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THERE are two distinguished living authors, who divide the honour of being called, "First novelist of the day.” Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray stand side by side on that proud eminence, each with his multitude of admirers; each striving with the other in a fair and generous rivalry ; each more than willing to acknowledge how justly the applause of the nation, and those less evanescent fruits of literary toil, which chink and shine and fill the banker's book with figures, have fallen to the lot of his brother-artist. “I think of these past writers," said the present editor of the Cornhill, when lecturing to a London audience
upon the Reverend Laurence Sterne, “and of one who lives amongst us now, and am grateful for the innocent laughter, and the sweet, unsullied page, which the author of "David Copperfield" gives to my children.” Though born at Landport, Portsmouth, where his father,
John Dickens, who was connected with the Navy 1812 Pay Department, happened to be residing at the time,
the celebrated novelist is essentially a London man;
for thither the family removed upon the conclusion of the war. The pay-clerk having become a parliamentary reporter, young Charles grew up in an atmosphere likeliest of all to develop any literary tastes he possessed ; for there are, perhaps, no men who acquire a truer and more intimate knowledge of public characters and new books than those who report for the London press.
THE PICKWICK PAPERS."
When the fitting time came, Charles Dickens was placed by bis father in an attorney's office; but the occupation was very distasteful to the young man, who soon abandoned it for the more stirring life his father led. We cannot regret this little attempt upon a father's part to make his son take root in what he believed a safer soil, when we remember those fine pictures of middle-class lawyer-life, ranging from deepest tragedy to broad uproarious which are scattered among the
of “Pickwick." After a short engagement on The True Sun, Dickens joined the staff of The Morning Chronicle, where he soon took a first rank among the reporters. He began to sketch upon paper the varied life he saw. The letter-box of a magazinė—The Old Monthly, we believe-received one day a little manuscript, dropped in by a modest passer-by. With quickly beating heart the author of that slender scroll got hold of the fresh uncut serial, some time afterwards, and with a joy the author feels only once in life, saw himself in print. It was the first of those delightful Sketches by Boz, * which were soon transferred to the columns of the Chronicle, and when the author's fame grew bright, were published in a separate form.
But the beginning of his fame dates from the publication of the unrivalled Pickwick Papers. The adventures and misadventures of a party of Cockney sportsmen formed the original idea of the book, as proposed by the publisher, and begun by Dickens. Boz was to write the chapters, and Seymour 1837 to furnish the illustrations. Glimpses of this original A.D. plan appear in Mr. Winkle's disastrous rook-shooting, the ride and drive towards Dingley Dell,—the hot September day among the partridges, when Mr. Pickwick found the cold punch so very pleasant,—the skating scene at Manor Farm; but as the work went on the scope of the Papers expanded, both the sporting and the club being forgotten, or rarely referred to, in the varied
* Boz was a little sister's corruption of the name Moses, by which Dickens, whose young head was full of the “Vicar of Wakefield" and kindred works, used playfully to call his younger brother.
It is pleasant to think that this novelist, who has depicted the quiet graces of an English home so tenderly and truthfully, should have taken the nom de plume, with which he signed his earliest papers, from the lispings of a little child.
EARLIER NOVELS OF DICKENS.
pictures of life, through which we follow the fortunes of the kind old bachelor, his three friends, and his attached servant,-the inimitable Sam Weller, an indescribable but perfectly natural compound of Cockney slang and the coolest impudence, with rich everbubbling humour and the tenderest fidelity.
Then followed Nicholas Nickleby, a tale crowded with finely drawn portraits and scenes of modern English life; among which, perhaps, the sojourn of Nicholas at the wretched Yorkshire school, and his stay among the Portsmouth actors, are richest in character and colouring. This is generally looked upon as the finest work from Dickens' pen.
While for a short time editor of "Bentley's Miscellany," he contributed to its pages the striking story of Oliver Twist, in which some of the lowest and vilest forms of London life are painted with a startling truthfulness that rivals the pencil of Defoe. The publication of “Nickleby” in monthly numbers—"putting forth two green leaves a month,” as the author expresses it in a pretty botanical conceit—having proved very successful, a new work was
projected, to appear in the same form, and also in low1840 priced weekly numbers. This was Master Humphrey's
Clock, a connected series of tales, among which there ap
peared The Old Curiosity Shop, and Barnaby Rudge. The former of these—whose central figure, Little Nell, is one of the most exquisite creations of modern fiction-contains the finest writing that has ever come from this brilliant pen.
Barnaby Rudge” is a tale of the last century, which mingles its fictitious plot with the story of the Gordon Riots in London. A wonderfully gifted raven plays no unimportant part in the stirring drama. A visit to America supplied material for two new works,
American Notes for General Circulation, and Martin 1843 Chuzzlewit, a novel—in both of which he deals very
severely with some peculiarities of Transatlantic life
and character; too severely, we may safely say, for the tendency of Dickens in all his painting is towards caricature. This fault is an outgrowth of his very power. Seizing in an
LATER NOVELS OF DICKENS.
instant, with an intense abstraction, the odd feature or whimsical bent in any man or woman, he creates a character from that single quality, making his creation stand out in bright and startling relief as the type of a whole class. Among the English characters of Chuzzlewit, the scoundrel Pecksniff and the immortal Sairey Gamp are undoubtedly the most artistic and original.
After a twelvemonth in Italy, Dickens came home to establish and edit a morning paper, The Daily News, to which he contributed sketches entitled Pictures from Italy. But from this heavy, and to some extent thankless task, he soon returned to the more congenial field of fiction. Dombey and Son, the tale of a starched and purse-proud merchant, whose every thought is centred in the House (not of Commons, but of business); David Copperfield, the story of a young literary man struggling up to fame, as the author himself had done, through the thorny toils of short-hand notes; and Bleak House, founded on the miseries of a suit in Chancery, came out in brilliant succession, to delight a million readers. “Copperfield ” especially is prized as the finest of his later novels.
Upon the conclusion of “ David Copperfield,” Dickens undertook to conduct a weekly serial, called Household Words, which is now his own property, under the title of All the 1850 Year Round. To this he contributed A Child's History of England, giving a picturesque view of the national growth and fortunes. And soon after the conclusion of “Bleak House," he wrote for the same serial his tale of a Strike, called Hard Times.
Little Dorrit, depicting the touching devotion of a young girl to her selfish father, who is a prisoner for debt; A Tale of Two Cities (London and Paris), filled with the horrors of the French Revolution; and Great Expectations—hinging chiefly upon the return of a convict—are his principal works during the last five years.
We should not forget, in reviewing the fruits of Dickens' busy pen, the charming series of Christmas tales which commenced in 1843 with A Christmas Carol. The Chimes and The Cricket on the Hearth are deservedly the most popular of these minor works, all of which, to be thoroughly enjoyed, should be read by the
DICKENS' PET CHARACTER.
cheery light of a Christmas fire, while the polished green and vivid scarlet of the fresh holly boughs wink upon the parlour wall, and the crisp snow sparkles out of doors in the frosty starlight. No finished portrait is Trotty Veck, but a slightly-filled sketch,—what artists call a study,—yet who can forget or fail to love the good old fellow ?
On such a portrait Dickens loves to lavish his highest skill. Choosing some character of the most unpromising outward appearance-Smike, the starved, half-witted drudge of a Yorkshire school; Pinch, the awkward, shambling assistant of a rascally country architect; Ham, a rough, tar-splashed, weather-beaten fisherman of Yarmouth; Joe, the huge, stout blacksmith, whose dull brain can scarcely shape a thought clearly into words—he makes us love them all, for the truth, the honesty, the sweet, guileless, forgiving spirit that lives within the ungainly frame. If Dickens had done no more than create the Tom Pinch of “ Chuzzlewit,” and the blacksmith Joe of “Great Expectations,” he deserves lasting gratitude and fame. As the commonest weed, the meanest reptile has its own beauty and its own use in the grand scheme of Creation -as some delicate blossom or tender leaf nestles in the nooks of every ruin, no matter how wildly or how long the storm may have beaten on its walls, or how entirely defaced by war or time the tracery of its stonework may have become--so man or woman never falls so low, never grows so ugly or repulsive, never is so thoroughly ridiculous or stupid, as utterly to lose the outlines of that Divine image in which the ancient parents of the race were created. And although we, with clay-dimmed eyes, cannot clearly see why a man is ugly or a tree distorted, we must not forget that the plainest face and the homeliest manner may cover a noble intellect and a heart beating with tenderest pity and love for humankind. Such we take to be the great moral of Dickens' “sweet, unsullied page.”
In some of his later works a slightly morbid desire for violent effects has disfigured his plots and his style. He has become less natural in colours and in grouping,—too violent in the former, too theatrical in the latter. The rage for sensation-dramas,