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SPECIMEN OF DICKENS' PROSE.
for something more peppery and stimulating than a simple picture of human life, which has infected the modern stage, seems somewhat to have touched his pen. But that pen, in its own best vein, has lost none of its early power, as his latest tale has shown.
TIM LINKIN WATER'S WINDOW.
(FROM "NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.") “There is a double wall-flower at No. 6 in the court, is there?" said Nicholas.
“Yes, there is,” replied Tim, “and planted in cracked jug without a spout. There were hyacinths there this last spring, blossoming in-but you'll laugh at that, of course.”
“ At what?”
Tim looked wistfully at him for a moment, as if he were encouraged by the tone of this reply to be more communicative on the subject; and sticking behind his ear a pen that he had been making, and shutting up his knife with a sharp click, said, “They belong to a sickly, bed-ridden, hump-backed boy, and seem to be the only pleasures, Mr. Nickleby, of his sad existence. How many years is it,” said Tim, pondering, "since I first noticed him, quite a little child, drag. ging himself about on a pair of tiny crutches ? Well! well! not many; but though they would appear nothing if I thought of other things, they seem a long, long time, when I think of him. It is a sad thing,” said Tim, breaking off, "to see a little deformed child sitting apart from other children, who are active and merry, watching the games he is denied the power to share in. He made my heart ache very often.”
“It is a good heart,” said Nicholas, “ that disentangles itself from the close avocations of every day, to heed such things. You were saying—"
“That the flowers belonged to this poor boy,” said Tim, " that's all. When it is fine weather, and he can crawl out of bed, he draws a chair close to the window, and sits there looking at them, and arranging them all day long. We used to nod at first, and then we came to speak. Formerly, when I called to him of a morning, and asked him how he was, he would smile and say, 'Better;' but now he shakes his head, and only bends more closely over his old plants. It must be dull to watch the dark house-tops and the flying clouds for so many months; but he is very patient.”
“Is there nobody in the house to cheer or help him ?" asked Nicholas.
“Ilis father lives there, I believe,” replied Tim, “and other people too ; but no one seems to care much for the poor sickly cripple. I have asked him very often if I can do nothing for him; his answer is always the same- -'Nothing.' His voice has grown weak of late, but I can see that he makes the old reply. He can't leave his bed now, so they have moved it close beside the window ; and there he lies all day, now looking at the sky, and now at his flowers, which he 486
SPECIMEN OF DICKENS' PROSE.
still makes shift to trim and water with his own thin lands. At night, when he sees my candle, he draws back his curtain, and leaves it so till I am in bed. It seems such company to him to know that I am there, that I often sit at my window for an hour or more, that he may see I am still awake; and sometimes I get up in the night to look at the dull, melancholy light in his little room, and wonder whether he is awake or sleeping.
“The night will not be long coming,” said Tim, “when he will sleep and never wake again on earth. We have never so much as shaken hands in all our lives, and yet I shall miss him like an old friend. Are there any country flowers that could interest me like these, do you think? Or do you suppose that the withering of a hundred kinds of the choicest flowers that blow, called by the hardest Latin names that were ever invented, would give me one fraction of the pain that I shall feel when these old jugs and bottles are swept away as lumber. Country!” cried Tim, with a contemptuous emphasis ; “don't you know that I couldn't have such a court under my bed-room window anywhere but in London ?”
With which inquiry Tim turned his back, and pretending to be absorbed in his accounts, took an opportunity of hastily wiping his eyes, when he supposed Nicholas was looking another way.
The author of Vanity Fair and The Snobs of England was born in 1811, at Calcutta. His father, descended from a goo old. Yorkshire family, held office in the Civil Service of the East India Company. The novelist was yet a very little child when that separation from his parents, which is the bitterest penalty attached to Indian life, took place. His own words give us a glimpse of the voyage to England. “Our ship touched at an island on the way home, where my black servant took me a walk over rocks and hills till we passed a garden where we saw a man walking. "That is Bonaparte,' said the black: 'he eats three sheep every day and all the children he can lay his hands on.” We can well imagine little fingers tightening round the dark hand that held them, as the pair hurried back to the ship and looks of terror glancing from the little white face back to the trees where this
lived. The old Charter-house school, lovingly painted in more than one of his works, was the place of his education; and his name is the latest of those household words which that quiet cloister has given to the literature of England. After some time at Cambridge, where he did not stay to take a degree, he entered life, the heir to a fortune of many thousand pounds, resolved to devote himself to the easel and the brush. His studies in the art-galleries of Rome and some of the German cities, particularly Weiinar, prepared him, unconsciously to himself, for that other painting-in pen and ink-to which his life was afterwards devoted.
THACKERAY'S EARLIER WORKS. The loss of a large part of his fortune made it necessary that he should be more than an amateur student of art. He entered at the Middle Temple, and began his literary career in the pages of " Fraser's Magazine.” Month by month there appeared tales and sketches by Michael Angelo Titmarsh and George Fitz-boodle, Esquire ; which, although slow in attracting general attention, caught the eye of such men as John Sterling, who saw in them the evidence of great talent in the bud. The Hoggarty Diamond, The Paris Sketch-Book, The Chronicle of the Drum, and The Irish Sketch-Book were among the first works of this artist-author's pencil. Barry Lyndon, the story of an Irish fortune-hunter, also appeared in "Fraser."
The columns of Punch were next enlivened by Thackeray's sketches ; and no papers, in the formidable array of wit and fun, which for twenty years has been growing into volumes under the striped jacket of that distinguished criminal, have ever surpassed Jeames's Diary, or The Snob Papers. The former, inimitably rich in its spelling-which, whether the writer meant it or not, most delightfully exposes the absurdities of the Phonetic systemcontains the history of a London flunkey, elevated to sudden wealth by speculation in railway shares. The latter, with a touch of light and seemingly careless banter, twitches the cloak from Humbug and Hypocrisy, especially as these wretched things are found in London clubs and drawing-rooms, and discloses them in all their ridiculous meanness to the scorn of honest men.
Then appeared Thackeray's first, and, in the eyes of many, his greatest novel, Vanity Fair. Running its course in serial numbers, it rapidly became a favourite. It was utterly unlike the fiction already on English tables. A very clever and thoroughly
unprincipled governess, Becky Sharp, pushing and schem1846 ing lier way into fashionable life, is certainly the heroine A.D. of the book. She personifies intellect without virtue.
Opposed to her is the sweet, amiable, pretty, but somewhat silly Amelia Sedley, who represents virtue without intellect. Pictures of Continental life mingle with London scenes ; and especially we have a sketch of Brussels in those terrible days when
Waterloo thunder was in the air. Prominent
among the portraitures of men in “Vanity Fair” are the fat Indian official, Jos. Sedley, whose delicate health does not interfere with the play of his knife and fork—the big, hulking dragoon, Rawdon Crawley, whose heart, for all his nonsense, is in the right place -- the empty dandy, George, upon whom little Amelia wastes her sweetness—and the unselfish and devoted William Dobbin, a kind of Tom Pinch in regimentals.
The History of Arthur Pendennis, the second great work from Thackeray's pen, followed in a short time. In the character of Pendennis the novelist depicts a man full of faults and weaknesses, who is acted on by the common influences of modern life. Mrs. Pendennis, the hero's mother, and Laura, who, although 1849 too good for the scamp, finally becomes his wife, are the A.D. chief feminine portraits. The Major, a worldly old beau, and that fine fellow, George Warrington, a literary man, who acts as the good genius of Pen, are capitally drawn.
Six brilliant and appreciative Lectures on the English Humourists of the Eighteenth Century, dealing, among others, with Swift, Pope, Addison, Steele, Hogarth, and Goldsmith, delighted a fashionable London crowd at Willis's Rooms in 1851, and were afterwards delivered by the author, both in Scotland and America. They have since been printed, and have sold remarkably well.
Many of the literary men, whose books and manners Thackeray discussed in the delightful gossip of these Lectures, mingle in the mimic life of his next work, The History of Henry Esmond, Esq. The days of Blenheim and Ramillies are revived. Swift, Congreve, Addison, and Steele walk once more among men.
Jacobites are plotting for the return of those exiled princes who live across the water. Queen Anne is on the English throne. As a work of literary art, Esmond stands, perhaps, higher than either 1852 Vanity Fair or The Newcomes. The hero, who has long sought Beatrix Castlewood, a self-willed beauty, consoles himself for rejection by a union with her mother, and settles down in Virginia to write the story of his life. The novelist had a difficult task to accomplish in reconciling his readers to a plot so un