Roget's Int'l Thesaurus
Fowler's King's English
The King James Bible
Brewer's Phrase & Fable
Frazer's Golden Bough
Shelf of Fiction
The Victorian Age, Part One
A Tale of Two Cities
INDEX OF ALL CHAPTERS
The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes
Volume XIII. The Victorian Age, Part One.
There are, however, those who admire
A Tale of Two Cities
sincerely, and who think but little of the novel which followed it through the paper and in publication; while there are others who take up the
more seldom than any other of Dickenss books, and who consider
one of his very masterpieces, putting it with the wild freshness of morning in
and the noonday completeness of
as an evening voluntary of the most delightful kind. It is not faultless. The mannerism and the exaggeration of all the later books sometimes break through, and the grime of the heroines parentage is not only unnecessary but ill-managed. That obsession of feeble satire as to rank and respect to rank, which was one of Dickenss numerous forms of his own king Charless head disease, comes in, and melodrama is not far off. But he had never done anything, not even in
itself, so real as Pip, with his fears, his hopes, his human weaknesses and meannesses, his love, his bearing up against misfortune. Never did he combine analysis and synthesis so thoroughly as here. He has given Estella little space and some unattractive points, so that some do not like her; but others see in her at least the possibility of a heroine more thoroughly real and far more fascinating than any in Dickens. Joe Gargery has conciliated almost everybody, and his alarming wife, Pips terrible sister, does not require her punishment in order to conciliate some. The Havisham part may seem extravagant, but is not so to all; and Trabbs boy and Mr. Jaggers and Wemmick and yet other persons and things garnish a delightful feast.
He never did anything so good again; and, though he had nearly ten years to live, he did not, in the way of actual literature, do very much at all. The fatal readings were filling his pocket and draining his powers; editing took much of his time; he travelled a good deal, and even he began to find that his chariot wheels drave heavily.
In 1865, he had a serious illness, with threatenings of something like paralysis, which was certainly not staved off by the great railway accident of that year on the South Eastern railway, in which, though he sustained no visible injury, he was severely shaken. But, in these years, with all his other employments, he managed, besides two or three smaller thingsthe powerful if slightly melodramatic
the almost worthless
George Silvermans Explanation,
as well as not a few notable Christmas storiesto finish one long novel,
Our Mutual Friend,
and to plan and begin another,
The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
This latter appeared as a fragment between his return from that quest of suicide, as it may be calledhis second journey to America, in 1868, to read himself into twenty thousand pounds and almost into his graveand his actual death in 1870, the interval being occupied by further readings at home which brought eight thousand pounds more, and the death warrant. He had added to his early selections the murder scene in
which he read with an intensity described by those who heard it as almost frightful, and not such as would have been particularly wholesome for a young man in full strength. He was a man of nearly sixty, broken down by five and thirty years of varied work, much of it of a kind most trying to the brain, and actually threatened, for the last five, with cerebral and cardiac disease. It is only wonderful that the two burning ends of the candle took so long to meet.
itself, little need be said here. It has, through one of the numerous oddities of the human mind, received a great amount of attention, repeatedly and recently renewed, simply because it is unfinished; but, of intrinsic attraction, it has, for some critics, little or nothing except its renewed pictures of the beloved city of Rochester, first drawn and latest sketched of all Dickenss places. But the Christmas stories of the two weekly papers and his last considerable and complete novel,
Our Mutual Friend,
require longer notice. Like, but even more than,
The Uncommercial Traveller
articles (which he continued during most of this time), the stories contain some of Dickenss most enjoyable things. He had begun the substitution of collections only partly written by himself for single, and singly written, books, twenty years earlier, in
and his contributions there included the pathetic story of Richard Doubledick in
The Seven Poor Travellers;
some vigorous stuff in
The Wreck of the Golden Mary
and The Island of Silver-store
and, above all, the unsurpassable legend of child-loves told by the Boots at the Holly-Tree Inn. But, in the
All the Year Round
setnine in numberthe general level of Dickenss own stuff was even higher, except, perhaps, in the last,
which he wrote in conjunction with Wilkie Collins, but where the disciples hand is more evident than the masters. The framework of
The Haunted House
(as, indeed, of most of the sets) is his, and admirable, while The Ghost in Master B.s room is one of the best of his numerous half humorous, half sad reminiscences of his own youth. In
A Message from the Sea,
we have, for the first time, actual collaboration in these stories with Wilkie Collins, and would rather have Dickens alone.
Tom Tiddlers Ground
improves, and, with
we reach, in Dickenss own part, something like his quintessence in the case of Christopher the waiter. It persists in the twin appearances of
and is partly upheld in
Doctor Marigolds Prescriptions,
but whether or not it is in full force at
is a point on which men may differ, though, in the child Polly, he is, as usual, at his best. On the whole, too, his part in this batch of Christmas numbers (they contain much excellent work of others) is practically never bad and sometimes first rate.
To reverse this sentence almost directly and say that
Our Mutual Friend
is sometimes nearly bad and never quite first rate would be excessive; but it is only a very harsh and sweeping statement containing something not far from the truth. The illness and the accident above mentioned, no doubt, conditioned the book to some extent unfairly for the worse; but its main faults are scarcely chargeable upon them. It has been justly and acutely remarked that, though Wilkie Collins was, undoubtedly, Dickenss pupil, the pupil had a good deal of reflex influence on the master, not always for good.
The plot of
Our Mutual Friend
is distinctly of Wilkie Collinss type, but it is not managed with the cat-like intricacy and dexterity, or with the dramatically striking situations, which were Collinss strong points. In what may be called the central plot within a plotthe miser-and-tyrant metamorphosis of Mr. Boffinthe thing is in itself so improbable, and is so clumsily and tedio sly treated, as to suggest throwing the book aside. The whole Veneering society, barring a few of the inimitable touches to be noticed presently, is preposterous, disagreeable and dull. It was, indeed, interesting, not long ago, to find a critic of the younger generation candidly admitting that, to him, Eugene Wrayburn had been, if he was not still, a striking, if not an ideal, figure. But, as the strangest mistakes are constantly made about the relations of life and literature, especially as to mid-Victorian matters, it may be well to put on solemn record here that, among well-bred young men of 1865, Mr. Wrayburn, in, at least, some of his part, would have run great risk of being regarded as what had been earlier called a tiger, and what, somewhat later, was said, like the tiger, to bound. The good Jew Riah, and the spirited but slightly irrational Betty Higden, have failed to move even some who are very friendly to Dickenss sentiment. Still, the book is saved from sharing the position of
by its abundance of the true Dickensian grotesque, a little strained, perhaps, now and then, but always refreshing. The dolls dressmaker is, perhaps, a distant relation and inheritrix of Miss Mowcher, but she is raised to a far higher power; in fact, one almost wishes that Dickens had not chosen to make her happy with a good scavenger. Her bad child-father is, in literature, if not in life, excused by his acts and sayings. Some have been hard on Silas Wegg; the present writer, admitting that he ends appropriately in the slop cart, does not think him out of place earlier. Rogue Riderhood would be ill to spare; and so, at the other extremity of class and character, would be Twemlow, the single soul saved out of the Veneering group, except Boots and Buffer as supers. These and some others flit agreeably enough in the regions of fantastic memory to make one willing not to dwell on the darker side further than to observe that, though some of the right-grotes-querie saves the other members of the Wilfer family, Bella, for a long time, is merely an underbred and unattractive minx, while, after her reformation, she joins the great bevy of what, in the sacred language of the Bona Dea, it is whispered, are called Lady Janesmechanical lay-figures, adaptable to various costumes, in this case that of the foolishly affectionate bride and young mother. As for her husband, except in his account to himself of the attempt to drug or drown him, which is rather well done, it is impossible to feel the slightest interest in the question whether he was drowned as well as drugged, or not.
. One instance of his exceedingly nervous temperament, confessed by himself, may have found sympathy in others who had not his qualification of genius or of energy. If he had an appointment, say at mid-day, he could not work with any comfort in the earlier morning.
The Perils of Certain English Prisoners.
. The present writer intends no injustice to Collinss powers, which were great. But, unluckily, nearly all his faults and some, even, of his merits, tended to aggravate Dickenss own failings.
INDEX OF ALL CHAPTERS
A Tale of Two Cities