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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Charles Dickens (1812–1870)
The Life and Writings of Dickens by Laurence Hutton (1843–1904)
 
CHARLES DICKENS was born at Landport in Portsea, on the 7th of February, 1812. His childhood was a very unhappy one. He describes himself in one of his essays as “a very queer, small boy,” and his biographer tells us that he was very sickly as well as very small. He had little schooling, and numberless hard knocks, and rough and toilsome was the first quarter of his journey through life. Many of the passages in ‘David Copperfield’ are literally true pictures of his own early experiences, and much of that work may be accepted as autobiographical. He was fond of putting himself and his own people into his books, and of drawing his scenes and his characters from real life, sometimes only slightly disguised. Tradition says that he built both Mr. Micawber and Mr. Turveydrop out of his own father; that Mrs. Nickleby was based upon his own mother; and that his wife, who was the Dora of ‘Copperfield’ in the beginning of their married life, became in later years the Flora of ‘Little Dorrit.’ The elder Dickens had unquestionably some of the traits ascribed to the unpractical friend of Copperfield’s youth, and something of the cruel self-indulgence and pompous deportment of the dancing-master in ‘Bleak House.’ And it was during his father’s imprisonment for debt when the son was but a youth, that Dickens got his intimate knowledge of the Marshalsea, and of the heart-breaking existence of its inmates. Some years before ‘Copperfield’ was written, he described in a fragment of actual autobiography, quoted by Forster, the following scene:—
          “My father was waiting for me in the lodge [of the Debtor’s Prison]; and we went up to his room, on the top story but one, and cried very much. And he told me, I remember, to take warning by the Marshalsea, and to observe that if a man had twenty pounds a year, and spent nineteen pounds nineteen shillings and sixpence, he would be happy; but that a shilling spent the other way would make him wretched.”
  1
  In these chambers Dickens afterwards put Mr. Dorrit. And while the father remained in confinement, the son lived for a time in a back attic in Lant Street, Borough, which was to become the home of the eccentric Robert Sawyer, and the scene of a famous supper party given to do honor to Mr. Pickwick “and the other chaps.” “If a man wishes to abstract himself from the world, to remove himself from the reach of temptation, to place himself beyond the possibility of any inducement to look out of the window, he should by all means go to Lant Street.” Lant Street still exists, as Mr. Pickwick found it, and as Dickens knew it between 1822 and 1824. He had numerous lodgings, alone and with his family, during those hard times; all of them of the same miserable, wretched character; and it is interesting to know that the original of Mrs. Pipchin was his landlady in Camden Town, and that the original of the Marchioness waited on the elder Dickens during his stay in the Marshalsea.  2
  The story of the unhappy drudgery of the young Copperfield is the story of the young Dickens without exaggeration.
          “No words can express the secret agony of my soul as I sunk into this companionship,” he wrote in 1845 or 1846,—“compared these every-day associates with those of my happier childhood, and felt my early hopes of growing up to be a learned and distinguished man crushed in my breast. The deep remembrance of the sense I had of being utterly neglected and hopeless; of the shame I felt in my position; of the misery it was to my young heart to believe that, day by day, what I had learned, and thought, and delighted in, and raised my fancy and my emulation up by, was passing away from me, never to be brought back any more, cannot be written. My whole nature was so penetrated with the grief and humiliation of such considerations, that even now, famous and caressed and happy, I often forget, in my dreams, that I have a dear wife and children; even that I am a man; and I wander desolately back to that time of my life.”
  3
  In the course of a few years, happily, the cloud lifted; and in 1831, when Dickens was a youth of nineteen, we find him beginning life as a reporting journalist. He wrote occasional “pieces” for the magazines, and some faint hope of growing up to be a distinguished and learned man rose again, no doubt, in his breast. N. P. Willis met him one day in 1835, when, as Willis expresses it, Dickens was a “paragraphist” for the London Morning Chronicle. The “paragraphist,” according to Willis, was lodging in the most crowded part of Holborn, in an uncarpeted and bleak-looking room, with a deal table, two or three chairs, and a few books. It was up a long flight of stairs, this room; and its occupant “was dressed very much as he has since described Dick Swiveller—minus the swell look. His hair was cropped close to his head, his clothes were scant, though jauntily cut; and after exchanging a ragged office coat for a shabby blue, he stood by the door collarless and buttoned up, the very personification, I thought, of a close sailer to the wind…. Not long after this Macrone sent me the sheets of ‘Sketches by Boz,’ with a note saying they were by the gentleman [Dickens] who went with us to Newgate. I read the book with amazement at the genius displayed in it; and in my note of reply assured Macrone that I thought his fortune was made, as a publisher, if he could monopolize the author.” This picture is very graphic. But it must be accepted with a grain of salt.  4
  The ‘Sketches by Boz, Illustrative of Every-Day Life and Every-Day People,’ Dickens’s first printed book, appeared in 1835. A further series of papers, bearing the same title, was published the next year. “Boz” was the nickname he had bestowed upon his younger brother Augustus, in honor of the Moses of the ‘Vicar of Wakefield.’ The word, pronounced through the nose, became “Boses,” afterwards shortened to “Boz,” which, said Dickens, “was a very familiar household word to me long before I was an author. And so I came to adopt it.” The sketches, the character of which is explained in their sub-title, were regarded as unusually clever things of their kind. They attracted at once great attention in England, and established the fact that a new star had risen in the firmament of British letters.  5
  Dickens was married on the 2d of April, 1836, to Miss Catherine Hogarth, just a week after he had published the first shilling number of ‘The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club: Edited by Boz.’ The work appeared in book form the next year. Its success was phenomenal, and it brought to its author not only fame but a fixed sum per annum, which is better. It assured his comfort in the present and in the future, and it wiped out all the care and troubles of his past. It was in itself the result of an accident. Messrs. Chapman and Hall, attracted by the popularity of the Sketches, proposed to their author a series of monthly articles to illustrate certain pictures of a comic character by Robert Seymour, an artist in their employment. Dickens assented, upon the condition that “the plates were to be so modified that they would arise naturally out of the text.” And so between them Mr. Pickwick was born, although under the saddest of circumstances; for only a single number had appeared when Seymour died by his own hand. Hablot K. Browne succeeded him, signing the name of “Phiz”; and with “Boz” was “Phiz” long associated in other prosperous ventures. Mr. Pickwick is a benevolent, tender-hearted elderly gentleman, who, as the president of a club organized “for the purpose of investigating the source of the Hampstead ponds,” journeys about England in all directions with three companions, to whom he acts as guide, philosopher, and friend. He is an amiable old goose, and his companions are equally verdant and unsophisticated; but since 1837 they have been as famous as any men in fiction. The story is a long one, the pages are crowded with incidents and with characters. It is disconnected, often exaggerated, much of it is as improbable as it is impossible, but it has made the world laugh for sixty years now; and it still holds its own unique place in the hearts of men.  6
  From this period the pen of Dickens was never idle for thirty-three years. ‘Pickwick’ was succeeded by ‘Oliver Twist,’ begun in Bentley’s Magazine in January, 1837, and printed in book form in 1838. It is the story of the progress of a parish boy, and it is sad and serious in its character. The hero was born and brought up in a workhouse. He was starved and ill-treated; but he always retained his innocence and his purity of mind. He fell among thieves,—Bill and Nancy Sykes, Fagin and the Artful Dodger, to whom much powerful description is devoted,—but he triumphed in the end. The life of the very poor and of the very degraded among the people of England during the latter end of the first half of the nineteenth century is admirably portrayed; and for the first time in their existence the British blackguards of both sexes were exhibited in fiction, clad in all their instincts of low brutality, and without that glamour of attractive romance which the earlier writers had given to Jack Sheppard, to Jonathan Wild, or to Moll Flanders.  7
  Two dramatic compositions by Dickens, neither of them adding very much to his reputation, appeared in 1836, to wit:—‘The Stranger Gentleman, A Comic Burletta in Three Acts’; and ‘The Village Coquette,’ a comic opera in two acts. They were presented upon the stage towards the close of that year, with fair success.  8
  In 1838 Dickens edited the Memoirs of Joseph Grimaldi, a celebrated clown. His share in the composition of this work was comparatively small, and consisted of a Preface, dated February of that year. It was followed by ‘Sketches of Young Gentlemen,’ and by ‘The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby,’ both published in 1839. To this latter he signed his name, Charles Dickens, dropping from that period the pseudonym of “Boz.” The titular hero is the son of a poor country gentleman. He makes his own way in the world as the usher of a Yorkshire school, as an actor in a traveling troupe, and as the clerk and finally the partner in a prosperous mercantile house in London. Smike, his pupil; Crummles, his theatrical manager; Ninetta Crummles, the Infant Phenomenon of the company, Newman Noggs, the clerk of his uncle Ralph Nickleby, the Cheeryble Brothers, his employers, are among the most successful and charming of Dickens’s earlier creations. “Mr. Squeers and his school,” he says, “were faint and feeble pictures of an existing reality, purposely subdued and kept down lest they should be deemed impossible.” That such establishments ceased to exist in reality in England after the appearance of ‘Nickleby,’ is proof enough of the good his pictures did in this and in many other ways.  9
  In 1840–1841 appeared ‘Master Humphrey’s Clock,’ comprising the two stories of ‘The Old Curiosity Shop’ and ‘Barnaby Rudge,’ which were subsequently printed separately. The story of Little Nell, the gentle, lovable inmate of the Curiosity Shop, is one of the most sad and tender tales in fiction, and Dickens himself confessed that he was almost heart-broken when she died. Her path was crossed by Quilp, a cunning and malicious dwarf of hideous appearance, who consumed hard-boiled eggs, shells and all, for his breakfast; ate his prawns with their heads and their tails on, drank scalding hot tea, and performed so many horrifying acts that one almost doubted that he was human; and by Christopher Nubbles, a shock-headed, shambling, awkward, devoted lad, the only element of cheerfulness that ever came into her life. In this book appear Richard Swiveller and his Marchioness, Sampson and Sarah Brass and Mrs. Jarley, who to be appreciated must be seen and known, as Dickens has drawn them, at full length.  10
  Barnaby Rudge was a half-witted lad, who, not knowing what he did, joined the Gordon rioters—the scenes are laid in the “No Popery” times of 1779—because he was permitted to carry a flag and to wear a blue ribbon. The history of that exciting period of English semi-political, semi-religious excitement is graphically set down. Prominent figures in the book are Grip the raven, whose cry was “I’m a devil,” “Never say die”; and Miss Dolly Varden, the blooming daughter of the Clerkenwell locksmith, who has given her name to the modern feminine costume of the Watteauesque style.  11
  The literary results of Dickens’s first visit to the United States, in 1842, when he was thirty years of age, were ‘American Notes, for General Circulation’; published in that year, and containing portions of ‘Martin Chuzzlewit,’ which appeared in 1844. His observations in the ‘Notes’ upon the new country and its inhabitants gave great offense to the American people, and were perhaps not in the best taste. He saw the crude and ridiculous side of his hosts, he emphasized their faults, while he paid little attention to their virtues; and his criticisms and strictures rankled in the sensitive American mind for many years.  12
  Martin Chuzzlewit, the hero of the novel bearing his name, spent some time in the western half-settled portion of America, with Mark Tapley, his light-hearted, optimistic friend and companion. The pictures of the morals and the manners of the men and women with whom the emigrants were brought into contact were anything but flattering, and they served to widen the temporary breach between Dickens and his many admirers in the United States. The English scenes of ‘Chuzzlewit’ are very powerfully drawn. Tom and Ruth Pinch, Pecksniff, Sarah Gamp, and Betsey Prig are among the leading characters in the work.  13
  In 1843 appeared the ‘Christmas Carol,’ the first and perhaps the best of that series of tales of peace and good-will, with which, at the Christmas time, the name of Dickens is so pleasantly and familiarly associated. It was followed by ‘The Chimes’ in 1844, by ‘The Cricket on the Hearth’ in 1845, by ‘The Haunted Man’ in 1848, all the work of Dickens himself; and by other productions written by Dickens in collaboration with other men. Concerning these holiday stories, some unknown writer said in the public press at the time of Dickens’s death: “He has not only pleased us—he has softened the hearts of a whole generation. He made charity fashionable; he awakened pity in the hearts of sixty millions of people. He made a whole generation keep Christmas with acts of helpfulness to the poor; and every barefooted boy and girl in the streets of England and America to-day fares a little better, gets fewer cuffs and more pudding, because Charles Dickens wrote.”  14
  In 1846 he produced his ‘Pictures from Italy’; ‘The Battle of Life, A Love Story,’ and began in periodical form his ‘Dealings with the Firm of Dombey and Son, Wholesale, Retail, and for Exportation,’ published in book form in 1847. Here we have the pathetic story of Little Paul, the tragic fate of Carker, the amusing episode of Jack Bunsby with his designing widow, and the devotion of Susan Nipper, Mr. Toots, Captain Cuttle, and Sol Gills to the gentle, patient, lovable Florence.  15
  On the ‘Personal History of David Copperfield,’ published in 1850, and of Dickens’s share in its plot, something has already been said here. It is perhaps the most popular of all his productions, containing as it does Mr. Dick, the Peggottys, the Micawbers, the Heeps, Betsey Trotwood, Steerforth, Tommy Traddles, Dora, Agnes, and Little Em’ly, in all of whom the world has been so deeply interested for so many years.  16
  ‘A Child’s History of England’ and ‘Bleak House’ saw the light in 1853. The romance was written as a protest and a warning against the law’s delays, as exhibited in the Court of Chancery; and it contains the tragedy of Sir Leicester and Lady Dedlock, and the short but touching story of Poor Jo.  17
  ‘Hard Times,’ a tale in one volume, was printed in 1854. It introduces the Gradgrind family.  18
  ‘Little Dorrit’ appeared in 1857. In this book he returns to the Debtor’s Prison of Micawber and of his own father. Little Dorrit herself was “the child of the Marshalsea,” in which she was born and brought up; and the whole story is an appeal against the injustice of depriving of personal liberty those who cannot pay their bills, or meet their notes, however small. Its prominent characters are the Clennams, mother and son, the Meagleses, Flintwinch, Sir Decimus Tite Barnacle, Rigaud and Little Cavalletto.  19
  ‘A Tale of Two Cities,’ a remarkable departure for Dickens, and unlike any of his other works, was the book of the year 1859. It is conceded, even by those who are not counted among the admirers of its author, to be a most vivid and correct picture of Paris during the time of the Revolution, when the guillotine was the king of France. Its central figure, Sydney Carton, one of the most heroic characters in romance, gives his life to restore his friend to the girl whom they both love.  20
  ‘The Uncommercial Traveller,’ a number of sketches and stories originally published in his weekly journal All the Year Round, appeared in 1860. They were supplemented in 1868 by another volume bearing the same title, and containing eleven other papers collected from the same periodical.  21
  ‘Great Expectations,’ 1861, like ‘Copperfield,’ is the story of a boy’s childhood told by the boy himself, but by a boy with feelings, sentiments, and experiences very different from those of the earlier work. The plot is not altogether a cheerful one, but many of the characters are original and charming; notably Joe Gargery, Jaggles, Wemmick, the exceedingly eccentric Miss Havisham, and the very amiable and simple Biddy.  22
  ‘Somebody’s Luggage,’ 1862; ‘Mrs. Lirriper’s Lodgings,’ 1863; ‘Mrs. Lirriper’s Legacy,’ 1864; ‘Dr. Marigold’s Prescription,’ 1865; ‘Mugby Junction,’ 1866; and ‘No Thoroughfare,’ 1867,—Christmas stories, all of them,—were written by Dickens in collaboration with other writers.  23
  ‘Our Mutual Friend,’ the last completed work of Dickens, was printed in 1865. Mr. Boffin, the Golden Dustman with the great heart, Silas Wegg, Mr. Venus, the Riderhoods, Jenny Wren, the Podsnaps, the Veneerings, Betty Higden, Mrs. Wilfer, and the “Boofer Lady,” are as fresh and as original as are any of his creations, and show no trace of the coming disaster.  24
  Before the completion of ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’ Dickens died at his home, Gadshill Place, literally in harness, and without warning, on the 9th of June, 1870.  25
  But six numbers of this last work appeared, in periodical form. Its author left no notes of what was to follow, and the Mystery has never been solved. Mr. Charles Collins, Dickens’s son-in-law, however, in a private letter to Mr. Augustin Daly of New York, who had proposed to dramatize the tale, gave some general outline of the scheme for ‘Edwin Drood.’ “The titular character,” he said, “was never to reappear, he having been murdered by Jasper. The girl Rosa, not having been really attached to Edwin, was not to lament his loss very long, and was, I believe, to admit the sailor, Mr. Tartar, to supply his place. It was intended that Jasper should urge on the search after Edwin, and the pursuit of the murderer, thus endeavoring to divert suspicion from himself, the real murderer. As to anything further, it would be purely conjectural.”  26
  Besides this immense amount of admirable work, Dickens founded, conducted, and edited two successful periodicals, Household Words, established in March 1850, and followed by All the Year Round, beginning in April 1859. To these he contributed many sketches and stories. He began public readings in London in 1858; and continued them with great profit to himself, and with great satisfaction to immense audiences, for upwards of twelve years. He appeared in all the leading cities of Great Britain; and he was enormously popular as a reader in America during his second and last visit in 1868.  27
  As an after-dinner and occasional speaker Dickens was rarely equaled; and as an actor upon the amateur stage, in plays of his own composition, he was inimitable.  28
  Of his attempts at verse, ‘The Ivy Green’ is the only one that is held in remembrance.  29
  A strong argument in favor of what may be called “the staying qualities” of Dickens is the fact that his characters, even in a mutilated, unsatisfactory form, have held the stage for half a century or more, and still have power to attract and move great audiences, wherever is spoken the language in which he wrote. The dramatization of the novel is universally and justly regarded as the most ephemeral and worthless of dramatic production; and the novels of Dickens, on account of their length, of the great number of figures he introduces, of the variety and occasional exaggeration of his dialogues and his situations, have been peculiarly difficult of adaptation to theatrical purposes. Nevertheless the world laughed and cried over Micawber, Captain Cuttle, Dan’l Peggotty, and Caleb Plummer, behind the footlights, years after Dolly Spanker, Aminadab Sleek, Timothy Toodles, Alfred Evelyn, and Geoffrey Dalk, their contemporaries in the standard and legitimate drama, created solely and particularly for dramatic representation, were absolutely forgotten. And Sir Henry Irving, sixty years after the production of ‘Pickwick,’ drew great crowds to see his Alfred Jingle, while that picturesque and ingenious swindler Robert Macaire, Jingle’s once famous and familiar confrère in plausible rascality, was never seen on the boards, except as he was burlesqued and caricatured in comic opera.  30
  It is pretty safe to say—and not in a Pickwickian sense—that Pecksniff will live almost as long as hypocrisy lasts; that Heep will not be forgotten while mock humility exists; that Mr. Dick will go down to posterity arm-in-arm with Charles the First, whom he could not avoid in his memorial; that Barkis will be quoted until men cease to be willin’. And so long as cheap, rough coats cover faith, charity, and honest hearts, the world will remember that Captain Cuttle and the Peggottys were so clad.  31
 
 
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