What I have to say generally of Dickens's genius as a writer may introduce the notices, which still remain to be given, of his books from the Tale of Two Cities to the time at which we have arrived, leaving Edwin Drood for mention in its place; and these will be accompanied, as in former notices of individual stories, by illustrations drawn from his letters and life. His literary work was so intensely one with his nature that he is not separable from it, and the man and the method throw a singular light on each other. But some allusion to what has been said of these books, by writers assuming to speak with authority, will properly precede what has to be offered by me; and I shall preface this part of my task with the hint of Carlyle, that in looking at a man out of the common it is good for common men to make sure that they "see" before they attempt to "oversee" him.
Of the French writer, M. Henri Taine, it has before been remarked that this inability to appreciate humour is fatal to his pretensions as a critic of the English novel. But there is much that is noteworthy in his criticism notwithstanding, as well as remarkable in his knowledge of our language; his position entitles him to be heard without a suspicion of partizanship or intentional unfairness; whatever the value of his opinion, the elaboration of its form and expression is itself no common tribute; and what is said in it of Dickens's handling in regard to style and character, embodies temperately objections which have since been taken by some English critics without his impartiality and with less than his ability. As to style M. Taine does not find that the natural or simple prevails sufficiently. The tone is too passionate. The imaginative or poetic side of allusion is so uniformly dwelt on, that the descriptions cease to be subsidiary, and the minute details of pain or pleasure wrought out by them become active agencies in the tale. So vivid and eager is the display of fancy that everything is borne along with it; imaginary objects take the precision of real ones; living thoughts are controlled by inanimate things; the chimes console the poor old ticket-porter; the cricket steadies the rough carrier's doubts; the sea waves soothe the dying boy; clouds, flowers, leaves, play their several parts; hardly a form of matter without a living quality; no silent thing without its voice. Fondling and exaggerating thus what is occasional in the subject of his criticism, into what he has evidently at last persuaded himself is a fixed and universal practice with Dickens, M. Taine proceeds to explain the exuberance by comparing such imagination in its vividness to that of a monomanic. He fails altogether to apprehend that property in Humour which involves the feeling of the subtlest and most effective analogies, and from which is drawn the rare insight into sympathies between the nature of things and their attributes or opposites, in which Dickens's fancy revelled with such delight. Taking the famous lines which express the lunatic, the lover, and the poet as "of Imagination all compact," in a sense that would have startled not a little the great poet who wrote them, M. Taine places on the same level of creative fancy the phantoms of the lunatic and the personages of the artist. He exhibits Dickens as from time to time, in the several stages of his successive works of fiction, given up to one idea, possessed by it, seeing nothing else, treating it in a hundred forms, exaggerating it, and so dazzling and overpowering his readers with it that escape is impossible. This he maintains to be equally the effect as Mr. Mell the usher plays the flute, as Tom Pinch enjoys or exposes his Pecksniff, as the guard blows his bugle while Tom rides to London, as Ruth Pinch crosses Fountain Court or makes the beefsteak pudding, as Jonas Chuzzlewit commits and returns from the murder, and as the storm which is Steerforth's death-knell beats on the Yarmouth shore. To the same kind of power he attributes the extraordinary clearness with which the commonest objects in all his books, the most ordinary interiors, any old house, a parlour, a boat, a school, fifty things that in the ordinary tale-teller would pass unmarked, are made vividly present and indelible; are brought out with a strength of relief, precision, and force, unapproached in any other writer of prose fiction; with everything minute yet nothing cold, "with all the passion and the patience of the painters of his country." And while excitement in the reader is thus maintained to an extent incompatible with a natural style or simple narrative, M. Taine yet thinks he has discovered, in this very power of awakening a feverish sensibility and moving laughter or tears at the commonest things, the source of Dickens's astonishing popularity. Ordinary people, he says, are so tired of what is always around them, and take in so little of the detail that makes up their lives, that when, all of a sudden, there comes a man to make these things interesting, and turn them into objects of admiration, tenderness, or terror, the effect is enchantment. Without leaving their armchairs or their firesides, they find themselves trembling with emotion, their eyes are filled with tears, their cheeks are broad with laughter, and, in the discovery they have thus made that they too can suffer, love, and feel, their very existence seems doubled to them. It had not occurred to M. Taine that to effect so much might seem to leave little not achieved.
So far from it, the critic had satisfied himself that such a power of style must be adverse to a just delineation of character. Dickens is not calm enough, he says, to penetrate to the bottom of what he is dealing with. He takes sides with it as friend or enemy, laughs or cries over it, makes it odious or touching, rcpulsive or attractive, and is too vehement and not enough inquisitive to paint a likeness. His imagination is at once too vivid and not sufficiently large. Its tenacious quality, and the force and concentration with which his thoughts penetrate into the details he desires to apprehend, form limits to his knowledge, confine him to single traits, and prevent his sounding all the depths of a soul. He seizes on one attitude, trick, expression, or grimace; sees nothing else; and keeps it always unchanged. Mercy Pecksniff laughs at every word, Mark Tapley is nothing but jolly, Mrs. Gamp talks incessantly of Mrs. Harris, Mr. Chillip is invariably timid, and Mr. Micawber is never tired of emphasizing his phrases or passing with ludicrous brusqueness from joy to grief. Each is the incarnation of some one vice, virtue, or absurdity; whereof the display is frequent, invariable, and exclusive. The language I am using condenses with strict accuracy what is said by M. Taine, and has been repeated ad nauseam by others, professing admirers as well as open detractors. Mrs. Gamp and Mr. Micawber, who belong to the first rank of humorous creation, are thus without another word dismissed by the French critic; and he shows no consciousness whatever in doing it, of that very fault in himself for which Dickens is condemned, of mistaking lively observation for real insight.
He has however much concession in reserve, being satisfied, by his observation of England, that it is to the people for whom Dickens wrote his deficiencies in art are mainly due. The taste of his nation had prohibited him from representing character in a grand style. The English require too much morality and religion for genuine art. They made him treat love, not only as holy and sublime in itself, but as subordinate to marriage; forced him to uphold society and the laws, against nature and enthusiasm; and compelled him to display, in painting such a seduction as in Copperfield, not the progress, ardour, and intoxication of passion, but only the misery, remorse, and despair. The result of such surface religion and morality, combined with the trading spirit, M. Taine continues, leads to so many national forms of hypocrisy, and of greed as well as worship for money, as to justify this great writer of the nation in his frequent choice of those voices for illustration in his tales. But his defect of method again comes into play. He does not deal with vices in the manner of a physiologist, feeling a sort of love for them, and delighting in their finer traits as if they were virtues. He gets angry over them. (I do not interrupt M. Taine, but surely, to take one instance illustrative of many, Dickens's enjoyment in dealing with Pecksniff is as manifest as that he never ceases all the time to make him very hateful.) He cannot, like Balzac, leave morality out of account, and treat a passion, however loathsome, as that great tale-teller did, from the only safe ground of belief, that it is a force, and that force of whatever kind is good. It is essential to an artist of that superior grade, M. Taine holds, no matter how vile his subject, to show its education and temptations, the form of brain or habits of mind that have reinforced the natural tendency, to deduce it from its cause, to place its circumstances around it, and to develop its effects to their extremes. In handling such and such a capital miser, hypocrite, debauchee, or what not, he should never trouble himself about the evil consequences of the vices. He should be too much of a philosopher and artist to remember that he is a respectable citizen. But this is what Dickens never forgets, and he renounces all beauties requiring so corrupt a soil. M. Taine's conclusion upon the whole nevertheless is, that though those triumphs of art which become the property of all the earth have not been his, much has yet been achieved by him. Out of his unequalled observation, his satire, and his sensibility, has proceeded a series of original characters existing nowhere but in England, which will exhibit to future generations not the record of his own genius only, but that of his country and his times.
Between the judgment thus passed by the distinguished French lecturer, and the later comment to be now given from an English critic, certainly not in arrest of that judgment, may fitly come a passage from one of Dickens's letters saying something of the limitations placed upon the artist in England. It may read like a quasi-confession of one of M. Taine's charges, though it was not written with reference to his own but to one of Scott's later novels. "Similarly" (15 August, 1856) "I have always a fine feeling of the honest state into which we have got, when some smooth gentleman says to me or to some one else when I am by, how odd it is that the hero of an English book is always uninteresting -- too good -- not natural, &c. I am continually hearing this of Scott from English people here, who pass their lives with Balzac and Sand. But O my smooth friend, what a shining impostor you must think yourself and what an ass you must think me, when you suppose that by putting a brazen face upon it you can blot out of my knowledge the fact that this same unnatural young gentleman (if to be decent is to be necessarily unnatural), whom you meet in those other books and in mine, must be presented to you in that unnatural aspect by reason of your morality, and is not to have, I will not say any of the indecencies you like, but not even any of the experiences, trials, perplexities, and confusions inseparable from the making or unmaking of all men!"
M. Taine's criticism was written three or four years before Dickens's death, and to the same date belongs some notices in England which adopted more or less the tone of depreciation; conceding the great effects achieved by the writer, but disputing the quality and value of his art. For it is incident to all such criticism of Dickens to be of necessity accompanied by the admission, that no writer has so completely impressed himself on the time in which he lived, that he has made his characters a part of literature, and that his readers are the world.
But, a little more than a year after his death, a paper was published of which the object was to reconcile such seeming inconsistency, to expound the inner meanings of "Dickens in relation to Criticism," and to show that, though he had a splendid genius and a wonderful imagination, yet the objectors were to be excused who called him only a stagy sentimentalist and a clever caricaturist. This critical essay appeared in the Fortnightly Review for February 1872, with the signature of Mr. George Henry Lewes; and the pretentious airs of the performance, with its prodigious professions of candour, force upon me the painful task of stating what it really is. During Dickens's life, especially when any fresh novelist could be found available for strained comparison with him, there were plenty of attempts to write him down: but the trick of studied depreciation was never carried so far or made so odious as in this case, by intolerable assumptions of an indulgent superiority; and to repel it in such a form once for all is due to Dickens's memory.
The paper begins by the usual concessions -- that he was a writer of vast popularity, that he delighted no end of people, that his admirers were in all classes and all countries, that he stirred the sympathy of masses not easily reached through literature and always to healthy emotion, that he impressed a new direction on popular writing, and modified the literature of his age in its spirits no less than its form. The very splendour of these successes, on the other hand, so deepened the shadow of his failures, that to many there was nothing but darkness. Was it unnatural? Could greatness be properly ascribed, by the fastidious, to a writer whose defects were so glaring, exaggerated, untrue, fantastic, and melodramatic? Might they not fairly insist on such defects as outweighing all positive qualities, and speak of him with condescending patronage or sneering irritation? Why, very often such men, though their talk would be seasoned with quotations from, and allusions to, his writings, and though they would lay aside their most favourite books to bury themselves in his new "number," had been observed by this critic to be as niggardly in their praise of him as they were lavish in their scorn. He actually heard "a very distinguished man," on one occasion, express measureless contempt for Dickens, and a few minutes afterwards admit that Dickens had "entered into his life." And so the critic betook himself to the task of reconciling this immense popularity and this critical contempt, which he does after the following manner.
He says that Dickens was so great in "fun" (humour he does not concede to him anywhere) that Fielding and Smollett are small in comparison, but that this would only have been a passing amusement for the world if he had not been "gifted with an imagination of marvellous vividness, and an emotional sympathetic nature capable of furnishing that imagination with elements of universal power." To people who think that words should carry some meaning it might seem, that, if only a man could be "gifted" with all this, nothing more need be said. With marvellous imagination, and a nature to endow it with elements of universal power, what secrets of creative art could possibly be closed to him? But this is a reckoning without your philosophical critic. The vividness of Dickens's imagination M. Taine found to be simply monomaniacal, and his follower finds it to be merely hallucinative. Not the less he heaps upon it epithet after epithet. He talks of its irradiating splendour; calls it glorious as well as imperial and marvellous; and, to make us quite sure he is not with these fine phrases puffing-off an inferior article, he interposes that such imagination is "common to all great writers." Luckily for great writers in general, however, their creations are of the old, immortal, common-place sort; whereas Dickens in his creative processes, according to this philosophy of criticism, is tied up hard and fast within hallucinative limits.
"He was," we are told, "a seer of visions." Amid silence and darkness, we are assured, he heard voices and saw objects; of which the revived impressions to him had the vividness of sensations, and the images his mind created in explanation of them had the coercive force of realities, so that what he brought into existence in this way, no matter how fantastic and unreal, was (whatever this may mean) universally intelligible. "His types established themselves in the public mind like personal experiences. Their falsity was unnoticed in the blaze of their illumination. Every humbug seemed a Pecksniff, every jovial improvident a Micawber, every stinted serving-wench a Marchioness." The critic, indeed, saw through it all, but he gave his warnings in vain. "In vain critical reflection showed these figures to be merely masks; not characters, but personified characteristics; caricatures and distortions of human nature. The vividness of their presentation triumphed over reflection; their creator managed to communicate to the public his own unhesitating belief." What, however, is the public? Mr. Lewes goes on to relate. "Give a child a wooden horse, with hair for mane and tail, and wafer-spots for colouring, he will never be disturbed by the fact that this horse does not move its legs but runs on wheels; and this wooden horse, which he can handle and draw, is believed in more than a pictured horse by a Wouvermanns or an Ansdell (!!) It may be said of Dickens's human figures that they too are wooden, and run on wheels; but these are details which scarcely disturb the belief of admirers. Just as the wooden horse is brought within the range of the child's emotions, and dramatizing tendencies, when he can handle and draw it, so Dickens's figures are brought within the range of the reader's interests, and receive from these interests a sudden illumination, when they are the puppets of a drama every incident of which appeals to the sympathies."
Risum teneatis? But the smile is grim that rises to the face of one to whom the relations of the writer and his critic, while both writer and critic lived, are known; and who sees the drift of now scattering such rubbish as this over an established fame. As it fares with the imagination that is imperial, so with the drama every incident of which appeals to the sympathies. The one being explained by hallucination, and the other by the wooden horse, plenty of fine words are to spare by which contempt may receive the show of candour. When the characters in a play are puppets, and the audiences of the theatre fools or children, no wise man forfeits his wisdom by proceeding to admit that the successful playwright, "with a fine felicity of instinct," seized upon situations, for his wooden figures, having "irresistible hold over the domestic affections;" that, through his puppets, he spoke "in the mother-tongue of the heart;" that, with his spotted horses and so forth, he "painted the life he knew and everyone knew;" that he painted, of course, nothing ideal or heroic, and that the world of thought and passion lay beyond his horizon; but that, with his artificial performers and his feeble-witted audiences, "all the resourses of the bourgeois epic were in his grasp; the joys and pains of childhood, the petty tyrannies of ignoble natures, the genial pleasantries of happy natures, the life of the poor, the struggles of the street and back parlour, the insolence of office, the sharp social contrasts, east wind and Christmas jollity, hunger, misery, and hot punch" -- "so that even critical spectators who complained that these broadly painted pictures were artistic daubs could not wholly resist their effective suggestiveness." Since Trinculo and Caliban were under one cloak, there has surely been so such delicate monster with two voices. "His forward voice, now, is to speak well of his friend; his backward voice is to utter foul speeches and to detract." One other of the foul speeches I may not overlook, since it contains what is alleged to be a personal revelation of Dickens made to the critic himself.
"When one thinks of Micawber always presenting himself in the same situation, moved with the same springs and uttering the same sounds, always confident of something turning up, always crushed and rebounding, always making punch -- and his wife always declaring she will never part from him, always referring to his talents and her family -- when one thinks of the "catch-words" personified as characters, one is reminded of the frogs whose brains have been taken out for physiological purposes, and whose actions henceforth want the distinctive peculiarity of organic action, that of fluctuating spontaneity." Such was that sheer inability of Dickens, indeed, to comprehend this complexity of the organism, that it quite accounted, in the view of this philosopher, for all his unnaturalness, for the whole of his fantastic people, and for the strained dialogues of which his books are made up, painfully resembling in their incongruity "the absurd and eager expositions which insane patients pour into the listener's ear when detailing their wrongs, or their schemes. Dickens once declared to me," Mr. Lewes continues, "that every word said by his characters was distinctly heard by him; I was at first not a little puzzled to account for the fact that he could hear language so utterly unlike the language of real feeling, and not be aware of its preposterousness; but the surprise vanished when I though of the phenomena of hallucination." Wonderful sagacity! to unravel easily such a bewildering "puzzle"! And so to the close. Between the uncultivated whom Dickens moved, and the cultivated he failed to move; between the power that so worked in delf as to stir the universal heart, and the commonness that could not meddle with porcelain or aspire to any noble clay; the pitiful see-saw is continued up to the final sentence, where, in the impartial critic's eagerness to discredit even the value of the emotion awakened in such men as Jeffrey by such creations as Little Nell, he reverses all he has been saying about the cultivated and uncultivated, and presents to us a cultivated philosopher, in his ignorance of the stage, applauding an actor whom every uncultivated playgoing apprentice despises as stagey. But the bold stroke just exhibited, of bringing forward Dickens himself in the actual crisis of one of his fits of hallucination, requires an additional word.
To establish the hallucinative theory, he is said on one occasion to have declared to the critic that every word uttered by his characters was distinctly heard by him before it was written down. Such an averment, not credible for a moment as thus made, indeed simply not true to the extent described, may yet be accepted in the limited and quite different sense which a passage in one of Dickens's letters gives to it. All writers of genius to whom their art has become as a second nature, will be found capable of doing upon occasion what the vulgar may think to be "hallucination," but hallucination will never account for. After Scott began the Bride of Lammermoor he had one of his terrible seizures of cramp, yet during his torment he dictated that fine novel; and when he rose from his bed, and the published book was placed in his hands, "he did not," James Ballantyne explicitly assured Lockhart, "recollect one single incident, character, or conversation it contained." When Dickens was under the greatest trial of his life, and illness and sorrow were contending for the mastery over him, he thus wrote to me. "Of my distress I will say no more than that it has borne a terrible, frightful, horrible proportion to the quickness of the gifts you remind me of. But may I not be forgiven for thinking it a wonderful testimony to my being made for my art, that when, in the midst of this trouble and pain, I sit down to my book, some beneficent power shows it all to me, and tempts me to be interested, and I don't invent it -- really do not -- but see it, and write it down. . . . It is only when it all fades away and is gone, that I begin to suspect that its momentary relief has cost me something."
Whatever view may be taken of the man who wrote those words, he had the claim to be judged by reference to the highest models in the art which he studied. In the literature of his time, from 1836 to 1870, he held the most conspicuous place, and his claim to the most popular one in the literature of fiction was by common consent admitted. He obtained this rank by the sheer force of his genius, unhelped in any way, and he held it without dispute. As he began he closed. After he had written for only four months, and after he had written incessantly for four and thirty years, he was of all living writers the most widely read. It is of course quite possible that such popularity might imply rather littleness in his contemporaries than greatness in him: but his books are the test to judge by. Each thus far, as it appeared, has had notice in these pages for its illustration of his life, or of his method of work, or of the variety and versatility in the manifestation of his power. But his latest books remain still for notice, and will properly suggest what is farther to be said of his general place in literature.
His leading quality was Humour. It has no mention in either of the criticisms cited. but it was his highest faculty: and it accounts for his magnificent successes, as well as for his not infrequent failures, in characteristic delineation. He was conscious of this himself. Five years before he died, a great and generous brother artist, Lord Lytton, amid much ungrudging praise of a work he was then publishing, asked him to consider, as to one part of it, if the modesties of art were not a little overpassed. "I cannot tell you," he replied, "how highly I prize your letter, or with what pride and pleasure it inspires me. Nor do I for a moment question its criticism (if objection so generous and easy may be called by that hard name) otherwise than on this ground -- that I work slowly and with great care, and never give way to my invention recklessly, but constantly restrain it; and that I think it is my infirmity to fancy or perceive relations in things which are not apparent generally. Also, I have such an inexpressible enjoyment of what I see in a droll light, that I dare say I pet it as if it were a spoilt child. This is all I have to offer in arrest of judgment." To perceive relations in things which are not apparent generally, is one of those exquisite properties of humour by which are discovered the affinities between the high and the low, the attractive and the repulsive, the rarest things and things of every day, which bring us all upon the level of a common humanity. It is this which gives humour an immortal touch that does not belong of necessity to pictures, even the most exquisite, of mere character or manners; the property which in its highest aspects Carlyle so subtly described as a sort of inverse sublimity, exalting into our affections what is below us as the other draws down into our affections what is above us. But it has a danger which Dickens also hints at, and into which he often fell. All humour has in it, is indeed identical with, what ordinary people are apt to call exaggeration; but there is an excess beyond the allowable even here, and to "pet" or magnify out of proper bounds its sense of what is droll, is to put the merely grotesque in its place. What might have been overlooked in a writer with no uncommon faculty of invention, was thrown into overpowering prominence by Dickens's wealth of fancy; and a splendid excess of his genius came to be objected to as its integral and essential quality.
It cannot be said to have had any place in his earlier books. His powers were not at their highest and the humour was less fine and subtle, but there was no such objection to be taken. No misgiving interrupted the enjoyment of the wonderful freshness of animal spirits in Pickwick; but beneath its fun, laughter, and light-heartedness were indications of ability of the first rank n the delineation of character. Some caricature was in the plan; but as the circle of people widened beyond the cockney club, and the delightful oddity of Mr. Pickwick took more of an independent existence, a different method revealed itself, nothing appeared beyond the exaggerations permissible to humorous comedy, and the art was seen which can combine traits vividly true to particular men or women with propensities common to all mankind. This has its highest expression in Fielding: but even the first of Dickens's books showed the same kind of mastery; and, by the side of its lifelike middle-class people universally familiar, there was one figure before seen by none but at once knowable by all, delightful for the surprise it gave by its singularity and the pleasure it gave by its truth; and, though short of the highest in this form of art, taking rank with the class in which live everlastingly the dozen unique inventions that have immortalised the English novel. The groups in Oliver Twist, Fagin and his pupils, Sikes and Nancy, Mr. Bumble and his parish-boy, belong to the same period; when Dickens also began those pathetic delineations that opened to the neglected, the poor, and the fallen, a world of compassion and tenderness. Yet I think it was not until the third book, Nickleby, that he began to have his place as a writer conceded to him; and that he ceased to be regarded as a mere phenomenon or marvel of fortune, who had achieved success by any other means than that of deserving it, and who challenged no criticism better worth the name than such as he has received from the Fortnightly reviewer. It is to be added to what before was said of Nickleby, that it established beyond dispute his mastery of dialogue, or that power of making characters real existences, not by describing them but by letting them describe themselves, which belongs only to story-tellers of the first rank. Dickens never excelled the easy handling of the subordinate groups in this novel, and he never repeated its mistakes in the direction of aristocratic or merely polite and dissipated life. It displayed more than before of his humour on the tragic side; and, in close connection with its affecting scenes of starved and deserted childhood, were placed those contrasts of miser and spendthrift, of greed and generosity, of hypocrisy and simple-heartedness, which he handled in later books with greater force and fulness, but of which the first formal expression was here. It was his first general picture, so to speak, of the character and manners of his time, which it was the design more or less of all his books to exhibit; and it suffers by comparison with his later productions, because the humour is not to the same degree enriched by imagination; but it is free from the not infrequent excess into which that supreme gift also tempted its possessor. None of the tales is more attractive throughout, and on the whole it was a step in advance even of the stride previously taken. Nor was the gain lost in the succeeding story of the Old Curiosity Shop. The humorous traits of Mrs. Nickleby could hardly be surpassed; but, in Dick Swiveller and the Marchioness, there was a subtlety and lightness of touch that led to finer issues; and around Little Nell and her fortunes, surpassingly touching and beautiful, let criticism object what it will, were gathered some small characters that had a deeper intention and more imaginative insight, than anything yet done. Strokes of this kind were also observable in the hunted life of the murderer in Barnaby Rudge; and his next book, Chuzzlewit, was, as it still remains, one of his greatest achievements. Even so brief a retrospect of the six opening years of Dickens's literary labour will help to a clearer judgment of the work of the twenty-eight more years that remained to him.
To the special observations already made on the series of stories which followed the return from America, Chuzzlewit, Dombey, Copperfield, and Bleak House, in which attention has been directed to the higher purpose and more imaginative treatment that distinguished them, a general remark is to be added. Though the range of character they traverse is not wide, it is surrounded by a fertility of invention and illustration without example in any previous novelist; and it is represented in these books, so to speak, by a number and variety of existences sufficiently real to have taken places as among the actual people of the world. Could half as many known and universally recognisable men and women be selected out of one story, by any other prose writer of the first rank, as at once rise to the mind from one of the masterpieces of Dickens? So difficult of dispute is this, that as much perhaps will be admitted; but then it will be added, if the reply is by a critic of the school burlesqued by Mr. Lewes, that after all they are not individual or special men and women so much as general impersonations of men and women, abstract types made up of telling catchwords or surface traits, though with such accumulation upon them of a wonderful wealth of humorous illustration, itself filled with minute and accurate knowledge of life, that the real nakedness of the land of character is hidden. Well, what can be rejoined to this, but that the poverty or richness of any territory worth survey will for the most part lie in the kind of observation brought to it. There was no finer observer than Johnson of the manners of his time, and he protested of their greatest delineator that he knew only the shell of life. Another of his remarks, after a fashion followed by the criticisers of Dickens, places Fielding below one of his famous contemporaries; but who will not now be eager to reverse such a comparison, as that Fielding tells you correctly enough what o'clock it is by looking at the face of the dial, but that Richardson shows you how the watch is made? There never was a subtler or a more sagacious observer than Fielding, or who better deserved what is generously said of him by Smollett, that he painted the characters and ridiculed the follies of life with equal strength, humour, and propriety. But might it not be said of him, as of Dickens, that his range of character was limited; and that his method of proceeding from a central idea in all his leading people, exposed him equally to the charge of now and then putting human nature itself in place of the individual who should only be a small section of it? This is in fact but another shape of what I have expressed on a former page, that what a character, drawn by a master, will roughly present upon its surface, is frequently such as also to satisfy its more subtle requirements; and that when only the salient points or sharper prominences are thus displayed, the great novelist is using his undoubted privilege of showing the large degree to which human intercourse is carried on, not by men's habits or ways at their commonest, but by the touching of their extremes. A definition of Fielding's genius has been made with some accuracy in the saying, that he shows common propensities in connection with the identical unvarnished adjuncts which are peculiar to the individual, nor could a more exquisite felicity of handling than this be any man's aim or desire; but it would be just as easy, by employment of the critical rules applied to Dickens, to transform it into matter of censure. Partridge, Adams, Trulliber, Squire Western, and the rest, present themselves often enough under the same aspects, and use with sufficient uniformity the same catchwords, to be brought within the charge of mannerism; and though M. Tame cannot fairly say of Fielding as of Dickens, that he suffers from too much morality, he brings against him precisely the charge so strongly put against the later novelist of "looking upon the passions not as simple forces but as objects of approbation or blame." We must keep in mind all this to understand the worth of the starved fancy, that can find in such a delineation as that of Micawber only the man described by Mr. Lewes as always in the same situation, moved with the same springs and uttering the same sounds, always confident of something turning up, always crushed and rebounding, always making punch, and his wife always declaring she will never part from him. It is not thus that such creations are to be viewed; but by the light which enables us to see why the country squires, village schoolmasters, and hedge parsons of Fielding became immortal. The later ones will live, as the earlier do, by the subtle quality of genius that makes their doings and sayings part of those general incentives which pervade mankind. Who has not had occasion, however priding himself on his unlikeness to Micawber, to think of Micawber as he reviewed his own experiences? Who has not himself waited, like Micawber, for something to turn up? Who has not at times discovered, in one or other acquaintance or friend, some one or other of that cluster of sagacious hints and fragments of human life and conduct which the kindly fancy of Dickens embodied in this delightful form? If the irrepressible New Zealander ever comes over to achieve his long promised sketch of St. Paul's, who can doubt that it will be no other than our undying Micawber, who had taken to colonisation the last time we saw him, and who will thus again have turned up? There are not many conditions of life or society to which his and his wife's experiences are not applicable; and when, the year after the immortal couple made their first appearance on earth, Protection was in one of its then frequent difficulties, declaring it could not live without something widely different from existing circumstances shortly turning up, and imploring its friends to throw down the gauntlet and boldly challenge society to turn up a majority and rescue it from its embarrassments, a distinguished wit seized upon the likeness to Micawber, showed how closely it was home out by the jollity and gin-punch of the banquets at which the bewailings were heard, and asked whether Dickens had stolen from the farmer's friends or the farmer's friends had stolen from Dickens. "Corn," said Mr. Micawber, "may be gentlemanly, but it is not remunerative. . . . I ask myself this question: if corn is not to be relied on, what is? We must live. . . ." Loud as the general laughter was, I think the laughter of Dickens himself was loudest, at this discovery of so exact and unexpected a likeness.
A readiness in all forms thus to enjoy his own pleasantry was indeed always observable (it is common to great humorists, nor would it be easier to carry it further than Sterne did), and his own confession on the point may receive additional illustration before proceeding to the later books. He accounted by it, as we have seen, for occasional even grotesque extravagances. In another of his letters there is this passage: "I can report that I have finished the job I set myself, and that it has in it something -- to me at all events -- so extraordinarily droll, that though I have been reading it some hundred times in the course of the working, I have never been able to look at it with the least composure, but have always roared in the most unblushing manner. I leave you to find out what it was." It was the encounter of the major and the tax-collector in the second Mrs. Lirriper. Writing previously of the papers in Household Words called "The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices," after saying that he and Mr. Wilkie Collins had written together a story in the second part, "in which I think you would find it very difficult to say where I leave off and he comes in," he had said of the preceding descriptions: "Some of my own tickle me very much; but that may be in great part because I know the originals, and delight in their fantastic fidelity." "I have been at work with such a will," he writes later of a piece of humour for the holidays, "that I have done the opening and conclusion of the Christmas number. They are done in the character of a waiter, and I think are exceedingly droll. The thread on which the stories are to hang, is spun by this waiter, and is, purposely, very slight; but has, I fancy, a ridiculously comical and unexpected end. The waiter's account of himself includes (I hope) everything you know about waiters, presented humorously." In this last we have a hint of the "fantastic fidelity" with which when a fancy "tickled" him, he would bring out what Corporal Nym calls the humour of it under so astonishing a variety of conceivable and inconceivable aspects of subtle exaggeration, that nothing was left to the subject but that special individual illustration of it. In this, however, humour was not his servant but his master: because it reproduced too readily, and carried too far, the grotesque imaginings to which great humorists are prone; which lie indeed deep in their nature; and from which they derive their genial sympathy with eccentric characters that enables them to find motives for what to other men is hopelessly obscure, to exalt into types of humanity what the world turns impatiently aside at, and to enshrine in a form for eternal homage and love such whimsical absurdity as Captain Toby Shandy's. But Dickens was too conscious of these excesses from time to time, not zealously to endeavour to keep the leading characters in his more important stories under some strictness of discipline. To confine exaggeration within legitimate limits was an art he laboriously studied; and, in whatever proportions of failure or success, during the vicissitudes of both that attended his later years, he continued to endeavour to practise it. In regard to mere description, it is true, he let himself loose more frequently, and would sometimes defend it even on the ground of art; nor would it be fair to omit his reply, on one occasion, to some such remonstrance as M. Tame has embodied in his adverse criticism, against the too great imaginative wealth thrown by him into mere narrative. "It does not seem to me to be enough to say of any description that it is the exact truth. The exact truth must be there; but the merit or art in the narrator, is the manner of stating the truth. As to which thing in literature, it always seems to me that there is a world to be done. And in these times, when the tendency is to be frightfully literal and catalogue-like -- to make the thing, in short, a sort of sum in reduction that any miserable creature can do in that way -- I have an idea (really founded on the love of what I profess), that the very holding of popular literature through a kind of popular dark age, may depend on such fanciful treatment."
Dickens's next story to Little Dorrit was the Tale of Two Cities, of which the first notion occurred to him while acting with his friends and his children in the summer of 1857 in Mr. Wilkie Collins's drama of The Frozen Deep. But it was only a vague fancy, and the sadness and trouble of the winter of that year were not favourable to it. Towards the close (27) of January 1858, talking of improvements at Gadshill in which he took little interest, it was again in his thoughts. "Growing inclinations of a fitful and undefined sort are upon me sometimes to fall to work on a new book. Then I think I had better not worry my worried mind yet awhile. Then I think it would be of no use if I did, for I couldn't settle to one occupation. -- And that's all!" "If I can discipline my thoughts," he wrote three days later, "into the channel of a story, I have made up my mind to get to work on one: always supposing that I find myself, on the trial, able to do well. Nothing whatever will do me the least 'good' in the way of shaking the one strong possession of change impending over us that every day makes stronger; but if I could work on with some approach to steadiness, through the summer, the anxious toil of a new book would have its neck well broken before beginning to publish, next October or November. Sometimes, I think I may continue to work; sometimes, I think not. What do you say to the title, ONE OF THESE DAYS?" That title held its ground very briefly. "What do you think," he wrote after six weeks, "of this name for my story -- BURIED ALIVE? Does it seem too grim? Or, THE THREAD OF GOLD? Or, THE DOCTOR OF BEAUVAIS?" But not until twelve months later did he fairly buckle himself to the task he had contemplated so long. All the Year Round had taken the place of Household Words in the interval; and the tale was then started to give strength to the new weekly periodical, in which it was resolved to publish it.
"This is merely to certify," he wrote on 11 March, 1859, "that I have got exactly the name for the story that is wanted; exactly what will fit the opening to a T. A TALE OF TWO CITIES. Also, that I have struck out a rather original and bold idea. That is, at the end of each month to publish the monthly part in the green cover, with the two illustrations, at the old shilling. This will give All the Year Round always the interest and precedence of a fresh weekly portion during the month; and will give me my old standing with my old public, and the advantage (very necessary in this story) of having numbers of people who read it in no portions smaller than a monthly part. . . . My American ambassador pays a thousand pounds for the first year, for the privilege of republishing in America one day after we publish here. Not bad?" . . . He had to struggle at the opening through a sharp attack of illness, and on 9 July progress was thus reported. "I have been getting on in health very slowly and through irksome botheration enough. But I think I am round the corner. This cause -- and the heat -- has tended to my doing no more than hold my ground, my old month's advance, with the Tale of Two Cities. The small portions thereof, drive me frantic; but I think the tale must have taken a strong hold. The run upon our monthly parts is surprising, and last month we sold 35,000 back numbers. A note I have had from Carlyle about it has given me especial pleasure." A letter of the following month expresses the intention he had when he began the story, and in what respect it differs as to method from all his other books. Sending in proof four numbers ahead of the current publication, he adds: "I hope you will like them. Nothing but the interest of the subject, and the pleasure of striving with the difficulty of the form of treatment, -- nothing in the way of mere money, I mean, -- could else repay the time and trouble of the incessant condensation. But I set myself the little task of making a picturesque story, rising in every chapter, with characters true to nature, but whom the story 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 odious stuff that is written under that pretence), pounding the characters in its own mortar, and beating their interest out of them. If you could have read the story all at once, I hope you wouldn't have stopped halfway." Another of his letters supplies the last illustration I need to give of the design and meanings in regard to this tale expressed by himself. It was a reply to some objections of which the principal were, a doubt if the feudal cruelties came sufficiently within the date of the action to justify his use of them, and some question as to the manner of disposing of the chief revolutionary agent in the plot. "I had of course full knowledge of the formal surrender of the feudal privileges, but these had been bitterly felt quite as near to the time of the Revolution as the Doctor's narrative, which you will remember dates long before the Terror. With the slang of the new philosophy on the one side, it was surely not unreasonable or unallowable, on the other, to suppose a nobleman wedded to the old cruel ideas, and representing the time going out as his nephew represents the time coming in. If there be anything certain on earth, I take it that the condition of the French peasant generally at that day was intolerable. No later inquiries or provings by figures will hold water against the tremendous testimony of men living at the time. There is a curious book printed at Amsterdam, written to make out no case whatever, and tiresome enough in its literal dictionary-like minuteness; scattered up and down the pages of which is full authority for my marquis. This is Mercier's Tableau de Paris. Rousseau is the authority for the peasant's shutting up his house when he had a bit of meat. The tax-tables are the authority for the wretched creature's impoverishment. . . . I am not clear, and I never have been clear, respecting the canon of fiction which forbids the interposition of accident in such a case as Madame Defarge's death. Where the accident is inseparable from the passion and action of the character; where it is strictly consistent with the entire design, and arises out of some culminating proceeding on the part of the individual which the whole story has led up to; it seems to me to become, as it were, an act of divine justice. And when I use Miss Pross (though this is quite another question) to bring about such a catastrophe, I have the positive intention of making that half-comic intervention a part of the desperate woman's failure; and of opposing that mean death, instead of a desperate one in the streets which she wouldn't have minded, to the dignity of Carton's. Wrong or right, this was all design, and seemed to me to be in the fitness of things."
These are interesting intimations of the care with which Dickens worked; and there is no instance in his novels, excepting this, of a deliberate and planned departure from the method of treatment which had been pre-eminently the source of his popularity as a novelist. To rely less upon character than upon incident, and to resolve that his actors should be expressed by the story more than they should express themselves by dialogue, was for him a hazardous, and can hardly be called an entirely successful, experiment. With singular dramatic vivacity, much constructive art, and with descriptive passages of a high order everywhere (the dawn of the terrible outbreak in the journey of the marquis from Paris to his country seat, and the London crowd at the funeral of the spy, may be instanced for their power), there was probably never a book by a great humourist, and an artist so prolific in the conception of character, with so little humour and so few rememberable figures. Its merits lie elsewhere. Though there are excellent traits and touches all through the revolutionary scenes, the only full-length that stands out prominently is the picture of the wasted life saved at last by heroic sacrifice. Dickens speaks of his design to make impressive the dignity of Carton's death, and in this he succeeded perhaps even beyond his expectation. Carton suffers himself to be mistaken for another, and gives his life that the girl he loves may be happy with that other; the secret being known only to a poor little girl in the tumbril that takes them to the scaffold, who at the moment has discovered it, and whom it strengthens also to die. The incident is beautifully told; and it is at least only fair to set against verdicts not very favourable as to this effort of his invention, what was said of the particular character and scene, and of the book generally, by an American critic whose literary studies had most familiarized him with the rarest forms of imaginative writing. "Its portrayal of the noble-natured castaway makes it almost a peerless book in modern literature, and gives it a place among the highest examples of literary art. . . . The conception of this character shows in its author an ideal of magnanimity and of charity unsurpassed. There is not a grander, lovelier figure than the self-wrecked, self-devoted Sydney Carton, in literature or history; and the story itself is so noble in its spirit, so grand and graphic in its style, and filled with a pathos so profound and simple, that it deserves and will surely take a place among the great serious works of imagination." I should myself prefer to say that its distinctive merit is less in any of its conceptions of character, even Carton's, than as a specimen of Dickens's power in imaginative story-telling. There is no piece of fiction known to me, in which the domestic life of a few simple private people is in such a manner knitted and interwoven with the outbreak of a terrible public event, that the one seems but part of the other. When made conscious of the first sultry drops of a thunderstorm that fall upon a little group sitting in an obscure English lodging, we are witness to the actual beginning of a tempest which is preparing to sweep away everything in France. And, to the end, the book in this respect is really remarkable.
The Tale of Two Cities was published in 1859; the series of papers collected as the Uncommercial Traveller were occupying Dickens in 1860; and it was while engaged in these, and throwing off in the course of them capital "samples" of fun and enjoyment, he thus replied to a suggestion that he should let himself loose upon some single humorous conception, in the vein of his youthful achievements in that way. "For a little piece I have been writing -- or am writing; for I hope to finish it to-day -- such a very fine new, and grotesque idea has opened upon me, that I begin to doubt whether I had not better cancel the little paper, and reserve the notion for a new book. You shall judge as soon as I get it printed. But it so opens out before me that I can see the whole of a serial revolving on it, in a most singular and comic manner." This was the germ of Pip and Magwitch, which at first he intended to make the ground work of a tale in the old twenty-number form, but for reasons perhaps fortunate brought afterwards within the limits of a less elaborate novel. "Last week," he wrote on 4 October, 1860, "I got to work on the new story. I had previously very carefully considered the state and prospects of All the Year Round, and, the more I considered them, the less hope I saw of being able to get back, now, to the profit of a separate publication in the old 20 numbers." (A tale, which at the time was appearing in his serial, had disappointed expectation. "However, I worked on, knowing that what I was doing would run into another groove; and I called a council of war at the office on Tuesday. It was perfectly clear that the one thing to be done was, for me to strike is. I have therefore decided to begin the story as of the length of the Tale of Two Cities on the first of December -- begin publishing, that it. I must make the most I can out of the book. You shall have the first two or three weekly parts to-morrow. The name is GREAT EXPECTATIONS. I think a good name?" Two days later he wrote: "The sacrifice of Great Expectations is really and truly made for myself. The property of All the Year Round is far too valuable, in every way, to be much endangered. Our fall is not large, but we have a considerable advance in hand of the story we are now publishing, and there is no vitality in it, and no chance whatever of stopping the fall; which on the contrary would be certain to increase. Now, if I went into a twenty-number serial, I should cut off my power of doing anything serial here for two good years -- and that would be a most perilous thing. On the other hand, by dashing in now, I come in when most wanted; and if Reade and Wilkie follow me, our course, will be shaped out handsomely and hopefully for between two and three years. A thousand pounds are to be paid for early proofs of the story to America." A few more days brought the first instalment of the tale, and explanatory mention of it. "The book will be written in the first person throughout, and during these first three weekly numbers you will find the hero to be a boy-child, like David. Then he will be an apprentice. You will not have to complain of the want of humour as in the Tale of Two Cities. I have made the opening, I hope, in its general effect exceedingly droll. I have put a child and a good-natured foolish man, in relations that seem to me very funny. Of course I have got in the pivot on which the story will turn too -- and which indeed, as you remember, was the grotesque tragicomic conception that first encouraged me. To be quite sure 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."
It may be doubted if Dickens could better have established his right to the front rank among novelists claimed for him, than by the ease and mastery with which, in these books of Copperfield and Great Expectations, he kept perfectly distinct the two stories of a boy's childhood, both told in the form of autobiography. A subtle penetration into character marks the unlikeness in the likeness; there is enough at once of resemblance and of difference in the position and surroundings of each to account for the divergences of character that arise; both children are good-hearted, and both have the advantage of association with models of tender simplicity and oddity, perfect in their truth and quite distinct from each other; but a sudden tumble into distress steadies Peggotty's little friend, and as unexpected a stroke of good fortune turns the head of the small protege of Joe Gargery. What a deal of spoiling nevertheless, a nature that is really good at the bottom of it will stand without permanent damage, is nicely shown in Pip; and the way he reconciles his determination to act very shabbily to his early friends, with a conceited notion that he is setting them a moral example, is part of the shading of a character drawn with extraordinary skill. His greatest trial comes out of his good luck; and the foundations of both are laid at the opening of the tale, in a churchyard down by the Thames, as it winds past desolate marshes twenty miles to the sea, of which a masterly picture in half a dozen lines will give only average example of the descriptive writing that is everywhere one of the charms of the book. It is strange, as I transcribe the words, with what wonderful vividness they bring back the very spot on which we stood when he said he meant to make it the scene of the opening of his story -- Cooling Castle ruins and the desolate Church, lying out among the marshes seven miles from Gadshill! "My first most vivid and broad impression . . . . on a memorable raw afternoon towards evening . . . . was . . . . that this bleak place, overgrown with nettles, was the churchyard, and that the dark flat wilderness beyond the churchyard, intersected with dykes and mounds and gates, with scattered cattle feeding on it, was the marshes; and that the low leaden line beyond, was the river; and that the distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing, was the sea . . . . On the edge of the river . . . . only two black things in all the prospect seemed to be standing upright . . . one, the beacon by which the sailors steered, like an unhooped cask upon a pole, an ugly thing when you were near it; the other, a gibbet with some chains hanging to it which had once held a pirate." Here Magwitch, an escaped convict from Chatham, terrifies the child Pip into stealing for him food and a file; and though recaptured and transported, he carries with him to Australia such a grateful heart for the small creature's service, that on making a fortune there he resolves to make his little friend a gentleman. This requires circumspection; and is so done, through the Old-Bailey attorney who has defended Magwitch at his trial (a character of surprising novelty and truth), that Pip imagines his present gifts and "great expectations" to have come from the supposed rich lady of the story (whose eccentricities are the unattractive part of it, and have yet a weird character that somehow fits in with the kind of wrong she has suffered). When therefore the closing scenes bring back Magwitch himself, who risks his life to gratify his longing to see the gentleman he has made, it is an unspeakable horror to the youth to discover his benefactor in the convicted felon. If any one doubts Dickens's power of so drawing a character as to get to the heart of it, seeing beyond surface peculiarities into the moving springs of the human being himself, let him narrowly examine those scenes. There is not a grain of substitution of mere sentiment, or circumstance, for the inner and absolute reality of the position in which these two creatures find themselves. Pip's loathing of what had built up his fortune, and his horror of the uncouth architect, are apparent in even his most generous efforts to protect him from exposure and sentence. Magwitch's convict habits strangely blend themselves with his wild pride in, and love for, the youth whom his money has turned into a gentleman. He has a craving for his good opinion; dreads to offend him by his "heavy grubbing," or by the oaths he lets fall now and then; and pathetically hopes his Pip, his dear boy, won't think him "low"; but, upon a chum of Pip's appearing unexpectedly while they are together, he pulls out a jack-knife by way of hint he can defend himself, and produces afterwards a greasy little clasped black Testament on which the startled new-comer, being found to have no hostile intention, is sworn to secrecy. At the opening of the story there had been an exciting scene of the wretched man's chase and recapture among the marshes, and this has its parallel at the close in his chase and recapture on the river while poor Pip is helping to get him off. To make himself sure of the actual course of a boat in such circumstances, and what possible incidents the adventure might have, Dickens hired a steamer for the day from Blackwall to Southend. Eight or nine friends and three or four members of his family were on board, and he seemed to have no care, the whole of that summer day (22 May, 1861), except to enjoy their enjoyment and entertain them with his own in shape of a thousand whims and fancies; but his sleepless observation was at work all the time, and nothing had escaped his keen vision on either side of the river. The fifteenth chapter of the third volume is a masterpiece.
The characters generally afford the same evidence as those two that Dickens's humour, not less than his creative power, was at its best in this book. The Old-Bailey attorney Jaggers, and his clerk Wemmick (both excellent, and the last one of the oddities that live in everybody's liking for the goodheartedness of its comic surprises), are as good as his earliest efforts in that line; the Pumblechooks and Wopsles are as perfect as bits of Nickleby fresh from the mint; and the scene in which Pip, and Pip's chum Herbert, make up their accounts and schedule their debts and obligations, is original and delightful as Micawber himself. It is the art of living upon nothing and making the best of it, in its most pleasing form. Herbert's intentions to trade east and west, and get himself into business transactions of a magnificent extent and variety, are as perfectly warranted to us, in his way of putting them, by merely "being in a counting-house and looking about you," as Pip's means of paying his debts are lightened and made easy by his method of simply adding them up with a margin. "The time comes," says Herbert, "when you see your opening. And you go in, and you swoop upon it, and you make your capital, and then there you are! When you have once made your capital you have nothing to do but employ it." In like manner Pip tells us, "Suppose your debts to be one hundred and sixty-four pounds four and twopence, I would say, leave a margin and put them down at two hundred." He is sufficiently candid to add, that, while he has the highest opinion of the wisdom and prudence of the margin, its dangers are that in the sense of freedom and solvency it imparts there is a tendency to run into new debt. But the satire that thus enforces the old warning against living upon vague hopes, and paying ancient debts by contracting new ones, never presented itself in more amusing or kindly shape. A word should be added of the father of the girl that Herbert marries, Bill Barley, ex-ship's purser, a gouty, bed-ridden, drunken old rascal, who lives on his back in an upper floor on Mill Pond Bank, by Chinks's Basin, where he keeps, weighs, and serves out the family stores or provisions, according to old professional practice, with one eye at a telescope which is fitted on his bed for the convenience of sweeping the river. This is one of those sketches, slight in itself but made rich with a wealth of comic observation, in which Dickens's humour took especial delight; and to all this part of the story there is a quaint riverside flavour that gives it amusing reality and relish.
Sending the chapters that contain it, which open the third division of the tale, he wrote thus: "it is a pity that the third portion cannot be read all at once, because its purpose would be much more apparent; and the pity is the greater, because the general turn and tone of the working out and winding up, will be away from all such things as they conventionally go. But what must be, must be. As to the planning out from week to week, nobody can imagine what the difficulty is, without trying. But, as in all such cases, when it is overcome the pleasure is proportionate. Two months more will see me through it, I trust. All the iron is in the fire, and I have 'only' to beat it out." One other letter throws light upon an objection taken not unfairly to the too great speed with which the heroine, after being married, reclaimed, and widowed, is in a page or two again made love to, and remarried by the hero. This summary proceeding was not originally intended. But, over and above its popular acceptance, the book had interested some whose opinions Dickens specially valued (Carlyle among them, I remember), and upon Bulwer Lytton objecting to a close that should leave Pip a solitary man, Dickens substituted what now stands. "You will be surprised," he wrote, "to hear that I have changed the end of Great Expectations from and after Pip's return to Joe's, and finding his little likeness there. Bulwer, who has been, as I think you know, extraordinarily taken by the book, so strongly urged it upon me, after reading the proofs, and supported his view with such good reasons, that I resolved to make the change. You shall have it when you come back to town. I have put in as pretty a little piece of writing as I could, and I have no doubt the story will be more acceptable through the alteration." This turned out to be the case; but the first ending nevertheless seems to be more consistent with the drift, as well as natural working out, of the tale, and for this reason it is preserved in a note.
Between that fine novel, which was issued in three volumes in the autumn of 1861, and the completion of his next serial story, were interposed three sketches in his happiest vein at which everyone laughed and cried in the Christmas times of 1862, '3, and '4. Of the Waiter in Somebody's Luggage Dickens has himself spoken; and if any theme is well treated, when, from the point of view taken, nothing more is left to say about it, that bit of fun is perfect. Call it exaggeration, grotesqueness, or by what hard name you will, laughter will always intercept any graver criticism. Writing from Paris of what he was himself responsible for in the articles left by Somebody with his wonderful Waiter, he said that in one of them he had made the story a camera obscura of certain French places and styles of people; having founded it on something he had noticed in a French soldier. This was the tale of Little Bebelle, which had a small French corporal for its hero, and became highly popular. But the triumph of the Christmas achievements in these days was Mrs. Lirriper. She took her place at once among people known to everybody; and all the world talked of Major Jemmy Jackman, and his friend the poor elderly lodging-house keeper of the Strand, with her miserable cares and rivalries and worries, as if they had both been as long in London and is well known as Norfolk-street itself. A dozen volumes could not have told more than those dozen pages did. The Legacy followed the Lodgings in 1864, and there was no falling off in the fun and laughter.
The publication of Our Mutual Friend, in the form of the earliest stories, extended from May 1864 to November 1865. Four years earlier he had chosen this title as a good one, and he held to it through much objection. Between that time and his actual commencement there is mention, in his letters, of the three leading notions on which he founded the story. In his waterside wanderings during his last book, the many handbills he saw posted up, with dreary description of persons drowned in the river, suggested the 'long shore men and their ghastly calling 'whom he sketched in Hexam and Riderhood "I think," he had written, "a man, young and perhaps eccentric, feigning to be dead, and being dead to all intents and purposes external to himself, and for years retaining the singular view of life and character so imparted, would be a good leading incident for a story;" and this he partly did in Rokesmith. For other actors in the tale, he had thought of "a poor impostor of a man marrying a woman for her money; she marrying him for his money; after marriage both finding out their mistake, and entering into a league and covenant against folks in general:" with whom he had proposed to connect some Perfectly New people. "Everything new about them. If they presented a father and mother, it seemed as if THEY must be bran new, like the furniture and the carriages -- shining with varnish, and just home from the manufacturers." These groups took shape in the Lammles and the Veneerings. "I must use somehow," is the remark of another letter, "the uneducated father in fustian and the educated boy in spectacles whom Leech and I saw at Chatham"; of which a hint is in Charley Hexam and his father. The benevolent old Jew whom he makes the unconscious agent of a rascal, was meant to wipe out a reproach against his Jew in Oliver Twist as bringing dislike upon the religion of the race he belonged to.
Having got his title in 1861 it was his hope to have begun in '62. "Alas!" he wrote in the April of that year, "I have hit upon nothing for a story. Again and again I have tried. But this odious little house" (he had at this time for a few weeks exchanged Gadshill for a friend's house near Kensington) "seems to have stifled and carkened my invention." It was not until the autumn of the following year he saw his way to a beginning. "The Christmas number has come round again" (30 August, 1863)- "it seems only yesterday that I did the last -- but I am full of notions besides for the new twenty numbers. When I can clear the Christmas stone out of the road, I think I can dash into it on the grander journey." He persevered through much difficulty; which he described six weeks later, with characteristic glance at his own ways when writing, in a letter from the office of his journal. "I came here last night, to evade my usual day in the week -- in fact to shirk it -- and get back to Gads for five or six consecutive days. My reason is, that I am exceedingly anxious to begin my book. I am bent upon getting to work at it. I want to prepare it for the spring; but I am determined not to begin to publish with less than five 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 himself) is hot, I shall drift off again, and have to go through all this uneasiness once more."
He had written, after four months very nearly three numbers, when upon a necessary rearrangement of his chapters he had to hit upon a new subject for one of them. "When I was considering" (25 February) "what it should be, Marcus, who has done an excellent cover, came to tell me of an extraordinary trade he had found out, through one of his painting requirements. I immediately went with him to Saint Giles's to look at the place, and found -- what you will see." It was the establishment of Mr. Venus, preserver of animals and birds, and articulator of human bones; and it took the place of the last chapter of No. 2, which was then transferred to the end of No. 3. But a start with three full numbers done, though more than enough to satisfy the hardest self-conditions formerly, did not satisfy him now. With his previous thought given to the story, with his Memoranda to help him, with the people he had in hand to work it with, and ready as he still was to turn his untiring observation to instant use on its behalf, he now moved, with the old large canvas before him, somewhat slowly and painfully." If I were to lose" (29 March) "a page of the five numbers I have proposed to myself to be ready by the publication day, I should feel that I had fallen short. I have grown hard to satisfy, and write very slowly. And I have so much -- not fiction -- that will be thought of, when I don't want to think of it, that I am forced to take more care than I once took."
The first number was launched at last, on the first of May; and after two days he wrote: "Nothing can be better than Our Friend, now in his thirtieth thousand, and orders flowing in fast." Yet between the first and second number there was a drop of five thousand, strange to say, for the larger number was again reached, and much exceeded, before the book closed. "This leaves me" (10 June) "going round and round like a carrier-pigeon before swooping on number seven." Thus far he had held his ground; but illness came, with some other anxieties, and on 29 July he wrote sadly enough. "Although I have not been wanting in industry, I have been wanting in invention, and have fallen back with the book. Looming large before me is the Christmas work, and I can hardly hope to do it without losing a number of Our Friend. I have very nearly lost one already, and two would take one half of my whole advance. This week I have been very unwell; am still out of sorts; and, as I know from two days' slow experience, have a very mountain to climb before I shall see the open country of my work." The three following months brought hardly more favourable report." I have not done my number. This death of poor Leech (I suppose) has put me out woefully. Yesterday and the day before I could do nothing; seemed for the time to have quite lost the power; and am only by slow degrees getting back into the track to-day." He rallied after this, and satisfied himself for a while; but in February 1865; that formidable illness in his foot broke out which, at certain times for the rest of his life, deprived him more or less of his inestimable solace of bodily exercise. In April and May he suffered severely; and after trying the sea went abroad for more complete change. "Work and worry, without exercise, would soon make an end of me. If I were not going away now, I should break down. No one knows as I know to-day how near to it I have been."
That was the day of his leaving for France, and the day of his return brought these few hurried words. "Saturday, tenth of June 1865. I was in the terrific Staplehurst accident yesterday, and worked for hours among the dying and dead. I was in the carriage that did not go over, but went off the line, and hung over the bridge in an inexplicable manner. No words can describe the scene. I am away to Gads." Though with characteristic energy he resisted the effects upon himself of that terrible ninth of June, they were for some time evident; and, up to the day of his death on its fatal fifth anniversary, were perhaps never wholly absent. But very few complaints fell from him." I am curiously weak -- weak as if I were recovering from a long illness." "I began to feel it more in my head. I sleep well and eat well; but I write half a dozen notes, and turn faint and sick." "I am getting right, though still low in pulse and very nervous. Driving into Rochester yesterday I felt more shaken than I have since the accident." "I cannot bear railway travelling yet. A perfect conviction, against the senses, that the carriage is down on one side (and generally that is the left, and not the side on which the carriage in the accident really went over), comes upon me with anything like speed, and is inexpressibly distressing." These are passages from his letters up to the close of June. Upon his book the immediate result was that another lost number was added to the losses of the preceding months, and "alas!" he wrote at the opening of July, "for the two numbers you write of! There is only one in existence. I have but just begun the other." "Fancy!" he added next day, "fancy my having under-written number sixteen by two and a half pages -- a thing I have not done since Pickwick!" He did it once with Dombey, and was to do it yet again.
The book thus begun and continued under adverse influences, though with fancy in it, descriptive power, and characters well designed, will never rank with his higher efforts. It has some pictures of a rare veracity of soul amid the lowest forms of social degradation, placed beside others of sheer falsehood and pretence amid unimpeachable social correctness, which lifted the writer to his old place; but the judgment of it on the whole must be that it wants freshness and natural development. This indeed will be most freely admitted by those who feel most strongly that all the old cunning of the master hand is yet in the wayward loving Bella Wilfer, in the vulgar canting Podsnap, and in the doll's dressmaker Jenny Wren, whose keen little quaint weird ways, and precocious wit sharpened by trouble, are fitted into a character as original and delightfully conceived as it is vividly carried through to the last. A dull coarse web her small life seems made of; but even from its taskwork, which is undertaken for childhood itself, there are glittering threads cast across its woof and warp of care. The unconscious philosophy of her tricks and manners has in it more of the subtler vein of the satire aimed at in the book, than even the voices of society which the tale begins and ends with. In her very kindliness there is the touch of malice that shows a childish playfulness familiar with unnatural privations; this gives a depth as well as tenderness to her humours which entitles them to rank with the writer's happiest things; and though the odd little creature's talk is incessant when she is on the scene, it has the individuality that so seldom tires. It is veritably her own small "trick" and "manner," and is never mistakeable for any one else's. "I have been reading," Dickens wrote to me from France while he was writing the book, "a capital little story by Edmond About -- The Notary's Nose. I have been trying other books; but so infernally conversational, that I forget who the people are before they have done talking, and don't in the least remember what they talked about before when they begin talking again!" The extreme contrast to his own art could not be defined more exactly; and other examples from this tale will be found in the differing members of the Wilfer family, in the riverside people at the Fellowship Porters, in such marvellous serio-comic scenes as that of Rogue Riderhood's restoration from drowning, and in those short and simple annals of Betty Higden's life and death which might have given saving virtue to a book more likely than this to perish prematurely. It has not the creative power which crowded his earlier page, and transformed into popular realities the shadows of his fancy; but the observation and humour he excelled in are not wanting to it, nor had there been, in his first completed work, more eloquent or generous pleading for the poor and neglected, than this last completed work contains. Betty Higden finishes what Oliver Twist began.
He had scarcely closed that book in September, wearied somewhat with a labour of invention which had not been so free or self-sustaining as in the old facile and fertile days, when his customary contribution to Christmas became due from him; and his fancy, let loose in a narrower field, resumed its old luxury of enjoyment. Here are notices of it from his letters. "If people at large understand a Cheap Jack, my part of the Christmas number will do well. It is wonderfully like the real thing, of course a little refined and humoured." "I do hope that in the beginning and end of this Christmas number you will find something that will strike you as being fresh, forcible, and full of spirits." He described its mode of composition afterwards. "Tired with Our Mutual, I sat down to cast about for an idea, with a depressing notion that I was, for the moment, overworked. Suddenly, the little character that you will see, and all belonging to it, came flashing up in the most cheerful manner, and I had only to look on and leisurely describe it." This was Dr. Marigold's Prescriptions, one of the most popular of all the pieces selected for his readings, and a splendid example of his humour, pathos, and character. "I received your letter in praise of Dr. Marigold," he writes to Lord Lytton (31 December), "and read and reread all your generous words, fifty times over, with inexpressible delight. I cannot tell you how they gratified and affected me." The piece was worthy of the praise. It expressed, as perfectly as anything he has ever done, that which constitutes in itself very much of the genius of all his writing, the wonderful neighbourhood in this life of ours, of serious and humorous things; the laughter close to the pathos, but never touching it with ridicule. There were two more Christmas pieces before he made his last visit to America: Barbox Brothers with The Boy at Mugby Station, and No Thoroughfare: the last a joint piece of work with Mr. Wilkie Collins, who during Dickens's absence in the States transformed it into a play for Mr. Fechter, with a view to which it had been planned originally. There were also two papers written for first publication in America, George Silverman's Explanation, and Holiday Romance, containing about the quantity of half a shilling number of his ordinary serials, and paid for at a rate unexampled in literature. They occupied him not many days in the writing, and he received a thousand pounds for them. The same had before been paid for Hunted Down. Reserving for mention in its place what was written after his return, it will be proper here to interpose, before the closing word of my criticism, some account of the manuscript volume found among his papers containing memoranda for use in his writings; and covering the period from the opening of Little Dorrit to the close of Our Mutual Friend.
Dickens began the Book of Memoranda for possible use in his work, to which occasional reference has been made, in January 1855, six months before the first page of Little Dorrit was written; and I find no allusion leading me to suppose, except in one very doubtful instance, that he had made addition to its entries, or been in the habit of resorting to them, after the date of Our Mutual Friend. It seems to comprise that interval of ten years in his life.
In it were put down any hints or suggestions that occurred to him. A mere piece of imagery or fancy, it might be at one time; at another the outline of a subject or a character; then a bit of description or dialogue; no order or sequence being observed in any. Titles for stories were set down too, and groups of names for the actors in them; not the least curious of the memoranda belonging to this class. More rarely, entry is made of some oddity of speech; and he has thus preserved in it, verbatim et literatim, what he declared to have been as startling a message as he ever received. A confidential servant at Tavistock House, having conferred on some proposed changes in his bedroom with the party that was to do the work, delivered this ultimatum to her master. "The gas-fitter says, sir, that he can't alter the fitting of your gas in your bed-room without taking up almost the ole of your bed-room floor, and pulling your room to pieces. He says, of course you can have it done if you wish, and he'll do it for you and make a good job of it, but he would have to destroy your room first, and go entirely under the jistes."
It is very interesting in this book, last legacy as it is of the literary remains of such a writer, to compare the way in which fancies were worked out with their beginnings entered in its pages. Those therefore will first be taken that in some form or other appeared afterwards in his writings, with such reference to the latter as may enable the reader to make comparison for himself.
"Our House. Whatever it is, it is in a first-rate situation, and a fashionable neighbourhood. (Auctioneer called it 'a gentlemanly residence.') A series of little closets squeezed up into the corner of a dark street -- but a Duke's Mansion round the corner. The whole house just large enough to hold a vile smell. The air breathed in it, at the best of times, a kind of Distillation of Mews." He made it the home of the Barnacles in Little Dorrit.
What originally he meant to express by Mrs. Clennam in the same story has narrower limits, and a character less repellent, in the Memoranda than it assumed in the book. "Bed-ridden (or room-ridden) twenty-five-and-twenty -- years; any length of time. As to most things, kept at a standstill all the while. Thinking of altered streets as the old streets -- changed things as the unchanged things -- the youth or girl I quarrelled with all those years ago, as the same youth or girl now. Brought out of doors by an unexpected exercise of my latent strength of character, and then how strange!"
One of the people of the same story who becomes a prominent actor in it, Henry Gowan, a creation on which he prided himself as forcible and new, seems to have risen to his mind in this way. "I affect to believe that I would do anything myself for a ten-pound note, and that anybody else would. I affect to be always book-keeping in every man's case, and posting up a little account of good and evil with every one. Thus the greatest rascal becomes the 'dearest old fellow,' and there is much less difference than you would be inclined to suppose between an honest man and a scoundrel. While I affect to be finding good in most men, I am in reality decrying it where it really is, and setting it up where it is not. Might not a presentation of this far from uncommon class of character, if I could put it strongly enough, be likely to lead some men to reflect, and change a little? I think it has never been done."
In Little Dorrit also will be found a picture which seems to live with a more touching effect in his first pleasing fancy of it. "The ferryman on a peaceful river, who has been there from youth, who lives, who grows old, who does well, who does ill, who changes, who dies -- the river runs six hours up and six hours down, the current sets off that point, the same allowance must be made for the drifting of the boat, the same tune is always played by the rippling water against the prow."
Here was an entry made when the thought occurred to him of the close of old Dorrit's life. "First sign of the father failing and breaking down. Cancels long interval. Begins to talk about the turnkey who first called him the Father of the Marshalsea -- as if he were still living. 'Tell Bob I want to speak to him. See if he is on the Lock, my dear.'" And here was the first notion of Clennam's reverse of fortune. "His falling into difficulty, and himself imprisoned in the Marshalsea. Then she, out of all her wealth and changed station, comes back in her old dress, and devotes herself in the old way."
He seems to have designed, for the sketches of society in the same tale, a "Full-length portrait of his lordship, surrounded by worshippers;" of which, beside that brief memorandum, only his first draft of the general outline was worked at. "Sensible men enough, agreeable men enough, independent men enough in a certain way; -- but the moment they begin to circle round my lord, and to shine with a borrowed light from his lordship, heaven and earth how mean and subservient! What a competition and outbidding of each other in servility."
The last of the Memoranda hints used in the story whose difficulties at its opening seem first to have suggested them, ran thus: "The unwieldy ship taken in tow by the snorting little steam tug" -- by which was prefigured the patriarch Casby and his agent Panks.
In a few lines are the germ of the tale called Hunted Down: "Devoted to the Destruction of a man. Revenge built up on love. The secretary in the Wainewright case, who had fallen in love (or supposed he had) with the murdered girl." -- The hint on which he worked in his description of the villain of that story, is also in the Memoranda. "The man with his hair parted straight up the front of his head, like an aggravating gravel-walk. Always presenting it to you. 'Up here, if you please. Neither to the right nor left. Take me exactly in this direction. Straight up here. Come off the grass -- '"
His first intention as to the Tale of Two Cities was to write it upon a plan proposed in this manuscript book. "How as to a story in two periods -- with a lapse of time between, like a French Drama? Titles for such a nation. TIME! THE LEAVES OF THE FOREST. SCATTERED LEAVES. THE GREAT WHEEL. ROUND AND ROUND. OLD LEAVES. LONG AGO. FAR APART. FALLEN LEAVES. FIVE AND TWENTY YEARS. YEARS AND YEARS. ROLLING YEARS. DAY AFTER DAY. FELLED TREES. MEMORY CARTON. ROLLING STONES. TWO GENERATIONS." That special title of Memory Carton shows that what led to the greatest success of the book as written was always in his mind; and another of the memoranda is this rough hint of the character itself. "The drunken? -- dissipated? -- What? -- LION -- and his JACKAL and Primer, stealing down to him at unwonted hours."
In connection with the same book, another fancy may be copied from which the domesticities of Mr. and Mrs. Cruncher were taken. "A man, and his wife -- or daughter -- or niece. The man, a reprobate and ruffian; the woman (or girl) with good in her, and with compunctions. He believes nothing, and defies everything; yet has suspicions always, that she is 'praying against' his evil schemes, and making them go wrong. He is very much opposed to this, and is always angrily harping on it. 'If she must pray, why can't she pray in their favour, instead of going against 'em? She's always ruining me -- she always is -- and calls that, Duty! There's a religious person! Calls it Duty to fly in my face! Calls it Duty to go sneaking against me!'"
The studies of Silas Wegg and his patron as they exist in Our Mutual Friend, are hardly such good comedy as in the form which the first notion seems to have intended. "Gibbon's Decline and Fall. The two characters. One reporting to the other as he reads. Both getting confused as to whether it is not all going on now." In the same story may be traced, more or less clearly, other fancies which had found their first expression in the Memoranda. A touch for Bella Wilfer is here. "Buying poor shabby -- FATHER? -- a new hat. So incongruous that it makes him like African King Boy, or King George; who is usually full dressed when he has nothing upon him but a cocked hat or a waistcoat." Here undoubtedly is the voice of Podsnap. "I stand by my friends and acquaintances; -- not for their sakes, but because they are my friends and acquaintances. I know them, I have licensed them, they have taken out my certificate. Ergo, I champion them as myself." To the same redoubtable person another trait clearly belongs. "And by denying a thing, supposes that he altogether puts it out of existence." A third very perfectly expresses the boy, ready for mischief, who does all the work there is to be done in Eugene Wrayburn's place of business. "The office boy for ever looking out of window, who never has anything to do."
The poor wayward purposeless good-hearted master of the boy, Eugene himself, is as evidently in this: "If they were great things, I, the untrustworthy man in little things, would do them earnestly -- But O No, I wouldn't!" What follows has a more direct reference; being indeed almost literally copied in the story. "As to the question whether I, Eugene, lying ill and sick even unto death, may be consoled by the representation that coming through this illness, I shall begin a new life, and have energy and purpose and all I have yet wanted: 'I hope I should, but I know I shouldn't. Let me die, my dear.'"
Other fancies preserved in his Memoranda were left wholly unemployed, receiving from him no more permanent form of any kind than that which they have in this touching record; and what most people would probably think the most attractive and original of all the thoughts he had thus set down for future use, are those that were never used.
Here were his first rough notes for the opening of a story. "Beginning with the breaking up of a large party of guests at a country house house left lonely with the shrunken family in it: guests spoken of, and introduced to the reader that way. -- OR, beginning with a house abandoned by a family fallen into reduced circumstances. Their old furniture there, and numberless tokens of their old comforts. Inscriptions under the bells downstairs -- 'Mr. John's Room,' 'Miss Caroline's Room.' Great gardens trimly kept to attract a tenant: but no one in them. A landscape without figures. Billiard room: table covered up, like a body. Great stables without horses, and great coach-houses without carriages. Grass growing in the chinks of the stonepaving, this bright cold winter day. Downhills." Another opening had also suggested itself to him. "Open a story by bringing two strongly contrasted places and strongly contrasted sets of people, into the connexion necessary for the story, by means of an electric message. Describe the message -- be the message -- flashing along through space, over the earth, and under the sea." Connected with which in some way would seem to be this other notion, following it in the Memoranda. "Representing London -- or Paris, or any other great place -- in the new light of being actually unknown to all the people in the story, and only taking the colour of their fears and fancies and opinions. So getting a new aspect, and being unlike itself. An odd unlikeness of itself."
The subjects for stories are various, and some are striking. There was one he clung to much, and thought of frequently as in a special degree available for a series of papers in his periodical but when he came to close quarters with it the difficulties were found to be too great. "English landscape. The beautiful prospects, trim fields, clipped hedges, everything so neat and orderly -- gardens, houses, roads. Where are the people who do all this? There must be a great many of them, to do it. Where are they all? And are they, too, so well kept and so fair to see? Suppose the foregoing to be wrought out by an Englishman: say from China: who knows nothing about his native country." To which may be added a fancy that savours of the same mood of discontent, political and social. "How do I know that I, a man, am to learn from insects -- unless it is to learn how little my littlenesses are? All that botheration in the hive about the queen bee, may be, in little, me and the court circular."
A domestic story he met with in the State Trials struck him greatly by its capabilities, and I may preface it by mentioning another subject, not entered in the Memoranda, which for a long time impressed him as capable of attractive treatment. It was after reading one of the witch-trials that this occurred to him; and the heroine was to be a girl who for a special purpose had taken a witch's disguise, and whose trick was not discovered until she was actually at the stake. Here is the State Trials story as told by Dickens. "There is a case in the State Trials, where a certain officer made love to a (supposed) miser's daughter, and ultimately induced her to give her father slow poison, while nursing him in sickness. Her father discovered it, told her so forgave her, and said 'Be patient my dear -- I shall not live long, even if I recover: and then you shall have all my wealth.' Though penitent then, she afterwards poisoned him again (under the same influence), and successfully. Whereupon it appeared that the old man had no money at all, and had lived on a small annuity which died with him, though always feigning to be rich. He had loved this daughter with great affection."
A theme verging closely on ground that some might think dangerous, is sketched in the following fancy. "The father (married young) who, in perfect innocence, venerates his son's young wife, as the realization of his ideal of woman. (He not happy in his own choice.) The son slights her, and knows nothing of her worth. The father watches her, protects her, labours for her, endures for her, -- is for ever divided between his strong natural affection for his son as his son, and his resentment against him as this young creature's husband. "Here is another, less dangerous, which he took from an actual occurrence made known to him when he was at Bonchurch. "The idea of my being brought up by my mother (me the narrator), my father being dead; and growing up in this belief until I find that my father is the gentleman I have sometimes seen, and oftener heard of, who has the handsome young wife, and the dog I once took notice of when I was a little child, and who lives in the great house and drives about."
Very admirable is this. "The girl separating herself from the lover who has shewn himself unworthy -- loving him still -- living single for his sake -- but never more renewing their old relations. Coming to him when they are both grown old, and nursing him in his last illness." Nor is the following less so. "Two girls mis-marrying two men. The man who has evil in him, dragging the superior woman down. The man who has good in him, raising the inferior woman up." Dickens would have been at his best in working out both fancies.
In some of the most amusing of his sketches of character, women also take the lead. "The lady un peu passée, who is determined to be interesting. No matter how much I love that person -- nay, the more so for that very reason -- I MUST flatter, and bother, and be weak and apprehensive and nervous, and what not. If I were well and strong, agreeable and self-denying, my friend might forget me." Another not remotely belonging to the same family is as neatly hit off. "The sentimental woman feels that the comic, undesigning, unconscious man, is 'Her Fate.' -- her fate? God bless my soul, it puts me into a cold perspiration to think of it. I her fate? How can I be her fate? I don't mean to be. I don't want to have anything to do with her. -- Sentimental woman perceives nevertheless that Destiny must be accomplished."
Other portions of a female group are as humorously sketched and hardly less entertaining. "The enthusiastically complimentary person, who forgets you in her own flowery prosiness: as -- 'I have no need to say to a person of your genius and feeling, and wide range of experience' -- and then, being shortsighted, puts up her glass to remember who you are." -- "Two sisters" (these were real people known to him). "One going in for being generally beloved (which she is not by any means); and the other for being generally hated (which she needn't be)." -- "The bequeathed maid-servant, or friend. Left as a legacy. And a devil of a legacy too" -- "The woman who is never on any account to hear of anything shocking. For whom the world is to be of barley sugar." -- "The lady who lives on her enthusiasm; and hasn't a jot" -- "Bright-eyed creature selling jewels. The stones and the eyes." Much significance is in the last few words. One may see to what uses Dickens would have turned them.
A more troubled note is sounded in another of these female characters. "I am a common woman -- fallen. It is devilry in me -- is it a wicked comfort -- what is it -- that induces me to be always tempting other women down, while I hate myself!" This next, with as much truth in it, goes deeper than the last. "The prostitute who will not let one certain youth approach her. 'O let there be some one in the world, who having an inclination towards me has not gratified it, and has not known me in my degradation!' She almost loving him. -- Suppose, too, this touch in her could not be believed in by his mistress: by some handsome and proudly virtuous woman, always revolting from her." A more agreeable sketch than either follows, though it would not please M. Taine so well. "The little baby-like married woman -- so strange in her new dignity, and talking with tears in her eyes, of her sisters 'and all of them' at home. Never from home before, and never going back again." Another from the same manuscript volume not less attractive, which was sketched from his sister-in-law in his own home, I gave upon a former page.
The female character in its relations with the opposite sex has lively illustration in the Memoranda. "The man who is governed by his wife, and is heartily despised in consequence by all wives; who still want to govern their husbands, notwithstanding." An alarming family pair follows that. "The playful -- and scratching -- family. Father and daughter." And here is another "The agreeable (and wicked) young mature man, and his devoted sister." What next was set down he had himself partly seen; and, by enquiry at the hospital named, had ascertained the truth of the rest. "The two people in the Incurable Hospital. -- The poor incurable girl lying on a water-bed, and the incurable man who has a strange flirtation with her; comes and makes confidences to her; snips and arranges her plants; and rehearses to her the comic songs (!) by writing which he materially helps out his living."
Two lighter figures are very pleasantly touched. "Set of circumstances which suddenly bring an easy, airy fellow into near relations with people he knows nothing about, and has never even seen. This, through his being thrown in the way of the innocent young personage of the story. "Then there is Uncle Sam to be considered,' says she. 'Aye to be sure,' says he, 'so there is! By Jupiter, I forgot Uncle Sam. He's a rock ahead, is Uncle Sam. He must be considered, of course; he must be smoothed down; he must be cleared out of the way. To be sure. I never thought of Uncle Sam. -- By the bye, Who is Uncle Sam?"
There are several such sketches as that, to set against the groups of women; and some have Dickens's favourite vein of satire in them. "The man whose vista is always stopped up by the image of Himself. Looks down a long walk, and can't see round himself, or over himself, or beyond himself. Is always blocking up his own way. Would be such a good thing for him if he could knock himself down." Another picture of selfishness is touched with greater delicacy. "'Too good' to be grateful to, or dutiful to, or anything else that ought to be. 'I won't thank you: you are too good.' -- 'Don't ask me to marry you: you are too good.' -- In short, I don't particularly mind ill-using you, and being selfish with you: for you are so good. Virtue its own reward!" A third, which seems to reverse the dial, is but another face of it; frankly avowing faults, which are virtues. "In effect -- I admit I am generous, amiable, gentle, magnanimous. Reproach me -- I deserve it -- I know my faults -- I have striven in vain to get the better of them." Dickens would have made much, too, of the working out of the next. "The knowing man in distress, who borrows a round sum of a generous friend. Comes, in depression and tears, dines, gets the money, and gradually cheers up over his wine, as he obviously entertains himself with the reflection that his friend is an egregious fool to have lent it to him, and that he would have known better." And so of this other. "The man who invariably says apposite things (in the way of reproof or sarcasm) THAT HE DON'T MEAN. Astonished when they are explained to him."
Here is a fancy that I remember him to have been more than once bent upon making use of: but the opportunity never came. "The two men to be guarded against, as to their revenge. One, whom I openly hold in some serious animosity, whom I am at the pains to wound and defy, and whom I estimate as worth wounding and defying; -- the other, whom I treat as a sort of insect, and contemptuously and pleasantly flick aside with my glove. But, it turns out to be the latter who is the really dangerous man; and, when I expect the blow from the other, it comes from him."
We have the master hand in the following bit of dialogue, which takes wider application than that for which it appears to have been intended.
"'There is some virtue in him too.'
"'Virtue! Yes. So there is in any grain of seed in a seedsman's shop -- but you must put it in the ground, before you can get any good out of it.'
"'Do you mean that he must be put in the ground before any good comes of him?'
"'Indeed I do. You may call it burying him, or you may call it sowing him, as you like. You must set him in the earth, before you get any good of him.'"
One of the entries is a list of persons and places meant to have been made subjects for special description, and it will awaken regret that only as to one of them (the Mugby Refreshments) his intention was fulfilled. "A Vestryman. A Briber. A Station Waiting-Room. Refreshments at Mugby. A Physician's Waiting-Room. The Royal Academy. An Antiquary's house. A Sale Room. A Picture Gallery (for sale). A Waste-paper Shop. A Post-Office. A Theatre."
All will have been given that have particular interest or value, from this remarkable volume, when the thoughts and fancies I proceed to transcribe have been put before the reader.
"The man who is incapable of his own happiness. Or who is always in pursuit of happiness. Result, Where is happiness to be found then? Surely not Everywhere? Can that be so, after all? Is this my experience!'
"The people who persist in defining and analysing their (and everybody else's) moral qualities, motives and what not, at once in the narrowest spirit and the most lumbering manner; -- as if one should put up an enormous scaffolding for the building of a pigstye."
"The house full of Toadies and Humbugs. They all know and despise one another; but -- partly to keep their hands in, and partly to make out their own individual cases -- pretend not to detect one another."
"People realising immense sums of money, imaginatively -- speculatively -- counting their chickens before hatched. Inflaming each other's imaginations about great gains of money, and entering into a sort of intangible, impossible, competition as to who is the richer."
"The advertising sage, philosopher, and friend; who educates for the bar, the pulpit, or the stage.'"
"The character of the real refugee -- not the conventional; the real."
"The mysterious character, or characters, interchanging confidences. 'Necessary to be very careful in that direction.' -- 'In what direction?' -- 'B.' -- 'You don't say so. What, do you mean that C -----?' -- 'Is aware of D. Exactly.'"
"The father and boy, as I dramatically see them. Opening with the wild dance I have in my mind."
"The old child. That is to say, born of parents advanced in life, and observing the parents of other children to be young. Taking an old tone accordingly."
"A thoroughly sulky character -- perverting everything. Making the good, bad -- and the bad, good."
"The people who lay all their sins, negligences, and ignorances, on Providence."
"The man who marries his cook at last, after being so desperately knowing about the sex."
"The swell establishment, frightfully mean and miserable in all but the 'reception rooms.' Those very showy."
"B. tells M. what my opinion is of his work, &c. Quoting the man you have once spoken to, as if he had talked a life's talk in two minutes."
"A misplaced and mis-married man; always, as it were, playing hide and seek with the world; and never finding what Fortune seems to have hidden when he was born."
"Certain women in Africa who have lost children, carry little wooden images of children on their heads, and always put their food to the lips of those images, before tasting it themselves. This is in a part of Africa where the mortality among children (judging from the number of these little memorials) is very great."
Two more entries are the last which he made. "AVAILABLE NAMES" introduces a wonderful list in the exact following classes and order; as to which the reader may be left to his own memory for selection of such as found their way into the several stories from Little Dorrit to the end. The rest, not lifted into that higher notice by such favour of their creator, must remain like any other undistinguished crowd. But among them may perhaps be detected, by those who have special insight for the physiognomy of a name, some few with so great promise in them of fun and character as will make the "mute inglorious" fate which has befallen them a subject for special regret; and much ingenious speculation will probably wait upon all. Dickens has generally been thought, by the curious, to display not a few of his most characteristic traits in this particular field of invention.
First there are titles for books; and from the list subjoined were taken two for Christmas numbers and two for stories, though Nobody's Fault had ultimately to give way to Little Dorrit.
THE LUMBER ROOM.
TO HE LEFT TILL CALLED FOR.
NOBODY S FAULT.
OUR MUTUAL FRIEND.
THE CINDER HEAP.
THE HOME DEPARTMENT.
THE YOUNG PERSON.
NOW OR NEVER.
THE CHILDREN OF THE FATHERS.
Then comes a batch of "Christian names": Girls and Boys: which stand thus, with mention of the source from which he obtained them. These therefore can hardly be called pure invention. Some would have been reckoned too extravagant for anything but reality.
AMANDA, ETHLYNIDA; BOETIUS, BOLTIUS.
To which he adds supplementary lists that appear to be his own.
ZEPHANIAH FERRY (or FURY).
And then come the mass of his "available names," which stand thus, without other introduction or comment:
PEEX -- SPEEX.
KYLE -- NYLE.
DORRET -- DORRIT.
BLENHAM -- CL.
CASBY -- BEACH.
LOWLEIGH -- LOWELY.
STRIVER -- STRYVER.
The last of the Memoranda, and the last words written by Dickens in the blank paper book containing them, are these. "'Then I'll give up snuff.' Brobity. -- An alarming sacrifice. Mr. Brobity's snuff -- box. The Pawnbroker's account of it?" What was proposed by this must be left to Conjecture; but "Brobity" is the name of one of the people in his unfinished story, and the suggestion may have been meant for some incident in it. If so, it is the only passage in the volume which can be in any way connected with the piece of writing on which he was last engaged. Some names were taken for it from the lists, but there is otherwise nothing to recall Edwin Drood.
The year after America, as the reader knows, saw the commencement of the work which death interrupted. The fragment will hereafter be described; and here meanwhile may close my criticism -- itself a fragment left for worthier completion by a stronger hand than mine. It suffices for the present to have attempted to clear the ground from those distinctions and comparisons never safely to be applied to an original writer, and which always more or less intercept his fair appreciation.
It was long the fashion, with critics of authority, to set up wide divergences between novels of incident and manners, and novels of character; the narrower range being left to Fielding and Smollett, and the larger to Richardson; yet there are not many now who will accept such classification. Nor is there more truth in other like distinctions alleged between novelists who are assumed to be real, or ideal, in their methods of treatment. To any original novelist of the higher grade there is no meaning in these contrasted phrases. Neither mode can exist at all perfectly without the other. No matter how sensitive the mind to external impressions, or how keen the observation to whatever can be seen, without the rarer seeing of imagination nothing will be arrived at that is real in any genuine artist-sense. Reverse the proposition, and the result is expressed in an excellent remark of Lord Lytton's, that the happiest effort of imagination, however lofty it may be, is that which enables it to be cheerfully at home with the real. I have said that Dickens felt criticism, of whatever kind, with too sharp a relish for the indifference he assumed to it; but the secret was that he believed himself to be entitled to higher tribute than he was always in the habit of receiving. It was the feeling which suggested a memorable saying of Wordsworth, "I am not at all desirous that any one should write a critique on my poems. As they be from above, they will do their own in work in course of time, if not they will perish as they ought."
The something "from above" never seems to me absent from Dickens, even at his worst. When the strain upon his invention became apparent, and he could only work freely in a more confined space than of old, it was still able to assert itself triumphantly; and his influence over his readers was continued by it to the last day of his life. Looking back over the series of his writings, the first reflection that rises to the mind of any thoughtful person, is one of thankfulness that the most popular of writers, who had carried into the lowest scenes and conditions an amount of observation, fun, and humour not approached by any of his contemporaries, should never have sullied that world-wide influence by a hint of impurity or a possibility of harm. Nor is there anything more surprising than the freshness and variety of character which those writings include within the range of the not numerous types of character that were the limit of their author's genius. For, this also appears, upon any review of them collectively, that the teeming life which is in them is that of the time in which his own life was passed; and that with the purpose of showing vividly its form and pressure, was joined the hope and design to leave it better than he found it. It has been objected that humanity receives from him no addition to its best types; that the burlesque humourist is always stronger in him than the reflective moralist; that the light thrown by his genius into out of the way corners of life never steadily shines in its higher beaten ways; and that beside his pictures of what man is or does, there is no attempt to show, by delineation of an exalted purpose or a greater career, what man is able to be or to do. In the charge abstractedly there is truth; but the fair remark upon it is that whatever can be regarded as essential in the want implied by it will be found in other forms in his writings, that the perfect innocence of their laughter and tears has been itself a prodigious blessing, and that it is otherwise incident to so great a humourist to work after the fashion most natural to the genius of humour. What kind of work it has been in his case, the attempt is made in preceding pages to show; and on the whole it can be said with some certainty that the best ideals in this sense are obtained, not by presenting with added comeliness or grace the figures which life is ever eager to present as of its best, but by connecting the singularities and eccentricities which ordinary life is apt to reject or overlook, with the appreciation that is deepest and the laws of insight that are most universal. It is thus that everything human is happily brought within human sympathy. It was at the heart of whatever Dickens wrote, making him the intimate of every English household, and a familiar friend wherever the language is spoken whose stories of harmless pleasure he has so largely increased. Above all it was the secret of the hope he had that his books might help to make people better; and it so guarded them from evil, that there is scarcely a page of the thousands he has written which might not be put into the hands of a little child.
I borrow that expression from the Bishop of Manchester, who, on the third day after Dickens's death, in the Abbey where he was so soon to be laid, closed a plea for the toleration of differences of opinion where the foundations of religious truth are accepted, with these words. "It will not be out of harmony with the line of thought we have been pursuing -- certainly it will be in keeping with the associations of this place, dear to Englishmen, not only as one of the proudest Christian temples, but as containing the memorials of so many who by their genius in arts, or arms, or statesmanship, or literature, have made England what she is -- if in the simplest and briefest words I allude to that sad and unexpected death which has robbed English literature of one of its highest living ornaments, and the news of which, two mornings ago, must have made every household in England feel as though they had lost a personal friend. He has been called in one notice an apostle of the people. I suppose it is meant that he had a mission, but in a style and fashion of his own; a gospel, a cheery, joyous, gladsome message, which the people understood, and by which they could hardly help being bettered; for it was the gospel of kindliness, of brotherly love, of sympathy in the widest sense of the word. I am sure I have felt in myself the healthful spirit of his teaching. Possibly we might not have been able to subscribe to the same creed in relation to God, but I think we should have subscribed to the same creed in relation to man. He who has taught us our duty to our fellow men better than we knew it before, who knew so well to weep with them that wept, and to rejoice with them that rejoiced, who has shown forth in all his knowledge of the dark corners of the earth how much sunshine may rest upon the lowliest lot, who had such evident sympathy with suffering, and such a natural instinct of purity that there is scarcely a page of the thousands he has written which might not be put into the hands of a little child, must be regarded by those who recognise the diversity of the gifts of the spirit as a teacher sent from God. He would have been welcomed as a fellow-labourer in the common interests of humanity by Him who asked the question 'If a man love not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?'"
"The loss of no single man during the present generation, if we except Abraham Lincoln alone," said Mr. Horace Greeley, describing the profound and universal grief of America at his death, "has carried mourning into so many families, and been so unaffectedly lamented through all the ranks of society." "The terrible news from England," wrote Longfellow to me (Cambridge, Mass. 12th of June, 1870), "fills us all with inexpressible sadness. Dickens was so full of life that it did not seem possible he could die, and yet he has gone before us, and we are sorrowing for him. . . . I never knew an author's death cause such general mourning. It is no exaggeration to say that this whole country is stricken with grief. . . ." Nor was evidence then wanting, that far beyond the limits of society on that vast continent the English writer's influence had penetrated. Of this, very touching illustration was given on a former page; and proof even more striking has since been afforded to me, that not merely in wild or rude communities, but in life the most savage and solitary, his genius had helped to while time away.
"Like all Americans who read," writes an American gentleman, 'and that takes in nearly all our people, I am an admirer and student of Dickens. . . . Its perusal" (that of my second volume) "has recalled an incident which may interest you. Twelve or thirteen years ago I crossed the Sierra Nevada mountains as a Government surveyor under a famous frontiersman and civil engineer -- Colonel Lander. We were too early by a month, and became snow-bound just on the very summit. Under these circumstances it was necessary to abandon the wagons for a time, and drive the stock (mules) down the mountains to the valleys where there was pasturage and running water. This was a long and difficult task, occupying several days. On the second day, in a spot where we expected to find nothing more human than a grizzly bear or an elk, we found a little hut, built of pine boughs and a few rough boards clumsily hewn out of small trees with an axe. The hut was covered with snow many feet deep, excepting only the hole in the roof which served for a chimney, and a small pit-like place in front to permit egress. The occupant came forth to hail us and solicit whisky and tobacco. He was dressed in a suit made entirely of flour-sacks, and was curiously labelled on various parts of his person Best Family Flour. Extra. His head was covered by a wolf's skin drawn from the brute's head -- with the ears standing erect in a fierce alert manner. He was a most extraordinary object, and told us he had not seen a human being in four months. He lived on bear and elk meat and flour, laid in during his short summer. Emigrants in the season paid him a kind of ferry-toll. I asked him how he passed his time, and he went to a barrel and produced Nicholas Nickleby and Pickwick. I found he knew them almost by heart. He did not know, or seem to care, about the author; but he gloried in Sam Weller, despised Squeers, and would probably have taken the latter's scalp with great skill and cheerfulness. For Mr. Winkle he had no feeling but contempt, and in fact regarded a fowling-piece as only a toy for a squaw. He had no Bible; and perhaps if he practised in his rude savage way all Dickens taught, he might less have felt the want even of that companion."
This e-text and its HTML documents are so devised that they can afford a proof of my own drawing up.