as Mr. Filer and Alderman Cute, and of a
burlesque absurdity like Sir Joseph Bowley, was too dreary to be
counteracted by the more pleasing passages of the tale. In his novel _Hard
Times_ Dickens afterwards reproduced some of the ideas, and repeated some
of the artistic mistakes, to be found in _The Chimes_, though the design
of the later work was necessarily of a more mixed kind. The Christmas book
has the tone of a _doctrinaire_ protest against _doctrinaires_, and, as
Forster has pointed out, is manifestly written under the influence of
Carlyle. But its main doctrine was one which Dickens lost no opportunity
of proclaiming, and which here breaks forth in the form of an indignant
appeal by Richard Fern, the outlaw in spite of himself: "Gentlefolks, be
not hard upon the poor!" No feeling was more deeply rooted in Dickens's
heart than this; nor could he forbear expressing it by invective and
satire as well as by humorous and pathetic pictures of his clients, among
whom Trotty Veck too takes a representative place.

_The Cricket on the Hearth_, as a true work of art, is not troubled about
its moral, easily though half-a-dozen plain morals might be drawn from it;
a purer and more lightsome creation of the fancy has never been woven out
of homespun materials. Of the same imaginative type, though not executed
with a fineness so surpassing, is _The Battle of Life_, the treatment of a
fancy in which Dickens appears to have taken great pleasure. Indeed, he
declared that he was "thoroughly wretched at having to use the idea for so
short a story." As it stands, it is a pretty idyl of resignation, very
poetical in tone as well as in conception, though here and there,
notwithstanding the complaint just quoted, rather lengthy. It has been
conjectured, with much probability, that the success which had attended
dramatic versions of Dickens's previous Christmas books caused "those
admirable comedians, Mr. and Mrs. Keeley," to be in his mind "when he drew
the charming characters of Britain and Clemency Newcome." At all events
the pair serve as good old bits of English pottery to relieve the delicate
Sèvres sentiment of Grace and Marion. In the last of Dickens's Christmas
books, _The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain_, he returns once more to
a machinery resembling those of the earliest. But the fancy on which the
action turns is here more forced, and the truth which it illustrates is
after all only a half-truth, unless taken as part of the greater truth,
that the moral conditions of man's life are more easily marred than
mended. Once more the strength of the book lies in its humorous side. The
picture of the good Milly's humble protégés, the Tetterby family, is to
remind us that happiness consists precisely in that which the poor and the
rich may alike obtain, but which it is so difficult for the poor, amidst
their shifts and shabbiness, to keep fresh and green. Even without the
evil influence of an enchanted chemist, it is hard enough for the Mrs.
Tetterbys of real life always to be ministering angels to their families;
for the hand of every little Tetterby not occasionally to be against the
other little Tetterbys, and even for a devoted Johnny's temper never to
rise against Moloch. All the more is that to be cherished in the poor
which makes them love one another.

More than one of these Christmas books, both the humour and the sentiment
of which are so peculiarly English, was written on foreign soil. Dickens's
general conceptions of life, not less than his literary individuality, had
been formed before he became a traveller and sojourner in foreign lands.
In Italy, as elsewhere, a man will, in a sense, find only what he takes
there. At all events the changed life brought with it for Dickens, though
not at once, a refreshment and a brief repose which invigorated him for
some of the truest efforts of his genius. His resolution to spend some
time on the Continent had not been taken rashly, although it was at least
hastened by business disappointments. He seems at this time, as was
virtually inevitable, to have seen a good deal of society in London, and
more especially to have become a welcome guest of Lady Blessington and
Count d'Orsay at Gore House. Moreover, his services were beginning to be
occasionally claimed as a public speaker; and altogether he must have
found more of his time than he wished slipping through his hands. Lastly,
he very naturally desired to see what was to be seen, and to enjoy what
was to be enjoyed, by one gifted with a sleepless observation and animated
by a genuine love of nature and art. The letters, public and private,
which he wrote from Italy, are not among the most interesting productions
of his pen; even his humour seems now and then ill at ease in them, and
his descriptive power narrow in its range. His eyes were occasionally
veiled, as are those of most travellers in quest of "first impressions."
Thus I cannot but think his picture of Naples inadequate, and that of its
population unjust. Again, although he may have told the truth in asserting
that the Eternal City, at first sight, "looked like--I am half afraid to
write the word--like LONDON," and although his general description of Rome
has been pronounced correct by competent judgment, yet it is impossible to
ignore in it the undertone of Bow Bells. On the other hand, not even in
his newspaper letters can he be said to fall into affectation; his
impressions are never given pretentiously, and are accordingly seldom
altogether worthless; while his criticisms of works of art, when offered,
are candid and shrewd, besides being invariably his own.

Thus, there was never anything truer in its way than the account which he
gave to Maclise of his first impressions a few days after his arrival at
Albaro, a suburb of Genoa, where he found himself settled with his family
in July, 1844. He re-christened his abode, the Villa Bagnerello ("it
sounds romantic, but Signor Banderello is a butcher hard by"), "the Pink
Jail." Here, with abundance of space and time, and with a view from his
writing-table of "the sea, the mountains, the washed-out villas, the
vineyards, the blistering hot fort, with a sentry on the drawbridge
standing in a bit of shadow no broader than his own musket, and the sky,"
he began his _villeggiatura_, and resolving not to know, or to be known
where it could be helped, looked round him at his leisure. This looking
round very naturally took up some time; for the circuit of Dickens's daily
observation was unusually wide. Soon he was seeking winter-quarters in
Genoa it self, and by October was established in the Palazzo Peschiere,
situate on a height within the walls of the city, and overlooking the
whole of it, with the harbour and the sea beyond. "There is not in Italy,
they say (and I believe them), a lovelier residence." Even here, however,
among fountains and frescoes, it was some time before he could set
steadily to work at his Christmas story. At last the bells of Genoa chimed
a title for it into his restless ears; and, though longing with a nostalgy
that was specially strong upon him at periods of mental excitement for his
nightly walks in the London streets, he settled down to his task. I have
already described the spirit in which he executed it. No sooner was the
writing done than the other half of his double artist-nature was seized
with another craving. The rage which possesses authors to read their
writings aloud to sympathizing ears, if such can be found, is a well-worn
theme of satire; but in Dickens the actor was almost as strong as the
author, and he could not withstand the desire to interpret in person what
he had written, and to watch its effect with his own eyes and ears. In the
first days of November, therefore, he set off from Genoa, and made his way
home by Bologna, Venice, Milan, and the Simplon Pass. Of this journey his
_Pictures from Italy_ contains the record, including a chapter about
Venice, pitched in an unusually poetic key. But not all the memories of
all the Doges could have stayed the execution of his set purpose. On the
30th of November he reached London, and on the 2d of December he was
reading the _Chimes_, from the proofs, to the group of friends
immortalised in Maclise's inimitable sketch. Three days afterwards the
reading was repeated to a slightly different audience; and, indeed, it
would seem, from an enthusiastic postscript to a letter addressed to his
wife, that he had read at least part of the book to Macready on the night
before that of the first conclave. The distance was no doubt wide between
the intimacy of these friendly readings and the stormy seas of public
audiences; but, however unconsciously, the first step had been taken. It
may be worth noticing, in connexion with this, that the scheme of a
private dramatic performance, which was to occupy much of Dickens's
"leisure" in the year following, was proposed for the first time on the
occasion of the first reading of the _Chimes_. Before Christmas he was
back again in his "Italian bowers." If the strain of his effort in writing
the _Chimes_ had been severe, the holiday which followed was long. In the
later winter and early spring of 1845 he and the ladies of his family saw
Rome and Naples, and in June their Italian life came to an end, and they
were in London before the close of the month. Projects of work remained in
abeyance until the absorbing fancy of a private play had been realised
with an earnestness such as only Dickens could carry into his amusements,
and into this particular amusement above all others. The play was _Every
Man in his Humour_; the theatre, the little house in Dean Street, of whose
chequered fortunes no theatrical history has succeeded in exhausting the
memories; and the manager was, of course, "Bobadil," as Dickens now took
to signing himself. His joking remark to Macready, that he "thought of
changing his present mode of life, and was open to an engagement," was
after all not so very wide of the mark. According to the inevitable rule
in such things, he and his friends--among whom Mark Lemon, Douglas
Jerrold, and Forster were conspicuous--were "induced" to repeat their
performance at a larger house for a public charity, and later in the year
they played _The Elder Brother_ for Miss Fanny Kelly's benefit. Leigh
Hunt, whose opinion, however, could hardly fail to be influenced by the
circumstances under which Ben Jonson's comedy was afterwards performed by
the amateurs, and who was no longer the youthful Draco of the _News_,
afterwards spoke very highly of Dickens's Bobadil. It had "a spirit in it
of intellectual apprehension beyond anything the existing stage has
shown." His acting in the farce which followed Leigh Hunt thought
"throughout admirable; quite rich and filled up."

Christmas, 1845, had passed, and _The Cricket on the Hearth_ had graced
the festival, when an altogether new chapter in Dickens's life seemed
about to open for him. The experience through which he now passed was one
on which his biographer, for reasons easy to guess, has touched very
slightly, while his _Letters_ throw no additional light on it at all. Most
people, I imagine, would decline to pronounce upon the qualifications
requisite in an editor of a great political journal. Yet, literary power
of a kind which acts upon the multitude rapidly and powerfully, habits of
order so confirmed as to have almost become second nature, and an interest
in the affairs of the nation fed by an ardent enthusiasm for its
welfare--these would seem to go some way towards making up the list. Of
all these qualifications Dickens at various times gave proof, and they
sufficed in later years to make him the successful conductor of a weekly
journal which aimed at the enlightenment hardly less than at the
entertainment of no inconsiderable portion of the British public. But, in
the first place, political journalism proper is a craft of which very few
men have been known to become masters by intuition, and Dickens had as yet
had no real experience of it. His zealous efforts as a reporter can hardly
be taken into account here. He had for a short time edited a miscellany of
amusement, and had failed to carry beyond a beginning the not very
carefully considered scheme of another. Recently, he had resumed the old
notion of _Master Humphrey's Clock_ in a different shape; but nothing had
come of his projected cheap weekly paper for the present, while its title,
"_The Cricket_," was reserved for a different use. Since his reporting
days he had, however, now and then appeared among the lighter combatants
of political literature. In 1841 he had thrown a few squibs in the
_Examiner_ at Sir Robert Peel and the Tories; and from about the same date
he had, besides occasionally contributing to the literary and theatrical
columns of the same weekly journal, now and then discussed in it subjects
of educational or other general interest.[6] Finally, it is stated by
Forster that in 1844, when the greatest political struggle of the last
generation was approaching its climax, Dickens contributed some articles
to the _Morning Chronicle_ which attracted attention and led to
negotiations with the editor that arrived at no positive result. If these
contributions treated any political questions whatever, they were, with
the exception of the few _Examiner_ papers, and of the letters to the
_Daily News_ to be mentioned in this chapter, the only articles of this
kind which, to my knowledge, he ever wrote.

For, from first to last, whether in the days when Oliver Twist suffered
under the maladministration of the Poor-law, or in those when Arthur
Clennam failed to make an impression upon the Circumlocution Office,
politics were with Dickens a sentiment rather than a study or a pursuit.
With his habits of application and method, it might have taken but a very
short time for him to train himself as a politician; but this short time
never actually occurred. There is, however, no reason to suppose that
when, in 1841, a feeler was put out by some more or less influential
persons at Reading, with regard to his willingness to be nominated for the
representation of that borough, he had any reason for declining the
proposal besides that which he stated in his replies. He could not afford
the requisite expense; and he was determined not to forfeit his
independence through accepting Government--by which I hope he means Whig
party--aid for meeting the cost of the contest. Still, in 1845, though
slack of faith in the "people who govern us," he had not yet become the
irreclaimable political sceptic of later days; and without being in any
way bound to the Whigs, he had that general confidence in Lord John
Russell which was all they could expect from their irregular followers. As
yet, however, he had shown no sign of any special aptitude or inclination
for political work, though if he addressed himself to questions affecting
the health and happiness of the humbler classes, he was certain to bring
to them the enthusiasm of a genuine sympathy. And a question of this kind
was uppermost in Englishmen's minds in this year 1845, when at last the
time was drawing near for the complete abolition of the tax upon the
staple article of the poor man's daily food.

The establishment of a new London morning paper, on the scale to which
those already in existence had attained, was a serious matter in itself;
but it seems to have been undertaken in no spirit of diffidence by the
projectors and first proprietors of the _Daily News_. With the early
history of the experiment I cannot here concern myself; it is, however, an
open secret that the rate of expenditure of the new journal was at first
on a most liberal, not to say lavish, scale, and that the losses of the
proprietors were for many years very large indeed. Established on those
principles of Radicalism which, on the whole, it has in both good and evil
times consistently maintained, the _Daily News_ was to rise superior to
the opportunism, if not to the advertisements, of the _Times_, and to
outstrip the cautious steps of the Whig _Morning Chronicle_. Special
attention was to be given to those industrial enterprises with which the
world teemed in that speculative age, and no doubt also to those social
questions affecting the welfare and elevation of the masses and the
relations between employers and employed, which were attracting more and
more of the public attention. But in the first instance the actual
political situation would oblige the new journal to direct the greater
part of its energies to one particular question, which had, in truth,
already been threshed out by the organs of public opinion, and as to which
the time for action had at last arrived. No Liberal journal projected in
1845, and started early in 1846, could fail to concentrate its activity
for a time upon the question of the Corn-laws, to which the session of
1846 was to give the death-blow.

It is curious enough, on opening the first number of the _Daily News_,
dated January 21, 1846, to find one's self transplanted into the midst of
one of the most memorable episodes of our more recent political history.
The very advertisements of subscriptions to the Anti-Corn-law League, with
the good old Manchester names figuring conspicuously among them, have a
historic interest; and the report of a disputation on free-trade at
Norwich, in which all the hits are made by Mr. Cobden, another report of a
great London meeting on the same subject, and some verses concerning the
people's want of its bread, probably written by Mr. Charles Mackay, occupy
an entire page of the paper. Railway news and accounts of railway meetings
fill about the same space; while the foreign news is extremely meagre.
There remain the leading articles, four in number--of which three are on
the burning question of the day--and the first of a series of _Travelling
Letters Written on the Road, by Charles Dickens_ (the Avignon chapter in
the _Pictures from Italy_.)[7] The hand of the editor is traceable only
in this _feuilleton_ and in the opening article of the new paper. On
internal evidence I conclude that this article, which has little to
distinguish it from similar manifestoes, unless it be a moderation of tone
that would not have suited Captain Shandon, was not written by Dickens
alone or unassisted. But his hand is traceable in the concluding
paragraphs, which contain the following wordy but spirited assertion of a
cause that Dickens lost no opportunity of advocating:

    "We seek, so far as in us lies, to elevate the character of the Public
    Press in England. We believe it would attain a much higher position,
    and that those who wield its powers would be infinitely more respected
    as a class, and an important one, if it were purged of a disposition
    to sordid attacks _upon itself_, which only prevails in England and
    America. We discern nothing in the editorial plural that justifies a
    gentleman, or body of gentlemen, in discarding a gentleman's
    forbearance and responsibility, and venting ungenerous spleen against
    a rival, by a perversion of a great power--a power, however, which is
    only great so long as it is good and honest. The stamp on newspapers
    is not like the stamp on universal medicine-bottles, which licenses
    anything, however false and monstrous; and we are sure this misuse of
    it, in any notorious case, not only offends and repels right-minded
    men in that particular instance, but naturally, though unjustly,
    involves the whole Press, as a pursuit or profession, in the feeling
    so awakened, and places the character of all who are associated with
    it at a great disadvantage.

    "Entering on this adventure of a new daily journal in a spirit of
    honourable competition and hope of public usefulness, we seek, in our
    new station, at once to preserve our own self-respect, and to be
    respected, for ourselves and for it, by our readers. Therefore, we
    beg them to receive, in this our first number, the assurance that no
    recognition or interchange of trade abuse, by us, shall be the
    destruction of either sentiment; and that we intend proceeding on our
    way, and theirs, without stooping to any such flowers by the

I am unable to say how many days it was after the appearance of this first
number that Dickens, or the proprietors of the journal, or, as seems most
likely, both sides simultaneously, began to consider the expediency of
ending the connexion between them. He was "revolving plans for quitting
the paper" on January 30, and resigned his editorship on February 9
following. In the interval, with the exception of two or three more of the
_Travelling Letters_, very few signs of his hand appear in the journal.
The number of January 24, however, contains an editorial contribution, in
the shape of "a new song, but an old story," concerning _The British
Lion_, his accomplishment of eating Corn-law Leagues, his principal
keeper, _Wan Humbug_, and so forth. This it would be cruel to unearth. A
more important indication of a line of writing that his example may have
helped to domesticate in the _Daily News_ appears in the number of
February 4, which contains a long letter, with his signature, urging the
claims of Ragged Schools, and giving a graphic account of his visit to one
in Saffron Hill. After he had placed his resignation in the hands of the
proprietors, and was merely holding on at his post till the time of his
actual withdrawal, he was naturally not anxious to increase the number of
his contributions. The _Hymn of the Wiltshire Labourers_--which appeared
on February 14--is, of course, an echo of the popular cry of the day; but
the subtler pathos of Dickens never found its way into his verse. The most
important, and so far as I know, the last, of his contributions to the
_Daily News_, consisted of a series of three letters (March 9, 13, and
16) on capital punishment. It was a question which much occupied him at
various times of his life, and on which it cannot be shown that he really
changed his opinions. The letters in the _Daily News_, based in part on
the arguments of one of the ablest men of his day, the "unlucky" Mr.
Wakefield, are an interesting contribution to the subject; and the first
of them, with its Hogarthian sketch of the temptation and fall of Thomas
Hocker, Sunday-school teacher and murderer, would be worth reprinting as
an example of Dickens's masterly use of the argument _ex concreto_.

The few traditions which linger in the _Daily News_ office concerning
Dickens as editor of the paper, agree with the conjecture that his labours
on its behalf were limited, or very nearly so, to the few pieces
enumerated above. Of course there must have been some inevitable business;
but of this much may have been taken off his hands by his sub-editor, Mr.
W. H. Wills, who afterwards became his _alter ego_ at the office of his
own weekly journal and his intimate personal friend. In the days of the
first infancy of the _Daily News_, Mr. Britton, the present publisher of
that journal, was attached to the editor as his personal office attendant;
and he remembers very vividly what little there can have been to remember
about Dickens's performance of his functions. His habit, following a
famous precedent, was to make up for coming late--usually about half-past
ten P.M.--by going away early--usually not long after midnight. There were
frequently sounds of merriment, if not of modest revelry, audible from the
little room at the office in Lombard Street, where the editor sat in
conclave with Douglas Jerrold and one or two other intimates. Mr. Britton
is not sure that the work did not sometimes begin _after the editor had
left_; but at all events he cannot recollect that Dickens ever wrote
anything at the office--that he ever, for instance, wrote about a debate
that had taken place in Parliament on the same night. And he sums up his
reminiscences by declaring his conviction that Dickens was "not a
newspaper man, at least not when in 'the chair.'" And so Dickens seems on
this occasion to have concluded; for when, not long after quitting the
paper, he republished with additions the _Travelling Letters_ which during
his conduct of it had been its principal ornaments, he spoke of "a brief
mistake he had made, not long ago, in disturbing the old relations between
himself and his readers, and departing for a moment from his old
pursuits." He had been virtually out of "the chair" almost as soon as he
had taken it. His successor, but only for a few months, was his friend

Never has captive released made a more eager or a better use of his
recovered freedom. Before the summer had fairly set in Dickens had let his
house, and was travelling with his family up the Rhine towards
Switzerland. This was, I think, Dickens's only passage through Germany,
which in language and literature remained a _terra incognita_ to him,
while in various ways so well known to his friendly rivals, Lord Lytton
and Thackeray. He was on the track of poor Thomas Hood's old journeyings,
whose facetious recollections of Rhineland he had some years before
reviewed in a spirit of admiration rather for the author than for the
book, funny as it is. His point of destination was Lausanne, where he had
resolved to establish his household for the summer, and where by the
middle of June they were most agreeably settled in a little villa or
cottage which did not belie its name of Rosemont, and from which they
looked upon the lake and the mighty Alpine chain beyond. If Rome had
reminded Dickens of London, the green woods near Lausanne recalled to him
his Kentish glades; but he had the fullest sense and the truest enjoyment
of the grandeurs of Alpine scenery, and lost no opportunity of becoming
acquainted with them. Thus his letters contain an admirable description
(not untinged with satire) of a trip to the Great St. Bernard and its
convent, many years afterwards reproduced in one of the few enjoyable
chapters of the Second Part of _Little Dorrit_. More interesting, however,
because more characteristic, is the freshness and candour with which in
Switzerland, where by most English visitors the native inhabitants are
"taken for granted," he set himself to observe, and, so far as he could,
to appreciate, the people among whom he was a temporary resident. His
solutions of some of the political difficulties, which were mostly
connected with religious differences, at that time rife in Switzerland,
are palpably one-sided. But the generosity of spirit which reveals itself
in his kindly recognition of the fine qualities of the people around him
is akin to what was best and noblest in Dickens.

He had, at the same time, been peculiarly fortunate in finding at Lausanne
a circle of pleasant acquaintances, to whom he dedicated the Christmas
book which he wrote among the roses and the foliage of his lake-side
cottage. Of course _The Battle of Life_ was read aloud by its author to so
kindly an audience. The day of parting, however, soon came; on the 16th of
November _paterfamilias_ had his "several tons of luggage, other tons of
servants, and other tons of children," in travelling order, and soon had
safely stowed them away at Paris "in the most preposterous house in the
world. The like of it cannot, and so far as my knowledge goes, does not,
exist in any other part of the globe. The bedrooms are like opera-boxes;
the dining-rooms, staircases, and passages quite inexplicable. The
dining-room"--which in another letter he describes as "mere midsummer
madness"--"is a sort of cavern, painted (ceiling and all) to represent a
grove, with unaccountable bits of looking-glass sticking in among the
branches of the trees. There is a gleam of reason in the drawing-room, but
it is approached through a series of small chambers, like the joints in a
telescope, which are hung with inscrutable drapery." Here, with the
exception of two brief visits to England, paid before his final departure,
he spent three months, familiarising himself for the first time of his
life with the second of his "Two Cities."

Dickens came to know the French language well enough to use it with ease,
if not with elegance; and he lost no opportunity, it need hardly be said,
of resorting to the best of schools for the purpose. Macready, previously
addressed from "Altorf," had made him acquainted with Regnier, of the
Théâtre Français, who in his turn had introduced him to the greenroom of
the house of Molière. Other theatres were diligently visited by him and
Forster, when the latter arrived on a visit; and celebrities were polite
and hospitable to their distinguished English _confrère_. With these,
however, Dickens was not cosmopolitan enough to consort except in passing;
the love of literary society _because_ it is literary society was at no
time one of his predilections or foibles. The streets of Paris were to him
more than its _salons_, more even than its theatres. They are so to a
larger number of Englishmen than that which cares to confess it, but
Dickens would have been the last to disown the impeachment. They were the
proper sphere for his powers of humorous observation, as he afterwards
showed in more than one descriptive paper as true to life as any of his
London _Sketches_. And, moreover, he _needed_ the streets for the work
which he had in hand. _Dombey and Son_ had been begun at Rosemont, and the
first of its twenty monthly numbers had been published in October, 1846.
No reader of the book is likely to forget how, after writing the chapter
which relates the death of little Paul, Dickens during the greater part of
the night wandered restlessly with a heavy heart about the Paris streets.
Sooner, however, than he had intended, his residence abroad had to come to
a close; and early in 1847 he and his family were again in London.

_Dombey and Son_ has, perhaps, been more criticised than any other amongst
the stories of its author; and yet it certainly is not the one which has
been least admired, or least loved. Dickens himself, in the brief preface
which he afterwards prefixed to the story, assumed a half-defiant air
which sits ill upon the most successful author, but which occasionally he
was tempted to assume. Before condescending to defend the character of Mr.
Dombey as in accordance with both probability and experience, he "made so
bold as to believe that the faculty (or the habit) of correctly observing
the characters of men is a rare one." Yet, though the drawing of this
character is only one of the points which have been objected against the
story, not only did the book at the time of publication far surpass its
predecessor in popularity, but it has, I believe, always preserved to
itself a special congregation of enthusiastic admirers. Manifestly, this
novel is one of its author's most ambitious endeavours. In it, more
distinctly even than in _Chuzzlewit_, he has chosen for his theme one of
the chief vices of human nature, and has striven to show what pride
cannot achieve, what it cannot conquer, what it cannot withstand. This
central idea gives to the story, throughout a most varied succession of
scenes, a unity of action to be found in few of Dickens's earlier works.
On the other hand, _Dombey and Son_ shares with these earlier productions,
and with its successor, _David Copperfield_, the freshness of invention
and spontaneous flow of both humour and pathos which at times are wanting
in the more powerfully conceived and more carefully constructed romances
of Dickens's later years. If there be any force at all in the common
remark that the most interesting part of the book ends together with the
life of little Paul, the censure falls upon the whole design of the
author. Little Paul, in something besides the ordinary meaning of the
words, was born to die; and though, like the writer, most readers may have
dreaded the hour which was to put an end to that frail life, yet in this
case there could be no question--such as was possible in the story of
Little Nell--of any other issue. Indeed, deep as is the pathos of the
closing scene, its beauty is even surpassed by those which precede it. In
death itself there is release for a child as for a man, and for those
sitting by the pillow of the patient; but it is the gradual approach of
death which seems hardest of all for the watchers to bear; it is the
sinking of hope which seems even sadder than its extinction. What old
fashion could that be, Paul wondered with a palpitating heart, that was so
visibly expressed in him, so plainly seen by so many people? Every heart
is softened and every eye dimmed as the innocent child passes on his way
to his grave. The hand of God's angel is on him; he is no longer
altogether of this world. The imagination which could picture and present
this mysterious haze of feeling, through which the narrative moves, half
like a reality, half like a dream, is that of a true poet, and of a great

What even the loss of his son could not effect in Mr. Dombey is to be
accomplished in the progress of the story by a yet stronger agency than
sorrow. His pride is to be humbled to the dust, where he is to be sought
and raised up by the love of his despised and ill-used daughter. Upon the
relations between this pair, accordingly, it was necessary for the author
to expend the greatest care, and upon the treatment of those relations the
criticism to which the character of Mr. Dombey has been so largely
subjected must substantially turn. The unfavourable judgments passed upon
it have, in my opinion, not been altogether unjust. The problem obviously
was to show how the father's cold indifference towards the daughter
gradually becomes jealousy, as he finds that upon her is concentrated,
first, the love of his innocent little son, and then that of his haughty
second wife; and how hereupon this jealousy deepens into hate. But, unless
we are to suppose that Mr. Dombey hated his daughter from the first, the
disfavour shown by him on her account to young Walter Gay remains without
adequate explanation. His dislike of Florence is not manifestly founded
upon his jealousy of what Mrs. Chick calls her brother's "infatuation" for
her; and the main motives at work in the unhappy man are either not very
skilfully kept asunder, or not very intelligibly intermixed. Nor are the
later stages of the relations between father and daughter altogether
satisfactorily conceived. The momentary yielding of Mr. Dombey, after his
"coming home" with his new wife, is natural and touching; but his threat
to visit his daughter with the consequences of her step-mother's conduct
is sheer brutality. The passage in which Mr. Dombey's ultimatum to Mrs.
Dombey is conveyed by him in her presence through a third person is so
artificial as to fall not very far short of absurdity. The closing scene
which leads to the flight of Florence is undeniably powerful; but it is
the development of the relations between the pair in which the art of the
author is in my judgment occasionally at fault.

As to the general effect of the latter part of the story--or rather of its
main plot--which again has been condemned as melodramatic and unnatural, a
distinction should be drawn between its incidents and its characters.
Neither Edith Dombey nor Mr. Carker is a character of real life. The pride
of the former comes very near to bad breeding, and her lapses into
sentiment seem artificial lapses. How differently Thackeray would have
managed the "high words" between her and her frivolous mother! how
differently, for that matter, he _has_ managed a not altogether dissimilar
scene in the _Newcomes_ between Ethel Newcome and old Lady Kew! As for Mr.
Carker, with his white teeth and glistening gums, who calls his unhappy
brother "Spaniel," and contemplates a life of sensual ease in Sicily, he
has the semi-reality of the stage. Possibly the French stage had helped to
suggest the _scène de la pièce_ between the fugitives at Dijon--an
effective situation, but one which many a novelist might have worked out
not less skilfully than Dickens. His own master-hand, however, re-asserts
itself in the wondrously powerful narrative of Carker's flight and death.
Here again he excites terror--as in the same book he had evoked pity--by
foreshadowing, without prematurely revealing, the end. We know what the
morning is to bring which rises in awful tranquillity over the victim of
his own sins; and, as in Turner's wild but powerful picture, the engine
made by the hand of man for peaceful purposes seems a living agent of

No other of Dickens's books is more abundantly stocked than this with
genuinely comic characters; but nearly all of them, in accordance with the
pathetic tone which is struck at the outset, and which never dies out till
the story has run its course, are in a more subdued strain of humour. Lord
Jeffrey was, I think, warranted in his astonishment that Dickens should
devote so much pains to characters like Mrs. Chick and Miss Tox. Probably
the habit remained with him from his earliest times of authorship, when he
had not always distinguished very accurately between the humorous and the
_bizarre_. But Polly and the Toodles household, Mrs. Pipchin and her
"select infantine boarding-house," and the whole of Doctor Blimber's
establishment, from the Doctor himself down to Mr. Toots, and up again, in
the scale of intellect, to Mr. Feeder, B.A., are among the most admirable
of all the great humourist's creations. Against this ample provision for
her poor little brother's nursing and training Florence has to set but her
one Susan Nipper; but she is a host in herself, an absolutely original
character among the thousands of _soubrettes_ that are known to comedy and
fiction, and one of the best tonic mixtures ever composed out of much
humour and not a few grains of pathos. Her tartness has a cooling flavour
of its own; but it is the Mrs. Pipchinses only upon whom she acts, as
their type acted upon her, "like early gooseberries." Of course she has a
favourite figure of speech belonging to herself, which rhetoricians would
probably class among the figures "working by surplusage:"

    "'Your Toxes and your Chickses may draw out my two front double teeth,
    Mrs. Richards, but that's no reason why I need offer 'em the whole

Dickens was to fall very largely into this habit of "labelling" his
characters, as it has been called, by particular tricks or terms of
speech; and there is a certain excess in this direction already in _Dombey
and Son_, where not only Miss Nipper and Captain Cuttle and Mr. Toots, but
Major Bagstock too and Cousin Feenix, are thus furnished forth. But the
invention is still so fresh and the play of humour so varied, that this
mannerism cannot be said as yet seriously to disturb them. A romantic
charm of a peculiar kind clings to honest Captain Cuttle and the quaint
home over which he mounts guard during the absence of its owner. The
nautical colouring and concomitant fun apart--for only Smollett could have
drawn Jack Bunsby's fellow, though the character in his hands would have
been differently accentuated--Dickens has never approached more nearly to
the manner of Sir Walter Scott than in this singularly attractive part of
his book. Elsewhere the story passes into that sphere of society in
describing which Dickens was, as a novelist, rarely very successful. But
though Edith is cold and unreal, there is, it cannot be denied, human
nature in the pigments and figments of her hideous old mother; and, to
outward appearance at all events, the counterparts of her apoplectic
admirer, Major Bagstock, still pace those pavements and promenades which
it suits them to frequent. Cousin Feenix is likewise very far from
impossible, and is besides extremely delightful--and a good fellow too at
bottom, so that the sting of the satire is here taken away. On the other
hand, the meeting between the _sacs et parchemins_ at Mr. Dombey's house
is quite out of focus.

The book has other heights and depths, and pleasant and unpleasant parts
and passages. But enough has been said to recall the exuberant creative
force, and the marvellous strength of pathos and humour which _Dombey and
Son_ proves that Dickens, now near the very height of his powers as a
writer of fiction, possessed. In one of his public readings many years
afterwards, when he was reciting the adventures of Little Dombey, he
narrates that "a very good fellow," whom he noticed in the stalls, could
not refrain from wiping the tears out of his eyes as often as he thought
that Toots was coming on. And just as Toots had become a reality to this
good fellow, so Toots and Toots's little friend, and divers other
personages in this story, have become realities to half the world that
reads the English tongue, and to many besides. What higher praise could be
given to this wonderful book? Of all the works of its author none has more
powerfully and more permanently taken hold of the imagination of its
readers. Though he conjured up only pictures familiar to us from the
aspect of our own streets and our own homes, he too wielded a wizard's

After the success of _Dombey_ it might have seemed that nothing further
was wanting to crown the prosperity of Dickens's literary career. While
the publication of this story was in progress he had concluded
arrangements for the issue of his collected writings, in a cheap edition,
which began in the year 1847, and which he dedicated "to the English
people, in whose approval, if the books be true in spirit, they will
live, and out of whose memory, if they be false, they will very soon die."
He who could thus proudly appeal to posterity was already, beyond all
dispute, the people's chosen favourite among its men of letters. That
position he was not to lose so long as he lived; but even at this time the
height had not been reached to which (in the almost unanimous judgment of
those who love his writings) he was in his next work to attain.




The five years, reckoned roughly, from the beginning of 1847 to the close
of 1851, were most assuredly the season in which the genius of Dickens
produced its richest and rarest fruit. When it opened he was still at work
upon _Dombey and Son_; towards its end he was already engaged upon the
earliest portions of _Bleak House_. And it was during the interval that he
produced a book cherished by himself with an affection differing in kind,
as well as in degree, from the common fondness of an author for his
literary offspring, and a pearl without a peer amongst the later fictions
of our English school--_David Copperfield_. To this period also belong, it
is true, not a few lesser productions of the same ready pen; for the last
of his Christmas books was written in 1848, and in 1850 his weekly
periodical, _Household Words_, began to run its course. There was much
play too in these busy years, but all more or less of the kind which his
good-humoured self-irony afterwards very correctly characterised:

    "'Play!' said Thomas Idle. 'Here is a man goes systematically tearing
    himself to pieces, and putting himself through an incessant course of
    training, as if he were always under articles to fight a match for the
    champion's belt, and he calls it "Play." Play!' exclaimed Thomas
    Idle, scornfully contemplating his one boot in the air; 'you can't
    play. You don't know what it is. You make work of everything!'"

"A man," added the same easy philosopher, "who can do nothing by halves
appears to me to be a fearful man." And as at all times in Dickens's life,
so most emphatically in these years when his physical powers seemed ready
to meet every demand, and the elasticity of his mind seemed equal to every
effort, he did nothing by halves. Within this short space of time not only
did he write his best book, and conduct a weekly journal of solid merit
through its most trying stage, but he also established his reputation as
one of the best "unpolitical" speakers in the country; and as an amateur
actor and manager successfully weathered what may be called three
theatrical seasons, to the labours and glories of which it would be
difficult to find a parallel even in the records of that most exacting of
all social amusements. One likes to think of him in these years of
vigorous manhood, no longer the fair youth with the flowing locks of
Maclise's charming portrait, but not yet, I suppose, altogether the
commanding and rather stern presence of later years. Mr. Frith's portrait
was not painted till 1859, by which time the face occasionally had a more
set expression, and the entire personality a more weather-beaten
appearance, than this well-known picture suggests. But even eight years
before this date, when Dickens was acting in Lord Lytton's comedy the part
of a young man of _mode_, Mr. Sala's well-known comparison of his outward
man to "some prosperous sea-captain home from a sea-voyage," was thought
applicable to him by another shrewd observer, Mr. R. H. Horne, who says
that, fashionable "make-up" notwithstanding, "he presented a figure that
would have made a good portrait of a Dutch privateer after having taken a
capital prize." And in 1856 Ary Scheffer, to whom when sitting for his
portrait he had excused himself for being a difficult subject, "received
the apology as strictly his due, and said, with a vexed air, 'At this
moment, _mon cher_ Dickens, you look more like an energetic Dutch admiral
than anything else;' for which I apologised again." In 1853, in the
sympathetic neighbourhood of Boulogne, he was "growing a mustache," and,
by 1856, a beard of the _Henri Quatre_ type had been added; but even
before that time we may well believe that he was, as Mr. Sala says, "one
of the few men whose individuality was not effaced by the mournful
conventionality of evening-dress." Even in morning-dress he unconsciously
contrived, born actor as he was, to have something unusual about him; and,
if report speaks the truth, even at the sea-side, when most prodigal of
ease, he was careful to dress the character.

The five years of which more especially I am speaking brought him
repeatedly face to face with the public, and within hearing of the
applause that was becoming more and more of a necessity to him. They were
thus unmistakably amongst the very happiest years of his life. The shadow
that was to fall upon his home can hardly yet have been visible even in
the dim distance. For this the young voices were too many and too fresh
around him behind the garden-wall in Devonshire Terrace, and amongst the
autumnal corn on the cliffs at Broadstairs. "They are all in great force,"
he writes to his wife, in September, 1850, and "much excited with the
expectation of receiving you on Friday;" and I only wish I had space to
quote the special report sent on this occasion to the absent mother
concerning her precocious three-year-old. What sorrowful experiences he in
these years underwent were such as few men escape amongst the chances of
life. In 1848 he lost the sister who had been the companion of his
earliest days, and three years later his father, whom he had learned to
respect as well as love. Not long afterwards his little Dora, the youngest
of his flock, was suddenly taken from him. Meanwhile, his old friends
clung to him. Indeed, I never heard that he lost the affection of any one
who had been attached to him; and though the circle of his real intimates
was never greatly widened, yet he was on friendly or even familiar terms
with many whose names belong to the history of their times. Amongst these
were the late Lord Lytton--then Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton--whose splendid
abilities were still devoted mainly to literary labours, and between whom
and Dickens there were more points of contrast than might at first sight
appear. Of Thackeray, too, he seems to have been coming to know more; and
with Leech, more especially during a summer sojourn of both their families
at Bonchurch, in 1849, he grew intimate. Mr. Monckton Milnes--then, and
since as Lord Houghton, _semper amicus, semper hospes_ both to successful
merit and to honest endeavour--Lord Carlisle, and others who adorned the
great world under more than one of its aspects, were, of course, welcome
friends and acquaintances; and even Carlyle occasionally found his way to
the house of his staunch admirer, though he might declare that he was, in
the language of Mr. Peggotty's house-keeper, "a lorn lone creature, and
everything went contrairy with him."

It is not very easy to describe the personal habits of a man who is found
seeing the spring in at Brighton and the autumn out at Broadstairs, and in
the interval "strolling" through the chief towns of the kingdom at the
head of a large company of ladies and gentlemen, according to the
description which he put into Mrs. Gamp's mouth, "with a great box of
papers under his arm, a-talking to everybody wery indistinct, and exciting
of himself dreadful." But since under ordinary circumstances he made, even
in outward matters and arrangements of detail, a home for himself wherever
he was, and as a rule cared little for the society of companions whose
ideas and ways of life were foreign to his own, certain habits had become
second nature to him, and to others he adhered with sophistical tenacity.
He was an early riser, if for no other reason, because every man in whose
work imagination plays its part must sometimes be alone; and Dickens has
told us that there was to him something incomparably solemn in the still
solitude of the morning. But it was only exceptionally, and when
hard-pressed by the necessities of his literary labours, that he wrote
before breakfast; in general he was contented with the ordinary working
hours of the morning, not often writing after luncheon, and, except in
early life, never in the evening. Ordinarily, when engaged on a work of
fiction, he considered three of his not very large MS. pages a good, and
four an excellent, day's work; and, while very careful in making his
corrections clear and unmistakable, he never rewrote what a morning's
labour had ultimately produced. On the other hand, he was frequently slow
in beginning a story, being, as he himself says, affected by something
like despondency at such times, or, as he elsewhere humorously puts it,
"going round and round the idea, as you see a bird in his cage go about
and about his sugar before he touches it." A temperate liver, he was at
the same time a zealous devotee of bodily exercise. He had not as yet
given up riding, and is found, in 1848, spending the whole of a March day,
with Forster, Leech, and Mark Lemon, in riding over every part of
Salisbury Plain. But walking exercise was at once his forte and his
fanaticism. He is said to have constructed for himself a theory that, to
every portion of the day given to intellectual labour should correspond an
equal number of hours spent in walking; and frequently, no doubt, he gave
up his morning's chapter before he had begun it, "entirely persuading
himself that he was under a moral obligation" to do his twenty miles on
the road. By day he found in the London thoroughfares stimulative variety,
and at a later date he states it to be "one of his fancies that even his
idlest walk must have its appointed destination;" and by night, in seasons
of intellectual excitement, he found in these same streets the refreshment
of isolation among crowds. But the walks he loved best were long stretches
on the cliffs or across the downs by the sea, where, following the track
of his "breathers," one half expects to meet him coming along against the
wind at four and a half miles an hour, the very embodiment of energy and
brimful of life.

And besides this energy he carried with him, wheresoever he pitched his
tent, what was the second cause of his extraordinary success in so much of
the business of life as it fell to him to perform. He hated disorder as
Sir Artegal hated injustice; and if there was anything against which he
took up his parable with burning indignation, it was slovenliness, and
half-done work, and "shoddiness" of all kinds. His love of order made him
always the most regular of men. "Everything with him," Miss Hogarth told
me, "went as by clock-work; his movements, his absences from home, and the
times of his return were all fixed beforehand, and it was seldom that he
failed to adhere to what he had fixed." Like most men endowed with a
superfluity of energy, he prided himself on his punctuality. He could not
live in a room or in a house till he had put every piece of furniture into
its proper place, nor could he begin to work till all his writing-gear was
at hand, with no item missing or misplaced. Yet he did not, like so many,
combine with these habits and tendencies a saving disposition. "No man,"
he said of himself, "attaches less importance to the possession of money,
or less disparagement to the want of it, than I do." His circumstances,
though easy, were never such as to warrant a display to which, perhaps,
certain qualities of his character might have inclined him; even at a much
later date he described himself--rather oddly, perhaps--as "a man of
moderate savings, always supporting a very expensive public position."
But, so far as I can gather, he never had a reasonable want which he could
not and did not satisfy, though at the same time he cared for very few of
the pursuits or amusements that are apt to drain much larger resources
than his. He never had to think twice about country or sea-side quarters;
wherever it might suit his purpose or fancy to choose them, at one of his
south-coast haunts or, for his wife's health, at Malvern, thither he went;
and when the whim seized him for a trip _en garçon_ to any part of England
or to Paris, he had only to bid the infallible Anne pack his trunk. He was
a provident as well as an affectionate father; but the cost of educating
his numerous family seems to have caused him no serious anxiety. In 1849
he sent his eldest son to Eton. And while he had sworn a kind of
_vendetta_ against begging-letter writers, and afterwards used to parry
the attacks of his pertinacious enemies by means of carefully-prepared
written forms, his hand seems to have been at all times open for charity.

Some of these personal characteristics of Dickens were to be brought out
with remarkable vividness during the period of his life which forms the
special subject of the present chapter. Never was he more thoroughly
himself than as a theatrical manager and actor, surrounded by congenial
associates. He starred it to his heart's content at the country seat of
his kind Lausanne friends, Mr. and Mrs. Watson. But the first occasion on
which he became publicly known in both the above-mentioned capacities was
the reproduction of the amateur performance of _Every Man in his Humour_.
This time the audiences were to be in Manchester and Liverpool, where it
was hoped that a golden harvest might be reaped for Leigh Hunt, who was at
that time in sore straits. As it chanced, a civil-list pension was just
about this time--1847--conferred upon the most unaffectedly graceful of
all modern writers of English verse. It was accordingly resolved to divert
part of the proceeds of the undertaking in favour of a worthy playwright,
the author of _Paul Pry_. The comedy was acted with brilliant success at
Manchester, on July 26, and at Liverpool two days later; and then the
"managerial miseries," which Dickens had enjoyed with his whole heart and
soul, were over for the nonce. Already, however, in the following year,
1848, an excellent reason was found for their recommencement; and nine
performances of Ben Jonson's play, this time alternated with _The Merry
Wives of Windsor_, were given by Dickens's "company of amateurs"--the
expression is his own--at the Haymarket, and in the theatres of five of
the largest towns in the kingdom, for the benefit of Sheridan Knowles.
Nothing could have been more honourable than Dickens's readiness to serve
the interests of an actor with whom, but for his own generous temper, he
would only a few months before have been involved in a wordy quarrel. In
_The Merry Wives_, the manager acted Justice Shallow to Mark Lemon's
Falstaff. Dame Quickly was played by Mrs. Cowden Clarke, who speedily
became a favourite correspondent of Dickens. But the climax of these
excitements arrived in the year of wonders, 1851, when, with a flourish of
trumpets resounding through the world of fashion as well as of letters,
the comedy _Not so Bad as We Seem_, written for the occasion by Bulwer
Lytton, was performed under Dickens's management at Devonshire House, in
the presence of the Queen, for the benefit of the Guild of Literature and
Art. The object was a noble one, though the ultimate result of the scheme
has been an almost pitiable failure; and nothing was spared, by the host
or the actors, to make the effect worthy of it. While some of the most
popular men of letters took parts in the clever and effective play, its
scenery was painted by some of the most eminent among the English artists.
Dickens was fired by the ardour of the enterprise, and, proceeding on his
principle that the performance could not possibly "be a success if the
smallest pepper-corn of arrangement were omitted," covered himself and his
associates with glory. From Devonshire House play and theatre were
transferred to the Hanover Square Rooms, where the farce of _Mr.
Nightingale's Diary_ was included in the performance, of which some vivid
reminiscences have been published by one of the few survivors of that
noble company, Mr. R. H. Horne. Other accounts corroborate his
recollections of the farce, which was the triumph of "gag," and would have
been reckoned a masterpiece in the old _commedia dell' arte_. The
characters played by Dickens included Sam Weller turned waiter; a voluble
barrister by the name of Mr. Gabblewig; a hypochondriac suffering from a
prescription of mustard and milk; the Gampish mother of a charity-boy
(Mr. Egg); and her brother, a stone-deaf old sexton, who appeared to be
"at least ninety years of age." The last-named assumption seems to have
been singularly effective:

    "After repeated shoutings ('It's of no use whispering to me, young
    man') of the word 'buried'--'_Brewed!_ Oh yes, sir, I have brewed many
    a good gallon of ale in my time. The last batch I brewed, sir, was
    finer than all the rest--the best ale ever brewed in the county. It
    used to be called in our parts here "Samson with his hair on!" in
    allusion'--here his excitement shook the tremulous frame into coughing
    and wheezing--'in allusion to its great strength.' He looked from face
    to face to see if his feat was duly appreciated, and his venerable
    jest understood by those around; and then, softly repeating, with a
    glimmering smile, 'in allusion to its great strength,' he turned
    about, and made his exit, like one moving towards his own grave while
    he thinks he is following the funeral of another."

From London the company travelled into the country, where their series of
performances was not closed till late in the succeeding year, 1852.
Dickens was from first to last the manager, and the ruling spirit of the
undertaking. Amongst his latest recruits Mr. Wilkie Collins is specially
mentioned by Forster. The acquaintance which thus began soon ripened into
a close and lasting friendship, and became, with the exception of that
with Forster himself, the most important of all Dickens's personal
intimacies for the history of his career as an author.

Speech-making was not in quite the same sense, or to quite the same
degree, as amateur acting and managing, a voluntary labour on Dickens's
part. Not that he was one of those to whom the task of occasionally
addressing a public audience is a pain or even a burden. Indeed, he was a
born orator; for he possessed both that strong and elastic imaginative
power which enables a man to place himself at once in sympathy with his
audience, and that gift of speech, pointed, playful, and where necessary
impetuous, which pleads well in any assembly for any cause. He had
moreover the personal qualifications of a handsome manly presence, a
sympathetic eye, and a fine flexible voice, which, as his own hints on
public speaking show, he managed with care and intelligence. He had, he
says, "fought with beasts (oratorically) in divers arenas." But though a
speaker in whom ease bred force, and force ease, he was the reverse of a
mere builder of phrases and weaver of periods. "Mere holding forth," he
declared, "I utterly detest, abominate, and abjure." His innate hatred of
talk for mere talk's sake had doubtless been intensified by his early
reporting experiences, and by what had become his stereotyped notion of
our parliamentary system. At the Administration Reform meeting in 1855 he
stated that he had never before attended a public meeting. On the other
hand, he had been for already several years in great request for meetings
of a different kind, concerned with the establishment or advancement of
educational or charitable institutions in London and other great towns of
the country. His addresses from the chair were often of remarkable
excellence; and this not merely because crowded halls and increased
subscription-lists were their concomitants, and because the happiness of
his humour--never out of season, and even on such occasions often
singularly prompt--sent every one home in good spirits. In these now
forgotten speeches on behalf of Athenæums and Mechanics' Institutes, or of
actors' and artists' and newsmen's charities, their occasional advocate
never appears occasional. Instead of seeming to have just mastered his
brief while the audience was taking its seats, or to have become for the
first time deeply interested in his subject in the interval between his
soup and his speech, the cause which Dickens pleads never has in him
either an imperfectly informed or a half-indifferent representative.
Amongst many charming illustrations of a vein of oratory in which he has
been equalled by very few if by any public men of his own or the
succeeding generation, I will instance only one address, though it belongs
to a considerably later date than the time of _David Copperfield_.
Nothing, however, that Dickens has ever written--not even _David
Copperfield_ itself--breathes a tenderer sympathy for the weakness of
unprotected childhood than the beautiful little speech delivered by him on
February 9, 1858, on behalf of the London Hospital for Sick Children.
Beginning with some touches of humour concerning the spoilt children of
the rich, the orator goes on to speak of the "spoilt children" of the
poor, illustrating with concrete directness both the humorous and the
pathetic side of his subject, and after a skilfully introduced sketch of
the capabilities and wants of the "infant institution" for which he
pleads, ending with an appeal, founded on a fancy of Charles Lamb, to the
support of the "dream-children" belonging to each of his hearers: "the
dear child you love, the dearer child you have lost, the child you might
have had, the child you certainly have been." This is true eloquence, of a
kind which aims at something besides opening purse-strings. In 1851 he had
spoken in the same vein of mixed humour and pathos on behalf of his
clients, the poor actors, when, unknown to him, a little child of his own
was lying dead at home. But in these years of his life, as indeed at all
times, his voice was at the service of such causes as had his sympathy; it
was heard at Birmingham, at Leeds, at Glasgow; distance was of little
moment to his energetic nature; and as to trouble, how could he do
anything by halves?

There was yet a third kind of activity, distinct from that of literary
work pure and simple, in which Dickens in these years for the first time
systematically engaged. It has been seen how he had long cherished the
notion of a periodical conducted by himself, and marked by a unity of
design which should make it in a more than ordinary sense his own paper.
With a genius like his, which attached itself to the concrete, very much
depended at the outset upon the choice of a title. _The Cricket_ could not
serve again, and for some time the notion of an omnipresent _Shadow_, with
something, if possible, tacked to it "expressing the notion of its being
cheerful, useful, and always welcome," seemed to promise excellently. For
a rather less ambitious design, however, a rather less ambitious title was
sought, and at last fortunately found, in the phrase, rendered proverbial
by Shakspeare, "_Household Words_." "We hope," he wrote a few weeks before
the first number appeared, on March 30, 1850, "to do some solid good, and
we mean to be as cheery and pleasant as we can." But _Household Words_,
which in form and in cost was to be a paper for the multitude, was to be
something more than agreeable and useful and cheap. It was to help in
casting out the many devils that had taken up their abode in popular
periodical literature, the "bastards of the Mountain," and the foul fiends
who dealt in infamous scurrility, and to do this with the aid of a charm
more potent than the most lucid argument and the most abundant facts. "In
the bosoms of the young and old, of the well-to-do and of the poor," says
the _Preliminary Word_ in the first number, "we would tenderly cherish
that light of fancy which is inherent in the human breast." To this
purpose it was the editor's constant and deliberate endeavour to bind his
paper. "KEEP 'HOUSEHOLD WORDS' IMAGINATIVE!" is the "solemn and continual
Conductorial Injunction" which three years after the foundation of the
journal he impresses, with the artful aid of capitals, upon his faithful
coadjutor, Mr. W. H. Wills. In his own contributions he was not forgetful
of this maxim, and the most important of them, the serial story, _Hard
Times_, was written with the express intention of pointing it as a moral.

There are, I suppose, in addition to the many mysterious functions
performed by the editor of a literary journal, two of the very highest
significance; in the first place, the choice of his contributors, and
then, if the expression may be used, the management of them. In both
respects but one opinion seems to exist of Dickens's admirable qualities
as an editor. Out of the many contributors to _Household Words_, and its
kindred successor, _All the Year Round_--some of whom are happily still
among living writers--it would be invidious to select for mention a few in
proof of the editor's discrimination. But it will not be forgotten that
the first number of the earlier journal contained the beginning of a tale
by Mrs. Gaskell, whose name will long remain a household word in England,
both North and South. And a periodical could hardly be deemed one-sided
which included among its contributors scholars and writers of the
distinction belonging to the names of Forster and Mr. Henry Morley,
together with humorous observers of men and things such as Mr. Sala and
Albert Smith. On the other hand, _Household Words_ had what every literary
journal ought to have, an individuality of its own; and this individuality
was, of course, that of its editor. The mannerisms of Dickens's style
afterwards came to be imitated by some among his contributors; but the
general unity perceptible in the journal was the natural and legitimate
result of the fact that it stood under the independent control of a
vigorous editor, assisted by a sub-editor--Mr. W. H. Wills--of rare
trustworthiness. Dickens had a keen eye for selecting subjects from a
definite field, a ready skill for shaping, if necessary, the articles
accepted by him, and a genius for providing them with expressive and
attractive titles. Fiction and poetry apart, these articles have mostly a
social character or bearing, although they often deviate into the pleasant
paths of literature or art; and usually, but by no means always, the
scenes or associations with which they connect themselves are of England,

Nothing could surpass the unflagging courtesy shown by Dickens towards his
contributors, great or small, old or new, and his patient interest in
their endeavours, while he conducted _Household Words_, and afterwards
_All the Year Round_. Of this there is evidence enough to make the records
of the office in Wellington Street a pleasant page in the history of
journalism. He valued a good workman when he found him, and was far too
reasonable and generous to put his own stamp upon all the good metal that
passed through his hands. Even in his Christmas Numbers he left the utmost
possible freedom to his associates. Where he altered or modified it was as
one who had come to know the pulse of the public; and he was not less
considerate with novices, than he was frank and explicit with experts, in
the writer's art. The articles in his journal being anonymous, he was not
tempted to use names as baits for the public, though many who wrote for
him were men or women of high literary reputation. And he kept his doors
open. While some editors deem it their duty to ward off would-be
contributors, as some ministers of state think it theirs to get rid of
deputations, Dickens sought to ignore instead of jealously guarding the
boundaries of professional literature. Nothing in this way ever gave him
greater delight than to have welcomed and published several poems sent to
him under a feigned name, but which he afterwards discovered to be the
first-fruits of the charming poetical talent of Miss Adelaide Procter, the
daughter of his old friend "Barry Cornwall."

In the preparation of his own papers, or of those which, like the
Christmas Numbers, he composed conjointly with one or more of his
familiars, he spared no labour and thought no toil too great. At times, of
course, he, like all periodical writers who cannot be merry every
Wednesday or caustic every Saturday, felt the pressure of the screw. "As
to two comic articles," he exclaims on one occasion, "or two any sort of
articles, out of me, that's the intensest extreme of no-goism." But, as a
rule, no great writer ever ran more gaily under his self-imposed yoke. His
"Uncommercial Travels," as he at a later date happily christened them,
familiarised him with whatever parts or aspects of London his long walks
had still left unexplored; and he was as conscientious in hunting up the
details of a complicated subject as in finding out the secrets of an
obscure pursuit or trade. Accomplished antiquarians and "commissioners"
assisted him in his labours; but he was no _roi fainéant_ on the editorial
sofa which he so complacently describes. Whether he was taking _A Walk in
a Workhouse_, or knocking at the door of another with the supernumerary
waifs in Whitechapel, or _On_ (night) _Duty with Inspector Field_ among
the worst of the London slums, he was always ready to see with his own
eyes; after which the photographic power of his pen seemed always capable
of doing the rest. Occasionally he treats topics more properly
journalistic, but he is most delightful when he takes his ease in his
_English_ or his _French Watering-place_, or carries his readers with him
on _A Flight to Paris_, bringing before them, as it were, in breathless
succession, every inch of the familiar journey. Happiest of all is he
when, with his friend Mr. Wilkie Collins--this, however, not until the
autumn of 1857--he starts on _The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices_, the
earlier chapters of which furnish some of the best specimens of his most
humorous prose. Neither at the same time does he forget himself to enforce
the claim of his journal to strengthen the imaginary side of literature.
In an assumed character he allows a veteran poet to carry him _By Rail to
Parnassus_, and even good-humouredly banters an old friend, George
Cruikshank, for having committed _Frauds on the Fairies_ by re-editing
legendary lore with the view of inculcating the principle of total

Such, then, were some of the channels in which the intense mental and
physical energy of Dickens found a congenial outlet in these busy years.
Yet in the very midst of this multifarious activity the mysterious and
controlling power of his genius enabled him to collect himself for the
composition of a work of fiction which, as I have already said, holds, and
will always continue to hold, a place of its own among its works. "Of all
my books," he declares, "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!" He parted from the story with a pang, and when in
after life he returned to its perusal, he was hardly able to master the
emotions which it recalled; perhaps even he hardly knew what the effort
of its production had cost him.

The first number of _David Copperfield_ was published in May, 1849--the
last in November, 1850. To judge from the difficulty which Dickens found
in choosing a title for his story--of which difficulty plentiful evidence
remains in MS. at South Kensington--he must have been fain to delay longer
even than usual on the threshold. In the end the name of the hero evolved
itself out of a series of transformations, from Trotfield and Trotbury to
Copperboy, Copperstone--"Copperfull" being reserved as a _lectio varians_
for Mrs. Crupp--and _Copperfield_. Then at last the pen could fall
seriously to work, and, proceeding slowly at first--for the first page of
the MS. contains a great number of alterations--dip itself now into black,
now into blue ink, and in a small writing, already contrasting with the
bolder hand of earlier days, produce page upon page of an incomparable
book. No doubt what so irresistibly attracted Dickens to _David
Copperfield_, and what has since fascinated many readers, more or less
conscious of the secret of the charm, is the autobiographical element in
the story. Until the publication of Forster's _Life_ no reader of
_Copperfield_ could be aware of the pang it must have cost Dickens to lay
bare, though to unsuspecting eyes, the story of experiences which he had
hitherto kept all but absolutely secret, and to which his own mind could
not recur without a quivering sensitiveness. No reader could trace, as the
memory of Dickens always must have traced, some of the most vivid of those
experiences, imbued though they were with the tints of a delightfully
playful humor, in the doings and dealings of Mr. Wilkins Micawber, whose
original, by a strange coincidence, was passing tranquilly away out of
life, while his comic counterpart was blossoming into a whimsical
immortality. And no reader could divine, what very probably even the
author may hardly have ventured to confess to himself, that in the lovely
little idyl of the loves of Doady and Dora--with Jip, as Dora's father
might have said, intervening--there were, besides the reminiscences of an
innocent juvenile amour, the vestiges of a man's unconfessed though not
altogether unrepressed disappointment--the sense that "there was always
something wanting." But in order to be affected by a personal or
autobiographical element in a fiction or poem, it is by no means necessary
to be aware of its actual bearing and character, or even of its very
existence. _Amelia_ would gain little by illustrative notes concerning the
experiences of the first Mrs. Fielding. To excite in a work of fiction the
peculiar kind of interest of which I am speaking the existence of an
autobiographical substratum need not be apparent in it, nor need its
presence be even suspected. Enough, if it be _there_. But it had far
better be away altogether, unless the novelist has so thoroughly fused
this particular stream of metal with the mass filling his mould that the
result is an integral artistic whole. Such was, however, the case with
_David Copperfield_, which of all Dickens's fictions is on the whole the
most perfect as a work of art. Personal reminiscences which lay deep in
the author's breast are, as effects, harmonised with local associations
old and new. Thus, Yarmouth, painted in the story with singular poetic
truthfulness, had only quite recently been seen by Dickens for the first
time, on a holiday trip. His imagination still subdued to itself all the
elements with which he worked; and, whatever may be thought of the
construction of this story, none of his other books equals it in that
harmony of tone which no artist can secure unless by recasting all his

As to the construction of _David Copperfield_, however, I frankly confess
that I perceive no serious fault in it. It is a story with a plot, and not
merely a string of adventures and experiences, like little Davy's old
favourites upstairs at Blunderstone. In the conduct of this plot blemishes
may here and there occur. The boy's flight from London, and the direction
which it takes, are insufficiently accounted for. A certain amount of
obscurity, as well perhaps as of improbability, pervades the relations
between Uriah and the victim, round whom the unspeakably slimy thing
writhes and wriggles. On the other hand, the mere conduct of the story has
much that is beautiful in it. Thus, there is real art in the way in which
the scene of Barkis's death--written with admirable moderation--prepares
for the "greater loss" at hand for the mourning family. And in the entire
treatment of his hero's double love story Dickens has, to my mind, avoided
that discord which, in spite of himself, jars upon the reader both in
_Esmond_ and in _Adam Bede_. The best constructed part of _David
Copperfield_ is, however, unmistakably the story of Little Emily and her
kinsfolk. This is most skilfully interwoven with the personal experiences
of David, of which--except in its very beginnings--it forms no integral
part; and throughout the reader is haunted by a presentiment of the coming
catastrophe, though unable to divine the tragic force and justice of its
actual accomplishment. A touch altered here and there in Steerforth, with
the Rosa Dartle episode excluded or greatly reduced, and this part of
_David Copperfield_ might challenge comparison as to workmanship with the
whole literature of modern fiction.

Of the idyl of Davy and Dora what shall I say? Its earliest stages are
full of the gayest comedy. What, for instance, could surpass the history
of the picnic--where was it? perhaps it was near Guildford. At that feast
an imaginary rival, "Red Whisker," made the salad--how could they eat
it?--and "voted himself into the charge of the wine-cellar, which he
constructed, _being an ingenious beast_, in the hollow trunk of a tree."
Better still are the backward ripples in the course of true love; best of
all the deep wisdom of Miss Mills, in whose nature mental trial and
suffering supplied, in some measure, the place of years. In the narrative
of the young house-keeping David's real trouble is most skilfully mingled
with the comic woes of the situation; and thus the idyl almost
imperceptibly passes into the last phase, where the clouds dissolve in a
rain of tears. The genius which conceived and executed these closing
scenes was touched by a pity towards the fictitious creatures of his own
imagination, which melted his own heart; and thus his pathos is here

The inventive power of Dickens in none of his other books indulged itself
so abundantly in the creation of eccentric characters, but neither was it
in any so admirably tempered by taste and feeling. It contains no
character which could strictly be called grotesque, unless it be little
Miss Mowcher. Most of her outward peculiarities Dickens had copied from a
living original; but receiving a remonstrance from the latter, he
good-humouredly altered the use he had intended to make of the character,
and thereby spoiled what there was in it--not much, in my opinion--to
spoil. Mr. Dick belongs to a species of eccentric personages--mad people,
in a word--for which Dickens as a writer had a curious liking; but though
there is consequently no true humour in this character, it helps to bring
out the latent tenderness in another. David's Aunt is a figure which none
but a true humourist such as Sterne or Dickens could have drawn, and she
must have sprung from the author's brain armed _cap-à-pie_ as she appeared
in her garden before his little double. Yet even Miss Betsey Trotwood was
not altogether a creation of the fancy, for at Broadstairs the locality is
still pointed out where the "one great outrage of her life" was daily
renewed. In the other chief characters of this story the author seems to
rely entirely on natural truthfulness. He must have had many opportunities
of noting the ways of seamen and fishermen, but the occupants of the old
boat near Yarmouth possess the typical characteristics with which the
experience and the imagination of centuries have agreed to credit the
"salt" division of mankind. Again, he had had his own experience of
shabby-genteel life, and of the struggle which he had himself seen a happy
and a buoyant temperament maintaining against a sea of trouble. But Mr.
Micawber, whatever features may have been transferred to him, is the type
of a whole race of men who will not vanish from the face of the earth so
long as the hope which lives eternal in the human breast is only
temporarily suspended by the laws of debtor and creditor, and is always
capable of revival with the aid of a bowl of milk-punch. A kindlier and a
merrier, a more humorous and a more genuine character was never conceived
than this; and if anything was wanted to complete the comicality of the
conception, it was the wife of his bosom with the twins at her own, and
her mind made up _not_ to desert Mr. Micawber. Delightful too in his way,
though of a class more common in Dickens, is Tommy Traddles, the genial
picture of whose married life in chambers in Gray's Inn, with the dearest
girl in the world and her five sisters, including the beauty, on a visit,
may have been suggested by kindly personal reminiscences of youthful days.
In contrast to these characters, the shambling, fawning, villanous
hypocrisy of Uriah Heep is a piece of intense and elaborate workmanship,
almost cruelly done without being overdone. It was in his figures of
hypocrites that Dickens's satirical power most diversely displayed itself;
and by the side of Uriah Heep in this story, literally so in the
prison-scene at the close, stands another species of the race, the valet
Littimer, a sketch which Thackeray himself could not have surpassed.

Thus, then, I must leave the book, with its wealth of pathos and humour,
with the glow of youth still tinging its pages, but with the gentler mood
of manhood pervading it from first to last. The _reality_ of _David
Copperfield_ is, perhaps, the first feature in it likely to strike the
reader new to its charms; but a closer acquaintance will produce, and
familiarity will enhance, the sense of its wonderful _art_. Nothing will
ever destroy the popularity of a work of which it can truly be said that,
while offering to his muse a gift not less beautiful than precious, its
author put into it his life's blood.




I have spoken of both the intellectual and the physical vigour of Charles
Dickens as at their height in the years of which the most enduring fruit
was the most delightful of all his fictions. But there was no break in his
activity after the achievement of this or any other of his literary
successes, and he was never harder at work than during the seven years of
which I am about to speak, although in this period also occasionally he
was to be found hard at play. Its beginning saw him settled in his new and
cheerfully-furnished abode at Tavistock House, of which he had taken
possession in October, 1851. At its close he was master of the country
residence which had been the dream of his childhood, but he had become a
stranger to that tranquillity of mind without which no man's house is
truly his home. Gradually, but surely, things had then, or a little
before, come to such a pass that he wrote to his faithful friend: "I am
become incapable of rest. I am quite confident I should rust, break, and
die, if I spared myself. Much better to die, doing. What I am in that way
Nature made me first, and my way of life has of late, alas! confirmed."
Early in 1852 the youngest of his children had been born to him--the boy
whose babyhood once more revived in him a tenderness the depth of which
no eccentric humours and fantastic _sobriquets_ could conceal. In May,
1858, he had separated from the mother of his children; and though
self-sacrificing affection was at hand to watch over them and him, yet
that domestic life of which he had become the prophet and poet to hundreds
of thousands was in its fairest and fullest form at an end for himself.

In the earlier of these years Dickens's movements were still very much of
the same kind, and varied much after the same fashion, as in the period
described in my last chapter. In 1852 the series of amateur performances
in the country was completed; but time was found for a summer residence in
Camden Crescent, Dover. During his stay there, and during most of his
working hours in this and the following year--the spring of which was
partly spent at Brighton--he was engaged upon his new story, _Bleak
House_, published in numbers dating from March, 1852, to September, 1853.
"To let you into a secret," he had written to his lively friend, Miss Mary
Boyle, from Dover, "I am not quite sure that I ever did like, or ever
shall like, anything quite so well as _Copperfield_. But I foresee, I
think, some very good things in _Bleak House_." There is no reason to
believe that, by the general public, this novel was at the time of its
publication a whit less favourably judged or less eagerly read than its
predecessor. According to the author's own testimony it "took
extraordinarily, especially during the last five or six months" of its
issue, and "retained its immense circulation from the first, beating dear
old _Copperfield_ by a round ten thousand or more." To this day the book
has its staunch friends, some of whom would perhaps be slow to confess by
which of the elements in the story they are most forcibly attracted. On
the other hand, _Bleak House_ was probably the first of Dickens's works
which furnished a suitable text to a class of censors whose precious balms
have since descended upon his head with constant reiteration. The power of
amusing being graciously conceded to the "man of genius," his book was
charged with "absolute want of construction," and with being a
heterogeneous compound made up of a meagre and melodramatic story, and a
number of "odd folks that have to do with a long Chancery suit." Of the
characters themselves it was asserted that, though in the main excessively
funny, they were more like caricatures of the stage than studies from
nature. Some approval was bestowed upon particular figures, but rather as
types of the influence of externals than as real individualities; and
while the character of the poor crossing-sweeper was generously praised,
it was regretted that Dickens should never have succeeded in drawing "a
man or woman whose lot is cast among the high-born or wealthy." He
belonged, unfortunately, "in literature to the same class as his
illustrator, Hablot Browne, in design, though he far surpasses the
illustrator in range and power." In other words, he was essentially a

As applied to _Bleak House_, with which I am at present alone concerned,
this kind of censure was in more ways than one unjust. So far as
constructive skill was concerned, the praise given by Forster to _Bleak
House_ may be considered excessive; but there can be no doubt that, as
compared, not with _Pickwick_ and _Nickleby_, but with its immediate
predecessor, _David Copperfield_, this novel exhibits a decided advance in
that respect. In truth, Dickens in _Bleak House_ for the first time
emancipated himself from that form of novel which, in accordance with his
great eighteenth-century favourites, he had hitherto more or less
consciously adopted--the novel of adventure, of which the person of the
hero, rather than the machinery of the plot, forms the connecting element.
It may be that the influence of Mr. Wilkie Collins was already strong upon
him, and that the younger writer, whom Dickens was about this time
praising for his unlikeness to the "conceited idiots who suppose that
volumes are to be tossed off like pancakes," was already teaching
something to, as well as learning something from, the elder. It may also
be that the criticism which as editor of _Household Words_ Dickens was now
in the habit of judiciously applying to the fictions of others,
unconsciously affected his own methods and processes. Certain it is that
from this point of view _Bleak House_ may be said to begin a new series
among his works of fiction. The great Chancery suit and the fortunes of
those concerned in it are not a disconnected background from which the
mystery of Lady Dedlock's secret stands forth in relief; but the two main
parts of the story are skilfully interwoven as in a Spanish double-plot.
Nor is the success of the general action materially affected by the
circumstance that the tone of Esther Summerson's diary is not altogether
true. At the same time there is indisputably some unevenness in the
construction of _Bleak House_. It drags, and drags very perceptibly, in
some of its earlier parts. On the other hand, the interest of the reader
is strongly revived when that popular favourite, Mr. Inspector Bucket,
appears on the scene, and when, more especially in the admirably vivid
narrative of Esther's journey with the detective, the nearness of the
catastrophe exercises its exciting influence. Some of the machinery,
moreover--such as the Smallweed family's part in the plot--is tiresome;
and particular incidents are intolerably horrible or absurd--such as on
the one hand the spontaneous combustion (which is proved possible by the
analogy of historical facts!), and on the other the intrusion of the
oil-grinding Mr. Chadband into the solemn presence of Sir Leicester
Dedlock's grief. But in general the parts of the narrative are well knit
together; and there is a subtle skill in the way in which the two main
parts of the story converge towards their common close.

The idea of making an impersonal object like a great Chancery suit the
centre round which a large and manifold group of characters revolves,
seems to savour of a drama rather than of a story. No doubt the theme
suggested itself to Dickens with a very real purpose, and on the basis of
facts which he might well think warranted him in his treatment of it; for,
true artist though he was, the thought of exposing some national defect,
of helping to bring about some real reform, was always paramount in his
mind over any mere literary conception. _Primâ facie_, at least, and with
all due deference to Chancery judges and eminent silk gowns like Mr.
Blowers, the length of Chancery suits was a real public grievance, as well
as a frequent private calamity. But even as a mere artistic notion the
idea of Jarndyce _v._ Jarndyce as diversely affecting those who lived by
it, those who rebelled against it, those who died of it, was, in its way,
of unique force; and while Dickens never brought to any other of his
subjects so useful a knowledge of its external details--in times gone by
he had served a "Kenge and Carboys" of his own--hardly any one of those
subjects suggested so wide a variety of aspects for characteristic

For never before had his versatility in drawing character filled his
canvas with so multitudinous and so various a host of personages. The
legal profession, with its servitors and hangers-on of every degree,
occupies the centre of the picture. In this group no figure is more
deserving of admiration than that of Mr. Tulkinghorn, the eminently
respectable family solicitor, at whose very funeral, by a four-wheeled
affliction, the good-will of the aristocracy manifests itself. We learn
very little about him, and probably care less; but he interests us
precisely as we should be interested by the real old family lawyer, about
whom we might know and care equally little, were we to find him alone in
the twilight, drinking his ancient port in his frescoed chamber in those
fields where the shepherds play on Chancery pipes that have no stop. (Mr.
Forster, by-the-way, omitted to point out to his readers, what the piety
of American research has since put on record, that Mr. Tulkinghorn's house
was a picture of the biographer's own residence.) The portrait of Mr.
Vholes, who supports an unassailable but unenviable professional
reputation for the sake of "the three dear girls at home," and a father
whom he has to support "in the Vale of Taunton," is less attractive; but
nothing could be more in its place in the story than the clammy tenacity
of this legal ghoul and his "dead glove." Lower down in the great system
of the law we come upon Mr. Guppy and his fellows, the very quintessence
of cockney vulgarity, seasoned with a flavour of legal sharpness without
which the rankness of the mixture would be incomplete. To the legal group
Miss Flite, whose original, if I remember right, used to haunt the Temple
as well as the precincts of the Chancery courts, may likewise be said to
belong. She is quite legitimately introduced into the story--which cannot
be said of all Dickens's madmen--because her madness associates itself
with its main theme.

Much admiration has been bestowed upon the figures of an eccentric by or
under plot in this story, in which the family of the Jellybys and the
august Mr. Turveydrop are, actively, or by passive endurance, engaged. The
philanthropic section of _le monde où l'on s'ennuie_ has never been
satirised more tellingly, and, it must be added, more bitterly. Perhaps at
the time of the publication of _Bleak House_ the activity of our Mrs.
Jellybys took a wider and more cosmopolitan sweep than in later days; for
we read at the end of Esther's diary how Mrs. Jellyby "has been
disappointed in Borrioboola Gha, which turned out a failure in consequence
of the King of Borrioboola wanting to sell everybody--who survived the
climate--for rum; but she has taken up with the rights of women to sit in
Parliament, and Caddy tells me it is a mission involving more
correspondence than the old one." But Mrs. Jellyby's interference in the
affairs of other people is after all hurtful only because in busying
herself with theirs she forgets her own. The truly offensive benefactress
of her fellow-creatures is Mrs. Pardiggle, who, maxim in mouth and tract
in hand, turns everything she approaches to stone. Among her victims are
her own children, including Alfred, aged five, who has been induced to
take an oath "never to use tobacco in any form."

The particular vein of feeling that led Dickens to the delineation of
these satirical figures was one which never ran dry with him, and which
suggested some forcible-feeble satire in his very last fiction. I call it
a vein of feeling only; for he could hardly have argued in cold blood that
the efforts which he ridicules were not misrepresented as a whole by his
satire. When poor Jo on his death-bed is "asked whether he ever knew a
prayer," and replies that he could never make anything out of those spoken
by the gentlemen who "came down Tom-all-Alone's a-prayin'," but who
"mostly sed as the t'other wuns prayed wrong," the author brings a charge
which he might not have found it easy to substantiate. Yet--with the
exception of such isolated passages--the figure of Jo is in truth one of
the most powerful protests that have been put forward on behalf of the
friendless outcasts of our streets. Nor did the romantic element in the
conception interfere with the effect of the realistic. If Jo, who seems at
first to have been intended to be one of the main figures of the story, is
in Dickens's best pathetic manner, the Bagnet family is in his happiest
vein of quiet humour. Mr. Inspector Bucket, though not altogether free
from mannerism, well deserves the popularity which he obtained. For this
character, as the pages of _Household Words_ testify, Dickens had made
many studies in real life. The detective police-officer had at that time
not yet become a standing figure of fiction and the drama, nor had the
detective of real life begun to destroy the illusion.

_Bleak House_ was least of all among the novels hitherto published by its
author obnoxious to the charge persistently brought against him, that he
was doomed to failure in his attempts to draw characters taken from any
but the lower spheres of life--in his attempts, in short, to draw ladies
and gentlemen. To begin with, one of the most interesting characters in
the book--indeed, in its relation to the main idea of the story, the most
interesting of all--is the youthful hero, if he is to be so called,
Richard Carson. From the very nature of the conception the character is
passive only; but the art and feeling are in their way unsurpassed with
which the gradual collapse of a fine nature is here exhibited. Sir
Leicester Dedlock, in some measure intended as a type of his class, has
been condemned as wooden and unnatural; and no doubt the machinery of that
part of the story in which he is concerned creaks before it gets under
way. On the other hand, after the catastrophe has overwhelmed him and his
house, he becomes a really fine picture, unmarred by any Grandisonianisms
in either thought or phrase, of a true gentleman, bowed but not warped by
distress. Sir Leicester's relatives, both dead and living; Volumnia's
sprightly ancestress on the wall, and that "fair Dedlock" herself; the
whole cousinhood, debilitated and otherwise, but of one mind on such
points as William Buffy's blameworthy neglect of his duty _when in
office_; all these make up a very probable picture of a house great
enough--or thinking itself great enough--to look at the affairs of the
world from the family point of view. In Lady Dedlock alone a failure must
be admitted; but she, with her wicked double, the uncanny French maid
Hortense, exists only for the sake of the plot.

With all its merits, _Bleak House_ has little of that charm which belongs
to so many of Dickens's earlier stories, and to _David Copperfield_ above
all. In part, at least, this may be due to the excessive severity of the
task which Dickens had set himself in _Bleak House_; for hardly any other
of his works is constructed on so large a scale, or contains so many
characters organically connected with the progress of its plot; and in
part, again, to the half-didactic, half-satirical purport of the story,
which weighs heavily on the writer. An overstrained tone announces itself
on the very first page; an opening full of power--indeed, of genius--but
pitched in a key which we feel at once will not, without effort, be
maintained. On the second page the prose has actually become verse; or how
else can one describe part of the following apostrophe?

    "'This is the Court of Chancery, which has its decaying houses and its
    blighted lands in every shire; which has its worn-out lunatic in
    every mad-house, and its dead in every church-yard; which has its
    ruined suitor, with his slipshod heels and threadbare dress, borrowing
    and begging through the round of every man's acquaintance; which gives
    to moneyed might the means abundantly of wearing out the right; which
    so exhausts finances, patience, courage, hope; so overthrows the brain
    and breaks the heart, that there is not an honourable man among its
    practitioners who would not give--who does not often give--the
    warning, "Suffer any wrong that can be done you, rather than come

It was possibly with some thought of giving to _Bleak House_ also, though
in a different way, the close relation to his experiences of living men to
which _David Copperfield_ had owed so much, that Dickens introduced into
it two _portraits_. Doubtless, at first, his intention had by no means
gone so far as this. His constant counsellor always disliked his mixing up
in his fictitious characters any personal reminiscences of particular men,
experience having shown that in such cases the whole character came out
_more like_ than the author was aware. Nor can Dickens himself have failed
to understand how such an experiment is always tempting, and always
dangerous; how it is often irreconcilable with good feeling, and quite as
often with good taste. In _Bleak House_, however, it occurred to him to
introduce likenesses of two living men, both more or less well known to
the public and to himself; and both of individualities too clearly marked
for a portrait, or even a caricature, of either to be easily mistaken. Of
that art of mystification which the authors of both English and French
_romans à clef_ have since practised with so much transient success, he
was no master, and fortunately so; for what could be more ridiculous than
that the reader's interest in a character should be stimulated, first, by
its being evidently the late Lord P-lm-rst-n or the P---- of O----, and
then by its being no less evidently somebody else? It should be added
that neither of the two portrait characters in _Bleak House_ possesses the
least importance for the conduct of the story, so that there is nothing to
justify their introduction except whatever excellence may belong to them
in themselves.

Lawrence Boythorn is described by Mr. Sydney Colvin as drawn from Walter
Savage Landor with his intellectual greatness left out. It was, of course,
unlikely that his intellectual greatness should be left in, the intention
obviously being to reproduce what was eccentric in the ways and manner,
with a suggestion of what was noble in the character, of Dickens's famous
friend. Whether, had he attempted to do so, Dickens could have drawn a
picture of the whole Landor, is another question. Landor, who could put
into a classic dialogue that sense of the _naïf_ to which Dickens is
generally a stranger, yet passionately admired the most _sentimental_ of
all his young friend's poetic figures; and it might almost be said that
the intellectual natures of the two men were drawn together by the force
of contrast. They appear to have first become intimate with one another
during Landor's residence at Bath--which began in 1837--and they
frequently met at Gore House. At a celebration of the poet's birthday in
his lodgings at Bath, so Forster tells us in his biography of Landor, "the
fancy which took the form of Little Nell in the _Curiosity Shop_ first
dawned on the genius of its creator." In Landor's spacious mind there was
room for cordial admiration of an author the bent of whose genius differed
widely from that of his own; and he could thus afford to sympathise with
his whole heart in a creation which men of much smaller intellectual build
have pronounced mawkish and unreal. Dickens afterwards gave to one of his
sons the names of Walter Landor; and when the old man died at last,
_after_ his godson, paid him an eloquent tribute of respect in _All the
Year Round_. In this paper the personal intention of the character of
Boythorn is avowed by implication; but though Landor esteemed and loved
Dickens, it might seem matter for wonder, did not eccentrics after all
sometimes cherish their own eccentricity, that his irascible nature failed
to resent a rather doubtful compliment. For the character of Boythorn is
whimsical rather than, in any but the earlier sense of the word, humorous.
But the portrait, however imperfect, was in this instance, beyond all
doubt, both kindly meant and kindly taken; though it cannot be said to
have added to the attractions of the book into which it is introduced.

While no doubt ever existed as to this likeness, the case may not seem so
clear with regard to the original of Harold Skimpole. It would be far more
pleasant to pass by without notice the controversy--if controversy it can
be called--which this character provoked; but a wrong done by one eminent
man of letters to another, however unforeseen its extent may have been,
and however genuine the endeavour to repair its effect, becomes part of
literary history. That the original of Harold Skimpole was Leigh Hunt
cannot reasonably be called into question. This assertion by no means
precludes the possibility, or probability, that a second original
suggested certain features in the portrait. Nor does it contradict the
substantial truthfulness of Dickens's own statement, published in _All the
Year Round_ after Leigh Hunt's death, on the appearance of the new edition
of the _Autobiography_ with Thornton Hunt's admirable introduction. While,
Dickens then wrote, "he yielded to the temptation of too often making the
character speak like his old friend," yet "he no more thought, God forgive
him! that the admired original would ever be charged with the imaginary
vices of the fictitious creature, than he had himself ever thought of
charging the blood of Desdemona and Othello on the innocent Academy model
who sat for Iago's leg in the picture. Even as to the mere occasional
manner," he declared that he had "altered the whole of that part of the
text, when two intimate friends of Leigh Hunt--both still
living--discovered too strong a resemblance to his 'way.'" But, while
accepting this statement, and suppressing a regret that after discovering
the dangerous closeness of the resemblance Dickens should have, quite at
the end of the story, introduced a satirical reference to Harold
Skimpole's autobiography--Leigh Hunt's having been published only a year
or two before--one must confess that the explanation only helps to prove
the rashness of the offence. While intending the portrait to keep its own
secret from the general public, Dickens at the same time must have wished
to gratify a few keen-sighted friends. In March, 1852, he writes to
Forster, evidently in reference to the apprehensions of his correspondent:
"Browne has done Skimpole, and helped to make him singularly unlike the
great original." The "great original" was a man for whom, both before and
after this untoward incident in the relations between them, Dickens
professed a warm regard, and who, to judge from the testimony of those who
knew him well,[9] and from his unaffected narrative of his own life,
abundantly deserved it. A perusal of Leigh Hunt's _Autobiography_ suffices
to show that he used to talk in Skimpole's manner, and even to write in
it; that he was at one period of his life altogether ignorant of money
matters, and that he cultivated cheerfulness on principle. But it likewise
shows that his ignorance of business was acknowledged by him as a
misfortune in which he was very far from exulting. "Do I boast of this
ignorance?" he writes. "Alas! I have no such respect for the pedantry of
absurdity as that. I blush for it, and I only record it out of a sheer
painful movement of conscience, as a warning to those young authors who
might be led to look upon such folly as a fine thing, which at all events
is what I never thought it myself." On the other hand, as his son showed,
his cheerfulness, which was not inconsistent with a natural proneness to
intervals of melancholy, rested on grounds which were the result of a fine
as well as healthy morality. "The value of cheerful opinions," he wrote,
in words embodying a moral that Dickens himself was never weary of
enforcing, "is inestimable; they will retain a sort of heaven round a man,
when everything else might fail him, and consequently they ought to be
religiously inculcated upon his children." At the same time, no quality
was more conspicuous in his life than his readiness for hard work, even
under the most depressing circumstances; and no feature was more marked in
his moral character than his conscientiousness. "In the midst of the
sorest temptations," Dickens wrote of him, "he maintained his honesty
unblemished by a single stain; and in all public and private transactions
he was the very soul of truth and honour." To mix up with the outward
traits of such a man the detestable obliquities of Harold Skimpole was an
experiment paradoxical even as a mere piece of character-drawing. The
merely literary result is a failure, while a wound was needlessly
inflicted, if not upon Leigh Hunt himself, at least upon all who
cherished his friendship or good name. Dickens seems honestly and deeply
to have regretted what he had done, and the extremely tasteful little
tribute to Leigh Hunt's poetic gifts which, some years before the death of
the latter, Dickens wrote for _Household Words_,[10] must have partaken of
the nature of an _amende honorable_. Neither his subsequent repudiation of
unfriendly intentions, nor his earlier exertions on Leigh Hunt's behalf,
are to be overlooked, but they cannot undo a mistake which forms an
unfortunate incident in Dickens's literary life, singularly free though
that life, as a whole, is from the miseries of personal quarrels, and all
the pettinesses with which the world of letters is too familiar.

While Dickens was engaged upon a literary work such as would have absorbed
the intellectual energies of most men, he not only wrote occasionally for
his journal, but also dictated for publication in it, the successive
portions of a book altogether outside his usual range of authorship. This
was _A Child's History of England_, the only one of his works that was not
written by his own hand. A history of England, written by Charles Dickens
for his own or any one else's children, was sure to be a different work
from one written under similar circumstances by Mr. Freeman or the late M.
Guizot. The book, though it cannot be called a success, is, however, by no
means devoid of interest. Just ten years earlier he had written, and
printed, a history of England for the benefit of his eldest son, then a
hopeful student of the age of five, which was composed, as he informed
Douglas Jerrold at the time, "in the exact spirit" of that advanced
politician's paper, "for I don't know what I should do if he were to get
hold of any Conservative or High Church notions; and the best way of
guarding against any such horrible result is, I take it, to wring the
parrots' necks in his very cradle." The _Child's History of England_ is
written in the same spirit, and illustrates more directly, and, it must be
added, more coarsely, than any of Dickens's other works his hatred of
ecclesiasticism of all kinds. Thus, the account of Dunstan is pervaded by
a prejudice which is the fruit of anything but knowledge; Edward the
Confessor is "the dreary old" and "the maudlin Confessor;" and the Pope
and what belongs to him are treated with a measure of contumely which
would have satisfied the heart of Leigh Hunt himself. To be sure, if King
John is dismissed as a "miserable brute," King Henry the Eighth is not
more courteously designated as a "blot of blood and grease upon the
history of England." On the other hand, it could hardly be but that
certain passages of the national story should be well told by so great a
master of narrative; and though the strain in which parts of the history
of Charles the Second are recounted strikes one as hardly suitable to the
young, to whom irony is in general _caviare_ indeed, yet there are touches
both in the story of "this merry gentleman"--a designation which almost
recalls Fagin--and elsewhere in the book not unworthy of its author. Its
patriotic spirit is quite as striking as its Radicalism; and vulgar as
some of its expressions must be called, there is a pleasing glow in the
passage on King Alfred, which declares the "English-Saxon" character to
have been "the greatest character among the nations of the earth;" and
there is a yet nobler enthusiasm, such as it would indeed be worth any
writer's while to infuse into the young, in the passionate earnestness
with which, by means of the story of Agincourt, the truth is enforced that
"nothing can make war otherwise than horrible."

This book must have been dictated, and some at least of the latter portion
of _Bleak House_ written, at Boulogne, where, after a spring sojourn at
Brighton, Dickens spent the summer of 1853, and where were also passed the
summers of 1854 and 1856. Boulogne, where Le Sage's last years were spent,
was _Our French Watering-place_, so graphically described in a paper in
_Household Words_ as a companion picture to the old familiar Broadstairs.
The family were comfortably settled on a green hill-side close to the
town, "in a charming garden in a very pleasant country," with "excellent
light wines on the premises, French cookery, millions of roses, two
cows--for milk-punch--vegetables cut for the pot, and handed in at the
kitchen window; five summer-houses, fifteen fountains--with no water in
'em--and thirty-seven clocks--keeping, as I conceive, Australian time,
having no reference whatever to the hours on this side of the globe." The
energetic owner of the Villa des Moulineaux was the "M. Loyal Devasseur"
of _Our French Watering-place_--jovial, convivial, genial, sentimental too
as a Buonapartist and a patriot. In 1854 the same obliging personage
housed the Dickens family in another abode, at the top of the hill, close
to the famous Napoleonic column; but in 1856 they came back to the
Moulineaux. The former year had been an exciting one for Englishmen in
France, with royal visits to and fro to testify to the _entente cordiale_
between the governments. Dickens, notwithstanding his humorous assertions,
was only moderately touched by the Sebastopol fever; but when a concrete
problem came before him in the shape of a festive demonstration, he
addressed himself to it with the irrepressible ardour of the born
stage-manager. "In our own proper illumination," he writes, on the
occasion of the Prince Consort's visit to the camp at Boulogne, "I laid
on all the servants, all the children now at home, all the visitors, one
to every window, with everything ready to light up on the ringing of a big
dinner-bell by your humble correspondent. St. Peter's on Easter Monday was
the result."

Of course, at Boulogne, Dickens was cut off neither from his business nor
from his private friends. His hospitable invitations were as urgent to his
French villa in the summer as to his London house in the winter, and on
both sides of the water the _Household Words_ familiars were as sure of a
welcome from their chief. During his absences from London he could have
had no trustier lieutenant than Mr. W. H. Wills, with whom, being always
ready to throw himself into a part, he corresponded in an amusing
paragraphed, semi-official style. And neither in his working nor in his
leisure hours had he by this time any more cherished companion than Mr.
Wilkie Collins, whose progress towards brilliant success he was watching
with the keenest and kindliest interest. With him and his old friend
Augustus Egg, Dickens, in October, 1853, started on a tour to Switzerland
and Italy, in the course of which he saw more than one old friend, and
revisited more than one known scene--ascending Vesuvius with Mr. Layard
and drinking punch at Rome with David Roberts. It would be absurd to make
any lofty demands upon the brief records of a holiday journey; and, for my
part, I would rather think of Dickens assiduous over his Christmas number
at Rome and at Venice, than weigh his moralisings about the electric
telegraph running through the Coliseum. His letters written to his wife
during this trip are bright and gay, and it was certainly no roving
bachelor who "kissed almost all the children he encountered in remembrance
of the sweet faces" of his own, and "talked to all the mothers who
carried them." By the middle of December the travellers were home again,
and before the year was out he had read to large audiences at Birmingham,
on behalf of a public institution, his favourite Christmas stories of _The
Christmas Carol_ and _The Cricket on the Hearth_. As yet, however, his
mind was not seriously intent upon any labours but those proper to his
career as an author, and the year 1854 saw, between the months of April
and August, the publication in his journal of a new story, which is among
the most characteristic, though not among the most successful, of his
works of fiction.

In comparison with most of Dickens's novels, _Hard Times_ is contained
within a narrow compass; and this, with the further necessity of securing
to each successive small portion of the story a certain immediate degree
of effectiveness, accounts, in some measure, for the peculiarity of the
impression left by this story upon many of its readers. Short as the story
relatively is, few of Dickens's fictions were elaborated with so much
care. He had not intended to write a new story for a twelvemonth, when, as
he says, "the idea laid hold of him by the throat in a very violent
manner," and the labour, carried on under conditions of peculiar
irksomeness, "used him up" after a quite unaccustomed fashion. The book
thus acquired a precision of form and manner which commends it to the
French school of criticism rather than to lovers of English humour in its
ampler forms and more flowing moods. At the same time the work has its
purpose so visibly imprinted on its front, as almost to forbid our
regarding it in the first instance apart from the moral which avowedly it
is intended to inculcate. This moral, by no means new with Dickens, has
both a negative and a positive side. "Do not harden your hearts," is the
negative injunction, more especially do not harden them against the
promptings of that human kindness which should draw together man and man,
old and young, rich and poor; and keep your sympathies fresh by bringing
nourishment to them through channels which prejudice or short-sightedness
would fain narrow or stop up. This hortatory purpose assumes the form of
invective and even of angry menace; and "utilitarian economists, skeletons
of school-masters, commissioners of facts, genteel and used-up infidels,
gabblers of many little dog's-eared creeds," are warned: "The poor you
have always with you. Cultivate in them, while there is yet time, the
utmost graces of the fancies and affections, to adorn their lives, so much
in need of ornament; or, in the day of your triumph, when romance is
utterly driven out of their souls, and they and a bare existence stand
face to face, reality will take a wolfish turn, and make an end of you."

No authority, however eminent, not even Mr. Ruskin's, is required to teach
reflecting minds the infinite importance of the principles which _Hard
Times_ was intended to illustrate. Nor is it of much moment whether the
illustrations are always exact; whether the "commissioners of facts" have
reason to protest that the unimaginative character of their processes does
not necessarily imply an unimaginative purpose in their ends; whether
there is any actual Coketown in existence within a hundred miles of
Manchester; or whether it suffices that "everybody knew what was meant,
but every cotton-spinning town said it was the other cotton-spinning
town." The chief personal grievance of Stephen Blackpool has been removed
or abated, but the "muddle" is not yet altogether cleared up which
prevents the nation and the "national dustmen," its law-givers, from
impartially and sympathetically furthering the interest of all classes. In
a word, the moral of _Hard Times_ has not yet lost its force, however
imperfect or unfair the method may have been in which it is urged in the

Unfortunately, however, a work of art with a didactic purpose is only too
often prone to exaggerate what seems of special importance for the purpose
in question, and to heighten contrasts which seem likely to put it in the
clearest light. "Thomas Gradgrind, sir"--who announces himself with
something of the genuine Lancashire roll--and his system are a sound and a
laughable piece of satire, to begin with, only here and there marred by
the satirist's imperfect knowledge of the details which he caricatures.
The "Manchester School," which the novel strives to expose, is in itself
to a great extent a figment of the imagination, which to this day serves
to round many a hollow period in oratory and journalism. Who, it may
fairly be asked, were the parliamentary politicians satirized in the
member for Coketown, deaf and blind to any consideration but the
multiplication-table? But in any case the cause hardly warrants one of its
consequences as depicted in the novel--the utter brutalization of a stolid
nature like "the Whelp's." When Gradgrind's son is about to be shipped
abroad out of reach of the penalties of his crime, he reminds his father
that he merely exemplifies the statistical law that "so many people out of
so many will be dishonest." When the virtuous Bitzer is indignantly asked
whether he has a heart, he replies that he is physiologically assured of
the fact; and to the further inquiry whether this heart of his is
accessible to compassion, makes answer that "it is accessible to reason,
and to nothing else." These returnings of Mr. Gradgrind's philosophy upon
himself savour of the moral justice represented by Gratiano in the fourth
act. So, again, Coketown, with its tall chimneys and black river, and its
thirteen religious denominations, to which whoever else belonged the
working-men did _not_, is no perverse contradiction of fact. But the
influence of Coketown, or of a whole wilderness of Coketowns, cannot
justly be charged with a tendency to ripen such a product as Josiah
Bounderby, who is not only the "bully of humanity," but proves to be a
mean-spirited impostor in his pretensions to the glory of self-help. In
short, _Hard Times_ errs by its attempt to prove too much.

Apart, however, from the didactic purposes which overburden it, the pathos
and humour of particular portions of this tale appear to me to have been
in no wise overrated. The domestic tragedy of Stephen and Rachael has a
subdued intensity of tenderness and melancholy of a kind rare with
Dickens, upon whom the example of Mrs. Gaskell in this instance may not
have been without its influence. Nor is there anything more delicately and
at the same time more appropriately conceived in any of his works than
poor Rachael's dominion over the imagination as well as over the
affections of her noble-minded and unfortunate lover: "As the shining
stars were to the heavy candle in the window, so was Rachael, in the
rugged fancy of this man, to the common experiences of his life." The
love-story of poor Louisa is of a different kind, and more wordy in the
telling; yet here also the feelings painted are natural and true. The
humorous interest is almost entirely concentrated upon the company of
horse-riders; and never has Dickens's extraordinary power of humorous
observation more genially asserted itself. From Mr. Sleary--"thtout man,
game-eye"--and his protagonist, Mr. E. W. B. Childers, who, when he shook
his long hair, caused it to "shake all at once," down to Master
Kidderminster, who used to form the apex of the human pyramids, and "in
whose young nature there was an original flavour of the misanthrope,"
these honest equestrians are more than worthy to stand by the side of Mr.
Vincent Crummles and his company of actors; and the fun has here, in
addition to the grotesqueness of the earlier picture, a mellowness of its
own. Dickens's comic genius was never so much at its ease and so
inexhaustible in ludicrous fancies as in the depiction of such groups as
this; and the horse-riders, skilfully introduced to illustrate a truth,
wholesome if not novel, would have insured popularity to a far less
interesting and to a far less powerful fiction.

The year after that which saw the publication of _Hard Times_ was one in
which the thoughts of most Englishmen were turned away from the problems
approached in that story. But if the military glories of 1854 had not
aroused in him any very exuberant enthusiasm, the reports from the Crimea
in the ensuing winter were more likely to appeal to his patriotism as well
as to his innate impatience of disorder and incompetence. In the first
instance, however, he contented himself with those grumblings to which, as
a sworn foe of red tape and a declared disbeliever in our parliamentary
system, he might claim to have a special right; and he seems to have been
too restless in and about himself to have entered very closely into the
progress of public affairs. The Christmas had been a merry one at
Tavistock House; and the amateur theatricals of its juvenile company had
passed through a most successful season. Their history has been written by
one of the performers--himself not the least distinguished of the company,
since it was he who, in Dickens's house, caused Thackeray to roll off his
seat in a fit of laughter. Dickens, who with Mark Lemon disported himself
among these precocious minnows, was, as our chronicler relates, like
Triplet, "author, manager, and actor too," organiser, deviser, and
harmoniser of all the incongruous assembled elements; it was he "who
improvised costumes, painted and corked our innocent cheeks, and suggested
all the most effective business of the scene." But, as was usual with him,
the transition was rapid from play to something very like earnest; and
already, in June, 1855, the Tavistock House theatre produced Mr. Wilkie
Collins's melodrama of _The Light-house_, which afterwards found its way
to the public stage. To Dickens, who performed in it with the author, it
afforded "scope for a piece of acting of great power," the old sailor
Aaron Gurnock, which by its savage picturesqueness earned a tribute of
recognition from Carlyle. No less a hand than Stanfield painted the
scenery, and Dickens himself, besides writing the prologue, introduced
into the piece a ballad called _The Story of the Wreck_, a not
unsuccessful effort in Cowper's manner. At Christmas, 1856-'57, there
followed _The Frozen Deep_, another melodrama by the same author; and by
this time the management of his private theatricals had become to Dickens
a serious business, to be carried on seriously for its own sake. "It was
to him," he wrote, "like writing a book in company;" and his young people
might learn from it "that kind of humility which is got from the earned
knowledge that whatever the right hand finds to do must be done with the
heart in it, and in a desperate earnest." _The Frozen Deep_ was several
times repeated, on one occasion for the benefit of the daughter of the
recently deceased Douglas Jerrold; but by the end of January the little
theatre was finally broken up; and though Dickens spent one more winter
season at Tavistock House, the shadow was then already falling upon his
cheerful home.

In the midst of his children's Christmas gaieties of the year 1855 Dickens
had given two or three public readings to "wonderful audiences" in various
parts of the country. A trip to Paris with Mr. Wilkie Collins had
followed, during which, as he wrote home, he was wandering about Paris all
day, dining at all manner of places, and frequenting the theatres at the
rate of two or three a night. "I suppose," he adds, with pleasant
self-irony, "as an old farmer said of Scott, I am 'makin' mysel'' all the
time; but I seem to be rather a free-and-easy sort of superior vagabond."
And in truth a roving, restless spirit was strong upon him in these years.
Already, in April, he speaks of himself as "going off; I don't know where
or how far, to ponder about I don't know what." France, Switzerland,
Spain, Constantinople, in Mr. Layard's company, had been successively in
his thoughts, and, for aught he knew, Greenland and the North Pole might
occur to him next. At the same time he foresaw that the end of it all
would be his shutting himself up in some out-of-the-way place of which he
had not yet thought, and going desperately to work there.

Before, however, these phantasmagoric schemes had subsided into the quiet
plan of an autumn visit to Folkestone, followed during the winter and
spring by a residence at Paris, he had at least found a subject to ponder
on, which was to suggest an altogether novel element in his next work of
fiction. I have said that though, like the majority of his
fellow-countrymen, Dickens regarded our war with Russia as inevitable, yet
his hatred of all war, and his impatience of the exaggerations of passion
and sentiment which all war produces, had preserved him from himself
falling a victim to their contagion. On the other hand, when in the winter
of 1854-'55 the note of exultation in the bravery of our soldiers in the
Crimea began to be intermingled with complaints against the grievously
defective arrangements for their comfort and health, and when these
complaints, stimulated by the loud-voiced energy of the press, and
extending into censures upon the whole antiquated and perverse system of
our army administration, speedily swelled into a roar of popular
indignation, sincere conviction ranged him on the side of the most
uncompromising malcontents. He was at all times ready to give vent to that
antipathy against officialism which is shared by so large a number of
Englishmen. Though the son of a dock-yard official, he is found roundly
asserting that "more obstruction of good things and patronage of bad
things has been committed in the dock-yards--as in everything connected
with the misdirection of the navy--than in every other branch of the
public service put together, including"--the particularisation is
hard--"even the Woods and Forests." He had listened, we may be sure, to
the scornful denunciations launched by the prophet of the _Latter-Day
Pamphlets_ against Downing Street and all its works, and to the
proclamation of the great though rather vague truth that "reform in that
Downing Street department of affairs is precisely the reform which were
worth all others." And now the heart-rending sufferings of multitudes of
brave men had brought to light, in one department of the public
administration, a series of complications and perversities which in the
end became so patent to the Government itself that they had to be roughly
remedied in the very midst of the struggle. The cry for administrative
reform, which arose in the year 1855, however crude the form it
frequently took, was in itself a logical enough result of the situation;
and there is no doubt that the angriness of the complaint was intensified
by the attitude taken up in the House of Commons by the head of the
Government towards the pertinacious politician who made himself the
mouthpiece of the extreme demands of the feeling outside. Mr. Layard was
Dickens's valued friend; and the share is thus easily explained
which--against his otherwise uniform practice of abstaining from public
meetings--the most popular writer of the day took in the Administrative
Reform meetings, held in Drury Lane Theatre, on June 27, 1855. The speech
which he delivered on this occasion, and which was intended to aid in
forcing the "whole question" of Administrative Reform upon the attention
of an unwilling Government, possesses no value whatever in connexion with
its theme, though of course it is not devoid of some smart and telling
hits. Not on the platform, but at his desk as an author, was Dickens to do
real service to the cause of administrative efficiency. For whilst
invective of a general kind runs off like water from the rock of usage,
even Circumlocution Offices are not insensible to the acetous force of

Dickens's caricature of British officialism formed the most generally
attractive element in the story of _Little Dorrit_--originally intended to
be called _Nobody's Fault_--which he published in monthly numbers, from
December, 1855, that year, to June, 1857. He was solemnly taken to task
for his audacity by the _Edinburgh Review_, which reproached him for his
persistent ridicule of "the institutions of the country, the laws, the
administration, in a word, the government under which we live." His
"charges" were treated as hardly seriously meant, but as worthy of severe
reprobation, because likely to be seriously taken by the poor, the
uneducated, and the young. And the caricaturist, besides being reminded of
the names of several eminent public servants, was specially requested to
look, as upon a picture contrasting with his imaginary Circumlocution
Office, upon the Post Office, or--for the choice offered was not more
extensive--upon the London police, so liberally praised by himself in his
own journal. The delighted author of _Little Dorrit_ replied to this not
very skilful diatribe in a short and spirited rejoinder in _Household
Words_. In this he judiciously confined himself to refuting an unfounded
incidental accusation in the Edinburgh article, and to dwelling, as upon a
"Curious Misprint," upon the indignant query: "How does he account for the
career of _Mr. Rowland Hill_?" whose name, as an example of the ready
intelligence of the Circumlocution Office, was certainly an odd _erratum_.
Had he, however, cared to make a more general reply to the main article of
the indictment, he might have pointed out that, as a matter of fact, our
official administrative machinery _had_ recently broken down in one of its
most important branches, and that circumlocution in the literal sense of
the word--circumlocution between department and department, or office and
office--had been one of the principal causes of the collapse. The general
drift of the satire was, therefore, in accordance with fact, and the
satire itself salutary in its character. To quarrel with it for not taking
into consideration what might be said on the other side, was to quarrel
with the method of treatment which satire has at all times considered
itself entitled to adopt; while to stigmatise a popular book as likely to
mislead the ill-informed, was to suggest a restraint which would have
deprived wit and humour of most of their opportunities of rendering
service to either a good or an evil cause.

A far more legitimate exception has been taken to these Circumlocution
Office episodes as defective in art by the very reason of their being
exaggerations. Those best acquainted with the interiors of our government
offices may be right in denying that the Barnacles can be regarded as an
existing type. Indeed, it would at no time have been easy to point to any
office quite as labyrinthine, or quite as bottomless, as that permanently
presided over by Mr. Tite Barnacle; to any chief secretary or commissioner
so absolutely wooden of fibre as he; or to any private secretary so
completely absorbed in his eye-glass as Barnacle junior. But as satirical
figures they one and all fulfil their purpose as thoroughly as the picture
of the official sanctum itself, with its furniture "in the higher official
manner," and its "general bamboozling air of how not to do it." The only
question is, whether satire which, if it is to be effective, must be of a
piece and in its way exaggerated, is not out of place in a pathetic and
humorous fiction, where, like a patch of too diverse a thread, it
interferes with the texture into which it is introduced. In themselves
these passages of _Little Dorrit_ deserve to remain unforgotten amongst
the masterpieces of literary caricature; and there is, I do not hesitate
to say, something of Swiftian force in their grotesque embodiment of a
popular current of indignation. The mere name of the Circumlocution Office
was a stroke of genius, one of those phrases of Dickens which Professor
Masson justly describes as, whether exaggerated or not, "efficacious for
social reform." As usual, Dickens had made himself well acquainted with
the formal or outside part of his subject; the very air of Whitehall seems
to gather round us as Mr. Tite Barnacle, in answer to a persistent
enquirer who "wants to know" the position of a particular matter,
concedes that it "may have been, in the course of official business,
referred to the Circumlocution Office for its consideration," and that
"the department may have either originated, or confirmed, a minute on the
subject." In the _Household Words_ paper called _A Poor Man's Tale of a
Patent_ (1850) will be found a sufficiently elaborate study for Mr.
Doyce's experiences of the government of his country, as wrathfully
narrated by Mr. Meagles.

With the exception of the Circumlocution Office passages--adventitious as
they are to the progress of the action--_Little Dorrit_ exhibits a
palpable falling-off in inventive power. Forster illustrates by a striking
fac-simile the difference between the "labour and pains" of the author's
short notes for _Little Dorrit_ and the "lightness and confidence of
handling" in what hints he had jotted down for _David Copperfield_.
Indeed, his "tablets" had about this time begun to be an essential part of
his literary equipment. But in _Little Dorrit_ there are enough internal
signs of, possibly unconscious, lassitude. The earlier, no doubt, is, in
every respect, the better part of the book; or, rather, the later part
shows the author wearily at work upon a canvas too wide for him, and
filling it up with a crowd of personages in whom it is difficult to take
much interest. Even Mr. Merdle and his catastrophe produce the effect
rather of a ghastly allegory than of an "extravagant conception," as the
author ironically called it in his preface, derived only too directly from
real life. In the earlier part of the book, in so far as it is not once
again concerned with enforcing the moral of _Hard Times_ in a different
way, by means of Mrs. Clennam and her son's early history, the humour of
Dickens plays freely over the figure of the Father of the Marshalsea. It
is a psychological masterpiece in its way; but the revolting selfishness
of Little Dorrit's father is not redeemed artistically by her own
long-suffering; for her pathos lacks the old irresistible ring. Doubtless
much in this part of the story--the whole episode, for instance, of the
honest turnkey--is in the author's best manner. But, admirable as it is,
this new picture of prison-life and prison-sentiment has an undercurrent
of bitterness, indeed, almost of contemptuousness, foreign to the best
part of Dickens's genius. This is still more perceptible in a figure not
less true to life than the Father of the Marshalsea himself--Flora, the
overblown flower of Arthur Clennam's boyish love. The humour of the
conception is undeniable, but the whole effect is cruel; and, though
greatly amused, the reader feels almost as if he were abetting a
profanation. Dickens could not have become what he is to the great
multitude of his readers had he, as a humourist, often indulged in this
cynical mood.

There is in general little in the characters of this fiction to compensate
for the sense of oppression from which, as he follows the slow course of
its far from striking plot, the reader finds it difficult to free himself.
A vein of genuine humour shows itself in Mr. Plornish, obviously a
favourite of the author's, and one of those genuine working-men, as rare
in fiction as on the stage, where Mr. Toole has reproduced the species;
but the relation between Mr. and Mrs. Plornish is only a fainter revival
of that between Mr. and Mrs. Bagney. Nor is there anything fresh or novel
in the characters belonging to another social sphere. Henry Gowan,
apparently intended as an elaborate study in psychology, is only a very
tedious one; and his mother at Hampton Court, whatever phase of a
dilapidated aristocracy she may be intended to caricature, is merely
ill-bred. As for Mrs. General, she is so sorry a burlesque that she could
not be reproduced without extreme caution even on the stage--to the
reckless conventionalities of which, indeed, the whole picture of the
Dorrit family as _nouveaux riches_ bears a striking resemblance. There is,
on the contrary, some good caricature, which, in one instance at least,
was thought transparent by the knowing, in the _silhouettes_ of the great
Mr. Merdle's professional guests; but these are, like the Circumlocution
Office puppets, satiric sketches, not the living figures of creative

I have spoken of this story with a censure which may be regarded as
exaggerated in its turn. But I well remember, at the time of its
publication in numbers, the general consciousness that _Little Dorrit_ was
proving unequal to the high-strung expectations which a new work by
Dickens then excited in his admirers, both young and old. There were new
and striking features in it, with abundant comic and serious effect, but
there was no power in the whole story to seize and hold, and the feeling
could not be escaped that the author was not at his best. And Dickens was
not at his best when he wrote _Little Dorrit_. Yet while nothing is more
remarkable in the literary career of Dickens than this apparently speedy
decline of his power, nothing is more wonderful in it than the degree to
which he righted himself again, not, indeed, with his public, for the
public never deserted its favourite, but with his genius.

A considerable part of _Little Dorrit_ must have been written in Paris,
where, in October, after a quiet autumn at Folkestone, Dickens had taken a
family apartment in the Avenue des Champs Élysées, "about half a quarter
of a mile above Franconi's." Here, after his fashion, he lived much to
himself, his family, and his guests, only occasionally finding his way
into a literary or artistic _salon_; but he sat for his portrait to both
Ary and Henri Scheffer, and was easily persuaded to read his _Cricket on
the Hearth_ to an audience in the atelier. Macready and Mr. Wilkie Collins
were in turn the companions of many "theatrical and lounging" evenings.
Intent as Dickens now had become upon the technicalities of his own form
of composition, this interest must have been greatly stimulated by the
frequent comparison of modern French plays, in most of which nicety of
construction and effectiveness of situation have so paramount a
significance. At Boulogne, too, Mr. Wilkie Collins was a welcome summer
visitor. And in the autumn the two friends started on the _Lazy Tour of
Two Idle Apprentices_. It came to an untimely end as a pedestrian
excursion, but the record of it is one of the pleasantest memorials of a
friendship which brightened much of Dickens's life and intensified his
activity in work as well as in pleasure.

"Mr. Thomas Idle" had indeed a busy time of it in this year 1857. The
publication of _Little Dorrit_ was not finished till June, and in August
we find him, between a reading and a performance of _The Frozen Deep_ at
Manchester--then in the exciting days of the great Art Exhibition--thus
describing to Macready his way of filling up his time: "I hope you have
seen my tussle with the _Edinburgh_. I saw the chance last Friday week, as
I was going down to read the _Carol_ in St. Martin's Hall. Instantly
turned to, then and there, and wrote half the article, flew out of bed
early next morning, and finished it by noon. Went down to Gallery of
Illustration (we acted that night), did the day's business, corrected the
proofs in Polar costume in dressing-room, broke up two numbers of
_Household Words_ to get it out directly, played in _Frozen Deep_ and
_Uncle John_, presided at supper of company, made no end of speeches, went
home and gave in completely for four hours, then got sound asleep, and
next day was as fresh as you used to be in the far-off days of your lusty
youth." It was on the occasion of the readings at St. Martin's Hall, for
the benefit of Douglas Jerrold's family, that the thought of giving
readings for his own benefit first suggested itself to Dickens; and, as
will be seen, by April, 1858, the idea had been carried into execution,
and a new phase of life had begun for him. And yet at this very time, when
his home was about to cease being in the fullest sense a home to Dickens,
by a strange irony of fortune, he had been enabled to carry out a
long-cherished fancy and to take possession, in the first instance as a
summer residence, of the house on Gad's Hill, of which a lucky chance had
made him the owner rather more than a twelvemonth before.

"My little place," he wrote in 1858, to his Swiss friend Cerjat, "is a
grave red-brick house (time of George the First, I suppose), which I have
added to and stuck bits upon in all manner of ways, so that it is as
pleasantly irregular, and as violently opposed to all architectural ideas,
as the most hopeful man could possibly desire. It is on the summit of
Gad's Hill. The robbery was committed before the door, on the man with the
treasure, and Falstaff ran away from the identical spot of ground now
covered by the room in which I write. A little rustic ale-house, called
'The Sir John Falstaff,' is over the way--has been over the way ever
since, in honour of the event.... The whole stupendous property is on the
old Dover road...."

Among "the blessed woods and fields" which, as he says, had done him "a
world of good," in a season of unceasing bodily and mental unrest, the
great English writer had indeed found a habitation fitted to become
inseparable from his name and fame. It was not till rather later, in 1860,
that, after the sale of Tavistock House, Gad's Hill Place became his
regular abode, a London house being only now and then taken for the
season, while furnished rooms were kept at the office in Wellington Street
for occasional use. And it was only gradually that he enlarged and
improved his Kentish place so as to make it the pretty and comfortable
country-house which at the present day it appears to be; constructing, in
course of time, the passage under the high-road to the shrubbery, where
the Swiss châlet given to him by Mr. Fechter was set up, and building the
pretty little conservatory, which, when completed, he was not to live many
days to enjoy. But an old-fashioned, homely look, free from the slightest
affectation of quietness, belonged to Gad's Hill Place, even after all
these alterations, and belongs to it even at this day, when Dickens's
solid old-fashioned furniture has been changed. In the pretty little front
hall still hangs the illuminated tablet recalling the legend of Gad's
Hill; and on the inside panels of the library door remain the facetious
sham book-titles: "Hudson's _Complete Failure_," and "_Ten Minutes in
China_," and "Cats' _Lives_" and, on a long series of leather backs,
"Hansard's _Guide to Refreshing Sleep_." The rooms are all of a modest
size, and the bedrooms--amongst them Dickens's own--very low; but the
whole house looks thoroughly habitable, while the views across the
cornfields at the back are such as in their undulation of soft outline are
nowhere more pleasant than in Kent. Rochester and the Medway are near,
even for those who do not--like Dickens and his dogs--count a stretch past
three or four "mile-stones on the Dover road" as the mere beginning of an
afternoon's walk. At a distance little greater there are in one direction
the green glades of Cobham Park, with Chalk and Gravesend beyond; and in
another the flat country towards the Thames, with its abundance of
market-gardens. There, too, are the marshes on the border of which lie
the massive ruin of Cooling Castle, the refuge of the Lollard martyr who
was _not_ concerned in the affair on Gad's Hill, and Cooling Church and
church-yard, with the quaint little gravestones in the grass. London and
the office were within easy reach, and Paris itself was, for practical
purposes, not much farther away, so that, in later days at all events,
Dickens found himself "crossing the Channel perpetually."

The name of Dickens still has a good sound in and about Gad's Hill. He was
on very friendly terms with some families whose houses stand near to his
own; and though nothing was farther from his nature, as he says, than to
"wear topboots" and play the squire, yet he had in him not a little of
what endears so many a resident country gentleman to his neighbourhood. He
was head organiser rather than chief patron of village sports, of cricket
matches and foot races; and his house was a dispensary for the poor of the
parish. He established confidential relations between his house and the
Falstaff Inn over the way, regulating his servants' consumption of beer on
a strict but liberal plan of his own devising; but it is not for this
reason only that the successor of Mr. Edwin Trood--for such was the
veritable name of mine host of the "Falstaff" in Dickens's time--declares
that it was a bad day for the neighbourhood when Dickens was taken away
from it. In return, nothing could exceed the enthusiasm which surrounded
him in his own country, and Forster has described his astonishment at the
manifestation of it on the occasion of the wedding of the youngest
daughter of the house in 1860. And, indeed, he was born to be popular, and
specially among those by whom he was beloved as a friend or honoured as a

But it was not for long intervals of either work or rest that Dickens was
to settle down in his pleasant country house, nor was he ever, except
quite at the last, to sit down under his own roof in peace and quiet, a
wanderer no more. Less than a year after he had taken up his residence for
the summer on Gad's Hill, his home, and that of his younger children, was
his wife's home no longer. The separation, which appears to have been
preparing itself for some, but no very long, time, took place in May,
1858, when, after an amicable arrangement, Mrs. Dickens left her husband,
who henceforth allowed her an ample separate maintenance, and occasionally
corresponded with her, but never saw her again. The younger children
remained in their father's house under the self-sacrificing and devoted
care of Mrs. Dickens's surviving sister, Miss Hogarth. Shortly afterwards,
Dickens thought it well, in printed words which may be left forgotten, to
rebut some slanderous gossip which, as the way of the world is, had
misrepresented the circumstances of this separation. The causes of the
event were an open secret to his friends and acquaintances. If he had ever
loved his wife with that affection before which so-called
incompatibilities of habits, temper, or disposition fade into nothingness,
there is no indication of it in any of his numerous letters addressed to
her. Neither has it ever been pretended that he strove in the direction of
that resignation which love and duty together made possible to David
Copperfield, or even that he remained in every way master of himself, as
many men have known how to remain, the story of whose wedded life and its
disappointments has never been written in history or figured in fiction.
It was not incumbent upon his faithful friend and biographer, and much
less can it be upon one whom nothing but a sincere admiration of Dickens's
genius entitles to speak of him at all, to declare the standard by which
the most painful transaction in his life is to be judged. I say the most
painful, for it is with a feeling akin to satisfaction that one reads, in
a letter three years afterwards to a lady in reference to her daughter's
wedding: "I want to thank you also for thinking of me on the occasion, but
I feel that I am better away from it. I should really have a misgiving
that I was a sort of a shadow on a young marriage, and you will understand
me when I say so, and no more." A shadow, too--who would deny it?--falls
on every one of the pictures in which the tenderest of modern humourists
has painted the simple joys and the sacred sorrows of that home life of
which to his generation he had become almost the poet and the prophet,
when we remember how he was himself neither blessed with its full
happiness nor capable of accepting with resignation the imperfection
inherent in it, as in all things human.




The last twelve years of Dickens's life were busy years, like the others;
but his activity was no longer merely the expression of exuberant force,
and long before the collapse came he had been repeatedly warned of the
risks he continued to defy. When, however, he first entered upon those
public readings, by persisting in which he indisputably hastened his end,
neither he nor his friends took into account the fear of bodily
ill-effects resulting from his exertions. Their misgivings had other
grounds. Of course, had there been any pressure of pecuniary difficulty or
need upon Dickens when he began, or when on successive occasions he
resumed, his public readings, there would be nothing further to be said.
But I see no suggestion of any such pressure. "My worldly circumstances,"
he wrote before he had finally made up his mind to read in America, "are
very good. I don't want money. All my possessions are free and in the best
order. Still," he added, "at fifty-five or fifty-six, the likelihood of
making a very great addition to one's capital in half a year is an immense
consideration." Moreover, with all his love of doing as he chose, and his
sense of the value of such freedom to him as a writer, he was a man of
simple though liberal habits of life, with no taste for the gorgeous or
capricious extravagances of a Balzac or a Dumas, nor can he have been at
a loss how to make due provision for those whom in the course of nature he
would leave behind him. Love of money for its own sake, or for that of the
futilities it can purchase, was altogether foreign to his nature. At the
same time, the rapid making of large sums has potent attractions for most
men; and these attractions are perhaps strongest for those who engage in
the pursuit for the sake of the race as well as of the prize. Dickens's
readings were virtually something new; their success was not only all his
own, but unique and unprecedented--what nobody but himself ever had
achieved or ever could have achieved. Yet the determining motive--if I
read his nature rightly--was, after all, of another kind. "Two souls dwelt
in his breast;" and when their aspirations united in one appeal it was
irresistible. The author who craved for the visible signs of a sympathy
responding to that which he felt for his multitudes of readers, and the
actor who longed to impersonate creations already beings of flesh and
blood to himself, were both astir in him, and in both capacities he felt
himself drawn into the very publicity deprecated by his friends. He liked,
as one who knew him thoroughly said to me, to be face to face with his
public; and against this liking, which he had already indulged as fully as
he could without passing the boundaries between private and professional
life, arguments were in vain. It has been declared sheer pedantry to speak
of such boundaries; and to suggest that there is anything degrading in
paid readings such as those of Dickens would, on the face of it, be
absurd. On the other hand, the author who, on or off the stage, becomes
the interpreter of his writings to large audiences, more especially if he
does his best to stereotype his interpretation by constantly repeating it,
limits his own prerogative of being many things to many men; and where
the author of a work, more particularly of a work of fiction, adjusts it
to circumstances differing from those of its production, he allows the
requirements of the lesser art to prejudice the claims of the greater.

Dickens cannot have been blind to these considerations; but to others his
eyes were never opened. He found much that was inspiriting in his success
as a reader, and this not only in the large sums he gained, or even in the
"roaring sea of response," to use his own fine metaphor, of which he had
become accustomed to "stand upon the beach." His truest sentiment as an
author was touched to the quick; and he was, as he says himself, "brought
very near to what he had sometimes dreamed might be his fame," when, at
York, a lady, whose face he had never seen, stopped him in the street, and
said to him, "Mr. Dickens, will you let me touch the hand that has filled
my house with many friends?" or when, at Belfast, he was almost
overwhelmed with entreaties "to shake hands, Misther Dickens, and God
bless you, sir; not ounly for the light you've been in mee house, sir--and
God love your face!--this many a year." On the other hand--and this,
perhaps, a nature like his would not be the quickest to perceive--there
was something vulgarising in the constant striving after immediate success
in the shape of large audiences, loud applause, and satisfactory receipts.
The conditions of the actor's art cannot forego these stimulants; and this
is precisely his disadvantage in comparison with artists who are able to
possess themselves in quiet. To me, at least, it is painful to find
Dickens jubilantly recording how at Dublin "eleven bank-notes were thrust
into the pay-box--Arthur saw them--at one time for eleven stalls;" how at
Edinburgh "neither Grisi, nor Jenny Lind, nor anything, nor anybody,
seems to make the least effect on the draw of the readings;" while, every
allowance being made, there is something almost ludicrous in the double
assertion, that "the most delicate audience I had ever seen in any
provincial place is Canterbury; but the audience with the greatest sense
of humour certainly is Dover." What subjects for parody Dickens would have
found in these innocent ecstasies if uttered by any other man!
Undoubtedly, this enthusiasm was closely connected with the very
thoroughness with which he entered into the work of his readings. "You
have no idea," he tells Forster, in 1867, "how I have worked at them.
Finding it necessary, as their reputation widened, that they should be
better than at first, _I have learnt them all_, so as to have no
mechanical drawback in looking after the words. I have tested all the
serious passion in them by everything I know; made the humorous points
much more humorous; corrected my utterance of certain words; cultivated a
self-possession not to be disturbed; and made myself master of the
situation." "From ten years ago to last night," he writes to his son from
Baltimore in 1868, "I have never read to an audience but I have watched
for an opportunity of striking out something better somewhere." The
freshness with which he returned night after night and season after season
to the sphere of his previous successes, was itself a genuine actor's
gift. "So real," he declares, "are my fictions to myself, that, after
hundreds of nights, I come with a feeling of perfect freshness to that
little red table, and laugh and cry with my hearers as if I had never
stood there before."

Dickens's first public readings were given at Birmingham, during the
Christmas week of 1853-'54, in support of the new Midland Institute; but a
record--for the authenticity of which I cannot vouch--remains, that with
true theatrical instinct he, before the Christmas in question, gave a
trial reading of the _Christmas Carol_ to a smaller public audience at
Peterborough. He had since been repeatedly found willing to read for
benevolent purposes; and the very fact that it had become necessary to
decline some of these frequent invitations had again suggested the
possibility--which had occurred to him eleven years before--of meeting the
demand in a different way. Yet it may, after all, be doubted whether the
idea of undertaking an entire series of paid public readings would have
been carried out, had it not been for the general restlessness which had
seized upon Dickens early in 1858, when, moreover, he had no special task
either of labour or of leisure to absorb him, and when he craved for
excitement more than ever. To go home--in this springtime of 1858--was not
to find there the peace of contentment. "I must do _something_," he wrote
in March to his faithful counsellor, "or I shall wear my heart away. I can
see no better thing to do that is half so hopeful in itself, or half so
well suited to my restless state."

So by April the die was cast, and on the 29th of that month he had entered
into his new relation with the public. One of the strongest and most
genuine impulses of his nature had victoriously asserted itself, and
according to his wont he addressed himself to his task with a relentless
vigour which flinched from no exertion. He began with a brief series at
St. Martin's Hall, and then, his invaluable friend Arthur Smith continuing
to act as his manager, he contrived to cram not less than eighty-seven
readings into three months and a half of travelling in the "provinces,"
including Scotland and Ireland. A few winter readings in London, and a
short supplementary course in the country during October, 1859, completed
this first series. Already, in 1858, we find him, in a letter from
Ireland, complaining of the "tremendous strain," and declaring, "I seem to
be always either in a railway carriage, or reading, or going to bed. I get
so knocked up, whenever I have a minute to remember it, that then I go to
bed as a matter of course." But the enthusiasm which everywhere welcomed
him--I can testify to the thrill of excitement produced by his visit to
Cambridge, in October, 1859--repaid him for his fatigues. Scotland thawed
to him, and with Dublin--where his success was extraordinary--he was so
smitten as to think it at first sight "pretty nigh as big as Paris." In
return, the Boots at Morrison's expressed the general feeling in a
patriotic point of view: "'Whaat sart of a hoose, sur?' he asked me.
'Capital.' 'The Lard be praised, for the 'onor o' Dooblin.'"

The books, or portions of books, to which he confined himself during this
first series of readings were few in number. They comprised the _Carol_
and the _Chimes_, and two stories from earlier Christmas numbers of
_Household Words_--may the exclamation of the soft-hearted chambermaid at
the Holly Tree Inn, "It's a shame to part 'em!" never vanish from my
memory!--together with the episodic readings of the _Trial_ in _Pickwick_,
_Mrs. Gamp_, and _Paul Dombey_. Of these the _Pickwick_, which I heard
more than once, is still vividly present to me. The only drawback to the
complete enjoyment of it was the lurking fear that there had been some
tampering with the text, not to be condoned even in its author. But in the
way of assumption Charles Mathews the elder himself could have
accomplished no more Protean effort. The lack-lustre eye of Mr. Justice
Stareleigh, the forensic hitch of Mr. Serjeant Buzfuz, and the hopeless
impotence of Mr. Nathaniel Winkle were alike incomparable. And if the
success of the impersonation of Mr. Samuel Weller was less
complete--although Dickens had formerly acted the character on an amateur
stage--the reason probably was that, by reason of his endless store of
ancient and modern instances, Sam had himself become a quasi-mythical
being, whom it was almost painful to find reproduced in flesh and blood.

I have not hesitated to treat these readings by Dickens as if they had
been the performances of an actor; and the description would apply even
more strongly to his later readings, in which he seemed to make his points
in a more accentuated fashion than before. "His readings," says Mr. C.
Kent, in an interesting little book about them, "were, in the fullest
meaning of the words, singularly ingenious and highly-elaborated
histrionic performances." As such they had been prepared with a care such
as few actors bestow upon their parts, and--for the book was prepared not
less than the reading--not all authors bestow upon their plays. Now, the
art of reading, even in the case of dramatic works, has its own laws,
which even the most brilliant readers cannot neglect except at their
peril. A proper pitch has to be found, in the first instance, before the
exceptional passages can be, as it were, marked off from it; and the
absence of this ground-tone sometimes interfered with the total effect of
a reading by Dickens. On the other hand, the exceptional passages were, if
not uniformly, at least generally excellent; nor am I at all disposed to
agree with Forster in preferring, as a rule, the humorous to the pathetic.
At the same time, there was noticeable in these readings a certain
hardness which competent critics likewise discerned in Dickens's acting,
and which could not, at least in the former case, be regarded as an
ordinary characteristic of dilettanteism. The truth is that he isolated
his parts too sharply--a frequent fault of English acting, and one more
detrimental to the total effect of a reading than even to that of an acted

No sooner had the heaviest stress of the first series of readings ceased
than Dickens was once more at work upon a new fiction. The more immediate
purpose was to insure a prosperous launch to the journal which, in the
spring of 1859, took the place of _Household Words_. A dispute, painful in
its origin, but ending in an amicable issue, had resulted in the purchase
of that journal by Dickens; but already a little earlier he had--as he was
entitled to do--begun the new venture of _All the Year Round_, with which
_Household Words_ was afterwards incorporated. The first number, published
on April 30, contained the earliest instalment of _A Tale of Two Cities_,
which was completed by November 20 following.

This story holds a unique place amongst the fictions of its author.
Perhaps the most striking difference between it and his other novels may
seem to lie in the all but entire absence from it of any humour or attempt
at humour; for neither the brutalities of that "honest tradesman," Jerry,
nor the laconisms of Miss Pross, can well be called by that name. Not that
his sources of humour were drying up, even though, about this time, he
contributed to an American journal a short "romance of the real world,"
_Hunted Down_, from which the same relief is again conspicuously absent.
For the humour of Dickens was to assert itself with unmistakable force in
his next longer fiction, and was even before that, in some of his
occasional papers, to give delightful proofs of its continued vigour. In
the case of the _Tale of Two Cities_, he had a new and distinct design in
his mind which did not, indeed, exclude humour, but with which a liberal
indulgence in it must have seriously interfered. "I set myself," he
writes, "the little task of writing a picturesque story, rising in every
chapter with characters true to nature, but whom the story itself should
express more than they should express themselves by dialogue. I mean, in
other words, that I fancied a story of incident might be written, in place
of the bestiality that is written under that pretence, pounding the
characters out in its own mortar, and beating their own interests out of
them." He therefore renounced his more usual method in favour of one
probably less congenial to him. Yet, in his own opinion at least, he
succeeded so well in the undertaking, that when the story was near its end
he could venture to express a hope that it was "the best story he had
written." So much praise will hardly be given to this novel even by
admirers of the French art of telling a story succinctly, or by those who
can never resist a rather hysterical treatment of the French Revolution.

In my own opinion _A Tale of Two Cities_ is a skilfully though not
perfectly constructed novel, which needed but little substantial
alteration in order to be converted into a not less effective stage-play.
And with such a design Dickens actually sent the proof-sheets of the book
to his friend Regnier, in the fearful hope that he might approve of the
project of its dramatisation for a French theatre. Cleverly or clumsily
adapted, the tale of the Revolution and its sanguinary vengeance was
unlikely to commend itself to the Imperial censorship; but an English
version was, I believe, afterwards very fairly successful on the boards of
the Adelphi, where Madame Celeste was certainly in her right place as
Madame Defarge, an excellent character for a melodrama, though rather
wearisome as she lies in wait through half a novel.

The construction of this story is, as I have said, skilful but not
perfect. Dickens himself successfully defended his use of accident in
bringing about the death of Madame Defarge. The real objection to the
conduct of this episode, however, lies in the inadequacy of the
contrivance for leaving Miss Pross behind in Paris. Too much is also, I
think, made to turn upon the three words "and their
descendants"--non-essential in the original connexion--by which Dr.
Manette's written denunciation becomes fatal to those he loves. Still, the
general edifice of the plot is solid; its interest is, notwithstanding the
crowded background, concentrated with much skill upon a small group of
personages; and Carton's self-sacrifice, admirably prepared from the very
first, produces a legitimate tragic effect. At the same time the
novelist's art vindicates its own claims. Not only does this story contain
several narrative episodes of remarkable power--such as the flight from
Paris at the close, and the touching little incident of the seamstress,
told in Dickens's sweetest pathetic manner--but it is likewise enriched by
some descriptive pictures of unusual excellence: for instance, the sketch
of Dover in the good old smuggling times, and the mezzo-tint of the stormy
evening in Soho. Doubtless the increased mannerism of the style is
disturbing, and this not only in the high-strung French scenes. As to the
historical element in this novel, Dickens modestly avowed his wish that he
might by his story have been able "to add something to the popular and
picturesque means of understanding that terrible time, though no one can
hope to add anything to Mr. Carlyle's wonderful book." But if Dickens
desired to depict the noble of the _ancien régime_, either according to
Carlyle or according to intrinsic probability, he should not have
offered, in his Marquis, a type historically questionable, and unnatural
besides. The description of the Saint Antoine, before and during the
bursting of the storm, has in it more of truthfulness, or of the semblance
of truthfulness; and Dickens's perception of the physiognomy of the French
workman is, I think, remarkably accurate. Altogether, the book is an
extraordinary _tour de force_, which Dickens never repeated.

The opening of a new story by Dickens gave the necessary _impetus_ to his
new journal at its earliest stage; nor was the ground thus gained ever
lost. Mr. W. H. Wills stood by his chief's side as of old, taking, more
especially in later years, no small share of responsibility upon him. The
prospectus of _All the Year Round_ had not in vain promised an identity of
principle in its conduct with that of its predecessor; in energy and
spirit it showed no falling off; and, though not in all respects, the
personality of Dickens made itself felt as distinctly as ever. Besides the
_Tale of Two Cities_ he contributed to it his story of _Great
Expectations_. Amongst his contributors Mr. Wilkie Collins took away the
breath of multitudes of readers; Mr. Charles Reade disported himself
amongst the facts which gave stamina to his fiction; and Lord Lytton made
a daring voyage into a mysterious country. Thither Dickens followed him,
for once, in his _Four Stories_, not otherwise noteworthy, and written in
a manner already difficult to discriminate from that of Mr. Wilkie
Collins. For the rest, the advice with which Dickens aided Lord Lytton's
progress in his _Strange Story_ was neither more ready nor more
painstaking than that which he bestowed upon his younger contributors, to
more than one of whom he generously gave the opportunity of publishing in
his journal a long work of fiction. Some of these younger writers were at
this period amongst his most frequent guests and associates; for nothing
more naturally commended itself to him than the encouragement of the
younger generation.

But though longer imaginative works played at least as conspicuous a part
in the new journal as they had in the old, the conductor likewise
continued to make manifest his intention that the lesser contributions
should not be treated by readers or by writers as harmless necessary
"padding." For this purpose it was requisite not only that the choice of
subjects should be made with the utmost care, but also that the master's
hand should itself be occasionally visible. Dickens's occasional
contributions had been few and unimportant, till in a happy hour he began
a series of papers, including many of the pleasantest, as well as of the
mellowest, amongst the lighter productions of his pen. As usual, he had
taken care to find for this series a name which of itself went far to make
its fortune.

    "I am both a town and a country traveller, and am always on the road.
    Figuratively speaking, I travel for the great house of Human Interest
    Brothers, and have rather a large connexion in the fancy goods way.
    Literally speaking, I am always wandering here and there from my rooms
    in Covent Garden, London--now about the city streets, now about the
    country by-roads, seeing many little things, and some great things,
    which, because they interest me, I think may interest others."

The whole collection of these _Uncommercial Traveller_ papers, together
with the _Uncommercial Samples_ which succeeded them after Dickens's
return from America, and which begin with a graphic account of his
homeward voyage _Aboard Ship_, where the voice of conscience spoke in the
motion of the screw, amounts to thirty-seven articles, and spreads over a
period of nine years. They are necessarily of varying merit, but amongst
them are some which deserve a permanent place in our lighter literature.
Such are the description of the church-yards on a quiet evening in _The
City of the Absent_, the grotesque picture of loneliness in _Chambers_--a
favourite theme with Dickens--and the admirable papers on _Shy
Neighbourhoods_ and on _Tramps_. Others have a biographical interest,
though delightfully objective in treatment; yet others are mere fugitive
pieces; but there are few without some of the most attractive qualities of
Dickens's easiest style.

Dickens contributed other occasional papers to his journal, some of which
may be forgotten without injury to his fame. Amongst these may be reckoned
the rather dreary _George Silverman's Explanation_ (1868), in which there
is nothing characteristic but a vivid picture of a set of ranters, led by
a clique of scoundrels; on the other hand, there will always be admirers
of the pretty _Holiday Romance_, published nearly simultaneously in
America and England, a nosegay of tales told by children, the only fault
of which is that, as with other children's nosegays, there is perhaps a
little too much of it. I have no room for helping to rescue from partial
oblivion an old friend, whose portrait has not, I think, found a home
amongst his master's collected sketches. Pincher's counterfeit has gone
astray, like _Pincher_ himself. Meanwhile, the special institution of the
Christmas number flourished in connexion with _All the Year Round_ down to
the year 1867, as it had during the last five years of _Household Words_.
It consisted, with the exception of the very last number, of a series of
short stories, in a framework of the editor's own devising. To the authors
of the stories, of which he invariably himself wrote one or more, he left
the utmost liberty, at times stipulating for nothing but that tone of
cheerful philanthropy which he had domesticated in his journal. In the
Christmas numbers, which gradually attained to such a popularity that of
one of the last something like a quarter of a million copies were sold,
Dickens himself shone most conspicuously in the introductory sections; and
some of these are to be reckoned amongst his very best descriptive
character-sketches. Already in _Household Words_ Christmas numbers the
introductory sketch of the _Seven Poor Travellers_ from Watt's Charity at
supper in the Rochester hostelry, and the excellent description of a
winter journey and sojourn at the _Holly Tree Inn_, with an excursus on
inns in general, had become widely popular. The _All the Year Round_
numbers, however, largely augmented this success. After _Tom Tiddler's
Ground_, with the adventures of Miss Kitty Kimmeens, a pretty little
morality in miniature, teaching the same lesson as the vagaries of Mr.
Mopes the hermit, came _Somebody's Luggage_, with its exhaustive
disquisition on waiters; and then the memorable chirpings of _Mrs.
Lirriper_, in both _Lodgings_ and _Legacy_, admirable in the delicacy of
their pathos, and including an inimitable picture of London lodging-house
life. Then followed the _Prescriptions_ of _Dr. Marigold_, the eloquent
and sarcastic but tender-hearted Cheap Jack; and _Mugby Junction_, which
gave words to the cry of a whole nation of hungry and thirsty travellers.
In the tales and sketches contributed by him to the Christmas numbers, in
addition to these introductions, he at times gave the rein to his love for
the fanciful and the grotesque, which there was here no reason to keep
under. On the whole, written, as in a sense these compositions were, to
order, nothing is more astonishing in them than his continued freshness,
against which his mannerism is here of vanishing importance; and,
inasmuch as after issuing a last Christmas number of a different kind,
Dickens abandoned the custom when it had reached the height of popular
favour, and when manifold imitations had offered him the homage of their
flattery, he may be said to have withdrawn from this campaign in his
literary life with banners flying.

In the year 1859 Dickens's readings had been comparatively few; and they
had ceased altogether in the following year, when the _Uncommercial
Traveller_ began his wanderings. The winter from 1859 to 1860 was his last
winter at Tavistock House; and, with the exception of his rooms in
Wellington Street, he had now no settled residence but Gad's Hill Place.
He sought its pleasant retreat about the beginning of June, after the new
experience of an attack of rheumatism had made him recognise "the
necessity of country training all through the summer." Yet such was the
recuperative power, or the indomitable self-confidence, of his nature,
that after he had in these summer months contributed some of the most
delightful _Uncommercial Traveller_ papers to his journal, we find him
already in August "prowling about, meditating a new book."

It is refreshing to think of Dickens in this pleasant interval of country
life, before he had rushed once more into the excitement of his labours as
a public reader. We may picture him to ourselves, accompanied by his dogs,
striding along the country roads and lanes, exploring the haunts of the
country tramps, "a piece of Kentish road," for instance, "bordered on
either side by a wood, and having on one hand, between the road-dust and
the trees, a skirting patch of grass. Wild flowers grow in abundance on
this spot, and it lies high and airy, with a distant river stealing
steadily away to the ocean like a man's life. To gain the mile-stone here,
which the moss, primroses, violets, bluebells, and wild roses would soon
render illegible but for peering travellers pushing them aside with their
sticks, you must come up a steep hill, come which way you may." At the
foot of that hill, I fancy, lay Dullborough town half asleep in the summer
afternoon; and the river in the distance was that which bounded the
horizon of a little boy's vision "whose father's family name was Pirrip,
and whose Christian name was Philip, but whose infant tongue could make of
both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip."

The story of Pip's adventures, the novel of _Great Expectations_, was
thought over in these Kentish perambulations between Thames and Medway
along the road which runs, apparently with the intention of running out to
sea, from Higham towards the marshes; in the lonely church-yard of Cooling
village by the thirteen little stone-lozenges, of which Pip counted only
five, now nearly buried in their turn by the rank grass; and in quiet
saunters through the familiar streets of Rochester, past the "queer"
Townhall; and through the "Vines" past the fine old Restoration House,
called in the book (by the name of an altogether different edifice) Satis
House. And the climax of the narrative was elaborated on a unique
steamboat excursion from London to the mouth of the Thames, broken by a
night at the "Ship and Lobster," an old riverside inn called "The Ship" in
the story. No wonder that Dickens's descriptive genius should become
refreshed by these studies of his subject, and that thus _Great
Expectations_ should have indisputably become one of the most picturesque
of his books. But it is something very much more at the same time. The
_Tale of Two Cities_ had as a story strongly seized upon the attention of
the reader. But in the earlier chapters of _Great Expectations_ every one
felt that Dickens was himself again. Since the Yarmouth scenes in _David
Copperfield_ he had written nothing in which description married itself to
sentiment so humorously and so tenderly. Uncouth, and slow, and
straightforward, and gentle of heart, like Mr. Peggotty, Joe Gargery is as
new a conception as he is a genuinely true one; nor is it easy to know
under what aspect to relish him most--whether disconsolate in his Sunday
clothes, "like some extraordinary bird, standing, as he did, speechless,
with his tuft of feathers ruffled, and his mouth open as if he wanted a
worm," or at home by his own fireside, winking at his little comrade, and,
when caught in the act by his wife, "drawing the back of his hand across
his nose with his usual conciliatory air on such occasions." Nor since
_David Copperfield_ had Dickens again shown such an insight as he showed
here into the world of a child's mind. "To be quite sure," he wrote to
Forster, "I had fallen into no unconscious repetitions, I read _David
Copperfield_ again the other day, and was affected by it to a degree you
would hardly believe." His fears were unnecessary; for with all its charm
the history of Pip lacks the personal element which insures our sympathy
to the earlier story and to its hero. In delicacy of feeling, however, as
well as in humour of description, nothing in Dickens surpasses the earlier
chapters of _Great Expectations_; and equally excellent is the narrative
of Pip's disloyalty of heart toward his early friends, down to his
departure from the forge, a picture of pitiable selfishness almost
Rousseau-like in its fidelity to poor human nature; down to his comic
humiliation, when in the pride of his new position and his new clothes,
before "that unlimited miscreant, Trabb's boy." The later and especially
the concluding portions of this novel contain much that is equal in power
to its opening; but it must be allowed that, before many chapters have
ended, a false tone finds its way into the story. The whole history of
Miss Havisham, and the crew of relations round the unfortunate creature,
is strained and unnatural, and Estella's hardness is as repulsive as that
of Edith Dombey herself. Mr. Jaggers and his house-keeper, and even Mr.
Wemmick, have an element of artificiality in them, whilst about the Pocket
family there is little, if anything at all, that is real. The story,
however, seems to recover itself as the main thread in its deftly-woven
texture is brought forward again: when on a dark, gusty night, ominous of
coming trouble, the catastrophe of Pip's expectations announces itself in
the return from abroad of his unknown benefactor, the convict whom he had
as a child fed on the marshes. The remainder of the narrative is
successful in conveying to the reader the sense of sickening anxiety which
fills the hero; the interest is skilfully sustained by the introduction of
a very strong situation--Pip's narrow escape out of the clutches of "Old
Orlick" in the lime-kiln on the marshes; and the climax is reached in the
admirably-executed narrative of the convict's attempt, with the aid of
Pip, to escape by the river. The actual winding-up of _Great Expectations_
is not altogether satisfactory; but on the whole the book must be ranked
among the very best of Dickens's later novels, as combining, with the
closer construction and intenser narrative force common to several of
these, not a little of the delightfully genial humour of his earlier

Already, before _Great Expectations_ was completely published, Dickens had
given a few readings at the St. James's Hall, and by the end of October in
the same year, 1861, he was once more engaged in a full course of country
readings. They occupied him till the following January, only ten days
being left for his Christmas number, and a brief holiday for Christmas
itself; so close was the adjustment of time and work by this favourite of
fortune. The death of his faithful Arthur Smith befell most untowardly
before the country readings were begun, but their success was unbroken,
from Scotland to South Devon. The long-contemplated extract from
_Copperfield_ had at last been added to the list--a self-sacrifice _coram
publico_, hallowed by success--and another from _Nicholas Nickleby_, which
"went in the wildest manner." He was, however, nearly worn out with
fatigue before these winter readings were over, and was glad to snatch a
moment of repose before a short spring course in town began. Scarcely was
this finished, when he was coquetting in his mind with an offer from
Australia, and had already proposed to himself to throw in, as a piece of
work by the way, a series of papers to be called _The Uncommercial
Traveller Upside Down_. Meanwhile, a few readings for a charitable purpose
in Paris, and a short summer course at St. James's Hall, completed this
second series in the year 1863.

Whatever passing thoughts overwork by day or sleeplessness at night may
have occasionally brought with them, Dickens himself would have been
strangely surprised, as no doubt would have been the great body of a
public to which he was by this time about the best known man in England,
had he been warned that weakness and weariness were not to be avoided even
by a nature endowed with faculties so splendid and with an energy so
conquering as his. He seemed to stand erect in the strength of his matured
powers, equal as of old to any task which he set himself, and exulting,
though with less buoyancy of spirit than of old, in the wreaths which
continued to strew his path. Yet already the ranks of his contemporaries
were growing thinner, while close to himself death was taking away members
of the generation before, and of that after, his own. Amongst them was his
mother--of whom his biography and his works have little to say or to
suggest--and his second son. Happy events, too, had in the due course of
things contracted the family circle at Gad's Hill. Of his intimates, he
lost, in 1863, Augustus Egg; and in 1864 John Leech, to whose genius he
had himself formerly rendered eloquent homage.

A still older associate, the great painter Stanfield, survived till 1867.
"No one of your father's friends," Dickens then wrote to Stanfield's son,
"can ever have loved him more dearly than I always did, or can have better
known the worth of his noble character." Yet another friend, who, however,
so far as I can gather, had not at any time belonged to Dickens's most
familiar circle, had died on Christmas Eve, 1863--Thackeray, whom it had
for some time become customary to compare or contrast with him as his
natural rival. Yet in point of fact, save for the tenderness which, as
with all humourists of the highest order, was an important element in
their writings, and save for the influences of time and country to which
they were both subject, there are hardly two other amongst our great
humourists who have less in common. Their unlikeness shows itself, among
other things, in the use made by Thackeray of suggestions which it is
difficult to believe he did not in the first instance owe to Dickens. Who
would venture to call Captain Costigan a plagiarism from Mr. Snevellici,
or to affect that Wenham and Wagg were copied from Pyke and Pluck, or that
Major Pendennis--whose pardon one feels inclined to beg for the
juxtaposition--was founded upon Major Bagstock, or the Old Campaigner in
the _Newcomes_ on the Old Soldier in _Copperfield_? But that suggestions
were in these and perhaps in a few other instances derived from Dickens by
Thackeray for some of his most masterly characters, it would, I think, be
idle to deny. In any case, the style of these two great writers differed
as profoundly as their way of looking at men and things. Yet neither of
them lacked a thorough appreciation of the other's genius; and it is
pleasant to remember that, after paying in _Pendennis_ a tribute to the
purity of Dickens's books, Thackeray in a public lecture referred to his
supposed rival in a way which elicited from the latter the warmest of
acknowledgments. It cannot be said that the memorial words which, after
Thackeray's death, Dickens was prevailed upon to contribute to the
_Cornhill Magazine_ did more than justice to the great writer whom England
had just lost; but it is well that the kindly and unstinting tribute of
admiration should remain on record, to contradict any supposition that a
disagreement which had some years previously disturbed the harmony of
their intercourse, and of which the world had, according to its wont, made
the most, had really estranged two generous minds from one another. The
effort which on this occasion Dickens made is in itself a proof of his
kindly feeling towards Thackeray. Of Talfourd and Landor and Stanfield he
could write readily after their deaths, but he frankly told Mr. Wilkie
Collins that, "had he felt he could," he would most gladly have excused
himself from writing the "couple of pages" about Thackeray.

Dickens, it should be remembered, was at no time a man of many friends.
The mere dalliance of friendship was foreign to one who worked so
indefatigably in his hours of recreation as well as of labour; and
fellowship in work of one kind or another seems to have been, in later
years at all events, the surest support to his intimacy. Yet he was most
easily drawn, not only to those who could help him, but to those whom he
could help in congenial pursuits and undertakings. Such was, no doubt, the
origin of his friendship in these later years with an accomplished French
actor on the English boards, whom, in a rather barren period of our
theatrical history, Dickens may have been justified in describing as "far
beyond any one on our stage," and who certainly was an "admirable artist."
In 1864 Mr. Fechter had taken the Lyceum, the management of which he was
to identify with a more elegant kind of melodrama than that long
domesticated lower down the Strand; and Dickens was delighted to bestow on
him counsel frankly sought and frankly given. As an author, too, he
directly associated himself with the art of his friend.[11] For I may
mention here by anticipation that the last of the _All the Year Round_
Christmas numbers, the continuous story of _No Thoroughfare_, was written
by Dickens and Mr. Wilkie Collins in 1867, with a direct eye to its
subsequent adaptation to the stage, for which it actually was fitted by
Mr. Wilkie Collins in the following year. The place of its production, the
Adelphi, suited the broad effects and the rather conventional comic humour
of the story and piece. From America, Dickens watched the preparation of
the piece with unflagging interest; and his innate and irrepressible
genius for stage-management reveals itself in the following passage from a
letter written by him to an American friend soon after his return to
England: "_No Thoroughfare_ is very shortly coming out in Paris, where it
is now in active rehearsal. It is still playing here, but without Fechter,
who has been very ill. He and Wilkie raised so many pieces of stage-effect
here, that, unless I am quite satisfied with the report, I shall go over
and try my stage-managerial hand at the Vaudeville Theatre. I particularly
want the drugging and attempted robbery in the bedroom-scene at the Swiss
Inn to be done to the sound of a water-fall rising and falling with the
wind. Although in the very opening of that scene they speak of the
water-fall, and listen to it, nobody thought of its mysterious music. I
could make it, with a good stage-carpenter, in an hour."

_Great Expectations_ had been finished in 1860, and already in the latter
part of 1861, the year which comprised the main portion of his second
series of readings, he had been thinking of a new story. He had even found
a title--the unlucky title which he afterwards adopted--but in 1862 the
tempting Australian invitation had been a serious obstacle in his way. "I
can force myself to go aboard a ship, and I can force myself to do at that
reading-desk what I have done a hundred times; but whether, with all this
unsettled, fluctuating distress in my mind, I could force an original book
out of it is another question." Nor was it the "unsettled, fluctuating
distress" which made it a serious effort for him to attempt another longer
fiction. Dickens shared with most writers the experience that both the
inventive power and the elasticity of memory decline with advancing years.
Already since the time when he was thinking of writing _Little Dorrit_ it
had become his habit to enter in a book kept for the purpose memoranda for
possible future use, hints for subjects of stories,[12] scenes,
situations, and characters; thoughts and fancies of all kinds; titles for
possible books. Of these _Somebody's Luggage_, _Our Mutual Friend_, and
_No Thoroughfare_--the last an old fancy revived--came to honourable use;
as did many names, both Christian and surnames, and combinations of both.
Thus, Bradley Headstone's _prænomen_ was derived directly from the lists
of the Education Department, and the Lammles and the Stiltstalkings, with
Mr. Merdle and the Dorrits, existed as names before the characters were
fitted to them. All this, though no doubt in part attributable to the
playful readiness of an observation never to be caught asleep, points in
the direction of a desire to be securely provided with an armoury of
which, in earlier days, he would have taken slight thought.

Gradually--indeed, so far as I know, more gradually than in the case of
any other of his stories--he had built up the tale for which he had
determined on the title of _Our Mutual Friend_, and slowly, and without
his old self-confidence, he had, in the latter part of 1863, set to work
upon it. "I want to prepare it for the spring, but I am determined not to
begin to publish with less than four numbers done. I see my opening
perfectly, with the one main line on which the story is to turn, and if I
don't strike while the iron (meaning myself) is hot, I shall drift off
again, and have to go through all this uneasiness once more." For,
unfortunately, he had resolved on returning to the old twenty-number
measure for his new story. Begun with an effort, _Our Mutual Friend_--the
publication of which extended from May, 1864, to November, 1865--was
completed under difficulties, and difficulties of a kind hitherto unknown
to Dickens. In February, 1865, as an immediate consequence, perhaps, of
exposure at a time when depression of spirits rendered him less able than
usual to bear it, he had a severe attack of illness, of which Forster says
that it "put a broad mark between his past life and what remained to him
of the future." From this time forward he felt a lameness in his left
foot, which continued to trouble him at intervals during the remainder of
his life, and which finally communicated itself to the left hand. A
comparison of times, however, convinced Forster that the real origin of
this ailment was to be sought in general causes.

In 1865, as the year wore on, and the pressure of the novel still
continued, he felt that he was "working himself into a damaged state," and
was near to that which has greater terrors for natures like his than for
more placid temperaments--breaking down. So, in May, he went first to the
sea-side and then to France. On his return (it was the 9th of June, the
date of his death five years afterwards) he was in the railway train which
met with a fearful accident at Staplehurst, in Kent. His carriage was the
only passenger-carriage in the train which, when the bridge gave way, was
not thrown over into the stream. He was able to escape out of the window,
to make his way in again for his brandy-flask and the MS. of a number of
_Our Mutual Friend_ which he had left behind him, to clamber down the
brickwork of the bridge for water, to do what he could towards rescuing
his unfortunate fellow-travellers, and to aid the wounded and the dying.
"I have," he wrote, in describing the scene, "a--I don't know what to call
it: constitutional, I suppose--presence of mind, and was not in the least
fluttered at the time.... But in writing these scanty words of
recollection I feel the shake, and am obliged to stop." Nineteen months
afterwards, when on a hurried reading tour in the North, he complains to
Miss Hogarth of the effect of the railway shaking which since the
Staplehurst accident "tells more and more." It is clear how serious a
shock the accident had caused. He never, Miss Hogarth thinks, quite
recovered it. Yet it might have acted less disastrously upon a system not
already nervously weakened. As evidence of the decline of Dickens's
nervous power, I hardly know whether it is safe to refer to the gradual
change in his handwriting, which in his last years is a melancholy study.

All these circumstances should be taken into account in judging of
Dickens's last completed novel. The author would not have been himself had
he, when once fairly engaged upon his work, failed to feel something of
his old self-confidence. Nor was this feeling, which he frankly confessed
to Mr. Wilkie Collins, altogether unwarranted. _Our Mutual Friend_[13] is,
like the rest of Dickens's later writings, carefully and skilfully put
together as a story. No exception is to be taken to it on the ground that
the identity on which much of the plot hinges is long foreseen by the
reader; for this, as Dickens told his critics in his postscript, had been
part of his design, and was, in fact, considering the general nature of
the story, almost indispensable. The defect rather lies in the absence of
that element of uncertainty which is needed in order to sustain the
interest. The story is, no doubt, ingeniously enough constructed, but
admiration of an ingenious construction is insufficient to occupy the mind
of a reader through an inevitable disentanglement. Moreover, some of the
machinery, though cleverly contrived, cannot be said to work easily. Thus,
the _ruse_ of the excellent Boffin in playing the part of a skinflint
might pass as a momentary device, but its inherent improbability, together
with the likelihood of its leading to an untoward result, makes its
protraction undeniably tedious. It is not, however, in my opinion at
least, in the matter of construction that _Our Mutual Friend_ presents a
painful contrast with earlier works produced, like it, "on a large
canvas." The conduct of the story as a whole is fully vigorous enough to
enchain the attention; and in portions of it the hand of the master
displays its unique power. He is at his best in the whole of the
water-side scenes, both where "The Six Jolly Fellowship Porters"
(identified by zealous discoverers with a tavern called "The Two Brewers")
lies like an oasis in the midst of a desert of ill-favoured tidal
deposits, and where Rogue Riderhood has his lair at the lock higher up the
river. A marvellous union of observation and imagination was needed for
the picturing of a world in which this amphibious monster has his being;
and never did Dickens's inexhaustible knowledge of the physiognomy of the
Thames and its banks stand him in better stead than in these powerful
episodes. It is unfortunate, though in accordance with the common fate of
heroes and heroines, that Lizzie Hexham should, from the outset, have to
discard the colouring of her surroundings, and to talk the conventional
dialect as well as express the conventional sentiments of the heroic
world. Only at the height of the action she ceases to be commonplace, and
becomes entitled to be remembered amongst the true heroines of fiction. A
more unusual figure, of the half-pathetic, half-grotesque kind for which
Dickens had a peculiar liking, is Lizzie's friend, the doll's dressmaker,
into whom he has certainly infused an element of genuine sentiment; her
protector, Riah, on the contrary, is a mere stage-saint, though by this
character Dickens appears to have actually hoped to redeem the aspersions
he was supposed to have cast upon the Jews, as if Riah could have redeemed
Fagin, any more than Sheva redeemed Shylock.

But in this book whole episodes and parts of the plot through which the
mystery of John Harmon winds its length along are ill-adapted for giving
pleasure to any reader. The whole Boffin, Wegg, and Venus business--if the
term may pass--is extremely wearisome; the character of Mr. Venus, in
particular, seems altogether unconnected or unarticulated with the general
plot, on which, indeed, it is but an accidental excrescence. In the Wilfer
family there are the outlines of some figures of genuine humour, but the
outlines only; nor is Bella raised into the sphere of the charming out of
that of the pert and skittish. A more ambitious attempt, and a more
noteworthy failure, was the endeavour to give to the main plot of this
novel such a satiric foil as the Circumlocution Office had furnished to
the chief action of _Little Dorrit_, in a caricature of society at large,
its surface varnish and its internal rottenness. The Barnacles, and those
who deemed it their duty to rally round the Barnacles, had, we saw, felt
themselves hard hit; but what sphere or section of society could feel
itself specially caricatured in the Veneerings, or in their
associates--the odious Lady Tippins, the impossibly brutal Podsnap,
Fascination Fledgeby, and the Lammles, a couple which suggests nothing but
antimony and the Chamber of Horrors? Caricature such as this,
representing no society that has ever in any part of the world pretended
to be "good," corresponds to the wild rhetoric of the superfluous Betty
Higden episode against the "gospel according to Podsnappery;" but it is,
in truth, satire from which both wit and humour have gone out. An angry,
often almost spasmodic, mannerism has to supply their place. Amongst the
personages moving in "society" are two which, as playing serious parts in
the progress of the plot, the author is necessarily obliged to seek to
endow with the flesh and blood of real human beings. Yet it is precisely
in these--the friends Eugene and Mortimer--that, in the earlier part of
the novel at all events, the constraint of the author's style seems least
relieved; the dialogues between these two Templars have an unnaturalness
about them as intolerable as euphuism or the effeminacies of the Augustan
age. It is true that, when the story reaches its tragic height, the
character of Eugene is borne along with it, and his affectations are
forgotten. But in previous parts of the book, where he poses as a wit, and
is evidently meant for a gentleman, he fails to make good his claims to
either character. Even the skilfully contrived contrast between the rivals
Eugene Wrayburn and the school-master, Bradley Headstone--through whom and
through whose pupil, Dickens, by-the-way, dealt another blow against a
system of mental training founded upon facts alone--fails to bring out the
conception of Eugene which the author manifestly had in his mind. Lastly,
the old way of reconciling dissonances--a marriage which "society" calls a
_mésalliance_--has rarely furnished a lamer ending than here; and, had the
unwritten laws of English popular fiction permitted, a tragic close would
have better accorded with the sombre hue of the most powerful portions of
this curiously unequal romance.

The effort--for such it was--of _Our Mutual Friend_ had not been over for
more than a few months, when Dickens accepted a proposal for thirty
nights' readings from the Messrs. Chappell; and by April, 1866, he was
again hard at work, flying across the country into Lancashire and
Scotland, and back to his temporary London residence in Southwick Place,
Hyde Park. In any man more capable than Dickens of controlling the
restlessness which consumed him the acceptance of this offer would have
been incomprehensible; for his heart had been declared out of order by his
physician, and the patient had shown himself in some degree awake to the
significance of this opinion. But the readings were begun and accomplished
notwithstanding, though not without warnings, on which he insisted on
putting his own interpretation. Sleeplessness aggravated fatigue, and
stimulants were already necessary to enable him to do the work of his
readings without discomfort. Meanwhile, some weeks before they were
finished, he had been induced to enter into negotiations about a further
engagement to begin at the end of the year. Time was to be left for the
Christmas number, which this year could hardly find its scene anywhere
else than at a railway junction; and the readings were not to extend over
forty nights, which seem ultimately to have been increased to fifty. This
second series, which included a campaign in Ireland, brilliantly
successful despite snow and rain, and Fenians, was over in May. Then came
the climax, for America now claimed her share of the great author for her
public halls and chapels and lecture-theatres; and the question of the
summer and autumn was whether or not to follow the sound of the distant
dollar. It was closely debated between Dickens and his friend Forster and
Wills, and he describes himself as "tempest-tossed" with doubts; but his
mind had inclined in one direction from the first, and the matter was
virtually decided when it resolved to send a confidential agent to make
enquiries on the spot. Little imported another and grave attack in his
foot; the trusty Mr. Dolby's report was irresistible. Eighty readings
within half a year was the estimated number, with profits amounting to
over fifteen thousand pounds. The gains actually made were nearly five
thousand pounds in excess of this calculation.

A farewell banquet, under the presidency of Lord Lytton, gave the
favourite author Godspeed on his journey to the larger half of his public;
on the 9th of November he sailed from Liverpool, and on the 19th landed at
Boston. The voyage, on which, with his old buoyancy, he had contrived to
make himself master of the modest revels of the saloon, seems to have done
him good, or at least to have made him, as usual, impatient to be at his
task. Barely arrived, he is found reporting himself "so well, that I am
constantly chafing at not having begun to-night, instead of this night
week." By December, however, he was at his reading-desk, first at Boston,
where he met with the warmest of welcomes, and then at New York, where
there was a run upon the tickets, which he described with his usual
excited delight. The enthusiasm of his reception by the American public
must have been heightened by the thought that it was now or never for them
to see him face to face, and, by-gones being by-gones, to testify to him
their admiration. But there may have been some foundation for his
discovery that some signs of agitation on his part were expected in
return, and "that it would have been taken as a suitable compliment if I
would stagger on the platform, and instantly drop, overpowered by the
spectacle before me." It was but a sad Christmas which he spent with his
faithful Dolby at their New York inn, tired, and with a "genuine American
catarrh upon him," of which he never freed himself during his stay in the
country. Hardly had he left the doctor's hands than he was about again,
reading in Boston and New York and their more immediate
neighbourhood--that is, within six or seven hours by railway--till
February; and then, in order to stimulate his public, beginning a series
of appearances at more distant places before returning to his
starting-points. His whole tour included, besides a number of New England
towns, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, and in the north Cleveland
and Buffalo. Canada and the West were struck out of the programme, the
latter chiefly because exciting political matters were beginning to absorb
public attention.

During these journeyings Dickens gave himself up altogether to the
business of his readings, only occasionally allowing himself to accept the
hospitality proffered him on every side. Thus only could he breast the
difficulties of his enterprise; for, as I have said, his health was never
good during the whole of his visit, and his exertions were severe, though
eased by the self-devotion of his attendants, of which, as of his constant
kindness, both serious and sportive, towards them it is touching to read.
Already in January he describes himself as not seldom "so dead beat" at
the close of a reading "that they lay me down on a sofa, after I have been
washed and dressed, and I lie there, extremely faint, for a quarter of an
hour," and as suffering from intolerable sleeplessness at night. His
appetite was equally disordered, and he lived mainly on stimulants. Why
had he condemned himself to such a life?

When at last he could declare the stress of his work over he described
himself as "nearly used up. Climate, distance, catarrh, travelling, and
hard work have begun--I may say so, now they are nearly all over--to tell
heavily upon me. Sleeplessness besets me; and if I had engaged to go on
into May, I think I must have broken down." Indeed, but for his wonderful
energy and the feeling of exultation which is derived from a heavy task
nearly accomplished, he would have had to follow the advice of "Longfellow
and all the Cambridge men," and give in nearly at the last. But he
persevered through the farewell readings, both at Boston and at New York,
though on the night before the last reading in America he told Dolby that
if he "had to read but twice more, instead of once, he couldn't do it."
This last reading of all was given at New York on April 20, two days after
a farewell banquet at Delmonico's. It was when speaking on this occasion
that, very naturally moved by the unalloyed welcome which had greeted him
in whatever part of the States he had visited, he made the declaration
already mentioned, promising to perpetuate his grateful sense of his
recent American experiences. This apology, which was no apology, at least
remains one amongst many proofs of the fact that with Dickens kindness
never fell on a thankless soil.

The merry month of May was still young in the Kentish fields and lanes
when the master of Gad's Hill Place was home again at last. "I had not
been at sea three days on the passage home," he wrote to his friend Mrs.
Watson, "when I became myself again." It was, however, too much when "a
'deputation'--two in number, of whom only one could get into my cabin,
while the other looked in at my window--came to ask me to read to the
passengers that evening in the saloon. I respectfully replied that sooner
than do it I would assault the captain and be put in irons." Alas! he was
already fast bound, by an engagement concluded soon after he had arrived
in Boston, to a final series of readings at home. "Farewell" is a
difficult word to say for any one who has grown accustomed to the
stimulating excitement of a public stage, and it is not wonderful that
Dickens should have wished to see the faces of his familiar friends--the
English public--once more. But the engagement to which he had set his hand
was for a farewell of a hundred readings, at the recompense of eight
thousand pounds, in addition to expenses and percentage. It is true that
he had done this before he had fully realized the effect of his American
exertions; but even so there was a terrible unwisdom in the promise. These
last readings--and he alone is, in common fairness, to be held responsible
for the fact--cut short a life from which much noble fruit might still
have been expected for our literature, and which in any case might have
been prolonged as a blessing beyond all that gold can buy to those who
loved him.

Meanwhile he had allowed himself a short respite before resuming his
labours in October. It was not more, his friends thought, than he needed,
for much of his old buoyancy seemed to them to be wanting in him, except
when hospitality or the intercourse of friendship called it forth. What a
charm there still was in his genial humour his letters would suffice to
show. It does one good to read his description to his kind American
friends Mr. and Mrs. Fields of his tranquillity at Gad's Hill: "Divers
birds sing here all day, and the nightingales all night. The place is
lovely, and in perfect order. I have put five mirrors in the Swiss châlet
where I write, and they reflect and refract in all kinds of ways the
leaves that are quivering at the windows, and the great fields of waving
corn, and the sail-dotted river. My room is up amongst the branches of the
trees, and the birds and the butterflies fly in and out, and the green
branches shoot in at the open windows, and the lights and shadows of the
clouds come and go with the rest of the company. The scent of the flowers,
and indeed of everything that is growing for miles and miles, is most

Part of this rare leisure he generously devoted to the preparation for the
press of a volume of literary remains from the pen of an old friend. The
_Religious Opinions of Chauncey Hare Townshend_ should not be altogether
overlooked by those interested in Dickens, to whom the loose undogmatic
theology of his friend commended itself as readily as the sincere
religious feeling underlying it. I cannot say what answer Dickens would
have returned to an enquiry as to his creed, but the nature of his
religious opinions is obvious enough. Born in the Church of England, he
had so strong an aversion from what seemed to him dogmatism of any kind,
that he for a time--in 1843--connected himself with a Unitarian
congregation; and to Unitarian views his own probably continued during his
life most nearly to approach. He described himself as "morally wide
asunder from Rome," but the religious conceptions of her community cannot
have been a matter of anxious enquiry with him, while he was too
liberal-minded to be, unless occasionally, aggressive in his
Protestantism. For the rest, his mind, though imaginative, was without
mystical tendencies, while for the transitory superstitions of the day it
was impossible but that he should entertain the contempt which they
deserved. "Although," he writes--

    "I regard with a hushed and solemn fear the mysteries between which,
    and this state of existence, is interposed the barrier of the great
    trial and change that fall on all the things that live; and, although
    I have not the audacity to pretend that I know anything of them, I
    cannot reconcile the mere banging of doors, ringing of bells, creaking
    of boards, and such like insignificances, with the majestic beauty and
    pervading analogy of all the Divine rules that I am permitted to

His piety was undemonstrative and sincere, as his books alone would
suffice to prove; and he seems to have sought to impress upon his children
those religious truths with the acceptance and practice of which he
remained himself content. He loved the New Testament, and had, after some
fashion of his own, paraphrased the Gospel narrative for the use of his
children; but he thought that "half the misery and hypocrisy of the
Christian world arises from a stubborn determination to refuse the New
Testament as a sufficient guide in itself, and to force the Old Testament
into alliance with it--whereof comes all manner of camel-swallowing and of
gnat-straining." Of Puritanism in its modern forms he was an
uncompromising, and no doubt a conscientious, opponent; and though, with
perfect sincerity, he repelled the charge that his attacks upon cant were
attacks upon religion, yet their _animus_ is such as to make the
misinterpretation intelligible. His Dissenting ministers are of the
_Bartholomew Fair_ species; and though, in his later books, a good
clergyman here and there makes his modest appearance, the balance can
hardly be said to be satisfactorily redressed.

The performance of this pious office was not the only kind act he did
after his return from America. Of course, however, his own family was
nearest to his heart. No kinder or more judicious words were ever
addressed by a father to his children than those which, about this time,
he wrote to one of his sons, then beginning a successful career at
Cambridge, and to another--the youngest--who was setting forth for
Australia, to join an elder brother already established in that country.
"Poor Plorn," he afterward wrote, "is gone to Australia. It was a hard
parting at the last. He seemed to me to become once more my youngest and
favourite child as the day drew near, and I did not think I could have
been so shaken."

In October his "farewell" readings began. He had never had his heart more
in the work than now. Curiously enough, not less than two proposals had
reached him during this autumn--one from Birmingham and the other from
Edinburgh--that he should allow himself to be put forward as a candidate
for Parliament; but he declined to entertain either, though in at least
one of the two cases the prospects of success would not have been small.
His views of political and parliamentary life had not changed since he had
written to Bulwer Lytton in 1865: "Would there not seem to be something
horribly rotten in the system of political life, when one stands amazed
how any man, not forced into it by his position, as you are, can bear to
live it?" Indeed, they had hardly changed since the days when he had come
into personal contact with them as a reporter. In public and in private he
had never ceased to ridicule our English system of party, and to express
his contempt for the Legislature and all its works. He had, however,
continued to take a lively interest in public affairs, and his letters
contain not a few shrewd remarks on both home and foreign questions. Like
most liberal minds of his age, he felt a warm sympathy for the cause of
Italy; and the English statesman whom he appears to have most warmly
admired was Lord Russell, in whose good intentions neither friends nor
adversaries were wont to lose faith. Meanwhile his Radicalism gradually
became of the most thoroughly independent type, though it interfered
neither with his approval of the proceedings in Jamaica as an example of
strong government, nor with his scorn of "the meeting of jawbones and
asses" held against Governor Eyre at Manchester. The political questions,
however, which really moved him deeply were those social problems to which
his sympathy for the poor had always directed his attention--the Poor-law,
temperance, Sunday observance, punishment and prisons, labour and strikes.
On all these heads sentiment guided his judgment, but he spared no pains
to convince himself that he was in the right; and he was always generous,
as when, notwithstanding his interest in _Household Words_, he declared
himself unable to advocate the repeal of the paper duty for a moment, "as
against the soap duty, or any other pressing on the mass of the poor."

Thus he found no difficulty in adhering to the course he had marked out
for himself. The subject which now occupied him before all others was a
scheme for a new reading, with which it was his wish to vary and to
intensify the success of the series on which he was engaged. This was no
other than a selection of scenes from _Oliver Twist_, culminating in the
scene of the murder of Nancy by Sikes, which, before producing it in
public, he resolved to "try" upon a select private audience. The trial was
a brilliant success. "The public," exclaimed a famous actress who was
present, "have been looking out for a sensation these last fifty years or
so, and, by Heaven, they have got it!" Accordingly, from January, 1869, it
formed one of the most frequent of his readings, and the effort which it
involved counted for much in the collapse which was to follow. Never were
the limits between reading and acting more thoroughly effaced by Dickens,
and never was the production of an extraordinary effect more equally
shared by author and actor. But few who witnessed this extraordinary
performance can have guessed the elaborate preparation bestowed upon it,
which is evident from the following notes (by Mr. C. Kent) on the book
used in it by the reader:

    "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 the by-play 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 page
    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.) Not a word was said about the
    pistol.... So again, afterwards, as a rousing self-direction, one sees
    notified in MS. on page 107 the grim stage direction, '_Murder

The "Murder" was frequently read by Dickens not less than four times a
week during the early months of 1869, in which year, after beginning in
Ireland, he had been continually travelling to and fro between various
parts of Great Britain and town. Already in February the old trouble in
his foot had made itself felt, but, as usual, it had long been
disregarded. On the 10th of April he had been entertained at Liverpool, in
St. George's Hall, at a banquet presided over by Lord Dufferin, and in a
genial speech had tossed back the ball to Lord Houghton, who had
pleasantly bantered him for his unconsciousness of the merits of the House
of Lords. Ten days afterwards he was to read at Preston, but, feeling
uneasy about himself, had reported his symptoms to his doctor in London.
The latter hastened down to Preston, and persuaded Dickens to accompany
him back to town, where, after a consultation, it was determined that the
readings must be stopped for the current year, and that reading combined
with travelling must never be resumed. What his sister-in-law and daughter
feel themselves justified in calling "the beginning of the end" had come
at last.

With his usual presence of mind Dickens at once perceived the imperative
necessity of interposing, "as it were, a fly-leaf in the book of my life,
in which nothing should be written from without for a brief season of a
few weeks." But he insisted that the combination of the reading and the
travelling was alone to be held accountable for his having found himself
feeling, "for the first time in my life, giddy, jarred, shaken, faint,
uncertain of voice and sight and tread and touch, and dull of spirit."
Meanwhile, he for once kept quiet, first in London, and then at Gad's
Hill. "This last summer," say those who did most to make it bright for
him, "was a very happy one," and gladdened by the visits of many friends.
On the retirement, also on account of ill-health, from _All the Year
Round_ of his second self, Mr. W. H. Wills, he was fortunately able at
once to supply the vacant place by the appointment to it of his eldest
son, who seems to have inherited that sense of lucid order which was
amongst his father's most distinctive characteristics. He travelled very
little this year, though in September he made a speech at Birmingham on
behalf of his favourite Midland Institute, delivering himself, at its
conclusion, of an antithetical Radical commonplace, which, being
misreported or misunderstood, was commented upon with much unnecessary
wonderment. With a view to avoiding the danger of excessive fatigue, the
latter part of the year was chiefly devoted to writing in advance part of
his new book, which, like _Great Expectations_, was to grow up, and to be
better for growing up, in his own Kentish home, and almost within sound of
the bells of "Cloisterham" Cathedral. But the new book was never to be

The first number of _The Mystery of Edwin Drood_ was not published till
one more short series of twelve readings, given in London during a period
extending from January to March, was at an end. He had obtained Sir Thomas
Watson's consent to his carrying out this wish, largely caused by the
desire to compensate the Messrs. Chappell in some measure for the
disappointment to which he had been obliged to subject them by the
interruption of his longer engagement. Thus, though the Christmas of 1869
had brought with it another warning of trouble in the foot, the year 1870
opened busily, and early in January Dickens established himself for the
season at 5 Hyde Park Place. Early in the month he made another speech at
Birmingham; but the readings were strictly confined to London. On the
other hand, it was not to be expected that the "Murder" would be excluded
from the list. It was read in January to an audience of actors and
actresses; and it is pleasant to think that he was able to testify to his
kindly feeling towards their profession on one of the last occasions when
he appeared on his own stage. "I set myself," he wrote, "to carrying out
of themselves and their observation those who were bent on watching how
the effects were got; and, I believe, I succeeded. Coming back to it
again, however, I feel it was madness ever to do it so continuously. My
ordinary pulse is seventy-two, and it runs up under this effort to one
hundred and twelve." Yet this fatal reading was repeated thrice more
before the series closed, and with even more startling results upon the
reader. The careful observations made by the physician, however, show that
the excitement of his last readings was altogether too great for any man
to have endured much longer. At last, on March 16, the night came which
closed fifteen years of personal relations between the English public and
its favourite author, such as are, after all, unparalleled in the history
of our literature. His farewell words were few and simple, and referred
with dignity to his resolution to devote himself henceforth exclusively to
his calling as an author, and to his hope that in but two short weeks'
time his audience "might enter, in their own homes, on a new series of
readings at which his assistance would be indispensable."

Of the short time which remained to him his last book was the chief
occupation; and an association thus clings to the _Mystery of Edwin Drood_
which would, in any case, incline us to treat this fragment--for it was to
be no more--with tenderness. One would, indeed, hardly be justified in
asserting that this story, like that which Thackeray left behind him in
the same unfinished state, bade fair to become a masterpiece in its
author's later manner; there is much that is forced in its humour, while
as to the working out of the chief characters our means of judgment are,
of course, incomplete. The outline of the design, on the other hand,
presents itself with tolerable clearness to the minds of most readers of
insight or experience, though the story deserves its name of a mystery,
instead of, like _Our Mutual Friend_, seeming merely to withhold a
necessary explanation. And it must be allowed few plots have ever been
more effectively laid than this, of which the untying will never be known.
Three such personages in relation to a deed of darkness as Jasper for its
contriver, Durden for its unconscious accomplice, and Deputy for its
self-invited witness, and all so naturally connecting themselves with the
locality of the perpetration of the crime, assuredly could not have been
brought together except by one who had gradually attained to mastership in
the adaptation of characters to the purposes of a plot. Still, the
strongest impression left upon the reader of this fragment is the evidence
it furnishes of Dickens having retained to the last powers which were most
peculiarly and distinctively his own. Having skilfully brought into
connexion, for the purposes of his plot, two such strangely-contrasted
spheres of life and death as the cathedral close at "Cloisterham" and an
opium-smoking den in one of the obscurest corners of London, he is
enabled, by his imaginative and observing powers, not only to _realise_
the picturesque elements in both scenes, but also to convert them into a
twofold background, accommodating itself to the most vivid hues of human
passion. This is to bring out what he was wont to call "the romantic
aspect of familiar things." With the physiognomy of Cloisterham--otherwise
Rochester--with its cathedral, and its "monastery" ruin, and its "Minor
Canon Corner," and its "Nuns' House"--otherwise "Eastgate House," in the
High Street--he was, of course, closely acquainted; but he had never
reproduced its features with so artistic a cunning, and the Mystery of
Edwin Drood will always haunt Bishop Gundulph's venerable building and its
tranquil precincts. As for the opium-smoking, we have his own statement
that what he described he saw--"exactly as he had described it, penny
ink-bottle and all--down in Shadwell" in the autumn of 1869. "A couple of
the Inspectors of Lodging-houses knew the woman, and took me to her as I
was making a round with them to see for myself the working of Lord
Shaftesbury's Bill." Between these scenes John Jasper--a figure conceived
with singular force--moves to and fro, preparing his mysterious design. No
story of the kind ever began more finely; and we may be excused from
enquiring whether signs of diminished vigour of invention and freshness of
execution are to be found in other and less prominent portions of the
great novelist's last work.

Before, in this year 1870, Dickens withdrew from London to Gad's Hill,
with the hope of there in quiet carrying his all but half-finished task to
its close, his health had not been satisfactory; he had suffered from time
to time in his foot, and his weary and aged look was observed by many of
his friends. He was able to go occasionally into society; though at the
last dinner-party which he attended--it was at Lord Houghton's, to meet
the Prince of Wales and the King of the Belgians--he had been unable to
mount above the dining-room floor. Already in March the Queen had found a
suitable opportunity for inviting him to wait upon her at Buckingham
Palace, when she had much gratified him by her kindly manner; and a few
days later he made his appearance at the levee. These acknowledgments of
his position as an English author were as they should be; no others were
offered, nor is it a matter of regret that there should have been no
titles to inscribe on his tomb. He was also twice seen on one of those
public occasions which no eloquence graced so readily and so pleasantly as
his: once in April, at the dinner for the Newsvenders' Charity, when he
spoke of the existence among his humble clients of that "feeling of
brotherhood and sympathy which is worth much to all men, or they would
herd with wolves;" and once in May--only a day or two before he went home
into the country--when, at the Royal Academy dinner, he paid a touching
tribute to the eminent painter, Daniel Maclise, who in the good old days
had been much like a brother to himself. Another friend and companion,
Mark Lemon, passed away a day or two afterwards; and with the most
intimate of all, his future biographer, he lamented the familiar faces of
their companions--not one of whom had passed his sixtieth year--upon which
they were not to look again. On the 30th of May he was once more at Gad's

Here he forthwith set to work on his book, taking walks as usual, though
of no very great length. On Thursday, the 9th of June, he had intended to
pay his usual weekly visit to the office of his journal, and accordingly,
on the 8th, devoted the afternoon as well as the morning to finishing the
sixth number of the story. When he came across to the house from the
châlet before dinner he seemed to his sister-in-law, who alone of the
family was at home, tired and silent, and no sooner had they sat down to
dinner than she noticed how seriously ill he looked. It speedily became
evident that a fit was upon him. "Come and lie down," she entreated. "Yes,
on the ground," he said, very distinctly--these were the last words he
spoke--and he slid from her arm and fell upon the floor. He was laid on a
couch in the room, and there he remained unconscious almost to the last.
He died at ten minutes past six on the evening of the 9th--by which time
his daughters and his eldest son had been able to join the faithful
watcher by his side; his sister and his son Henry arrived when all was

His own desire had been to be buried near Gad's Hill; though at one time
he is said to have expressed a wish to lie in a disused graveyard, which
is still pointed out, in a secluded corner in the moat of Rochester
Castle. Preparations had been made accordingly, when the Dean and Chapter
of Rochester urged a request that his remains might be placed in their
Cathedral. This was assented to; but at the last moment the Dean of
Westminster gave expression to a widespread wish that the great national
writer might lie in the national Abbey. There he was buried on June 14,
without the slightest attempt at the pomp which he had deprecated in his
will, and which he almost fiercely condemned in more than one of his
writings. "The funeral," writes Dean Stanley, whose own dust now mingles
with that of so many illustrious dead, "was strictly private. It took
place at an early hour in the summer morning, the grave having been dug in
secret the night before, and the vast solitary space of the Abbey was
occupied only by the small band of the mourners, and the Abbey clergy,
who, without any music except the occasional peal of the organ, read the
funeral service. For days the spot was visited by thousands. Many were the
tears shed by the poorer visitors. He rests beside Sheridan, Garrick, and
Henderson"--the first actor ever buried in the Abbey. Associations of
another kind cluster near; but his generous spirit would not have
disdained the thought that he would seem even in death the players'

A plain memorial brass on the walls of Rochester Cathedral vindicates the
share which the ancient city and its neighbourhood will always have in his
fame. But most touching of all it is to think of him under the trees of
his own garden on the hill, in the pleasant home where, after so many
labours and so many wanderings, he died in peace, and as one who had
earned his rest.



There is no reason whatever to believe that in the few years which have
gone by since Dickens's death the delight taken in his works throughout
England and North America, as well as elsewhere, has diminished, or that
he is not still one of our few most popular writers. The mere fact that
his popularity has remained such since, nearly half a century ago, he,
like a beam of spring sunshine, first made the world gay, is a sufficient
indication of the influence which he must have exercised upon his age. In
our world of letters his followers have been many, though naturally enough
those whose original genius impelled them to follow their own course
soonest ceased to be his imitators. Amongst these I know no more signal
instance than the great novelist whose surpassing merits he had very
swiftly recognised in her earliest work. For though in the _Scenes of
Clerical Life_ George Eliot seems to be, as it were, hesitating between
Dickens and Thackeray as the models of her humorous writing, reminiscences
of the former are unmistakable in the opening of _Amos Barton_, in _Mr.
Gilfil's Love-Story_, in _Janet's Repentance_; and though it would be
hazardous to trace his influence in the domestic scenes in _Adam Bede_,
neither a Christmas exordium in one of the books of _The Mill on the
Floss_, nor the Sam Weller-like freshness of Bob Wakem in the same
powerful story, is altogether the author's own. Two of the most successful
Continental novelists of the present day have gone to school with Dickens:
the one the truly national writer whose _Debit and Credit_, a work largely
in the manner of his English model, has, as a picture of modern life,
remained unexcelled in German literature;[14] the other, the brilliant
Southerner, who may write as much of the _History of his Books_ as his
public may desire to learn, but who cannot write the pathos of Dickens
altogether out of _Jack_, or his farcical fun out of _Le Nabab_. And
again--for I am merely illustrating, not attempting to describe, the
literary influence of Dickens--who could fail to trace in the Californian
studies and sketches of Bret Harte elements of humour and of pathos, to
which that genuinely original author would be the last to deny that his
great English "master" was no stranger?

Yet popularity and literary influence, however wide and however strong,
often pass away as they have come; and in no field of literature are there
many reputations which the sea of time fails before very long to submerge.
In prose fiction--a comparatively young literary growth--they are
certainly not the most numerous, perhaps because on works of this species
the manners and style of an age most readily impress themselves, rendering
them proportionately strange to the ages that come after. In the works of
even the lesser playwrights who pleased the liberal times of Elizabeth,
and in lyrics of even secondary merit that were admired by fantastic
Caroline cavaliers, we can still take pleasure. But who can read many of
the "standard" novels published as lately even as the days of George the
Fourth? The speculation is, therefore, not altogether idle, whether
Dickens saw truly when labouring, as most great men do labour, in the
belief that his work was not only for a day. Literary eminence was the
only eminence he desired, while it was one of the very healthiest elements
in his character, that whatever he was, he was thoroughly. He would not
have told any one, as Fielding's author told Mr. Booth at the
sponging-house, that romance-writing "is certainly the easiest work in the
world;" nor, being what he was, could he ever have found it such in his
own case. "Whoever," he declared, "is devoted to an art must be content to
give himself wholly up to it, and to find his recompense in it." And not
only did he obey his own labour-laws, but in the details of his work as a
man of letters he spared no pains and no exercise of self-control. "I am,"
he generously told a beginner, to whom he was counselling patient
endeavour, "an impatient and impulsive person myself, but it has been for
many years the constant effort of my life to practise at my desk what I
preach to you." Never, therefore has a man of letters had a better claim
to be judged by his works. As he expressly said in his will, he wished for
no other monument than his writings; and with their aid we, who already
belong to a new generation, and whose children will care nothing for the
gossip and the scandal of which he, like most popular celebrities, was in
his lifetime privileged or doomed to become the theme, may seek to form
some definite conception of his future place among illustrious Englishmen.

It would, of course, be against all experience to suppose that to future
generations Dickens, as a writer, will be all that he was to his own.
Much that constitutes the subject, or at least furnishes the background,
of his pictures of English life, like the Fleet Prison and the Marshalsea,
has vanished, or is being improved off the face of the land. The form,
again, of Dickens's principal works may become obsolete, as it was in a
sense accidental. He was the most popular novelist of his day; but should
prose fiction, or even the full and florid species of it which has enjoyed
so long-lived a favour ever be out of season, the popularity of Dickens's
books must experience an inevitable diminution. And even before that day
arrives not all the works in a particular species of literature that may
to a particular age have seemed destined to live, will have been
preserved. Nothing is more surely tested by time than that originality
which is the secret of a writer's continuing to be famous, and continuing
to be read.

Dickens was not--and to whom in these latter ages of literature could such
a term be applied?--a self-made writer, in the sense that he owed nothing
to those who had gone before him. He was most assuredly no classical
scholar--how could he have been? But I should hesitate to call him an
ill-read man, though he certainly was neither a great nor a catholic
reader, and though he could not help thinking about _Nicholas Nickleby_
while he was reading the _Curse of Kehama_. In his own branch of
literature his judgment was sound and sure-footed. It was, of course, a
happy accident that as a boy he imbibed that taste for good fiction which
is a thing inconceivable to the illiterate. Sneers have been directed
against the poverty of his book-shelves in his earlier days of authorship;
but I fancy there were not many popular novelists in 1839 who would have
taken down with them into the country for a summer sojourn, as Dickens did
to Petersham, not only a couple of Scott's novels, but Goldsmith, Swift,
Fielding, Smollett, and the British Essayists; nor is there one of these
national classics--unless it be Swift--with whom Dickens's books or
letters fail to show him to have been familiar. Of Goldsmith's books, he
told Forster, in a letter which the biographer of Goldsmith modestly
suppressed, he "had no indifferent perception--to the best of his
remembrance--when little more than a child." He discusses with
understanding the relative literary merits of the serious and humorous
papers in _The Spectator_; and, with regard to another work of unique
significance in the history of English fiction, _Robinson Crusoe_, he
acutely observed that "one of the most popular books on earth has nothing
in it to make any one laugh or cry." "It is a book," he added, which he
"read very much." It may be noted, by-the-way, that he was an attentive
and judicious student of Hogarth; and that thus his criticisms of humorous
pictorial art rested upon as broad a basis of comparison as did his
judgment of his great predecessors in English humorous fiction.

Amongst these predecessors it has become usual to assert that Smollett
exercised the greatest influence upon Dickens. It is no doubt true that in
David Copperfield's library Smollett's books are mentioned first, and in
the greatest number, that a vision of Roderick Random and Strap haunted
the very wicket-gate at Blunderstone, that the poor little hero's first
thought on entering the King's Bench prison was the strange company whom
Roderick met in the Marshalsea; and that the references to Smollett and
his books are frequent in Dickens's other books and in his letters.
Leghorn seemed to him "made illustrious" by Smollett's grave, and in a
late period of his life he criticises his chief fictions with admirable
justice. "_Humphry Clinker_," he writes, "is certainly Smollett's best. I
am rather divided between _Peregrine Pickle_ and _Roderick Random_, both
extraordinarily good in their way, which is a way without tenderness; but
you will have to read them both, and I send the first volume of
_Peregrine_ as the richer of the two." An odd volume of _Peregrine_ was
one of the books with which the waiter at the _Holly Tree Inn_ endeavoured
to beguile the lonely Christmas of the snowed-up traveller, but the latter
"knew every word of it already." In the _Lazy Tour_, "Thomas, now just
able to grope his way along, in a doubled-up condition, was no bad
embodiment of Commodore Trunnion." I have noted, moreover, coincidences of
detail which bear witness to Dickens's familiarity with Smollett's works.
To Lieutenant Bowling and Commodore Trunnion, as to Captain Cuttle, every
man was a "brother," and to the Commodore, as to Mr. Smallweed, the most
abusive substantive addressed to a woman admitted of intensification by
the epithet "brimstone." I think Dickens had not forgotten the opening of
the _Adventures of an Atom_ when he wrote a passage in the opening of his
own _Christmas Carol_; and that the characters of Tom Pinch and Tommy
Traddles--the former more especially--were not conceived without some
thought of honest Strap. Furthermore, it was Smollett's example that
probably suggested to Dickens the attractive jingle in the title of his
_Nicholas Nickleby_. But these are for the most part mere details. The
manner of Dickens as a whole resembles Fielding's more strikingly than
Smollett's, as it was only natural that it should. The irony of Smollett
is drier than was reconcilable with Dickens's nature; it is only in the
occasional extravagances of his humour that the former anticipates
anything in the latter, and it is only the coarsest scenes of Dickens's
earlier books--such as that between Noah, Charlotte, and Mrs. Sowerbery
in _Oliver Twist_--which recall the whole manner of his predecessor. They
resemble one another in their descriptive accuracy, and in the
accumulation of detail by which they produce instead of obscuring
vividness of impression; but it was impossible that Dickens should prefer
the general method of the novel of adventure pure and simple, such as
Smollett produced after the example of _Gil Blas_, to the less crude form
adopted by Fielding, who adhered to earlier and nobler models. With
Fielding's, moreover, Dickens's whole nature was congenial; they both had
that tenderness which Smollett lacked; and the circumstance that, of all
English writers of the past, Fielding's name alone was given by Dickens to
one of his sons, shows how, like so many of Fielding's readers, he had
learnt to love him with an almost personal affection. The very spirit of
the author of _Tom Jones_--that gaiety which, to borrow the saying of a
recent historian concerning Cervantes, renders even brutality agreeable,
and that charm of sympathetic feeling which makes us love those of his
characters which he loves himself--seem astir in some of the most
delightful passages of Dickens's most delightful books. So in _Pickwick_,
to begin with, in which, by the way, Fielding is cited with a twinkle of
the eye all his own, and in _Martin Chuzzlewit_, where a chapter opens
with a passage which is pure Fielding:

    "It was morning, and the beautiful Aurora, of whom so much hath been
    written, said, and sung, did, with her rosy fingers, nip and tweak
    Miss Pecksniff's nose. It was the frolicsome custom of the goddess, in
    her intercourse with the fair Cherry, to do so; or, in more prosaic
    phrase, the tip of that feature in the sweet girl's countenance was
    always very red at breakfast-time."

Amongst the writers of Dickens's own age there were only two, or perhaps
three, who in very different degrees and ways exercised a noticeable
influence upon his writings. He once declared to Washington Irving that he
kept everything written by that delightful author upon "his shelves, and
in his thoughts, and in his heart of hearts." And, doubtless, in Dickens's
early days as an author the influence of the American classic may have
aided to stimulate the imaginative element in his English admirer's
genius, and to preserve him from a grossness of humour into which, after
the _Sketches by Boz_, he very rarely allowed himself to lapse. The two
other writers were Carlyle, and, as I have frequently noted in previous
chapters, the friend and fellow-labourer of Dickens's later manhood, Mr.
Wilkie Collins. It is no unique experience that the disciple should
influence the master; and in this instance, perhaps with the co-operation
of the examples of the modern French theatre, which the two friends had
studied in common, Mr. Wilkie Collins's manner had, I think, no small
share in bringing about a transformation in that of Dickens. His stories
thus gradually lost all traces of the older masters both in general method
and in detail; whilst he came to condense and concentrate his effects in
successions of skilfully-arranged scenes. Dickens's debt to Carlyle was,
of course, of another nature; and in his works the proofs are not few of
his readiness to accept the teachings of one whom he declared he would "go
at all times farther to see than any man alive." There was something
singular in the admiration these two men felt for one another; for
Carlyle, after an acquaintance of almost thirty years, spoke of Dickens as
"a most cordial, sincere, clear-sighted, quietly decisive, just, and
loving man;" and there is not one of these epithets but seems well
considered and well chosen. But neither Carlyle nor Dickens possessed a
moral quality omitted in this list, the quality of patience, which abhors
either "quietly" or loudly "deciding" a question before considering it
under all its aspects, and in a spirit of fairness to all sides. The
_Latter-Day Pamphlets_, to confine myself to them,[15] like so much of the
political philosophy, if it is to be dignified by that name, which in part
Dickens derived from them, were at the time effective strokes of satirical
invective; now, their edge seems blunt and their energy inflation. Take
the pamphlet on Model Prisons, with its summary of a theory which Dickens
sought in every way to enforce upon his readers; or again, that entitled
_Downing Street_, which settles the question of party government as a
question of the choice between Buffy and Boodle, or, according to Carlyle,
the Honourable Felix Parvulus and the Right Honourable Felicissimus Zero.
The corrosive power of such sarcasms may be unquestionable; but the angry
rhetoric pointed by them becomes part of the nature of those who
habitually employ its utterance in lieu of argument; and not a little of
the declamatory element in Dickens, which no doubt at first exercised its
effect upon a large number of readers, must be ascribed to his reading of
a great writer who was often very much more stimulative than nutritious.

Something, then, he owed to other writers, but it was little indeed in
comparison with what he owed to his natural gifts. First amongst these, I
think, must be placed what may, in a word, be called his sensibility--that
quality of which humour, in the more limited sense of the word, and
pathos are the twin products. And in Dickens both these were paramount
powers, almost equally various in their forms and effective in their
operation. According to M. Taine, Dickens, whilst he excels in irony of a
particular sort, being an Englishman, is incapable of being gay. Such
profundities are unfathomable to the readers of _Pickwick_; though the
French critic may have generalised from Dickens's later writings only. His
pathos is not less true than various, for the gradations are marked
between the stern, tragic pathos of _Hard Times_, the melting pathos of
the _Old Curiosity Shop_, _Dombey and Son_, and _David Copperfield_, and
the pathos of helplessness which appeals to us in Smike and Jo. But this
sensibility would not have given us Dickens's gallery of living pictures
had it not been for the powers of imagination and observation which
enabled him spontaneously to exercise it in countless directions. To the
way in which his imagination enabled him to identify himself with the
figments of his own brain he frequently testified; Dante was not more
certain in his celestial and infernal topography than was Dickens as to
"every stair in the little mid-shipman's house," and as to "every young
gentleman's bedstead in Dr. Blimber's establishment." One particular class
of phenomena may be instanced instead of many, in the observation and
poetic reproduction of which his singular natural endowment continually
manifested itself--I mean those of the weather. It is not, indeed, often
that he rises to a fine image like that in the description of the night in
which Ralph Nickleby, ruined and crushed, slinks home to his death:

    "The night was dark, and a cold wind blew, driving the clouds
    furiously and fast before it. There was one black, gloomy mass that
    seemed to follow him: not hurrying in the wild chase with the others,
    but lingering sullenly behind, and gliding darkly and stealthily on.
    He often looked back at this, and more than once stopped to let it
    pass over; but, somehow, when he went forward again it was still
    behind him, coming mournfully and slowly up, like a shadowy funeral

But he again and again enables us to feel as if the Christmas morning on
which Mr. Pickwick ran gaily down the slide, or as if the "very quiet"
moonlit night in the midst of which a sudden sound, like the firing of a
gun or a pistol, startled the repose of Lincoln's Inn Fields, were not
only what we have often precisely experienced in country villages or in
London squares, but as if they were the very morning and the very night
which we _must_ experience, if we were feeling the glow of wintry
merriment, or the awful chill of the presentiment of evil in a dead hour.
In its lower form this combination of the powers of imagination and
observation has the rapidity of wit, and, indeed, sometimes is wit. The
gift of suddenly finding out what a man, a thing, a combination of man and
thing, is like--this, too, comes by nature; and there is something
electrifying in its sudden exercise, even on the most trivial occasions,
as when Flora, delighted with Little Dorrit's sudden rise to fortune,
requests to know all

    "about the good, dear, quiet little thing, and all the changes of her
    fortunes, carriage people now, no doubt, and horses without number
    most romantic, a coat of arms, of course, and wild beasts on their
    hind legs, showing it as if it was a copy they had done with mouths
    from ear to ear, good gracious!"

But Nature, when she gifted Dickens with sensibility, observation, and
imagination, had bestowed upon him yet another boon in the quality which
seems more prominent than any other in his whole being. The vigour of
Dickens--a mental and moral vigour supported by a splendid physical
organism--was the parent of some of his foibles; amongst the rest, of his
tendency to exaggeration. No fault has been more frequently found with his
workmanship than this; nor can he be said to have defended himself very
successfully on this head when he declared that he did "not recollect ever
to have heard or seen the charge of exaggeration made against a feeble
performance, though, in its feebleness, it may have been most untrue." But
without this vigour he could not have been creative as he was; and in him
there were accordingly united with rare completeness a swift
responsiveness to the impulses of humour and pathos, an inexhaustible
fertility in discovering and inventing materials for their exercise, and
the constant creative desire to give to these newly-created materials a
vivid plastic form.

And the mention of this last-named gift in Dickens suggests the query
whether, finally, there is anything in his _manner_ as a writer which may
prevent the continuance of his extraordinary popularity. No writer can be
great without a _manner_ of his own; and that Dickens had such a manner
his most supercilious censurer will readily allow. His terse narrative
power, often intensely humorous in its unblushing and unwinking gravity,
and often deeply pathetic in its simplicity, is as characteristic of his
manner as is the supreme felicity of phrase, in which he has no equal. As
to the latter, I should hardly know where to begin and where to leave off
were I to attempt to illustrate it. But, to take two instances of
different kinds of wit, I may cite a passage in Guster's narrative of her
interview with Lady Dedlock: "And so I took the letter from her, and she
said she had nothing to give me; and _I said I was poor myself, and
consequently wanted nothing_;" and, of a different kind, the account in
one of his letters of a conversation with Macready, in which the great
tragedian, after a solemn but impassioned commendation of his friend's
reading, "put his hand upon my breast and pulled out his
pocket-handkerchief, and _I felt as if I were doing somebody to his
Werner_." These, I think, were amongst the most characteristic merits of
his style. It also, and more especially in his later years, had its
characteristic faults. The danger of degenerating into mannerism is
incident to every original manner. There is mannerism in most of the great
English prose-writers of Dickens's age--in Carlyle, in Macaulay, in
Thackeray--but in none of them is there more mannerism than in Dickens
himself. In his earlier writings, in _Nicholas Nickleby_, for instance (I
do not, of course, refer to the Portsmouth boards), and even in _Martin
Chuzzlewit_, there is much staginess; but in his later works his own
mannerism had swallowed up that of the stage, and, more especially in
serious passages, his style had become what M. Taine happily characterises
as _le style tourmenté_. His choice of words remained throughout
excellent, and his construction of sentences clear. He told Mr. Wilkie
Collins that "underlining was not his nature;" and in truth he had no need
to emphasise his expressions, or to bid the reader "go back upon their
meaning." He recognised his responsibility, as a popular writer, in
keeping the vocabulary of the language pure; and in _Little Dorrit_ he
even solemnly declines to use the French word _trousseau_. In his
orthography, on the other hand, he was not free from Americanisms; and his
interpunctuation was consistently odd. But these are trifles; his more
important mannerisms were, like many really dangerous faults of style,
only the excess of characteristic excellences. Thus it was he who
elaborated with unprecedented effect that humorous species of paraphrase
which, as one of the most imitable devices of his style, has also been the
most persistently imitated. We are all tickled when Grip, the raven,
"issues orders for the instant preparation of innumerable kettles for
purposes of tea;" or when Mr. Pecksniff's eye is "piously upraised, with
something of that expression which the poetry of ages has attributed to a
domestic bird, when breathing its last amid the ravages of an electric
storm;" but in the end the device becomes a mere trick of circumlocution.
Another mannerism which grew upon Dickens, and was faithfully imitated by
several of his disciples, was primarily due to his habit of turning a
fact, fancy, or situation round on every side. This consisted in the
reiteration of a construction, or of part of a construction, in the
strained rhetorical fashion to which he at last accustomed us in spite of
ourselves, but to which we were loath to submit in his imitators. These
and certain other peculiarities, which it would be difficult to indicate
without incurring the charge of hypercriticism, hardened as the style of
Dickens hardened; and, for instance, in the _Tale of Two Cities_ his
mannerisms may be seen side by side in glittering array. By way of
compensation, the occasional solecisms and vulgarisms of his earlier style
(he only very gradually ridded himself of the cockney habit of punning) no
longer marred his pages; and he ceased to break or lapse occasionally, in
highly-impassioned passages, into blank verse.

From first to last Dickens's mannerism, like everything which he made part
of himself, was not merely assumed on occasion, but was, so to speak,
absorbed into his nature. It shows itself in almost everything that he
wrote in his later years, from the most carefully-elaborated chapters of
his books down to the most deeply-felt passages of his most familiar
correspondence, in the midst of the most genuine pathos and most exuberant
humour of his books, and in the midst of the sound sense and unaffected
piety of his private letters. Future generations may, for this very
reason, be perplexed and irritated by what we merely stumbled at, and may
wish that what is an element hardly separable from many of Dickens's
compositions were away from them, as one wishes away from his signature
that horrible flourish which in his letters he sometimes represents
himself as too tired to append.

But no distaste for his mannerisms is likely to obscure the sense of his
achievements in the branch of literature to which he devoted the full
powers of his genius and the best energies of his nature. He introduced,
indeed, no new species of prose fiction into our literature. In the
historical novel he made two far from unsuccessful essays, in the earlier
of which in particular--_Barnaby Rudge_--he showed a laudable desire to
enter into the spirit of a past age; but he was without the reading or the
patience of either the author of _Waverley_ or the author of _The
Virginians_, and without the fine historic enthusiasm which animates the
broader workmanship of _Westward Ho_. For the purely imaginative romance,
on the other hand, of which in some of his works Lord Lytton was the most
prominent representative in contemporary English literature, Dickens's
genius was not without certain affinities; but, to feel his full strength,
he needed to touch the earth with his feet. Thus it is no mere phrase to
say of him that he found the ideal in the real, and drew his inspirations
from the world around him. Perhaps the strongest temptation which ever
seemed likely to divert him from the sounder forms in which his
masterpieces were cast lay in the direction of the _novel with a purpose_,
the fiction intended primarily and above all things to promote the
correction of some social abuse, or the achievement of some social
reform. But in spite of himself, to whom the often voiceless cause of the
suffering and the oppressed was at all times dearer than any mere literary
success, he was preserved from binding his muse, as his friend Cruikshank
bound his art, handmaid in a service with which freedom was
irreconcilable. His artistic instinct helped him in this, and perhaps also
the consciousness that where, as in _The Chimes_ or in _Hard Times_, he
had gone furthest in this direction, there had been something jarring in
the result. Thus, under the influences described above, he carried on the
English novel mainly in the directions which it had taken under its early
masters, and more especially in those in which the essential attributes of
his own genius prompted him to excel.

Amongst the elements on which the effect alike of the novelist's and of
the dramatist's work must, apart from style and diction, essentially
depend, that of construction is obviously one of the most significant. In
this Dickens was, in the earlier period of his authorship, very far from
strong. This was due in part to the accident that he began his literary
career as a writer of _Sketches_, and that his first continuous book,
_Pickwick_, was originally designed as little more than a string of such.
It was due in a still greater measure to the influence of those masters of
English fiction with whom he had been familiar from boyhood, above all to
Smollett. And though, by dint of his usual energy, he came to be able to
invent a plot so generally effective as that of _A Tale of Two Cities_,
or, I was about to say, of _The Mystery of Edwin Drood_, yet on this head
he had had to contend against a special difficulty; I mean, of course, the
publication of most of his books in monthly or even weekly numbers. In the
case of a writer both pathetic and humorous the serial method of
publication leads the public to expect its due allowance of both pathos
and humour every month or week, even if each number, to borrow a homely
simile applied in _Oliver Twist_ to books in general, need not contain
"the tragic and the comic scenes in as regular alternation as the layers
of red and white in a side of streaky bacon." And again, as in a melodrama
of the old school, each serial division has, if possible, to close
emphatically, effectively, with a promise of yet stranger, more touching,
more laughable things to come. On the other hand, with this form of
publication repetition is frequently necessary by way of "reminder" to
indolent readers, whose memory needs refreshing after the long pauses
between the acts. Fortunately, Dickens abhorred living, as it were, from
hand to mouth, and thus diminished the dangers to which, I cannot help
thinking, Thackeray at times almost succumbed. Yet, notwithstanding, in
the arrangement of his incidents and the contrivance of his plots it is
often impossible to avoid noting the imperfection of the machinery, or at
least the traces of effort. I have already said under what influences, in
my opinion, Dickens acquired a constructive skill which would have been
conspicuous in most other novelists.

If in the combination of parts the workmanship of Dickens was not
invariably of the best, on the other hand in the invention of those parts
themselves he excelled, his imaginative power and dramatic instinct
combining to produce an endless succession of effective scenes and
situations, ranging through almost every variety of the pathetic and the
humorous. In no direction was nature a more powerful aid to art with him
than in this. From his very boyhood he appears to have possessed in a
developed form what many others may possess in its germ, the faculty of
converting into a scene--putting, as it were, into a frame--personages
that came under his notice, and the background on which he saw them. Who
can forget the scene in _David Copperfield_ in which the friendless little
boy attracts the wonderment of the good people of the public-house
where--it being a special occasion--he has demanded a glass of their "very
best ale, with a head to it?" In the autobiographical fragment already
cited, where the story appears in almost the same words, Dickens exclaims:

    "Here we stand, all three, before me now, in my study in Devonshire
    Terrace. The landlord, in his shirt-sleeves, leaning against the bar
    window-frame; his wife, looking over the little half-door; and I, in
    some confusion, looking up at them from outside the partition."

He saw the scene while he was an actor in it. Already the _Sketches by
Boz_ showed the exuberance of this power, and in his last years more than
one paper in the delightful _Uncommercial Traveller_ series proved it to
be as inexhaustible as ever, while the art with which it was exercised had
become more refined. Who has better described (for who was more sensitive
to it?) the mysterious influence of crowds, and who the pitiful pathos of
solitude? Who has ever surpassed Dickens in his representations, varied a
thousandfold, but still appealing to the same emotions, common to us all,
of the crises or turning-points of human life? Who has dwelt with a more
potent effect on that catastrophe which the drama of every human life must
reach; whose scenes of death in its pathetic, pitiful, reverend, terrible,
ghastly forms speak more to the imagination and more to the heart? There
is, however, one species of scenes in which the genius of Dickens seems to
me to exercise a still stronger spell--those which _precede_ a
catastrophe, which are charged like thunder-clouds with the coming storm.
And here the constructive art is at work; for it is the arrangement of the
incidents, past and to come, combined by anticipation in the mind of the
reader, which gives their extraordinary force to such scenes as the
nocturnal watching of Nancy by Noah, or Carker's early walk to the railway
station, where he is to meet his doom. Extremely powerful, too, in a
rather different way, is the scene in _Little Dorrit_, described in a word
or two, of the parting of Bar and Physician at dawn, after they have
"found out Mr. Merdle's complaint:"

    "Before parting, at Physician's door, they both looked up at the sunny
    morning sky, into which the smoke of a few early fires, and the breath
    and voices of a few early stirrers, were peacefully rising, and then
    looked round upon the immense city and said: 'If all those hundreds
    and thousands of beggared people who were yet asleep could only know,
    as they two spoke, the ruin that impended over them, what a fearful
    cry against one miserable soul would go up to Heaven!'"

Nor is it awe only, but pity also, which he is able thus to move
beforehand, as in _Dombey and Son_, in the incomparable scenes leading up
to little Paul's death.

More diverse opinions have been expressed as to Dickens's mastery of that
highest part of the novelist's art, which we call characterisation.
Undoubtedly, the characters which he draws are included in a limited
range. Yet I question whether their range can be justly termed narrow as
compared with that commanded by any other great English novelist except
Scott, or with those of many novelists of other literatures except Balzac.
But within his own range Dickens is unapproached. His novels do not
altogether avoid the common danger of uninteresting heroes and insipid
heroines; but only a very few of his heroes are conventionally declamatory
like Nicholas Nickleby, and few of his heroines simper sentimentally like
Rose Maylie. Nor can I for a moment assent to the condemnation which has
been pronounced upon all the female characters in Dickens's books, as more
or less feeble or artificial. At the same time it is true that from women
of a mightier mould Dickens's imagination turns aside; he could not have
drawn a Dorothea Casaubon any more than he could have drawn Romola
herself. Similarly, heroes of the chivalrous or magnanimous type,
representatives of generous effort in a great cause, will not easily be
met with in his writings: he never even essayed the picture of an artist
devoted to Art for her own sake.

It suited the genius, and in later years perhaps the temper, of Dickens as
an author to leave out of sight those "public virtues" to which no man was
in truth less blind than himself, and to remain content with the
illustration of types of the private or domestic kind. We may cheerfully
take to us the censure that our great humourist was in nothing more
English than in this--that his sympathy with the affections of the hearth
and the home knew almost no bounds. A symbolisation of this may be found
in the honour which, from the _Sketches_ and _Pickwick_ onwards, through a
long series of Christmas books and Christmas numbers, Dickens, doubtless
very consciously, paid to the one great festival of English family life.
Yet so far am I from agreeing with those critics who think that he is
hereby lowered to the level of the poets of the teapot and the
plum-pudding, that I am at a loss how to express my admiration for this
side of his genius--tender with the tenderness of Cowper, playful with the
playfulness of Goldsmith, natural with the naturalness of the author of
_Amelia_. Who was ever more at home with children than he, and, for that
matter, with babies to begin with? Mr. Horne relates how he once heard a
lady exclaim: "Oh, do read to us about the baby; Dickens is capital at a
baby!" Even when most playful, most farcical concerning children, his fun
is rarely without something of true tenderness, for he knew the meaning of
that dreariest solitude which he has so often pictured, but nowhere, of
course, with a truthfulness going so straight to the heart as in _David
Copperfield_--the solitude of a child left to itself. Another wonderfully
true child-character is that of Pip, in _Great Expectations_, who is also,
as his years progress, an admirable study of boy-nature. For Dickens
thoroughly understood what that mysterious variety of humankind really is,
and was always, if one may so say, on the lookout for him. He knew him in
the brightness and freshness which makes true _ingénus_ of such delightful
characters (rare enough in fiction) as Walter Gay and Mrs. Lirriper's
grandson. He knew him in his festive mood--witness the amusing letter in
which he describes a water expedition at Eton with his son and two of his
irrepressible school-fellows. He knew him in his precocity--the boy of
about three feet high, at the "George and Vulture," "in a hairy cap and
fustian overalls, whose garb bespoke a laudable ambition to attain in time
the elevation of an hostler;" and the thing on the roof of the Harrisburg
coach, which, when the rain was over, slowly upreared itself, and
patronisingly piped out the enquiry: "Well, now, stranger, I guess you
find this a'most like an English arternoon, hey?" He knew the Gavroche who
danced attendance on Mr. Quilp at his wharf, and those strangest, but by
no means least true, types of all, the pupil-teachers in Mr. Fagin's

But these, with the exception of the last-named, which show much shrewd
and kindly insight into the paradoxes of human nature, are, of course,
the mere _croquis_ of the great humourist's pencil. His men and women, and
the passions, the desires, the loves, and hatreds that agitate them, he
has usually chosen to depict on that background of domestic life which is
in a greater or less degree common to us all. And it is thus also that he
has secured to himself the vast public which vibrates very differently
from a mere class or section of society to the touch of a popular speaker
or writer. "The more," he writes, "we see of life and its brevity, and the
world and its varieties, the more we know that no exercise of our
abilities in any art, but the addressing of it to the great ocean of
humanity in which we are drops, and not to by-ponds (very stagnant) here
and there, ever can or ever will lay the foundations of an endurable
retrospect." The types of character which in his fictions he chiefly
delights in reproducing are accordingly those which most of us have
opportunities enough of comparing with the realities around us; and this
test, a sound one within reasonable limits, was the test he demanded. To
no other author were his own characters ever more real; and Forster
observes that "what he had most to notice in Dickens at the very outset of
his career was his indifference to any praise of his performances on the
merely literary side, compared with the higher recognition of them as bits
of actual life, with the meaning and purpose, on their part, and the
responsibility on his, of realities, rather than creations of fancy." It
is, then, the favourite growths of our own age and country for which we
shall most readily look in his works, and not look in vain: avarice and
prodigality; pride in all its phases; hypocrisy in its endless varieties,
unctuous and plausible, fawning and self-satisfied, formal and moral; and,
on the other side, faithfulness, simplicity, long-suffering patience, and
indomitable heroic good-humour. Do we not daily make room on the pavement
for Mr. Dombey, erect, solemn, and icy, along-side of whom in the road Mr.
Carter deferentially walks his sleek horse? Do we not know more than one
Anthony Chuzzlewit laying up money for himself and his son, and a curse
for both along with it; and many a Richard Carston, sinking, sinking, as
the hope grows feebler that Justice or Fortune will at last help one who
has not learnt how to help himself? And will not prodigals of a more
buoyant kind, like the immortal Mr. Micawber (though, maybe, with an
eloquence less ornate than his), when _their_ boat is on the shore and
_their_ bark is on the sea, become "perfectly business-like and perfectly
practical," and propose, in acknowledgment of a parting gift we had
neither hoped nor desired to see again, "bills" or, if we should prefer
it, "a bond, or any other description of security?" All this will happen
to us, as surely as we shall be buttonholed by Pecksniffs in a state of
philanthropic exultation; and watched round corners by 'umble but
observant Uriah Heeps; and affronted in what is best in us by the worst
hypocrite of all, the hypocrite of religion, who flaunts in our eyes his
greasy substitute for what he calls the "light of terewth." To be sure,
unless it be Mr. Chadband and those of his tribe, we shall find the
hypocrite and the man-out-at-elbows in real life less endurable than their
representatives in fiction; for Dickens well understood "that if you do
not administer a disagreeable character carefully, the public have a
decided tendency to think that the _story_ is disagreeable, and not merely
the fictitious form." His economy is less strict with characters of the
opposite class, true copies of Nature's own handiwork--the Tom Pinches and
Trotty Vecks and Clara Peggottys, who reconcile us with our kind, and Mr.
Pickwick himself, "a human being replete with benevolence," to borrow a
phrase from a noble passage in Dickens's most congenial predecessor. These
characters in Dickens have a warmth which only the creations of Fielding
and Smollett had possessed before, and which, like these old masters, he
occasionally carries to excess. At the other extreme stand those
characters in which the art of Dickens, always in union with the
promptings of his moral nature, illustrates the mitigating or redeeming
qualities observable even in the outcasts of our civilisation. To me his
figures of this kind, when they are not too intensely elaborated, are not
the least touching; and there is something as pathetic in the uncouth
convict Magwitch as in the consumptive crossing-sweeper Jo.

As a matter of course it is possible to take exceptions of one kind or
another to some of the characters created by Dickens in so extraordinary a
profusion. I hardly know of any other novelist less obnoxious to the
charge of repeating himself; though, of course, many characters in his
earlier or shorter works contained in themselves the germs of later and
fuller developments. But Bob Sawyer and Dick Swiveller, Noah Claypole and
Uriah Heep are at least sufficiently independent variations on the same
themes. On the other hand, Filer and Cute in _The Chimes_ were the first
sketches of Gradgrind and Bounderby in _Hard Times_; and Clemency in _The
Battle of Life_ prefigures Peggotty in _David Copperfield_. No one could
seriously quarrel with such repetitions as these, and there are remarkably
few of them; for the fertile genius of Dickens took delight in the variety
of its creativeness, and, as if to exemplify this, there was no relation
upon the contrasted humours of which he better loved to dwell than that of
partnership. It has been seen how rarely his inventive power condescended
to supplement itself by what in the novel corresponds to the mimicry of
the stage, and what in truth is as degrading to the one as it is to the
other--the reproduction of originals _from real life_. On the other hand,
he carries his habit too far of making a particular phrase do duty as an
index of a character. This trick also is a trick of the stage, where it
often enough makes the judicious grieve. Many may be inclined to censure
it in Dickens as one of several forms of the exaggeration which is so
frequently condemned in him. There was no charge to which he was more
sensitive; and in the preface to _Martin Chuzzlewit_ he accordingly (not
for the first time) turned round upon the objectors, declaring roundly
that "what is exaggeration to one class of minds and perceptions is plain
truth to another;" and hinting a doubt "whether it is _always_ the writer
who colours highly, or whether it is now and then the reader whose eye for
colour is a little dull." I certainly do not think that the term
"exaggerated" is correctly applied to such conventional characters of
sensational romance as Rosa Dartle, who has, as it were, lost her way into
_David Copperfield_, while Hortense and Madame Defarge seem to be in their
proper places in _Bleak House_ and _A Tale of Two Cities_. In his earlier
writings, and in the fresher and less overcharged serious parts of his
later books, he rarely if ever paints black in black; even the Jew Fagin
has a moment of relenting against the sleeping Oliver; he is not that
unreal thing, a "demon," whereas Sikes is that real thing, a brute. On the
other hand, certainly he at times makes his characters more laughable than
nature; few great humourists have so persistently sought to efface the
line which separates the barely possible from the morally probable. This
was, no doubt, largely due to his inclination towards the grotesque,
which a severer literary training might have taught him to restrain. Thus
he liked to introduce insane or imbecile personages into fiction, where,
as in real life, they are often dangerous to handle. It is to his sense of
the grotesque, rather than to any deep-seated satirical intention, and
certainly not to any want of reverence or piety in his very simple and
very earnest nature, that I would likewise ascribe the exaggeration and
unfairness of which he is guilty against Little Bethel and all its works.
But in this, as in other instances, no form of humour requires more
delicate handling than the grotesque, and none is more liable to cause
fatigue. Latterly, Dickens was always adding to his gallery of eccentric
portraits, and if inner currents may be traced by outward signs, it may be
worth while to apply the test of his _names_, which become more and more
odd as their owners deviate more and more from the path of nature. Who
more simply and yet more happily named than the leading members of the
Pickwick Club--from the poet, Mr. Snodgrass, to the sportsman, Mr.
Winkle--Nathaniel, not Daniel; but with Veneering and Lammle, and Boffin
and Venus, and Crisparkle and Grewgious--be they actual names or not--we
feel instinctively that we are in the region of the transnormal.

Lastly, in their descriptive power and the faithfulness with which they
portray the life and ways of particular periods or countries, of special
classes, professions, or other divisions of mankind, the books of Dickens
are, again of course within their range, unequalled. He sought his
materials chiefly at home, though his letters from Italy and Switzerland
and America, and his French pictures in sketch and story, show how much
wider a field his descriptive powers might have covered. The _Sketches by
Boz_ and the _Pickwick Papers_ showed a mastery, unsurpassed before or
since, in the description of the life of English society in its middle and
lower classes, and in _Oliver Twist_ he lifted the curtain from some of
the rotten parts of our civilisation. This history of a work-house child
also sounded the note of that sympathy with the poor which gave to
Dickens's descriptions of their sufferings and their struggles a veracity
beyond mere accuracy of detail. He was still happier in describing their
household virtues, their helpfulness to one another, their compassion for
those who are the poorest of all--the friendless and the outcast--as he
did in his _Old Curiosity Shop_, and in most of his Christmas books. His
pictures of middle-class life abounded in kindly humour; but the humour
and pathos of poverty--more especially the poverty which has not yet lost
its self-respect--commended themselves most of all to his descriptive
power. Where, as in _Nicholas Nickleby_ and later works, he essayed to
describe the manners of the higher classes, he was, as a rule, far less
successful; partly because there was in his nature a vein of rebellion
against the existing system of society, so that, except in his latest
books, he usually approached a description of members of its dominant
orders with a satirical intention, or at least an undertone of bitterness.
At the same time I demur to the common assertion that Dickens could not
draw a real gentleman. All that can be said is that it very rarely suited
his purpose to do so, supposing the term to include manners as well as
feelings and actions; though Mr. Twemlow, in _Our Mutual Friend_, might be
instanced as a (perhaps rather conscious) exception of one kind, and Sir
Leicester Dedlock, in the latter part of _Bleak House_, as another.
Moreover, a closer examination of Lord Frederick Verisopht and Cousin
Feenix will show that, gull as the one and ninny as the other is, neither
has anything that can be called ungentlemanly about him; on the contrary,
the characters, on the whole, rather plead in favour of the advantage than
of the valuelessness of blue blood. As for Dickens's other noblemen, whom
I find enumerated in an American dictionary of his characters, they are
nearly all mere passing embodiments of satirical fancies, which pretend to
be nothing more.

Another ingenious enthusiast has catalogued the numerous callings,
professions, and trades of the personages appearing in Dickens's works. I
cannot agree with the criticism that in his personages the man is apt to
become forgotten in the externals of his calling--the barrister's wig and
gown, as it were, standing for the barrister, and the beadle's cocked hat
and staff for the beadle. But he must have possessed in its perfection the
curious detective faculty of deducing a man's occupation from his manners.
To him nothing wore a neutral tint, and no man or woman was featureless.
He was, it should be remembered, always observing; half his life he was
afoot. When he undertook to describe any novel or unfamiliar kind of
manners, he spared no time or trouble in making a special study of his
subject. He was not content to know the haunts of the London thieves by
hearsay, or to read the history of opium-smoking and its effects in
Blue-books. From the office of his journal in London we find him starting
on these self-imposed commissions, and from his hotel in New York. The
whole art of descriptive reporting, which has no doubt produced a large
quantity of trashy writing, but has also been of real service in arousing
a public interest in neglected corners of our social life, was, if not
actually set on foot, at any rate re-invigorated and vitalised by him. No
one was so delighted to notice the oddities which habit and tradition
stereotype in particular classes of men. A complete natural history of
the country actor, the London landlady, and the British waiter might be
compiled from his pages. This power of observation and description
extended from human life to that of animals. His habits of life could not
but make him the friend of dogs, and there is some reason for a title
which was bestowed on him in a paper in a London magazine concerning his
own dogs--the Landseer of Fiction. His letters are full of delightful
details concerning these friends and companions, Turk, Linda, and the rest
of them; nor is the family of their fictitious counterparts, culminating
(intellectually) in Merrylegs, less numerous and delightful. Cats were
less congenial to Dickens, perhaps because he had no objection to changing
house; and they appear in his works in no more attractive form than as the
attendant spirits of Mrs. Pipchin and of Mr. Krook. But for the humours of
animals in general he had a wonderfully quick eye. Of his ravens I have
already spoken. The pony Whisker is the type of kind old gentlemen's
ponies. In one of his letters occurs an admirably droll description of the
pig-market at Boulogne; and the best unscientific description ever given
of a spider was imagined by Dickens at Broadstairs, when in his solitude
he thought

    "of taming spiders, as Baron Trenck did. There is one in my cell (with
    a speckled body and twenty-two very decided knees) who seems to know

In everything, whether animate or inanimate, he found out at once the
characteristic feature, and reproduced it in words of faultless precision.
This is the real secret of his descriptive power, the exercise of which it
would be easy to pursue through many other classes of subjects. Scenery,
for its own sake, he rarely cared to describe; but no one better
understood how to reproduce the combined effect of scenery and weather on
the predisposed mind. Thus London and its river in especial are, as I have
said, haunted by the memory of Dickens's books. To me it was for years
impossible to pass near London Bridge at night, or to idle in the Temple
on summer days, or to frequent a hundred other localities on or near the
Thames, without instinctively recalling pictures scattered through the
works of Dickens--in this respect, also, a real _liber veritatis_.

Thus, and in many ways which it would be labour lost to attempt to
describe, and by many a stroke or touch of genius which it would be idle
to seek to reproduce in paraphrase, the most observing and the most
imaginative of our English humourists revealed to us that infinite
multitude of associations which binds men together, and makes us members
one of another. But though observation and imagination might discern and
discover these associations, sympathy--the sympathy of a generous human
heart with humanity--alone could breathe into them the warmth of life.
Happily, to most men, there is one place consecrated above others to the
feelings of love and good-will; "that great altar where the worst among us
sometimes perform the worship of the heart, and where the best have
offered up such sacrifices and done such deeds of heroism as, chronicled,
would put the proudest temples of old time, with all their vaunting
annals, to the blush." It was thus that Dickens spoke of the sanctity of
_home_; and, English in many things, he was most English in that love of
home to which he was never weary of testifying. But, though the "pathway
of the sublime" may have been closed to him, he knew well enough that the
interests of a people and the interests of humanity are mightier than the
domestic loves and cares of any man; and he conscientiously addressed
himself, as to the task of his life, to the endeavour to knit humanity
together. The method which he, by instinct and by choice, more especially
pursued was that of seeking to show the "good in everything." This it is
that made him, unreasonably sometimes, ignobly never, the champion of the
poor, the helpless, the outcast. He was often tempted into a rhetoric too
loud and too shrill, into a satire neither fine nor fair; for he was
impatient, but not impatient of what he thought true and good. His
purpose, however, was worthy of his powers; nor is there recorded among
the lives of English men of letters any more single-minded in its aim, and
more successful in the pursuit of it, than his. He was much criticised in
his lifetime; and he will, I am well aware, be often criticised in the
future by keener and more capable judges than myself. They may miss much
in his writings that I find in them; but, unless they find one thing
there, it were better that they never opened one of his books. He has
indicated it himself when criticising a literary performance by a clever

    "In this little MS. everything is too much patronised and condescended
    to, whereas the slightest touch of feeling for the rustic who is of
    the earth earthy, or of sisterhood with the homely servant who has
    made her face shine in her desire to please, would make a difference
    that the writer can generally imagine without trying it. You don't
    want any sentiment laboriously made out in such a thing. You don't
    want any maudlin show of it. But you do want a pervading suggestion
    that it is there."

The sentiment which Dickens means is the salt which will give a fresh
savour of their own to his works so long as our language endures.



[1] See _Idyll_. xv. 77. This discovery is not my own, but that of the
late Dr. Donaldson, who used to translate the passage accordingly with
great gusto.

[2] For operas, as a form of _dramatic_ entertainment, Dickens seems
afterwards to have entertained a strong contempt, such as, indeed, it is
difficult for any man with a sense of humour wholly to avoid.

[3] W. & D. Grant Brothers had their warehouse at the lower end of Cannon
Street, and their private house in Mosely Street.

[4] As there is hardly a character in the whole world of fiction and the
drama without some sort of a literary predecessor, so Dickens may have
derived the first notion of Grip from the raven Ralpho--likewise the
property of an idiot--who frightened Roderick Random and Strap out of
their wits, and into the belief that he was the personage Grip so
persistently declared himself to be.

[5] After dining at a party including the son of an eminent man of
letters, he notes in his _Remembrancer_ that he found the great man's son
"decidedly lumpish," and appends the reflexion, "Copyrights need be
hereditary, for genius isn't."

[6] From a list of MSS. at South Kensington, kindly furnished me by Mr. R.
F. Sketchley, I find that Mr. R. H. Shepherd's _Bibliography of Dickens_
is incomplete on this head.

[7] By an odd coincidence, not less than four out of the six theatres
advertising their performances in this first number of the _Daily News_
announce each a different adaptation of _The Cricket on the Hearth_.
Amongst the curiosities of the casts are observable: At the Adelphi,
Wright as Tilly Slowboy, and at the Haymarket Buckstone in the same
character, with William Farren as Caleb Plummer. The latter part is taken
at the Princess's by Compton, Mrs. Stirling playing Dot. At the Lyceum,
Mr., Mrs., and Miss Mary Keeley, and Mr. Emery, appear in the piece.

[8] It is, perhaps, worth pointing out, though it is not surprising, that
Dickens had a strong sense of what I may call the poetry of the
railway-train. Of the effect of the weird _Signalman's Story_ in one of
his Christmas numbers it is not very easy to rid one's self. There are
excellent descriptions of the _rapidity_ of a railway journey in the first
chapter of _The Lazy Tour_, and in another _Household Words_ paper, called
_A Flight_.

[9] Among these is Mr. Alexander Ireland, the author of the _Bibliography
of Leigh Hunt and Hazlitt_, who has kindly communicated to me part of his
collections concerning the former. The tittle-tattle against Leigh Hunt
repeated by Lord Macaulay is, on the face of it, unworthy of notice.

[10] _By Rail to Parnassus_, June 16, 1855.

[11] One of the last things ever written by Dickens was a criticism of M.
Fechter's acting, intended to introduce him to the American public. A
false report, by-the-way, declared Dickens to have been the author of the
dramatic version of Scott's novel, which at Christmas, 1865-'66, was
produced at the Lyceum, under the title of _The Master of Ravenswood_; but
he allowed that he had done "a great deal towards and about the piece,
having an earnest desire to put Scott, for once, on the stage in his own
gallant manner."

[12] Dickens undoubtedly had a genius for titles. Amongst some which he
suggested for the use of a friend and contributor to his journal are,
"_What will he do with it?_" and "_Can he forgive her?_"

[13] This title has helped to extinguish the phrase of which it consists.
Few would now be found to agree with the last clause of Flora's
parenthesis in _Little Dorrit_: "Our mutual friend--too cold a word for
me; at least I don't mean that very proper expression, mutual friend."

[14] In the last volume of his _magnum opus_ of historical fiction Gustav
Freytag describes "Boz" as, about the year 1846, filling with boundless
enthusiasm the hearts of young men and maidens in a small Silesian country

[15] The passage in _Oliver Twist_ (chapter xxxvii.) which illustrates the
maxim that "dignity, and even holiness too, sometimes are more questions
of coat and waistcoat than some people imagine," may, or may not, be a
reminiscence of _Sartor Resartus_, then (1838) first published in a



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Transcriber's Notes:

Passages in italics are indicated by _italics_.

The following misprints have been corrected:
  "absurb" corrected to "absurd" (page 21)
  "hear-trending" corrected to "heart-rending" (page 26)
  "the the" corrected to "the" (page 135)

Other than the corrections listed above, inconsistencies in spelling and
hyphenation have been retained from the original.

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