The Life of Charles Dickens
(first published 1872-1874)
by John Forster
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BOOK SIX: AT THE SUMMIT (1847-52)
Devonshire Terrace remaining still in possession of Sir James Duke, a house was taken in Chester Place, Regent's Park, where, on 18 April, Dickens's fifth son, to whom he gave the name of Sydney Smith Haldimand, was born. Exactly a month before, he had attended the funeral at Highgate of his publisher Mr. William Hall, his old regard for whom had survived the recent temporary cloud, and with whom he had the association as well of his first success, as of much kindly intercourse not forgotten at this sad time. Of the summer months that followed, the greater part was passed by him at Brighton or Broadstairs; and the chief employment of his leisure, in the intervals of Dombey, was the management of an enterprise originating in the success of our private play, of which the design was to benefit a great man of letters.
The purpose and name had hardly been announced, when, with the statesmanlike attention to literature and its followers for which Lord John Russell has been eccentric among English politicians, a civil-list pension of two hundred a year was granted to Leigh Hunt: but though this modified our plan so far as to strike out of it performances meant to be given in London, so much was still thought necessary as might clear off past liabilities, and enable a delightful writer better to enjoy the easier future that had at last been opened to him. Reserving therefore anything realized beyond a certain sum for a dramatic author of merit, Mr. John Poole, to whom help had become also important, it was proposed to give, on Leigh Hunt's behalf, two representations of Ben Jonson's comedy, one at Manchester and the other at Liverpool, to be varied by different farces in each place; and with a prologue of Talfourd's which Dickens was to deliver in Manchester, while a similar address by Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton was to be spoken by me in Liverpool. Among the artists and writers associated in the scheme were Mr. Frank Stone, Mr. Augustus Egg, Mr. John Leech, and Mr. George Cruikshank; Mr. Douglas Jerrold, Mr. Mark Lemon, Mr. Dudley Costello, and Mr. George Henry Lewes; the general management and supreme control being given to Dickens.
Leading men in both cities contributed largely to the design, and my friend Mr. Alexander Ireland of Manchester has lately sent me some letters not more characteristic of the energy of Dickens in regard to it than of the eagerness of everyone addressed to give what help they could. Making personal mention of his fellow-sharers in the enterprise he describes the troop, in one of those letters, as "the most easily governable company of actors on earth;" and to this he had doubtless brought them, but not very easily. One or two of his managerial troubles at rehearsals remain on record in letters to myself, and may give amusement still. Comedy and farces are referred to indiscriminately, but the farces were the most recurring plaque. "Good Heaven! I find that A. hasn't twelve words, and I am in hourly expectation of rebellion!" -- "You were right about the green baize, that it would certainly muffle the voices; and some of our actors, by Jove, haven't too much of that commodity at the best." -- "B. shocked me so much the other night by a restless, stupid movement of his hands in his first scene with you, that I took a turn of an hour with him yesterday morning, and I hope quieted his nerves a little." -- "I made a desperate effort to get C. to give up his part. Yet in spite of all the trouble he gives me I am sorry for him, he is so evidently hurt by his own sense of not doing well. He clutched the part, however, tenaciously; and three weary times we dragged through it last night." -- "That infernal E. forgets everything." -- "I plainly see that F. when nervous, which he is sure to be, loses his memory. Moreover, his asides are inaudible, even at Miss Kelly's; and as regularly as I stop him to say them again, he exclaims (with a face of agony) that 'he'll speak loud on the night,' as if anybody ever did without doing it always!" -- "G. not born for it at all, and too innatelv conceited, I much fear, to do anything well. I thought him better last night, but I would as soon laugh at a kitchen poker." -- "Fancy H., ten days after the casting of that farce, wanting F.'s part therein! Having himself an excellent old man in it already, and a quite admirable part in the other farce." From which it will appear that my friend's office was not a sinecure, and that he was not, as few amateur-managers have ever been, without the experiences of Peter Quince. Fewer still, I suspect, have fought through them with such perfect success, for the company turned out at last would have done credit to any enterprise. They deserved the term applied to them by Maclise, who had invented it first for Macready, on his being driven to "star" in the provinces when his managements in London closed. They were "splendid strollers."
On Monday, 26 July, we played at Manchester, and on Wednesday the 28th at Liverpool; the comedy being followed on the first night by A Good Night's Rest and Turning the Tables, and on the second by Comfortable Lodgings, or Paris in 1750; and the receipts being, on the first night £44 12s., and on the second, £463 8s. 6d. But though the married members of the company who took their wives defrayed that part of the cost, and every one who acted paid three pounds ten to the benefit-fund for his hotel charges, the expenses were necessarily so great that the profit was reduced to four hundred guineas, and, handsomely as this realised the design, expectations had been raised to five hundred. There was just that shade of disappointment, therefore, when, shortly after we came back and Dickens had returned to Broadstairs, I was startled by a letter from him. On 3 August he had written: "All well. Children," (who had been going through whooping cough) "immensely improved. Business arising out of the late blaze of triumph, worse than ever." Then came what startled me, the very next day. As if his business were not enough, it had occurred to him that he might add the much longed-for hundred pounds to the benefit-fund by a little jeu d'esprit in form of a history of the trip, to be published with illustrations from the artists; and his notion was to write it in the character of Mrs. Gamp. It was to be, in the phraseology of that notorious woman, a new "Piljians Projiss;" and was to bear upon the title page its description as an Account of a late Expedition into the North, for an Amateur Theatrical Benefit, written by Mrs. Gamp (who was an eye-witness), Inscribed to Mrs. Harris, Edited by Charles Dickens, and published, with illustrations on wood by so and so, in aid of the Benefit-fund. "what do you think of this idea for it? The argument would be, that Mrs. Gamp, being on the eve of an excursion to Margate as a relief from her professional fatigues, comes to the knowledge of the intended excursion of our party; hears that several of the ladies concerned are in an interesting situation; and decides to accompany the party unbeknown, in a second-class carriage -- 'in case.' There, she finds a gentleman from the Strand in a checked suit, who is going down with the wigs" -- the theatrical hairdresser employed on these occasions, Mr. Wilson, had eccentric points of character that were a fund of infinite mirth to Dickens -- "and to his politeness Mrs. Gamp is indebted for much support and countenance during the excursion. She will describe the whole thing in her own manner: sitting, in each place of performance, in the orchestra, next the gentleman who plays the kettle-drums. She gives her critical opinion of Ben Jonson as a literary character, and refers to the different members of the party, in the course of her description of the trip: having always an invincible animosity towards Jerrold, for Caudle reasons. She addresses herself, generally, to Mrs. Harris, to whom the book is dedicated, -- but is discursive. Amount of matter, half a sheet of Dombey: may be a page or so more, but not less." Alas! it never arrived at even that small size, but perished prematurely, as I feared it would, from failure of the artists to furnish needful nourishment. Of course it could not live alone. Without suitable illustration it must have lost its point and pleasantry. "Mac will make a little garland of the ladies for the title-page. Egg and Stone will themselves originate something fanciful, and I will settle with Cruikshank and Leech. I have no doubt the little thing will be droll and attractive." So it certainly would have been, if the Thanes of art had not fallen from him; but on their desertion it had to be abandoned after the first few pages were written. They were placed at my disposal then; and, though the little jest has lost much of its flavour now, I cannot find it in my heart to omit them here. There are so many friends of Mrs. Gamp who will rejoice at this unexpected visit from her! "I. MRS. GAMP'S ACCOUNT OF HER CONNECTION WITH THIS AFFAIR
"Which Mrs. Harris's own words to me, was these: 'Sairey Gamp,' she says, 'why not go to Margate? Srimps,' says that dear creetur, 'is to your liking, Sairey; why not go to Margate for a week, bring your constitution up with srimps, and come back to them loving arts as knows and wallies of you, blooming? Sairey,' Mrs. Harris says, 'you are but poorly. Don't deny it, Mrs. Gamp, for books is in your looks. You must have rest. Your mind,' she says, 'is too strong for you; it gets you down and treads upon you, Sairey. It is useless to disguise the fact -- the blade is a wearing out the sheets.' 'Mrs. Harris,' I says to her, 'I could not undertake to say, and I will not deceive you ma'am, that I am the woman I could wish to be. The time of worrit as I had with Mrs. Colliber, the baker's lady, which was so bad in her mind with her first, that she would not so much as look at bottled stout, and kept to gruel through the month, has agued me, Mrs. Harris. But ma'am,' I says to her, 'talk not of Margate, for if I do go anywheres, it is elsewheres and not there.' 'Sairey,' says Mrs. Harris, solemn, 'whence this mystery? If I have ever deceived the hardest-working, soberest, and best of women, which her name is well beknown is S. Gamp Midwife Kingsgate Street High Holborn, mention it. If not,' says Mrs. Harris, with the tears a standing in her eyes, 'reweal your intentions.' 'Yes, Mrs. Harris,' I says, 'I will. Well I knows you Mrs. Harris; well you knows me; well we both knows wot the characters of one another is. Mrs. Harris then,' I says, 'I have heerd as there is a expedition going down to Manjestir and Liverspool, a play-acting. If I goes anywheres for change, it is along with that.' Mrs. Harris clasps her hands, and drops into a chair, as if her time was come -- which I know'd it couldn't be, by rights, for six weeks odd. 'And have I lived to hear,' she says, 'of Sairey Gamp, as always kept hersef respectable, in company with play-actors!' 'Mrs. Harris,' I says to her, 'be not alarmed -- not reg'lar play-actors -- hammertoors.' 'Thank Evans!' says, Mrs. Harris, and bustiges into a flood of tears.
"When the sweet creetur had compoged hersef (which a sip of brandy and warm water, and sugared pleasant, with a little nutmeg did it), I proceeds in these words. 'Mrs. Harris, I am told as these Hammertoors are litter'ry and artistickle.' 'Sairey,' says that best of wimmin, with a shiver and a slight relasp, 'go on, it might be worse.' 'I likewise hears,' I says to her, 'that they're agoin play-acting, for the benefit of two litter'ry men; one as has had his wrongs a long time ago, and has got his rights at last, and one as has made a many people merry in his time, but is very dull and sick and lonely his own sef, indeed.' 'Sairey,' says Mrs. Harris, 'you're an Inglish woman, and that's no business of you'rn.'
"'No, Mrs. Harris,' I says, 'that's very true; I hope I knows my dooty and my country. But,' I says, 'I am informed as there is Ladies in this party, and that half a dozen of 'em, if not more, is in various stages of a interesting state. Mrs. Harris, you and me well knows what Ingeins often does. If I accompanies this expedition, unbeknown and second cladge, may I not combine my calling with change of air, and prove a service to my feller creeturs?' 'Sairey,' was Mrs. Harris's reply, 'you was born to be a blessing to your sex, and bring 'em through it. Good go with you! But keep your distance till called in, Lord bless you Mrs. Gamp; for people is known by the company they keeps, and litterary and artistickle society might be the ruin of you before you was aware, with your best customers, both sick and monthly, if they took a pride in themselves.' " II. MRS. GAMP IS DESCRIPTIVE
"The number of the cab had a seven in it I think, and a ought I know -- and if this should meet his eye (which it was a black 'un, new done, that he saw with; the other was tied up), I give him warning that he'd better take that umbreller and pattern to the Hackney-coach Office before he repents it. He was a young man in a weskit with sleeves to it and strings behind, and needn't flatter himself with a suppogition of escape, as I gave this description of him to the Police the moment I found he had drove off with my property; and if he thinks there an't laws enough he's much mistook -- I tell him that.
"I do assure you, Mrs. Harris, when I stood in the railways office that morning with my bundle on my arm and one patten in my hand, you might have knocked me down with a feather, far less porkmangers which was a lumping against me, continual and sewere all round. I was drove about like a brute animal and almost worritted into fits, when a gentleman with a large shirt-collar and a hook nose, and a eyelike one of Mr. Sweedlepipe's hawks, and long locks of hair, and wiskers that I wouldn't have no lady as I was engaged to meet suddenly a turning round a corner, for any sum of money you could offer me, says, laughing, 'Halloa, Mrs. Gamp, what are you up to!' I didn't know him from a man (except by his clothes); but I says faintly, 'If you're a Christian man, show me where to get a second-cladge ticket for Manjestir, and have me put in a carriage, or I shall drop!' Which he kindly did, in a cheerful kind of a way, skipping about in the strangest manner as ever I see, making all kinds of actions, and looking and vinking at me from under the brim of his hat (which was a good deal turned up), to that extent, that I should have thought he meant something but for being so flurried as not to have no thoughts at all until I was put into a carriage along with a individgle -- the politest as ever I see -- in a shepherd's plaid suit with a long gold watch -- guard hanging round his neck, and his hand a trembling through nervousness worse than a aspian leaf.
"'I'm wery appy, ma'am,' he says-the politest vice as ever I heerd! -- 'to go down with a lady belonging to our party.'
"'Our party, sir!' I says.
"'Yes, ma'am,' he says, 'I'm Mr. Wilson. I'm going down with the wigs.'
"Mrs. Harris, wen he said he was agoing down with the wigs, such was my state of confugion and worrit that I thought he must be connected with the Government in some ways or another, but directly moment he explains himself, for he says:
"'There's not a theatre in London worth mentioning that I don't attend punctually. There's five-and-twenty wigs in these boxes, ma'am,' he says, a pinting towards a heap of luggage, 'as was worn at the Queen's Fancy Ball. There's a black wig, ma'am,' he says, 'as was worn by Garrick; there's a red one, ma'am,' he says, 'as was worn by Kean; there's a brown one, ma'am,' he says, 'as was worn by Kemble; there's a yellow one, ma'am,' he says, 'as was made for Cooke; there's a grey one, ma'am,' he says, 'as I measured Mr. Young for, myself; and there's a white one, ma'am, that Mr. Macready went mad in. There's a flaxen one as was got up express for Jenny Lind the night she came out at the Italian Opera. It was very much applauded was that wig, ma'am, through the evening. It had a great reception. The audience broke out the moment they see it.'
"'Are you in Mr. Sweedlepipes's line, sir?' I says.
"'Which is that, ma'am?' he says -- the softest and genteelest vice I ever heerd, I do declare, Mrs. Harris!
"'Hair-dressing,' I says.
"'Yes, ma'am,' he replies, 'I have that honour. Do you see this, ma'am?' he says, holding up his right hand.
"'I never see such a trembling,' I says to him. And I never did!
"'All along of Her Majesty's Costume Ball, ma'am,' he says. 'The excitement did it. Two hundred and fifty-seven ladies of the first rank and fashion had their heads got up on that occasion by this hand, and my t'other one. I was at it eight-and-forty hours on my feet, ma'am, without rest. It was a Powder ball, ma'am. We have a Powder piece at Liverpool. Have I not the pleasure,' he says, looking at me curious, 'of addressing Mrs. Gamp?'
"'Gamp I am, sir,' I replies. 'Both by name and natur.'
"'Would you like to see your beeograffer's moustache and wishers, ma'am? 'he says. 'I've got 'em in this box.'
"'Drat my beeograffer, sir,' I says, 'he has given me no region to wish to know anything about him.'
"'Oh, Missus Gamp, I ask your pardon' -- I never see such a polite man, Mrs. Harris! 'P'raps,' he says, 'if you're not of the party, you don't know who it was that assisted you into this carriage!'
"'No, sir,' I says, 'I don't, indeed.'
"'Why, ma'am,' he says, a wisperin', 'that was George, ma'am.'
"'What George, sir? I don't know no George,' says I.
"'The great George, ma'am,' says he. 'The Crookshanks.'
"If you'll believe me, Mrs. Harris, I turns my head, and see the wery man a making picturs of me on his thumb nail, at the winder! while another of 'em -- a tall, slim, melancolly gent, with dark hair and a bage vice -- looks over his shoulder, with his head o' one side as if he understood the subject, and cooly says, 'I've draw'd her several times -- in Punch,' he says too! The owdacious wretch!
"Which I never touches, Mr. Wilson,' I remarks out loud -- I couldn't have helped it, Mrs. Harris, if you had took my life for it! -- 'which I never touches, Mr. Wilson, on account of the lemon!'
"'Hush!' says Mr. Wilson. 'There he is!'
"I only see a fat gentleman with curly black hair and a merry face, a standing on the platform rubbing his two hands over one another, as if he were washing of 'em, and shaking his head and shoulders wery much; and I was wondering wot Mr. Wilson meant, wen he says, 'Thare's Dougladge, Mrs. Gamp!' he says. 'There's him as wrote the life of Mrs. Caudle!'
"Mrs. Harris, wen I see that lettle willain bodily before me, it gives me such a turn that I was all in a tremble. If I hadn't lost my umbereller in the cab, I must have done him a injury with it! Oh the bragian little traitor! right among the ladies, Mrs. Harris; looking his wickedest and deceitfullest of eyes while he was a talking to 'em; laughing at his own jokes as loud as you please; holding his hat in one hand to cool his-sef, and tossing back his iron-grey mop of a head of hair with the other, as if it was so much shavings -- there, Mrs. Harris, I see him getting encouragement from the pretty delooded creeturs, which never know'd that sweet saint, Mrs. C, as I did, and being treated with as much confidence as if he'd never wiolated none of the domestic ties, and never showed up nothing! Oh the aggravation of that Dougladge! Mrs. Harris, if I hadn't apologiged to Mr. Wilson, and put a little bottle to my lips which was in my pocket for the journey, and which it is very rare indeed I have about me, I could not have abared the sight of him -- there, Mrs. Harris! I could not! -- I must have tore him, or have give way and fainted.
"While the bell was a ringing, and the luggage of the hammertoors in great confugion -- all a litter'ry indeed -- was handled up, Mr. Wilson demeens his-sef politer than ever. 'That,' he says, 'Mrs. Gamp,' a pinting to a officer-looking gentleman, that a lady with a little basket was a taking care on, 'is another of our party. He's a author too -- continivally going up the walley of the Muses, Mrs. Gamp. There,' he says, alluding to a fine looking, portly gentleman, with a face like a amiable full moon, and a short mild gent, with a pleasant smile, 'is two more of our artists, Mrs. G, well beknowed at the Royal Academy, as sure as stones is stones, and eggs is eggs. This resolute gent,' he says, 'a coming along here as is apperently going to take the railways by storm -- him with the tight legs, and his weskit very much buttoned, and his mouth very much shut, and his coat a flying open, and his heels a giving it to the platform, is a cricket and beeograffer, and our principal tragegian.' 'But who,' says I, when the bell had left off, and the train had begun to move, 'who, Mr. Wilson, is the wild gent in the perspiration, that's been a tearing up and down all this time with a great box of papers under his arm, a talking to everybody wery indistinct, and exciting of himself dreadful?' 'Why?' says Mr. Wilson, with a smile. 'Because, sir,' I says, 'he's being left behind.' 'Good God!' cries Mr. Wilson, turning pale and putting out his head, 'it's your beeograffer -- the Manager -- and he has got the money, Mrs. Gamp!' Hous'ever, some one chucked him into the train and we went off. At the first shreek of the whistle, Mrs. Harris, I turned white, for I had took notice of some of them dear creeturs as was the cause of my being in company, and I know'd the danger that -- but Mr. Wilson, which is a married man, puts his hands on mine, and says, 'Mrs. Gamp, calm yourself; it's only the Ingein.'"
Of those of the party with whom these humorous liberties were taken, there are only two now living to complain of their friendly caricaturist; and Mr. Cruikshank will perhaps join me in a frank forgiveness not the less heartily for the kind words about himself that reached me from Broadstairs not many days after Mrs. Gamp. "At Canterbury yesterday" (2 September) "I bought George Cruikshank's Bottle. I think it very powerful indeed; the two last plates most admirable, except that the boy and girl in the very last are too young, and the girl more like a circus-phenomenon than that no-phenomenon she is intended to represent. I question, however, whether anybody, else living could have done it so well. There is a woman in the last plate but one, garrulous about the murder, with a child in her arms, that is as good as Hogarth. Also, the man who is stooping down, looking at the body. The philosophy of the thing, as a great lesson, I think all wrong; because to be striking, and original too, the drinking should have begun in sorrow, or poverty, or ignorance -- the three things in which, in its awful aspect, it does begin. The design would then have been a double-handed sword -- but too 'radical' for good old George, I suppose."
The same letter made mention of other matters of interest. His accounts for the first half-year of Dombey were so much in excess of what had been expected from the new publishing arrangements, that from this date all embarrassments connected with money were brought to a close. His future profits varied of course with his varying sales, but there was always enough, and savings were now to begin. "The profits of the half-year are brilliant. Deducting the hundred pounds a month paid six times, I have still to receive two thousand two hundred and twenty pounds, which I think is tidy. Don't you?... Stone is still here, and I lamed his foot by walking him seventeen miles the day before yesterday; but otherwise he flourisheth.... Why don't you bring down a carpet-bag-full of books, and take possession of the drawing-room all the morning? My opinion is that Goldsmith would die more easy by the seaside. Charley and Walley have been taken to school this morning in high spirits, and at London Bridge will be folded in the arms of Blimber. The Government is about to issue a Sanitary commission, and Lord John, I am right well pleased to say, as appointed Henry Austin secretary." Mr. Austin, who afterwards held the same office under the Sanitary Act, had married his youngest sister Letitia; and of his two youngest brothers I may add that Alfred, also a civil engineer, became one of the sanitary inspectors, and that Augustus was now placed in a city employment by Mr. Thomas Chapman, which after a little time he surrendered, and then found his way to America, where he died.
The next Broadstairs letter (5 September) resumed the subject of Goldsmith, whose life I was then bringing nearly to completion. "Supposing your Goldsmith made a general sensation, what should you think of doing a cheap edition of his works? I have an idea that we might do some things of that sort with considerable effect. There is really no edition of the great British novelists in a handy nice form, and would it not be a likely move to do it with some attractive feature that could not be given to it by the Teggs and such people? Supposing one wrote an essay on Fielding for instance, and another on Smollett, and another on Sterne, recalling how one read them as a child (no one read them younger than I, I think), and how one gradually grew up into a different knowledge of them, and so forth -- would it not be interesting to many people? I should like to know if you descry anything in this. It is one of the dim notions fluctuating within me.... The profits, brave indeed, are four hundred pounds more than the utmost I expected.... The same yearnings have been mine, in reference to the Praslin business. It is pretty clear to me, for one thing, that the Duchess was one of the most uncomfortable women in the world and that it would have been hard work for anybody to have got on with her. It is strange to see a bloody reflection of our friends Eugène Sue and Dumas in the whole melodrama. Don't you think so... remembering what we often said of the canker at the root of all that Paris life? I dreamed of you, in a wild manner, all last night.... A sea fog here, which prevents one's seeing the low-water mark. A circus on the cliff to the right, and of course I have a box to-night! Deep slowness in the Inimitable's brain. A shipwreck on the Goodwin Sands last Sunday, which WALLY, with a hawk's eye, SAW GO DOWN for which assertion, subsequently confirmed and proved, he was horribly maltreated at the time."
Devonshire Terrace meanwhile had been quitted by his tenant; and coming up joyfully himself to take possession, he brought for completion in his old home an important chapter of Dombey. On the way he lost his portmanteau, but "Thank God! the MS. of the chapter wasn't in it. Whenever I travel, and have anything of that valuable article, I always carry it in my pocket." He had begun at this time to find difficulties in writing at Broadstairs, of which he told me on his return. "Vagrant music is getting to that height here, and is so impossible to be escaped from, that I fear Broadstairs and I must part company in time to come. Unless it pours of rain, I cannot write half-an-hour without the most excruciating organs, fiddles, bells, or glee-singers. There is a violin of the most torturing kind under the window now (time, ten in the morning) and an Italian box of music on the steps -- both in full blast." He closed with a mention of improvements in the Margate theatre since his memorable last visit. In the past two years it had been managed by a son of the great comedian, Dowton, with whose name it is pleasant to connect this note. "We went to the manager's benefit on Wednesday" (10 September): "As You Like It really very well done, and a most excellent house. Mr. Dowton delivered a sensible and modest kind of speech on the occasion, setting forth his conviction that a means of instruction and entertainment possessing such a literature as the stage in England, could not pass away; and that what inspired great minds, and delighted great men, two thousand years ago, and did the same in Shakespeare's day, must have within itself a principle of life superior to the whim and fashion of the hour. And with that, and with cheers, he retired. He really seems a most respectable man, and he has cleared out this dust-hole of a theatre into something like decency."
He was to be in London at the end of the month: but I had from him meanwhile his preface for his first completed book in the popular edition (Pickwick being now issued in that form, with an illustration by Leslie); and sending me shortly after (12 September) the first few slips of the story of the Haunted Man proposed for his next Christmas book, he told me he must finish it in less than a month if it was to be done at all, Dombey having now become very importunate. This prepared me for his letter of a week's later date. "Have been at work all day, and am seedy in consequence. Dombey takes so much time, and requires to be so carefully done, that I really begin to have serious doubts whether it is wise to go on with the Christmas book. Your kind help is invoked. What do you think? Would there be any distinctly bad effect in holding this idea over for another twelvemonth? saying nothing whatever till November; and then announcing in the Dombey that its occupation of my entire time prevents the continuance of the Christmas series until next year, when it is proposed to be renewed. There might not be anything in that but a possibility of an extra lift for the little book when it did come -- eh? On the other hand, I am very loath to lose the money. And still more so to leave any gap at Christmas firesides which I ought to fill. In short I am (forgive the expression) BLOWED if I know what to do. I am a literary Kitely -- and you ought to sympathise and help. If I had no Dombey, I could write and finish the story with the bloom on ---- but there's the rub.... Which unfamiliar quotation reminds me of a Shakespearean (put an e before the s; I like it much better) speculation of mine. What do you say to 'take arms against a sea of troubles' having been originally written 'make arms,' which is the action of swimming. It would get rid of a horrible grievance in the figure, and make it plain and apt. I think of setting up a claim to live in The House at Stratford rent-free, on the strength of this suggestion. You are not to suppose that I am anything but disconcerted to-day, in the agitation of my soul concerning Christmas; but I have been brooding, like Dombey himself, over Dombey these two days, until I really can't afford to he depressed." To his Shakespearean suggestion I replied that it would hardly give him the claim he thought of setting up, for that swimming through your troubles would not be "opposing" them. And upon the other point I had no doubt of the wisdom of delay. The result was that the Christmas story was laid aside until the following year.
The year's closing incidents were his chairmanship at a meeting of the Leeds Mechanics' Society on 1 December, and his opening of the Glasgow Athenæum on the 28th; where, to immense assemblages in both, he contrasted the obstinacy and cruelty of the power of ignorance with the docility and gentleness of the power of knowledge; pointed the use of popular institutes in supplementing what is first learnt in life, by the later education for its employments and the equipment for its domesticities and duties, which the grown person needs from day to day as much as the child its reading and writing; and he closed at Glasgow with allusion to a bazaar set on foot by the ladies of the city, under patronage of the queen, for adding books to its Athenæum Library. "We never tire of the friendships we form with books," he said, "and here they will possess the added charm of association with their donors. Some neighbouring Glasgow widow will be mistaken for that remoter one whom Sir Roger de Coverley could not forget; Sophia's muff will be seen and loved, by another than Tom Jones, going down the High Street some winter day; and the grateful students of a library thus filled will be apt, as to the fair ones who have helped to people it, to couple them in their thoughts with Principles of the Population and Additions to the History of Europe, by an author of older date than Sheriff Alison." At which no one laughed so loudly as the Sheriff himself, who had cordially received Dickens as his guest, and stood with him on the platform.
On the last day but one of the old year he wrote to me from Edinburgh. "We came over this afternoon, leaving Glasgow at one o'clock. Alison lives in style in a handsome country house out of Glasgow, and is a capital fellow, with an agreeable wife, nice little daughter, cheerful niece, all things pleasant in his household. I went over the prison and lunatic asylum with him yesterday; at the Lord Provost's had gorgeous state-lunch with the Town Council; and was entertained at a great dinner-party at night. Unbounded hospitality and enthoozymoozy the order of the day, and I have never been more heartily received anywhere, or enjoyed myself more completely. The great chemist, Gregory, who spoke at the meeting, returned with us to Edinburgh to-day, and gave me many new lights on the road regarding the extraordinary pains Macaulay seems for years to have taken to make himself disagreeable and disliked here. No one else, on that side, would have had the remotest chance of being unseated at the last election; and, though Gregory voted for him, I thought he seemed quite as well pleased as anybody else that he didn't come in.... I am sorry to report the Scott Monument a failure. It is like the spire of a Gothic church taken off and stuck in the ground." On the first day of 1843, still in Edinburgh, he wrote again: "Jeffrey, who is obliged to hold a kind of morning court in his own study during the holidays, came up yesterday in great consternation, to tell me that a person had just been to make and sign a declaration of bankruptcy; and that on looking at the signature he saw it was James Sheridan Knowles. He immediately sent after, and spoke with him; and of what passed I am eager to talk with you." The talk will bring back the main subject of this chapter, from which another kind of strolling has led me away; for its results were other amateur performances, of which the object was to benefit Knowles.
This was the year when a committee had been formed for the purchase and preservation of Shakespeare's house at Stratford, and the performances in question took the form of contributions to the endowment of a curatorship to be held by the author of Virginius and the Hunchback. The endowment was abandoned upon the town and council of Stratford finally (and very properly) taking charge of the house; but the sum realised was not withdrawn from the object really desired, and one of the finest of dramatists profited yet more largely by it than Leigh Hunt did by the former enterprise. It may be proper to remark also, that, like Leigh Hunt, Knowles received soon after, through Lord John Russell, the same liberal pension; and that smaller claims to which attention had been similarly drawn were not forgotten, Mr. Poole, after much kind help from the Bounty Fund, being a little later placed on the Civil List for half the amount by the same minister and friend of letters.
Dickens threw himself into the new scheme with all his old energy; and prefatory mention may be made of our difficulty in selection of a suitable play to alternate with our old Ben Jonson. The Alchemist had been such a favourite with some of us, that, before finally laying it aside, we went through two or three rehearsals, in which I recollect thinking Dickens's Sir Epicure Mammon as good as anything he had done; and now the same trouble, with the same result, arising from a vain desire to please everybody, was taken successively with Beaumont and Fletcher's Beggar's Bush, and Goldsmith's Good Natured Man, with Jerrold's characteristic drama of the Rent Day, and Bulwer's masterly comedy of Money. Choice was at last made of Shakespeare's Merry Wives, in which Lemon played Falstaff, I took again the jealous husband as in Jonson's play, and Dickens was Justice Shallow; to which was added a farce, Love, Law, and Physick, in which Dickens took the part he had acted long ago, before his days of authorship; and, besides the professional actresses engaged, we had for our Dame Quickly the lady to whom the world owes incomparably the best Concordance to Shakespeare that has ever been published, Mrs. Cowden Clarke. The success was undoubtedly very great. At Manchester, Liverpool, and Edinburgh there were single representations; but Birmingham and Glasgow had each two nights, and two were given at the Haymarket, on one of which the queen and prince were present. The gross receipts from the nine performances, before the necessary large deductions for London and local charges, were two thousand five hundred and fifty-one pounds and eightpence. The first representation was in London on 15 April, the last in Glasgow on 20 July, and everywhere Dickens was the leading figure. In the enjoyment as in the labour he was first. His animal spirits, unresting and supreme, were the attraction of rehearsal at morning, and of the stage at night. At the quiet early dinner, and the more jovial unrestrained supper, where all engaged were assembled daily, his was the brightest face, the lightest step, the pleasantest word. There seemed to be no need for rest to that wonderful vitality.
Of the novel begun in Switzerland, at which he had worked assiduously for twenty months, and which the April number in 1848 brought to its close, some account remains to be given.
II. "DOMBEY AND
Though his proposed new "book in shilling numbers" had been mentioned to me three months before he quitted England, he knew little himself at that time or when he left excepting the fact, then also named, that it was to do with Pride what its predecessor had done with Selfishness. But this limit he soon overpassed; and the succession of independent groups of character, surprising for the variety of their forms and handling, with which he enlarged and enriched his plan, went far beyond the range of the passion of Mr. Dombey and Mr. Dombey's second wife.
Obvious causes have led to grave under-estimates of this novel. Its first five numbers forced up interest and expectation so high that the rest of necessity fell short; but it is not therefore true of the general conception that thus the wine of it had been drawn, and only the lees left. In the treatment of acknowledged masterpieces in literature it not seldom occurs that the genius and the art of the master have not pulled together to the close; but if a work of imagination is to forfeit its higher meed of praise because its pace at starting has not been uniformly kept, hard measure would have to be dealt to books of undeniable greatness. Among other critical severities it was said here, that Paul died at the beginning not for any need of the story, but only to interest its readers somewhat more; and that Mr. Dombey relented at the end for just the same reason. What is now to be told will show how little ground existed for either imputation. The so-called "violent change" in the hero has more lately been revived in the notices of Mr. Taine, who says that "it spoils a fine novel"; but it will be seen that in the apparent alteration no unnaturalness of change was involved, and certainly the adoption of it was not a sacrifice to "public morality." While every other portion of the tale had to submit to such varieties in development as the characters themselves entailed, the design affecting Paul and his father had been planned from the opening, and was carried without real alteration to the close. Of the perfect honesty with which Dickens himself repelled such charges as those to which I have adverted, when he wrote the preface to his collected edition, remarkable proof appears in the letter to myself which accompanied the manuscript of his proposed first number. No other line of the tale had at this time been placed on paper.
When the first chapter only was done, and again when all was finished but eight slips, he had sent me letters formerly quoted. What follows came with the manuscript of the first four chapters on 25 July. "I will now go on to give you an outline of my immediate intentions in reference to Dombey. I design to show Mr. D. with that one idea of the Son taking firmer and firmer possession of him, and swelling and bloating his pride to a prodigious extent. As the boy begins to grow up, I shall show him quite impatient for his getting on, and urging his masters to set him great tasks, and the like. But the natural affection of the boy will turn towards the despised sister; and I purpose showing her learning all sorts of things, of her own application and determination, to assist him in his lessons: and helping him always. When the boy is about ten years old (in the fourth number), he will be taken ill, and will die; and when he is ill, and when he is dying, I mean to make him turn always for refuge to the sister still, and keep the stern affection of the father at a distance. So Mr. Dombey -- for all his greatness, and for all his devotion to the child -- will find himself at arms' length from him even then; and will see that his love and confidence are all bestowed upon his sister, whom Mr. Dombey has used -- and so has the boy himself too, for that matter -- as a mere convenience and handle to him. The death of the boy is a death-blow, of course, to all the father's schemes and cherished hopes; and 'Dombey and Son,' as Miss Tox will say at the end of the number, 'is a Daughter after all.'... . From that time, I purpose changing his feeling of indifference and uneasiness towards his daughter into a positive hatred. For he will always remember how the boy had his arm round her neck when he was dying, and whispered to her, and would take things only from her hand, and never thought of him.... At the same time I shall change her feeling towards him for one of a greater desire to love him, and to be loved by him; engendered in her compassion for his loss, and her love for the dead boy whom, in his way, he loved so well too. So I mean to carry the story on, through all the branches and off-shoots and meanderings that come up; and through the decay and downfall of the house, and the bankruptcy of Dombey, and all the rest of it; when his only staff and treasure, and his unknown Good Genius always, will be this rejected daughter, who will come out better than any son at last, and whose love for him, when discovered and understood, will be his bitterest reproach. For the struggle with himself, which goes on in all such obstinate natures, will have ended then; and the sense of his injustice, which you may be sure has never quitted him, will have at last a gentler office than that of only making him more harshly unjust.... I rely very much on Susan Nipper grown up, and acting partly as Florence's maid, and partly as a kind of companion to her, for a strong character throughout the book. I also rely on the Toodles, and on Polly, who, like everybody else, will be found by Mr. Dombey to have gone over to his daughter and become attached to her. This is what cooks call 'the stock of the soup.' All kinds of things will be added to it, of course." Admirable is the illusration thus afforded of his way of working, and interesting the evidence it gives of the feeling for his art with which this book was begun.
The close of the letter put an important question affecting gravely a leading person in the tale.... "About the boy, who appears in the last chapter of the first number, I think it would be a good thing to disappoint all the expectations that chapter seems to raise of his happy connection with the story and the heroine, and to show him gradually and naturally trailing away, from that love of adventure and boyish light-heartedness, into negligence, idleness, dissipation, dishonesty, and ruin. To show, in short, that common, every-day, miserable declension of which we know so much in our ordinary life, to exhibit something of the philosophy of it, in great temptations and an easy nature; and to show how the good turns into bad, by degrees. If I kept some little notion of Florence always at the bottom of it, I think it might be made very powerful and very useful. What do you think? Do you think it may be done, without making people angry? I could bring out Solomon Gills and Captain Cuttle well, through such a history; and I descry, anyway, an opportunity for good scenes between Captain Cuttle and Miss Tox. This question of the boy is very important.... Let me hear all you think about it. Hear! I wish I could."
For reasons that need not be dwelt upon here, but in which Dickens ultimately acquiesced, Walter was reserved for a happier future; and the idea thrown out took modified shape, amid circumstances better suited to its excellent capabilities, in the striking character of Richard Carstone in the tale of Bleak House. But another point had risen meanwhile for settlement not admitting of delay. In the first enjoyment of writing after his long rest, to which a former letter has referred, he had over-written his number by nearly a fifth; and upon his proposal to transfer the fourth chapter to the second number, replacing it by another of fewer pages, I had to object that this might damage his interest at starting. Thus he wrote on 7 August: ".... I have received your letter to-day with the greatest delight, and am overjoyed to find that you think so well of the number. I thought well of it myself, and that it was a great plunge into a story; but I did not know how far I might be stimulated by my paternal affection.... What should you say, for a notion of the illustrations, to 'Miss Tox introduces the Party?' and 'Mr. Dombey and Family?' meaning Polly Toodle, the baby, Mr. Dombey, and little Florence: whom I think it would be well to have. Walter, his uncle, and Captain Cuttle, might stand over. It is a great question with me now, whether I had better take this last chapter bodily out, and make it the last chapter of the second number; writing some other new one to close the first number. I think it would be impossible to take out six pages without great pangs. Do you think such a proceeding as I suggest would weaken number one very much? I wish you would tell me, as soon as you can after receiving this, what your opinion is on the point. If you thought it would weaken the first number, beyond the counter-balancing advantage of strengthening the second, I would cut down somehow or other, and let it go. I shall be anxious to hear your opinion. In the meanwhile I will go on with the second, which I have just begun. I have not been quite myself since we returned from Chamounix, owing to the great heat." Two days later: "I have begun a little chapter to end the first number, and certainly think it will be well to keep the ten pages of Wally and Co. entire for number two. But this is still subject to your opinion, which I am very anxious to know. I have not been in writing cue all the week; but really the weather has rendered it next to impossible to work." Four days later: "I shall send you with this (on the chance of your being favourable to that view of the subject) a small chapter to close the first number, in lieu of the Solomon Gills one. I have been hideously idle all the week, and have done nothing but this trifling interloper; but hope to begin again on Monday -- ding dong.... The inkstand is to be cleaned out to-night, and re-filled, preparatory to execution. I trust I may shed a good deal of ink in the next fortnight." Then, the day following, on arrival of my letter, he submitted to a hard necessity. "I received yours today. A decided facer to me! I had been counting, alas! with a miser's greed, upon the gained ten pages.... No matter. I have no doubt you are right, and strength is everything. The addition of two lines to each page, or something less, -- coupled with the enclosed cuts, will bring it all to bear smoothly. In case more cutting is wanted, I must ask you to try your hand. I shall agree to whatever you propose." These cuttings, absolutely necessary as they were, were not without much disadvantage; and in the course of them he had to sacrifice a passage foreshadowing his final intention as to Dombey. It would have shown, thus early, something of the struggle with itself that such pride must always go through; and I think it worth preserving in a note.
Several letters now expressed his anxiety about the illustrations. A nervous dread of caricature in the face of his merchant-hero, had led him to indicate by a living person the type of city-gentleman he would have had the artist select; and this is all he meant by his reiterated urgent request, "I do wish he could get a glimpse of A, for he is the very Dombey." But as the glimpse of A was not to be had, it was resolved to send for selection by himself glimpses of other letters of the alphabet, actual heads as well as fanciful ones; and the sheetful I sent out, which he returned when the choice was made, I here reproduce in fac-simile. In itself amusing, it has now the important use of showing, once for all, in regard to Dickens's intercourse with his artists, that they certainly had not an easy time with him; that, even beyond what is ordinary between author and illustrator, his requirements were exacting; that he was apt, as he has said himself, to build up temples in his mind not always makeable with hands; that in the results he had rarely anything but disappointment; and that of all notions to connect with him the most preposterous would be that which directly reversed these relations, and depicted him as receiving from any artist the inspiration he was always vainly striving to give. An assertion of this kind was contradicted in my first volume; but it has since been repeated so explicitly, that to prevent any possible misconstruction from a silence I would fain have persisted in, the distasteful subject is again reluctantly introduced.
It originated with a literary friend of the excellent artist by whom Oliver Twist was illustrated from month to month, during the earlier part of its monthly issue. This gentleman stated, in a paper written and published in America, that Mr. Cruikshank, by executing the plates before opportunity was afforded him of seeing the letter press, had suggested to the writer the finest effects in his story; and to this, opposing my clear recollection of all the time the tale was in progress, it became my duty to say that within my personal knowledge the alleged fact was not true. "Dickens," the artist is reported as saying to his admirer, "ferreted out that bundle of drawings, and when he came to the one which represents Fagin in the cell, he silently studied it for half an hour, and told me he was tempted to change the whole plot of his story.... I consented to let him write up to my designs; and that was the way in which Fagin, Sikes, and Nancy were created." Happily I was able to add the complete refutation of this folly by producing a letter of Dickens written at the time, which proved incontestably that the closing illustrations, including the two specially named in support of the preposterous charge, Sikes and his dog, and Fagin in his Cell, had not even been seen by Dickens until his finished book was on the eve of appearance. As however the distinguished artist, notwithstanding the refreshment of his memory by this letter, has permitted himself again to endorse the statement of his friend, I can only again print the words with which Dickens himself repels the imputation on his memory. To some it may be more satisfactory if I print the letter in fac-simile; and so leave for ever a charge in itself so incredible that nothing would have justified farther allusion to it but the knowledge of my friend's old and true regard for Mr. Cruikshank, of which evidence will shortly appear, and my own respect for an original genius well able to subsist of itself without taking what belongs to others.
Resuming the Dombey letters I find him on 30 August in better heart about his illustrator. "I shall gladly acquiesce in whatever more changes or omissions you propose. Browne seems to be getting on well.... He will have a good subject in Paul's christening. Mr. Chick is like D, if you'll mention that when you think of it. The little chapter of Miss Tox and the Major, which you alas! (but quite wisely) rejected from the first number, I have altered for the last of the second. I have not quite finished the middle chapter yet -- having, I should say, three good days' work to do at it; but I hope it will be all a worthy successor to number one. I will send it as soon as finished." Then, a little later: "Browne is certainly interesting himself, and taking pains. I think the cover very good: perhaps with a little too much in it, but that is an ungrateful objection." The second week of September brought me the finished MS. of number two; and his letter of 3 October, noticing objections taken to it, gives additional touches to this picture of him while at work. The matter on which he is engaged is one of his masterpieces. There is nothing in all his writings more perfect, for what it shows of his best qualities, than the life and death of Paul Dombey. The comedy is admirable; nothing strained, everything hearty and wholesome in the laughter and fun; all who contribute to the mirth, Doctor Blimber and his pupils, Mr. Toots, the Chicks and the Toodles, Miss Tox and the Major, Paul, and Mrs. Pipchin, up to his highest mark; and the serious scenes never falling short of it, from the death of Paul's mother in the first number, to that of Paul himself in the fifth, which, as the author of the Two Old Men's Tales with hardly exaggeration said, threw a whole nation into mourning. But see how eagerly this fine writer takes every suggestion, how little of self-esteem and self-sufficiency there is, with what a consciousness of the tendency of his humour to exuberance he surrenders what is needful to restrain it, and of what small account to him is any special piece of work in his care and his considerateness for the general design. I think of Ben Jonson's experience of the greatest of all writers. "He was indeed honest, and of an open and free nature; had an excellent phantasy, brave notions and gentle expressions; wherein he flowed with that facility, that sometimes it was necessary he should be stopped." Who it was that stopped him, and the ease of doing it, no one will doubt. Whether he, as well as the writer of later time, might not with more advantage have been left alone, is the only question.
Thus ran the letter of 3 October: "Miss Tox's colony I will smash. Walter's allusion to Carker (would you take it all out?) shall be dele'd. Of course, you understand the man? I turned that speech over in my mind; but I thought it natural that a boy should run on, with such a subject, under the circumstances: having the matter so presented to him.... I thought of the possibility of malice on christening points of faith, and put the drag on as I wrote. Where would you make the insertion, and to what effect? That shall be done too. I want you to think the number sufficiently good stoutly to back up the first. It occurs to me -- might not your doubt about the christening be a reason for not making the ceremony the subject of an illustration? Just turn this over. Again: if I could do it (I shall have leisure to consider the possibility before I begin), do you think it would be advisable to make number three a kind of half-way house between Paul's infancy, and his being eight or nine years old? -- In that case I should probably not kill him until the fifth number. Do you think the people so likely to be pleased with Florence, and Walter, as to relish another number of them at their present age ? Otherwise, Walter will be two or three and twenty, straightway. I wish you would think of this.... I am sure you are right about the christening. It shall be artfully and easily amended.... Eh?"
Meanwhile, two days before this letter, his first number had been launched with a sale that transcended his hopes, and brought back Nickleby days. "The Dombey sale is BRILLIANT!" he wrote to me on the 11th. "I had put before me thirty thousand as the limit of the most extreme success, saying that if we should reach that, I should be more than satisfied and more than happy; you will judge how happy I am ! I read the second number here last night to the most prodigious and uproarious delight of the circle. I never saw or heard people laugh so. You will allow me to observe that my reading of the Major has merit." What a valley of the shadow he had just been passing, in his journey through his Christmas book, has before been told; but always, and with only too much eagerness, he sprang up under pressure. "A week of perfect idleness," he wrote to me on the 26th, "has brought me round again -- idleness so rusting and devouring, so complete and unbroken, that I am quite glad to write the heading of the first chapter of number three to-day. I shall be slow at first, I fear, in consequence of that change of the plan. But I allow myself nearly three weeks for the number; designing, at present, to start for Paris on 16 November. Full particulars in future bills. Just going to bed. I think I can make a good effect, on the after story, of the feeling created by the additional number before Paul's death."... . Five more days confirmed him in this hope. "I am at work at Dombey with good speed, thank God. All well here. Country stupendously beautiful. Mountains covered with snow. Rich, crisp weather." There was one drawback. The second number had gone out to him, and the illustrations he found to be so "dreadfully bad" that they made him "curl his legs up." They made him also more than usually anxious in regard to a special illustration on which he set much store, for the part he had in hand.
The first chapter of it was sent me only four days later (nearly half the entire part, so freely his fancy was now flowing and overflowing), with intimation for the artist: "The best subject for Browne will be at Mrs. Pipchin's; and if he liked to do a quiet odd thing, Paul, Mrs. Pipchin, and the Cat, by the fire, would be very good for the story. I earnestly hope he will think it worth a little extra care. The second subject, in case he shouldn't take a second from that same chapter, I will shortly describe as soon as I have it clearly (to-morrow or next day), and send it to you by post." The result was not satisfactory; but as the artist more than redeemed it in the later course of the tale, and the present disappointment was mainly the incentive to that better success, the mention of the failure here will be excused for what it illustrates of Dickens himself. "I am really distressed by the illustration of Mrs. Pipchin and Paul. It is so frightfully and wildly wide of the mark. Good Heaven! in the commonest and most literal construction of the text, it is all wrong. She is described as an old lady, and Paul's 'miniature armchair' is mentioned more than once. He ought to be sitting in a little arm-chair down in a corner of the fireplace, staring up at her. I can't say what pain and vexation it is to be so utterly misrepresented. I would cheerfully have given a hundred pounds to have kept this illustration out of the book. He newer could have got that idea of Mrs. Pipchin if he had attended to the text. Indeed I think he does better without the text; for then the notion is made easy to him in short description, and he can't help taking it in."
He felt the disappointment more keenly, because the conception of the grim old boarding-house keeper had taken back his thoughts to the miseries of his own child-life, and made her, as her prototype in verity was, a part of the terrible reality. I had forgotten, until I again read this letter, that he thus early proposed to tell me that story of his boyish sufferings which a question from myself, of some months later date, so fully elicited. He was now hastening on with the close of his third number, to be ready for departure to Paris (4 November). ".... I hope to finish the number by next Tuesday or Wednesday. It is hard writing under these bird-of-passage circumstances, but I have no reason to complain, God knows, having come to no knot yet.... I hope you will like Mrs. Pipchin's establishment. It is from the life, and I was there -- I don't suppose I was eight years old; but I remember it all as well, and certainly understood it as well, as I do now. We should be devilish sharp in what we do to children. I thought of that passage in my small life, at Geneva. Shall I leave you my life in MS when I die? There are some things in it that would touch you very much, and that might go on the same shelf with the first volume of Holcroft's."
On the Monday week after that was written he left Lausanne for Paris, and my first letter to him there was to say that he had overwritten his number by three pages. "I have taken out about two pages and a half," he wrote by return from the hotel Brighton, "and the rest I must ask you to take out with the assurance that you will satisfy me in whatever you do. The sale, prodigious indeed ! I am very thankful." Next day he wrote as to Walter "I see it will be best as you advise, to give that idea up; and indeed I don't feel it would be reasonable to carry it out now. I am far from sure it could be wholesomely done, after the interest he has acquired. But when I have disposed of Paul (poor boy!) I will consider the subject farther." The subject was never resumed. He was at the opening of his admirable fourth part, when, on 6 December, he wrote from the Rue de Courcelles: "Here am I, writing letters, and delivering opinions, politico-economical and otherwise, as if there were no undone number, and no undone Dick! Well. Cosi va il mondo (God bless me! Italian! I beg your pardon) -- and one must keep one's spirits up, if possible, even under Dombey pressure. Paul, I shall slaughter at the end of number five. His school ought to be pretty good, but I haven't been able to dash at it freely, yet. However, I have avoided unnecessary dialogue so far, to avoid overwriting; and all I have written is point."
And so, in "point," it went to the close; the rich humour of its picture of Doctor Blimber and his pupils, alternating with the quaint pathos of its picture of little Paul; the first a good-natured exposure of the forcing-system and its fruits, as useful as the sterner revelation in Nickleby of the atrocities of Mr. Squeers, and the last even less attractive for the sweet sadness of its foreshadowing of a child's death, than for those images of a vague, strange thoughtfulness, of a shrewd unconscious intellect, of mysterious small philosophies and questionings, by which the young old-fashioned little creature has a glamour thrown over him as he is passing away. It was wonderfully original, this treatment of the part that thus preceded the close of Paul's little life; and of which the first conception, as I have shown, was an after-thought. It took the death itself out of the region of pathetic commonplaces, and gave it the proper relation to the sorrow of the little sister that survives it. It is a fairy vision to a piece of actual suffering; a sorrow with heaven's hues upon it, to a sorrow with all the bitterness of earth.
The number had been finished, he had made his visit to London, and was again in the Rue de Courcelles, when on Christmas day he sent me its hearty old wishes, and a letter of Jeffrey's on his new story of which the first and second part had reached him. "Many merry Christmases, many happy new years, unbroken friendship, great accumulation of cheerful recollections, affection on earth, and Heaven at last!... . Is it not a strange example of the hazard of writing in parts, that a man like Jeffrey should form his notion of Dombey and Miss Tox on three months' knowledge? I have asked him the same question, and advised him to keep his eye on both of them as time rolls on. I do not at heart, however, lay much real stress on his opinion, though one is naturally proud of awakening such sincere interest in the breast of an old man who has so long worn the blue and yellow.... He certainly did some service in his old criticisms, especially to Crabbe. And though I don't think so highly of Crabbe as I once did (feeling a dreary want of fancy in his poems), I think he deserved the painstaking and conscientious tracking with which Jeffrey followed him."... . Six days later he described himself sitting down to the performance of one of his greatest achievements, his number five, "most abominably dull and stupid. I have only written a slip, but I hope to get to work in strong earnest to-morrow. It occurred to me on special reflection, that the first chapter should be with Paul and Florence, and that it should leave a pleasant impression of the little fellow being happy, before the reader is called upon to see him die. I mean to have a genteel breaking-up at Doctor Blimber's therefore, for the Midsummer vacation; and to show him in a little quiet light (now dawning through the chinks of my mind), which I hope will create an agreeable impression." Then, two days later: ". . . I am working very slowly. You will see in the first two or three lines of the enclosed first subject, with what idea I am ploughing along. It is difficult; but a new way of doing it, it strikes me, and likely to be pretty."
And then, after three days more, came something of a damper to his spirits, as he thus toiled along. He saw public allusion made to a review that had appeared in The Times of his Christmas book, and it momentarily touched what he too truly called his morbid susceptibility to exasperation. "I see that the 'good old Times' are again at issue with the inimitable B. Another touch of a blunt razor on B.'s nervous system. -- Friday morning. Inimitable very mouldy and dull. Hardly able to work. Dreamed of Timeses all night. Disposed to go to New Zealand and start a magazine." But soon he sprang up, as usual, more erect for the moment's pressure; and after not many days I heard that the number was as good as done. his letter was very brief, and told me that he had worked so hard the day before (Tuesday, 12 January), and so incessantly, night as well as morning, that he had breakfasted and lain in bed till midday. "I hope I have been very successful." There was but one small chapter more to write, in which he and his little friend were to part company for ever; and the greater part of the night of the day on which it was written. Thursday, the 14th, he was wandering desolate and sad about the streets of Paris. I arrived there the following morning on my visit; and as I alighted from the malle-poste, a little before eight o'clock, I found him waiting for me at the gate of the post office bureau.
I left him on 2 February with his writing-table in readiness for number six; but on the 4th, enclosing me subjects for illustration, he told me he was "not under weigh yet. Can't begin." Then, on the 7th, his birthday, he wrote to me he should be late. "Could not begin before Thursday last, and find it very difficult indeed to fall into the new vein of the story. I see no hope of finishing before the 16th at the earliest, in which case the steam will have to be put on for this short month. But it can't be helped. Perhaps I shall get a rush of inspiration.... I will send the chapters as I write them, and you must not wait, of course, for me to read the end in type. To transfer to Florence, instantly, all the previous interest, is what I am aiming at. For that, all sorts of other points must be thrown aside in this number.... We are going to dine again at the Embassy to-day -- with a very ill will on my part. All well. I hope when I write next I shall report myself in better cue... I have had a tremendous outpouring from Jeffrey about the last part, which he thinks the best thing past, present, or to come." Three more days and I had the MS. of the completed chapter, nearly half the number (in which as printed it stands second, the small middle chapter having been transposed to its place). "I have taken the most prodigious pains with it; the difficulty, after Paul's death being very great. May you like it! My head aches over it now (I write at one o'clock in the morning), and I am strange to it.... I think I shall manage Dombey's second wife (introduced by the Major), and the beginning of that business in his present state of mind, very naturally and well.... Paul's death has amazed Paris. All sorts of people are open-mouthed with admiration.... When I have done, I'll write you such a letter! Don't cut me short in your letters just now, because I'm working hard.... I'll make up.... Snow -- snow -- snow -- a foot thick." The day after this, came the brief chapter which was printed as the first: and then, on the 16th, which he had fixed as his limit for completion, the close reached me; but I had meanwhile sent him out so much of the proof as convinced him that he had underwritten his number by at least two pages, and determined him to come to London. The incident has been told which soon after closed his residence abroad, and what remained of his story was written in England.
I shall not further dwell upon it in any detail. It extended over the whole of the year; and the interest and passion of it, when both became centred in Florence and in Edith Dombey, took stronger hold of him than any of his previous writings, excepting only the close of the Old Curiosity Shop. Jeffrey compared Florence to Little Nell, but the differences from the outset are very marked, and it is rather in what disunites or separates them that we seem to find the purpose in each. If the one, amid much strange and grotesque violence surrounding her, expresses the innocent unconsciousness of childhood to such rough ways of the world, passing unscathed as Una to her home beyond it, the other is this character in action and resistance, a brave young resolute heart that will not be crushed, and neither sinks nor yields, but works out her own redemption from earth's roughest trials. Of Edith from the first Jeffrey judged more rightly; and, when the story was nearly half done, expressed his opinion about her, and about the book itself, in language that pleased Dickens for the special reason that at the time this part of the book had seemed to many to have fallen greatly short of the splendour of its opening. Jeffrey said however quite truly, claiming to be heard with authority as his "Critic-laureate," that of all his writings it was perhaps the most finished in diction, and that it equalled the best in the delicacy and fineness of its touches, "while it rises to higher and deeper passions, not resting, like most of the former, in sweet thoughtfulness and thrilling and attractive tenderness, but boldly wielding all the lofty and terrible elements of tragedy, and bringing before us the appalling struggles of a proud, scornful, and repentant spirit." Not that she was exactly this. Edith's worst qualities are but the perversion of what should have been her best. A false education in her, and a tyrant passion iii her husband, make them other than nature meant; and both show how life may run its evil course against the higher dispensations.
As the catastrophe came in view, a nice point in the management of her character and destiny arose. I quote from a letter of 19 November, when he was busy with his fourteenth part. "Of course she hates Carker in the most deadly degree. I have not elaborated that, now, because (as I was explaining to Browne the other day) I have relied on it very much for the effect of her death. But I have no question that what you suggest will be an improvement. The strongest place to put it m, would be the close of the chapter immediately before this last one. I want to make the two first chapters as light as I can, but I will try to do it, solemnly, in that place." Then came the effect of this fourteenth number on Jeffrey; raising the question of whether the end might not come by other means than her death, and bringing with it a more bitter humiliation for her destroyer. While engaged on the fifteenth (21 December) Dickens thus wrote to me I am thoroughly delighted that you like what I sent I enclose designs. Shadow-plate, poor. But I think Mr. Dombey admirable. One of the prettiest things in the book ought to be at the end of the chapter I am writing now. But in Florence's marriage, and in her subsequent return to her father I see a brilliant opportunity.... Note from Jeffrey this morning, who won't believe (positively refuses) that Edith is Carker s mistress. What do you think of a kind of inverted Maid's Tragedy and a tremendous scene of her undeceiving Carker and giving him to know that she never meant that? So it was done and when he sent me the chapter in which Edith says adieu to Florence, I had nothing but pleasure to express. "I need not say," he wrote in reply, "I can't, how delighted and overjoyed I am by what you say and feel of it. I propose to show Dombey twice more; and in the end, leave him exactly as you describe." The end came; and, at the last moment when correction was possible, this note arrived. "I suddenly remember that I have forgotten Diogenes. Will you put him in the last little chapter? After the word 'favourite' in reference to Miss Tox, you can add, 'except with Diogenes, who is growing old and wilful.' Or, on the last page of all, after 'and with them two children: boy and girl' (I quote from memory), you might say 'and an old dog is generally in their company,' or to that effect. Just what you think best."
That was on Saturday, 25 March, 1848, and may be my last reference to Dombey until the book, in its place with the rest, finds critical allusion when I close. But as the confidences revealed iii this chapter have dealt wholly with the leading currents of interests, there is yet room for a word on incidental persons in the story, of whom I have seen other so-called confidences alleged which it will be only right to state have really no authority. And first let me say what unquestionable evidence these characters give of the unimpaired freshness, variety, and fitness of Dickens's invention at this time. Glorious Captain Cuttle, laying his head to the wind and fighting through everything; his friend Jack Bunsby, with a head too ponderous to lay-to, and so failing victim to the inveterate MacStinger; good-hearted, modest, considerate Toots, whose brains rapidly go as his whiskers come, but who yet gets back from contact with the world, in his shambling way, some fragments of the sense pumped out of him by the forcing Blimbers; breathless Susan Nipper, beaming Polly Toodle, the plaintive Wickam and the awful Pipchin, each with her duty in the starched Dombey household so nicely appointed as to seem born for only that; simple thoughtful old Gills and his hearty young lad of a nephew; Mr. Toodle and his children, with the charitable grinder's decline and fall; Miss Tox, obsequious flatterer from nothing but good-nature; spectacled and analytic, but not unkind Miss Blimber; and the good droning dull benevolent Doctor himself, withering even the fruits of his well-spread dinner-table with his It is remarkable, Mr. Feeder, that the Romans -- "at the mention of which terrible people, their implacable enemies, every young gentleman fastened his gaze upon the Doctor, with an assumption of the deepest interest." So vivid and life-like were all these people, to the very youngest of the young gentlemen, that it became natural eagerly to seek out for them actual prototypes; but I think I can say with some confidence of them all, that, whatever single traits may have been taken from persons known to him (a practice with all writers, and very specially with Dickens), only two had living originals. his own experience of Mrs. Pipchin has been related; I had myself some knowledge of Miss Blimber; and the Little Wooden Midshipman did actually (perhaps does still) occupy his post of observation in Leadenhall Street. The names that have been connected, I doubt not in perfect good faith, with Sol Gills, Perch the Messenger, and Captain Cuttle, have certainly not more foundation than the fancy a courteous correspondent favours me with, that the redoubtable Captain must have sat for his portrait to Charles Lamb's blustering, loud-talking, hook-handed Mr. Mingay. As to the amiable and excellent city-merchant whose name has been given to Mr. Dombey, he might with the same amount of justice or probability be supposed to have originated Coriolanus or Timon of Athens.
III. SEASIDE HOLIDAYS
The portion of Dickens's life over which his adventures of strolling extended was in other respects not without interest; and this chapter will deal with some of his seaside holidays before I pass to the publication in 1848 of the story of The Haunted Man, and to the establishment in 1850 of the Periodical which had been in his thoughts for half a dozen years before, and has had foreshadowings nearly as frequent in my pages.
Among the incidents of 1848 before the holiday season came, were the dethronement of Louis Philippe, and birth of the second French republic: on which I ventured to predict that a Gore-house friend of ours, and his friend, would in three days be on the scene of action. The three days passed, and I had this letter. "Mardi, Février 29, 1848. MON CHER. Vous êtes homme de la plus grande pénétration! Ah, mon Dieu, que vous êtes absolument magnifique! Vous prévoyez presque toutes les choses qui vont arriver; et aux choses qui viennent d'arriver vous êtes merveilleusement au-fait. Ah, cher enfant, quelle idée sublime vous vous aviez à la tête quand vous prévîtes si clairement que M. le Comte Alfred d'Orsay se rendrait au pays de sa naissance! Quel magicien! Mais -- c'est tout égal, mais -- il n'est pas parti. Il reste à Gore-house, où, avant-hier, il y avait un grand dîner à tout le monde. Mais quel homme, quel ange, néanmoins! MON AMI, je trouve que j'aime tant la République, qu'il me faut renoncer ma langue et écrire seulement le langage de la République de France -- langage des Dieux et des Anges -- langage, en un mot, des Français! Hier au soir je rencontrai à l'Athenæum Monsieur Mack Leese, qui me dit que MM. les Commissionaires des Beaux Arts lui avaient écrit, par leur secrétaire, un billet de remerciements à propos de son tableau dans la Chambre des Députés, et qu'ils lui avaient prié de faire l'autre tableau en fresque, dont on y a besoin. Ce qu'il a promis. Voici des nouvelles pour les champs de Lincoln's Inn! Vive la gloire de France! Vive la République! Vive le Peuple! Plus de Royauté! Plus de Bourbons! Plus de Guizot! Mort aux traîtres! Faisons couler le sang pour la liberté, la justice, la cause populaire! Jusqu'à cinq heures et demie, adieu, mon brave! Recevez l'assurance de ma considération distinguée, et croyez-moi, CONCITOYEN! votre tout dévoué, CITOYEN CHARLES DICKENS." I proved to be not quite so wrong, nevertheless, as my friend supposed.
Somewhat earlier than usual this summer, on the close of the Shakespeare-house performances, he tried Broadstairs once more, having no important writing in hand: but in the brief interval before leaving he saw a thing of celebrity in those days, the Chinese junk; and I had all the details in so good a description that I could not resist the temptation of using some parts of it at the time. "Drive down to the Blackwall railway," he wrote to me, "and for a matter of eighteen-pence you are at the Chinese Empire in no time. In half a score of minutes, the tiles and chimney-pots, backs of squalid houses, frowsy pieces of waste ground, narrow courts and streets, swamps, ditches, masts of ships, gardens of duckweed, and unwholesome little bowers of scarlet beans, whirl away in a flying dream, and nothing is left but China. How the flowery region ever came into this latitude and longitude is the first thing one asks; and it is not certainly the least of the marvel. As Aladdin's palace was transported hither and thither by the rubbing of a lamp, so the crew of Chinamen aboard the Keying devoutly believed that their good ship would turn up, quite safe, at the desired port, if they only tied red rags enough upon the mast, rudder, and cable. Somehow they did not succeed. Perhaps they ran short of rag; at any rate they hadn't enough on board to keep them above water; and to the bottom they would undoubtedly have gone but for the skill and coolness of a dozen English sailors, who brought them over the ocean in safety. Well, if there be any one thing in the world that this extraordinary craft is not at all like, that thing is a ship of any kind. So narrow, so long, so grotesque; so low in the middle, so high at each end, like a China pen-tray; with no rigging, with nowhere to go to aloft; with mats for sails, great warped cigars for masts, gaudy dragons and sea-monsters disporting themselves from stem to stern, and on the stern a gigantic cock of impossible aspect, defying the world (as well he may) to produce his equal, -- it would look more at home at the top of a public building, or at the top of a mountain, or in an avenue of trees, or down in a mine, than afloat on the water. As for the Chinese lounging on the deck, the most extravagant imagination would never dare to suppose them to be mariners. Imagine a ship's crew, without a profile among them, in gauze pinafores aud plaited hair; wearing stiff clogs a quarter of a foot thick in the sole; and lying at night in little scented boxes, like backgammon men or chess-pieces, or mother-of-pearl counters! But by Jove! even this is nothing to your surprise when you go down into the cabin. There you get into a torture of perplexity. As, what became of all those lanterns hanging to the roof when the Junk was out at sea? Whether they dangled there, banging and beating against each other, like so many jesters' baubles? Whether the idol Chin Tee, of the eighteen arms, enshrined in a celestial Punch's Show, in the place of honour, ever tumbled out in heavy weather? Whether the incense and the joss-stick still burnt before her, with a faint perfume and a little thread of smoke, while the mighty waves were roaring all around? Whether that preposterous tissue-paper umbrella in the corner was always spread, as being a convenient maritime instrument for walking about the decks with in a storm? Whether all the cool and shiny little chairs and tables were continually sliding about and bruising each other, and if not why not? Whether anybody on the voyage ever read those two books printed in characters like bird-cages and fly-traps? Whether the Mandarin passenger, He Sing, who had never been ten miles from home in his life before, lying sick on a bamboo couch in a private china closet of his own (where he is now perpetually writing autographs for inquisitive barbarians), ever began to doubt the potency of the Goddess of the Sea, whose counterfeit presentment, like a flowery monthly nurse, occupies the sailors' joss-house in the second gallery? Whether it is possible that the said Mandarin, or the artist of the ship, Sam Sing, Esquire, R.A. of Canton, can ever go ashore without a walking-staff of cinnamon, agreeably to the usage of their likenesses in British tea-shops? Above all, whether the hoarse old ocean could ever have been seriously in earnest with this floating toy-shop; or had merely played with it in lightness of spirit -- roughly, but meaning no harm -- as the bull did with another kind of china-shop on St. Patrick's day in the morning."
The reply made on this brought back comment and sequel not less amusing. "Yes, there can be no question that this is Finality in perfection; and it is a great advantage to have the doctrine so beautifully worked out, and shut up in a corner of a dock near a fashionable white-bait house for the edification of man. Thousands of years have passed away since the first junk was built on this model, and the last junk ever launched was no better for that waste and desert of time. The mimic eye painted on their prows to assist them in finding their way, has opened as wide and seen as far as any actual organ of sight in all the interval through the whole immense extent of that strange country. It has been set in the flowery head to as little purpose for thousands of years. With all their patient and ingenious but never advancing art, and with all their rich and diligent agricultural cultivation, not a new twist or curve has been given to a ball of ivory, and not a blade of experience has been grown. There is a genuine finality in that; and when one comes from behind the wooden screen that encloses the curious sight, to look again upon the river and the mighty signs on its banks of life, enterprise, and progress, the question that comes nearest is beyond doubt a home one. Whether we ever by any chance, in storms, trust to red rags; or burn joss-sticks before idols; or grope our way by the help of conventional eyes that have no sight in them; or sacrifice substantial facts for absurd forms? The ignorant crew of the Keying refused to enter on the ship's books, until 'a considerable amount of silvered-paper, tin-foil, and joss-stick' had been laid in by the owners for the purposes of their worship. And I wonder whether our seamen, let alone our bishops and deacons, ever stand out upon points of silvered-paper and tin-foil and joss-sticks. To be sure Christianity is not Chin-Teeism, and that I suppose is why we never lose sight of the end in contemptible and insignificant quarrels about the means. There is enough matter for reflection aboard the Keying at any rate to last one's voyage home to England again."
Other letters of the summer from Broadstairs will complete what he wrote from the same place last year on Mr. Cruikshank's efforts in the cause of temperance, and will enable me to say, what I know he wished to be remembered in his story, that there was no subject on which through his whole life he felt more strongly than this. No man advocated temperance, even as far as possible its legislative enforcement, with greater earnestness; but he made important reservations. Not thinking drunkenness to be a vice inborn, or incident to the poor more than to other people, he never would agree that the existence of a gin-shop was the alpha and omega of it. Believing it to be the "national horror," he also believed that many operative causes had to do with having made it so; and his objection to the temperance agitation was that these were left out of account altogether. He thought the gin-shop not fairly to be rendered the exclusive object of attack, until, in connection with the classes who mostly made it their resort, the temptations that led to it, physical and moral, should have been more bravely dealt with. Among the former he counted foul smells, disgusting habitations, bad workshops, and workshop-customs, scarcity of light, air, and water, in short the absence of all easy means of decency and health; and among the latter, the mental weariness and languor so induced, the desire of wholesome relaxation, the craving for some stimulus and excitement, not less needful than the sun itself to lives so passed, and last, and inclusive of all the rest, ignorance, and the want of rational mental training generally applied. This was consistently Dickens's "platform" throughout the years he was known to me; and holding it to be within the reach as well as the scope of legislation, which even our political magnates have been discovering lately, he thought intemperance to be but the one result that, out of all those arising from the absence of legislation, was the most wretched. For him, drunkenness had a teeming and reproachful history anterior to the drunken stage; and he thought it the first duty of the moralist bent upon annihilating the gin-shop, to "strike deep and spare not" at those previous remediable evils. Certainly this was not the way of Mr. Cruikshank, any more than it is that of the many excellent people who take part in temperance agitations. His former tale of the Bottle, as told by his admirable pencil, was that of a decent working man, father of a boy and a girl, living in comfort and good esteem until near the middle age, when happening unluckily to have a goose for dinner one day in the bosom of his thriving family, he jocularly sends out for a bottle of gin, persuades his wife, until then a picture of neatness, and good housewifery, to take a little drop after the stuffing, and the whole family from that moment drink themselves to destruction. The sequel, of which Dickens now wrote to me, traced the lives of the boy and girl after the wretched deaths of their drunken parents, through gin-shop, beer-shop, and dancing-rooms, up to their trial for robbery: when the boy is convicted, dying aboard the hulks; and the girl, desolate and mad after her acquittal, flings herself from London-bridge into the night-darkened river.
"I think," said Dickens, "the power of that closing scene quite extraordinary. It haunts the remembrance like an awful reality. It is full of passion and terror, and I doubt very much whether any hand but his could so have rendered it. There are other fine things too. The death-bed scene on board the hulks; the convict who is composing the face, and the other who is drawing the screen round the bed's head; seem to me masterpieces worthy of the greatest painter. The reality of the place, and the fidelity with which every minute object illustrative of it is presented, are surprising. I think myself no bad judge of this feature, and it is remarkable throughout. In the scene at the Old Bailey, the eye may wander round the Court, and observe everything that is a part of the place. The very light and atmosphere are faithfully reproduced. So, in the gin-shop and the beer-shop. An inferior hand would indicate a fragment of the fact, and slur it over; but here every shred is honestly made out. The man behind the bar in the gin-shop, is as real as the convicts at the hulks, or the barristers round the table in the Old Bailey. I found it quite curious, as I closed the book, to recall the number of faces I had seen of individual identity, and to think what a chance they have of living, as the Spanish friar said to Wilkie, when the living have passed away. But it only makes more exasperating to me the obstinate onesidedness of the thing. When a man shows so forcibly the side of the medal on which the people in their faults and crimes are stamped, he is the more bound to help us to a glance at that other side on which the faults and vices of the governments placed over the people are not less gravely impressed."
This led to some remark on Hogarth's method in such matters, and I am glad to be able to preserve a masterly criticism of that great Englishman, by a writer who closely resembled him in genius; as another generation will be probably more apt than our own to discover. "Hogarth avoided the Drunkard's Progress, I conceive, precisely because the causes of drunkenness among the poor were so numerous and widely spread, and lurked so sorrowfully deep and far down in all human misery, neglect, and despair, that even his pencil could not bring them fairly and justly into the light. It was never his plan to be content with only showing the effect. In the death of the miser-father, his shoe new-soled with the binding of his bible, before the young Rake begins his career; in the worldly father, listless daughter, impoverished young lord, and crafty lawyer, of the first plate of Marriage-à-la-mode; in the detestable advances through the stages of Cruelty; and in the progress downward of Thomas Idle; you see the effects indeed, but also the causes. He was never disposed to spare the kind of drunkenness that was of more 'respectable' engenderment, as one sees in his midnight modern conversation, the election plates, and crowds of stupid aldermen and other guzzlers. But after one immortal journey down Gin-lane, he turned away in pity and sorrow -- perhaps in hope of better things, one day, from better laws and schools and poor men's homes -- and went back no more. The scene of Gin-lane, you know, is that just cleared away for the extension of Oxford-street, which we were looking at the other day; and I think it a remarkable trait of Hogarth's picture, that, while it exhibits drunkenness in the most appalling forms, it also forces on attention a most neglected wretched neighbourhood, and an unwholesome, indecent, abject condition of life that might be put as frontispiece to our sanitary report of a hundred years later date. I have always myself thought the purpose of this fine piece to be not adequately stated even by Charles Lamb. 'The very houses seem absolutely reeling' it is true; but beside that wonderful picture of what follows intoxication, we have indication quite as powerful of what leads to it among the neglected classes. There is no evidence that any of the actors in the dreary scene have ever been much better than we see them there. The best are pawning the commonest necessaries, and tools of their trades; and the worst are homeless vagrants who give us no clue to their having been otherwise in bygone days. All are living and dying miserably. Nobody is interfering for prevention or for cure, in the generation going out before us, or the generation coming in. The beadle is the only sober man in the composition except the pawnbroker, and he is mightily indifferent to the orphan-child crying beside its parent's coffin. The little charity-girls are not so well taught or looked after, but that they can take to dram-drinking already. The church indeed is very prominent and handsome; but as, quite passive in the picture, it coldly surveys these things in progress under shadow of its tower, I cannot but bethink me that it was not until this year of grace 1848 that a Bishop of London first came out respecting something wrong in poor men's social accommodations, and I am confirmed in my suspicion that Hogarth had many meanings which have not grown obsolete in a century."
Another art-criticism by Dickens should be added. Upon a separate publication by Leech of some drawings on stone called the Rising Generation, from designs done for Mr. Punch's gallery, he wrote at my request a little essay of which a few sentences will find appropriate place with his letter on the other great caricaturist of his time. I use that word, as he did, only for want of a better. Dickens was of opinion that, in this particular line of illustration, while he conceded all his fame to the elder and stronger contemporary, Mr. Leech was the very first Englishman who had made Beauty a part of his art; and he held, that, by striking out this course, and setting the successful example of introducing always into his most whimsical pieces some beautiful faces or agreeable forms, he had done more than any other man of his generation to refine a branch of art to which the facilities of steam-printing and wood-engraving were giving almost unrivalled diffusion and popularity. His opinion of Leech in a word was that he turned caricature into character; and would leave behind him not a little of the history of his time and its follies, sketched with inimitable grace.
"If we turn back to a collection of the works of Rowlandson or Gilray, we shall find, in spite of the great humour displayed in many of them, that they are rendered wearisome and unpleasant by a vast amount of personal ugliness. Now, besides that it is a poor device to represent what is satirized as being necessarily ugly, which is but the resource of an angry child or a jealous woman, it serves no purpose but to produce a disagreeable result. There is no reason why the farmer's daughter in the old caricature who is squalling at the harpsichord (to the intense delight, by the bye, of her worthy father, whom it is her duty to please) should be squab and hideous. The satire on the manner of her education, if there be any in the thing at all, would be just as good, if she were pretty. Mr. Leech would have made her so. The average of farmers' daughters in England are not impossible lumps of fat. One is quite as likely to find a pretty girl in a farm-house, as to find an ugly one; and we think, with Mr. Leech, that the business of this style of art is with the pretty one. She is not only a pleasanter object, but we have more interest in her. We care more about what does become her, and does not become her. Mr. Leech represented the other day certain delicate creatures with bewitching countenances encased in several varieties of that amazing garment, the ladies' paletot. Formerly those fair creatures would have been made as ugly and ungainly as possible, and then the point would have been lost. The spectator, with a laugh at the absurdity of the whole group, would not have cared how such uncouth creatures disguised themselves, or how ridiculous they became.... But to represent female beauty as Mr. Leech represents it, an artist must have a most delicate perception of it; and the gift of being able to realise it to us with two or three slight, sure touches of his pencil. This power Mr. Leech possesses, in an extraordinary degree.... For this reason, we enter our protest against those of the Rising Generation who are precociously in love being made the subject of merriment by a pitiless and unsympathizing world. We never saw a boy more distinctly in the right than the young gentleman kneeling on the chair to beg a lock of hair from his pretty cousin, to take back to school. Madness is in her apron, and Virgil dog's-eared and defaced is in her ringlets. Doubts may suggest themselves of the perfect disinterestedness of the other young gentleman contemplating the fair girl at the piano -- doubts engendered by his worldly allusion to 'tin;' though even that may have arisen in his modest consciousness of his own inability to support an establishment -- but that he should be 'deucedly inclined to go and cut that fellow out,' appears to us one of the most natural emotions of the human breast. The young gentleman with the dishevelled hair and clasped hands who loves the transcendent beauty with the bouquet, and can't be happy without her, is to us a withering and desolate spectacle. Who could be happy without her?... The growing youths are not less happily observed and agreeably depicted than the grown women. The languid little creature who 'hasn't danced since he was quite a boy,' is perfect; and the eagerness of the small dancer whom he declines to receive for a partner at the hands of the glorious old lady of the house (the little feet quite for the first position, the whole heart projected into the quadrille, and the glance peeping timidly at the desired one out of a flutter of hope and doubt) is quite delightful to look at. The intellectual juvenile who awakens the tremendous wrath of a Norma of private life by considering woman an inferior animal, is lecturing at the present moment, we understand, on the Concrete in connexion with the Will. The legs of the young philosopher who considers Shakespeare an over-rated man, were seen by us dangling over the side of an omnibus last Tuesday. We have no acquaintance with the scowling young gentleman who is clear that 'if his Governor don't like the way he goes on in, why he must have chambers and so much a week;' but if he is not by this time in Van Diemen's-land, he will certainly go to it through Newgate. We should exceedingly dislike to have personal property in a strong box, to live in the suburb of Camberwell, and to be in the relation of bachelor -- uncle to that youth.... In all his designs, whatever Mr. Leech desires to do, he does. His drawing seems to us charming; and the expression indicated, though by the simplest means, is exactly the natural expression, and is recognised as such immediately. Some forms of our existing life will never have a better chronicler. His wit is good-natured, and always the wit of a gentleman. He has a becoming sense of responsibility and self-restraint; he delights in agreeable things; he imparts some pleasant air of his own to things not pleasant in themselves; he is suggestive and full of matter; and he is always improving. Into the tone as well as into the execution of what he does, he has brought a certain elegance which is altogether new, without involving any compromise of what is true. Popular art in England has not had so rich an acquisition." Dickens's closing allusion was to a remark made by Mr. Ford in a review of Oliver Twist formerly referred to. "It is eight or ten years since a writer in the Quarterly Review, making mention of Mr. George Cruikshank, commented on the absurdity of excluding such a man from the Royal Academy, because his works were not produced in certain materials, and did not occupy a certain space in its annual shows. Will no Associates be found upon its books one of these days, the labours of whose oil and brushes will have sunk into the profoundest obscurity, when many pencil-marks of Mr. Cruikshank and of Mr. Leech will be still fresh in half the houses in the land?"
Of what otherwise occupied him at Broadstairs in 1848 there is not much to mention until the close of his holiday. He used to say that he never went for more than a couple of days from his own home without something befalling him that never happened to anyone else, and his Broadstairs adventure of the present summer verged closer on tragedy than comedy. Returning there one day in August after bringing up his boys to school, it had been arranged that his wife should meet him at Margate; but he had walked impatiently far beyond the place for meeting when at last he caught sight of her, not in a small chaise but in a large carriage and pair followed by an excited crowd, and with the youth that should have been driving the little pony bruised and bandaged on the box behind the two prancing horses. "You may faintly imagine my amazement at encountering this carriage, and the strange people, and Kate, and the crowd, and the bandaged one, and all the rest of it." And then in a line or two I had the story. "At the top of a steep hill on the road, with a ditch on each side, the pony bolted, whereupon what does John do but jump out! He says he was thrown out, but it cannot be. The reins immediately became entangled in the wheels, and away went the pony down the hill madly, with Kate inside rending the Isle of Thanet with her screams. The accident might have been a fearful one, if the pony had not, thank Heaven, on getting to the bottom, pitched over the side; breaking the shaft and cutting her hind legs, but in the most extraordinary manner smashing her own way apart. She tumbled down, a bundle of legs with her head tucked underneath, and left the chaise standing on the bank! A Captain Devaynes and his wife were passing in their carriage at the moment, saw the accident with no power of preventing it, got Kate out, laid her on the grass, and behaved with infinite kindness. All's well that ends well, and I think she's really none the worse for the fright. John is in bed a good deal bruised, but without any broken bone, and likely soon to come right; though for the present plastered all over, and, like Squeers, a brown-paper parcel chock-full of nothing but groans. The women generally have no sympathy for him whatever, and the nurse says, with indignation, How could he go and leave a unprotected female in the shay!"
there were many, but none that need detain us. This was really a summer idleness:
for it was the interval between two of his important undertakings, there was
no periodical yet to make demands on him, and only the task of finishing his
Haunted Man for Christmas lay ahead. But he did even his nothings in
a strenuous way, and on occasion could make gallant fight against the elements
themselves. He reported himself, to my horror, thrice wet through on a single
day, "dressed four times," and finding all sorts of great things, brought out
by the rains, among the rocks on the sea-beach. He also sketched now and then
morsels of character for me, of which I will preserve one. "F. is philosophical,
from sunrise to bedtime: chiefly in the French line, about French women going
mad, and in that state coming to their husbands, and saying, 'Mon ami, je vous
ai trompé. Voici les lettres de mon amant!' Whereupon the husbands take
the letters and think them waste paper, and become extra-philosophical at finding
that they really were the lover's effusions: though what there is of
philosophy in it all, or anything but unwholesomeness, it is not easy to see." (A remark that it might not be out of place to offer to Mr. Taine's notice.)
"Likewise about dark shades coming over our wedded Emmeline's face at parties;
and about F. handing her to her carriage, and saying, 'May I come in, for a
lift homeward?' and she bending over him out of the window, and saying in a
low voice, I DARE NOT! And then of the carriage driving away like lightning
leaving F. more philosophical than ever on the pavement." Not till the close
of September I heard of work intruding itself, in a letter twitting me for a
broken promise in not joining him: "We are reasonably jolly, but rurally so;
going to bed o' nights at ten, and bathing o' morning at half-past seven; and
not drugging ourselves with those dirty and spoiled waters of Lethe that flow
round the base of the great pyramid." Then, after mention of the friends who
had left him, Sheriff Gordon, the Leeches, Lemon, Egg and Stone: "reflection
and pensiveness are coming. I have NOT '-- seen Fancy write
With a pencil of light
On the blotter so solid, commanding the sea!' but I shouldn't wonder if she were to do it, one of these days. Dim visions of divers things are floating around me; and I must go to work, head foremost, when I get home. I am glad, after all, that I have not been at it here, for I am all the better for my idleness, no doubt.... Roche was very ill last night, and looks like one with his face turned to the other world, this morning. When are you coming? Oh what days and nights there have been here, this week past!" My consent to a suggestion in his next letter, that I should meet him on his way back, and join him in a walking-excursion home, got me full absolution for broken promises; and the way we took will remind friends of his later life, when he was lord of Gadshill, of an object of interest which he delighted in taking them to see. You will come down booked for Maidstone (I will meet you at Paddock Wood), and we will go thither in company over a most beautiful little line of railroad. The eight miles walk from Maidstone to Rochester, and a visit to the Druidical altar on the wayside, are charming. This could be accomplished on the Tuesday; and Wednesday we might look about us at Chatham, coming home by Cobham on Thursday.... "
His first seaside holiday in 1849 was at Brighton, where he passed some weeks in February; and not, I am bound to add, without the unusual adventure to signalise his visit. He had not been a week in his lodgings, where Leech and his wife joined him, when both his landlord and the daughter of his landlord went raving mad, and the lodgers were driven away to the Dedford Hotel. "If you could have heard the cursing and crying of the two; could have seen the physician and nurse quoited out into the passage by the madman at the hazard of their lives; could have seen Leech and me flying to the doctor's rescue; could have seen our wives pulling us hack; could have seen the M.D. faint with fear; could have seen three other M.D.'s come to his aid; with an atmosphere of Mrs. Gamps, strait-waistcoats, struggling friends and servants, surrounding the whole; you would have said it was quite worthy of me, and quite in keeping with my usual proceedings." The letter ended with a word on what then his thoughts were full of, but for which no name had yet been found. "A sea-fog to-day, but yesterday inexpressibly delicious. My mind running, like a high sea, on names -- not satisfied yet, though." When he next wrote from the seaside, in the beginning of July, he had found the name; had started his book; and was "rushing to Broadstairs" to write the fourth number of David Copperfield.
In this came the childish experiences which had left so deep an impression upon him, and over which he had some difficulty in throwing the needful disguises. "Fourteen miles to-day in the country," he had written to me on 22 June, "revolving number four!" Still he did not quite see his way. Three days later he wrote: "On leaving you last night, I found myself summoned on a special jury in the Queen's Bench to-day. I have taken no notice of the document, and hourly expect to be dragged forth to a dungeon for contempt of court. I think I should rather like it. It might help me with a new notion or two in my difficulties. Meanwhile I shall take a stroll to-night in the green fields from seven to ten, if you feel inclined to join." His troubles ended when he got to Broadstairs, from which he wrote on 10 July to tell me that agreeably to the plan we had discussed he had introduced a great part of his MS. into the number. "I really think I have done it ingeniously, and with a very complicated interweaving of truth and fiction. Vous verrez. I am getting on like a house afire in point of health, and ditto ditto in point of number."
In the middle of July the number was nearly done, and he was still doubtful where to pass his longer summer holiday. Leech wished to join him in it, and both desired a change from Broadstairs. At first he thought of Folkestone, but disappointment there led to a sudden change. "I propose" (15 July) "returning to town to-morrow by the boat from Ramsgate, and going off to Weymouth or the Isle of Wight, or both, early the next morning." A few days after, his choice was made.
He had taken a house at Bonchurch, attracted there by the friend who had made it a place of interest for him during the last few years, the Rev. James White, with whose name and its associations my mind connects inseparably many of Dickens's happiest hours. To pay him fitting tribute would not be easy, if here it were called for. In the kindly shrewd Scotch face, a keen sensitiveness to pleasure and pain was the first thing that struck any common observer. Cheerfulness and gloom coursed over it so rapidly that no one could question the tale they told. But the relish of his life had outlived its more than usual share of sorrows; and quaint sly humour, love of jest and merriment, capital knowledge of books, and sagacious quips at men, made his companionship delightful. Like his life, his genius was made up of alternations of mirth and melancholy. He would be immersed, at one time, in those darkest Scottish annals from which he drew his tragedies; and overflowing, at another, into Sir Frizzle Pumpkin's exuberant farce. The tragic histories may probably perish with the actor's perishable art; but three little abstracts of history written at a later time m prose, with a sunny clearness of narration and a glow of picturesque interest to my knowledge unequalled in books of such small pretension, will find, I hope, a lasting place in literature. They are filled with felicities of phrase, with breadth of understanding and judgment, with manful honesty, quiet sagacity, and a constant cheerful piety, valuable for all and priceless for the young. Another word I permit myself to add. With Dickens, White was popular supremely for his eager good fellowship; and few men brought him more of what he always liked to receive. But he brought nothing so good as his wife. "He is excellent, but she is better," is the pithy remark of his first Bonchurch letter; and the true affection and respect that followed is happily still borne her by his daughters.
Of course there is something strange to be recorded of the Bonchurch holiday, but it does not come till nearer the ending; and, with more attention to Mrs. Malaprop's advice to begin with a little aversion, might probably not have come at all. He began with an excess of liking. Of the Undercliff he was full of admiration. "From the top of the highest downs," he wrote in his second letter (28 July) "there are views which are only to be equalled on the Genoese shore of the Mediterranean; the variety of walks is extraordinary; things are cheap, and everybody is civil. The waterfall acts wonderfully, and the sea bathing is delicious. Best of all, the place is certainly cold rather than hot, in the summer time. The evenings have been even chilly. White very jovial, and emulous of the Inimitable in respect of girt-punch. He had made some for our arrival. Ha! ha! not bad for a beginner.... I have been, and am, trying to work this morning; but I can't make anything of it, and am going out to think. I am invited by a distinguished friend to dine with you on 1 August, but I have pleaded distance and the being resident in a cave on the seashore; my food, beans; my drink, the water from the rock.... I must pluck up heart of grace to write to Jeffrey, of whom I had but poor accounts from Gordon just before leaving. Talfourd delightful, and amuses me mightily. I am really quite enraptured at his success, and think of his happiness with uncommon pleasure." Our friend was now on the bench; which he adorned with qualities that are justly the pride of that profession, and with accomplishments which have become more rare in its highest places than they were in former times. His elevation only made those virtues better known. Talfourd assumed nothing with the ermine but the privilege of more frequent intercourse with the tastes and friends he loved, and he continued to be the most joyous and least affected of companions. Such small oddities or foibles as he had, made him secretly only dearer to Dickens, who had no friend he was more attached to; and the many happy nights made happier by the voice so affluent in generous words, and the face so bright with ardent sensibility, come back to me sorrowfully now. "Deaf the prais'd ear, and mute the tuneful tongue." The poet's line has a double application and sadness.
He wrote again on 1 August. "I have just begun to get into work. We are expecting the Queen to come by very soon, in grand array, and are going to let off ever so many guns. I had a letter from Jeffrey yesterday morning, just as I was going to write to him. He has evidently been very ill, and I begin to have fears for his recovery. It is a very pathetic letter as to his state of mind; but only in a tranquil contemplation of death, which I think very noble." His next letter, four days later, described himself as continuing still at work; but also taking part in dinners at Blackgang, and picnics of "tremendous success" on Shanklin Down. "Two charity sermons for the school are preached to-day, and I go to the afternoon one. The examination of said school t'other day was very funny. All the boys made Buckstone's bow in the Rough Diamond, and some in a very wonderful manner recited pieces of poetry, about a clock, and may we be like the clock, which is always a-going and a doing of its duty, and always tells the truth (supposing it to be a slap-up chronometer I presume, for the American clock in the school was lying frightfully at that moment); and after being bothered to death by the multiplication table, they were refreshed with a public tea in Lady Jane Swinburne's garden." (There was a reference in one of his letters, but I have lost it, to a golden-haired lad of the Swinburnes whom his own boys used to play with, since become more widely known.) "The rain came in with the first tea-pot, and has been active ever since. On Friday we had a grand, and what is better, a very good dinner at 'parson' Fielden's, with some choice port. On Tuesday we are going on another picnic; with the materials for a fire, at my express stipulation; and a great iron pot to boil potatoes in. These things, and the eatables, go to the ground in a cart. Last night we had some very good merriment at White's, where pleasant Julian Young and his wife (who are staying about five miles off) showed some droll new games" -- and roused the ambition in my friend to give a "mighty conjuring performance for all the children in Bonchurch," for which I sent him the materials and which went off in a tumult of wild delight. To the familiar names in this letter I will add one more, grieving freshly even now to connect it with suffering. "A letter from Poole has reached me since I began this letter, with tidings in it that you will be very sorry to hear. Poor Regnier has lost his only child; the pretty daughter who dined with us that nice day at your house, when we all pleased the poor mother by admiring her so much. She died of a sudden attack of malignant typhus. Poole was at the funeral, and writes that he never saw, or could have imagined, such intensity of grief as Regnier's at the grave. How one loves him for it. But is it not always true, in comedy and in tragedy, that the more real the man the more genuine the actor?"
After a few more days I heard of progress with his writing in spite of all festivities. "I have made it a rule that the Inimitable is invisible, until two every day. I shall have half the number done, please God, to-morrow. I have not worked quickly here yet, but I don't know what I may do. Divers cogitations have occupied my mind at intervals, respecting the dim design." The design was the weekly periodical so often in his thoughts, of which more will appear in my next chapter. His letter closed with intimations of discomfort in his health; of an obstinate cough; and of a determination he had formed to mount daily to the top of the downs. "It makes a great difference in the climate to get a blow there and come down again." Then I heard of the doctor "stethoscoping" him, of his hope that all was right in that quarter, and of rubbings "è la St. John Long" being ordered for his chest. But the mirth still went on. "There has been a Doctor Lankester at Sandown, a very good merry fellow, who has made one at the picnics, and whom I went over and dined with, along with Danby (I remember your liking for Danby, and don't wonder at it), Leech, and White." A letter towards the close of August resumed yet more of his ordinary tone. "We had games and forfeits last night at White's. Davy Roberts's pretty little daughter is there for a week, with her husband, Bicknell's son. There was a dinner first to say good-bye to Danby, who goes to other clergyman's duty, and we were very merry. Mrs. White unchanging; White comically various in his moods. Talfourd comes down next Tuesday, and we think of going over to Ryde on Monday, visiting the play, sleeping there (I don't mean at the play) and bringing the Judge back. Browne is coming down when he has done his month's work. Should you like to go to Alum Bay, while you are here? It would involve a night out, but I think would be very pleasant; and if you think so too, I will arrange it sub rosa, so that we may not be, like Bobadil, 'oppressed by numbers.' I mean to take a fly over from Shanklin to meet you at Ryde; so that we can walk back from Shanklin over the landslip, where the scenery is wonderfully beautiful. Stone and Egg are coming next month, and we hope to see Jerrold before we go." Such notices from his letters may be thought hardly worth preserving: but a wonderful vitality in every circumstance, as long as life under any conditions remained to the writer, is the picture they contribute to; nor would it be complete without the addition, that fond as he was, in the intervals of his work, of this abundance and variety of enjoyments, to no man were so essential also those quieter hours of thought, and talk, not obtainable when "oppressed by numbers."
My visit was due at the opening of September, but a few days earlier came the full revelation of which only a passing shadow had reached in two or three previous letters. "Before I think of beginning my next number, I perhaps cannot do better than give you an imperfect description of the results of the climate of Bonchurch after a few weeks' residence. The first salubrious effect of which the Patient becomes conscious is an almost continual feeling of sickness, accompanied with great prostration of strength, so that his legs tremble under him, and his arms quiver when he wants to take hold of any object. An extraordinary disposition to sleep (except at night, when his rest, in the event of his having any, is broken by incessant dreams) is always present at the same time; and, if he have anything to do requiring thought and attention, this overpowers him to such a degree that he can only do it in snatches: lying down on beds in the fitful intervals. Extreme depression of mind, and a disposition to shed tears from morning to night, develops itself at the same period. If the Patient happen to have been a good walker, he finds ten miles an insupportable distance; in the achievement of which his legs are so unsteady, that he goes from side to side of the road, like a drunken man. If he happen to have ever possessed any energy of any kind, he finds it quenched in a dull, stupid languor. He has no purpose, power, or object in existence whatever. When he brushes his hair in the morning, he is so weak that he is obliged to sit upon a chair to do it. He is incapable of reading, at all times. And his bilious system is so utterly overthrown, that a ball of boiling fat appears to be always behind the top of the bridge of his nose, simmering between his haggard eyes. If he should have caught a cold, he will find it impossible to get rid of it, as his system is wholly incapable of making any effort. His cough will be deep, monotonous, and constant. 'The faithful watch-dog's honest bark' will be nothing to it. He will abandon all present idea of overcoming it, and will content himself with keeping an eye upon his blood-vessels to preserve them whole and sound. Patient's name, Inimitable B.... It's a mortal mistake! -- That's the plain fact. Of all the places I ever have been in, I have never been in one so difficult to exist in, pleasantly. Naples is hot and dirty, New York feverish, Washington bilious, Genoa exciting, Paris rainy -- but Bonchurch, smashing. I am quite convinced that I should die here, in a year. It's not hot, it's not close, I don't know what it is, but the prostration of it is awful. Nobody here has the least idea what I think of it; but I find from all sorts of hints from Kate, Georgina, and the Leeches, that they are all affected more or less in the same way, and find it very difficult to make head against. I make no sign, and pretend not to know what is going on. But they are right. I believe the Leeches will go soon, and small blame to 'em! -- For me, when I leave here at the end of this September, I must go down to some cold place; as Ramsgate for example, for a week or two; or I seriously believe I shall feel the effects of it for a long time.... What do you think of that?... The longer I live, the more I doubt the doctors. I am perfectly convinced, that, for people suffering under a wasting disease, this Undercliff is madness altogether. The doctors, with the old miserable folly of looking at one bit of a subject, take the patient's lungs and the Undercliff's air, and settle solemnly that they are fit for each other. But the whole influence of the place, never taken into consideration, is to reduce and overpower vitality. I am quite confident that I should go down under it, as if it were so much lead, slowly crushing me. An American resident in Paris many years, who brought me a letter from Olliffe, said, the day before yesterday, that he had always had a passion for the sea never to be gratified enough, but that after living here a month, he could not bear to look at it; he couldn't endure the sound of it; he didn't know how it was, but it seemed associated with the decay of his whole powers." These were grave imputations against one of the prettiest places in England; but of the generally depressing influence of that Undercliff on particular temperaments, I had already enough experience to abate something of the surprise with which I read the letter. What it too bluntly puts aside are the sufferings other than his own, protected and sheltered by what only aggravated his; but my visit gave me proof that he had really very little overstated the effect upon himself. Making allowance, which sometimes he failed to do, for special peculiarities, and for the excitability never absent when he had in hand an undertaking such as Copperfield, there was a nervous tendency to misgivings and apprehensions to the last degree unusual with him, which seemed to make the commonest things difficult; and though he stayed out his time, and brought away nothing that his happier associations with the place and its residents did not long survive, he never returned to Bonchurch.
In the month that remained he completed his fifth number, and with the proof there came the reply to some questions of which I hardly remember more than that they referred to doubts having reference, among other things, to the propriety of the kind of delusion he had first given to poor Mr. Dick, which appeared to be a little too farcical for that really touching delineation of character. "Your suggestion is perfectly wise and sound," he wrote back (22 August). I have acted on it. I have also, instead of the bull and china-shop delusion, given Dick the idea, that, when the head of King Charles the First was cut off some of the trouble was taken out of it, and put into his (Dick's)." When he next wrote, there was news very welcome to me for the pleasure to himself it involved. "Browne has sketched an uncommonly characteristic and capital Mr. Micawber for the next number. I hope the present number is a good one. I hear nothing but pleasant accounts of the general satisfaction." The same letter told me of an intention to go to Broadstairs, put aside by doubtful reports of its sanitary condition; but it will be seen presently that there was another graver interruption With his work well off his hands, however, he had been getting on better where he was; and they had all been very merry "Yes," he said, writing after a couple of days (23 September), "we have been sufficiently rollicking since I finished the number; and have had great games at rounders every afternoon, with all Bonchurch looking on; but I begin to long for a little peace and solitude. And now for my less pleasing piece of news. The sea has been running very high, and Leech, while bathing, was knocked over by a bad blow from a great wave on the forehead. He is in bed, and had twenty of his namesakes on his temples this morning. When I heard of him just now, he was asleep -- which he had not been all night." He closed his letter hopefully, but next day (24 September) I had a less favourable report. "Leech has been very ill with congestion of the brain ever since I wrote, and being still in excessive pain has had ice to his head continuously, and been bled in the arm besides. Beard and I sat up there, all night." On the 26th he wrote. "My plans are all unsettled by Leech's illness; as of course I do not like to leave this place while I can be of any service to him and his good little wife. But all visitors are gone to day and Winterbourne once more left to the engaging family of the inimitable B. Ever since I wrote to you Leech has been seriously worse, and again very heavily bled. The night before last he was in such ml alarming state of restlessness, which nothing could relieve, that I proposed to Mrs. Leech to try magnetism. Accordingly in the middle of the night I fell to; and, after a very fatiguing bout of it, put him to sleep for an hour and thirty-five minutes. A change came on in the sleep, and he is decidedly better. I talked to the astounded little Mrs. Leech across him, when he was asleep, as if be had been a truss of hay.... What do you think of my setting up in the magnetic line with a large brass plate? 'Terms, twenty-five guineas per nap.'" When he wrote on the 30th, he had completed his sixth number; and his friend was so clearly on the way to recovery that he was himself next day to leave for Broadstairs with his wife, her sister, and the two little girls. "I will merely add that I entreat to be kindly remembered to Thackeray" (who had a dangerous illness at this time); "that I think I have, without a doubt, got the Periodical notion; and that I am writing under the depressing and discomforting influence of paying off the tribe of bills that pour in upon an unfortunate family-young man on the eve of a residence like this. So no more at present from the disgusted, though still inimitable, and always affectionate B."
He stayed at Broadstairs till he had finished his number seven, and what else chiefly occupied him were thoughts about the Periodical of which account will presently he given. "Such a night and day of rain," ran his first letter, "I should think the oldest inhabitant never saw! and yet, in the ould formiliar Broadstairs, I somehow or other don't mind it much. The change has done Mamey a world of good, and I have begun to sleep again. As for news, you might as well ask me for dolphins. Nobody in Broadstairs -- to speak of. Certainly nobody in Ballard's. We are in the part, which is the house next door to the hotel itself, that we once had for three years running, and just as quiet and snug now as it was then. I don't think I shall return before the 20th or so, when the number is done; but I may, in some inconstant freak, run up to you before. Preliminary despatches and advices shall be forwarded in any case to the fragrant neighbourhood of Clare Market and the Portugal Street burying-ground." Such was his polite designation of my whereabouts: for which nevertheless he had secret likings. "On the Portsmouth railway, coming here, encountered Kenyon. On the ditto ditto at Reigate, encountered young Dilke, and took him in tow to Canterbury. On the ditto ditto at ditto (meaning Reigate), encountered Fox, M.P. for Oldham, and his daughter. All within an hour. Young Dilke great about the proposed Exposition under the direction of H.R.H. Prince Albert, and evincing, very pleasantly to me, unbounded faith in our old friend his father." There was one more letter, taking a rather gloomy view of public affairs in connection with an inflated pastoral from Doctor Wiseman "given out of the Flaminian Gate," and speaking dolefully of some family matters; which was subscribed, each word forming a separate line, "Yours Despondently, And Disgustedly, Wilkins Micawber."
His visit to the little watering-place in the following year was signalised by his completion of the most famous of his novels, and his letters otherwise were occupied by elaborate managerial preparation for the private performances at Knebworth. But again the plague of itinerant music flung him into such fevers of irritation, that he finally resolved against any renewed attempt to carry on important work here; and the summer of 1851, when he was busy with miscellaneous writing only, was the last of his regular residences in the place. He then let his London house for the brief remainder of its term; running away at the end of May, when some grave family sorrows had befallen him, from the crowds and excitements of the Great Exhibition; and I will only add generally of these seaside residences that his reading was considerable and very various at such intervals of labour. One of them, as I remember, took in all the minor tales as well as the plays of Voltaire, several of the novels (old favourites with him) of Paul de Kock, Ruskin's Lamps of Architecture, and a surprising number of books of African and other travel for which he had insatiable relish: but there was never much notice of his reading in his letters. "By the by, I observe, reading that wonderful book the French Revolution again for the 500th time, that Carlyle, who knows everything, don't know what Mumbo Jumbo is. It is not an Idol. It is a secret preserved among the men of certain African tribes, and never revealed by any of them, for the punishment of their women. Mumbo Jumbo comes in hideous form out of the forest, or the mud, or the river, or where not, and flogs some woman who has been backbiting, or scolding, or with some other domestic mischief disturbing the general peace. Carlyle's seems to confound him with the common Fetish; but he is quite another thing. He is a disguised man; and all about him is a freemasons' secret among the men." -- "I finished the Scarlet Letter yesterday. It falls off sadly after that fine opening scene. The psychological part of the story is very much overdone, and not truly done I think. Their suddenness of meeting and agreeing to go away together after all those years, is very poor. Mr. Chillingworth ditto. The child out of nature altogether. And Mr. Dimmisdale certainly never could have begotten her." In Mr. Hawthorne's earlier books he had taken especial pleasure; his Mosses from an Old Manse having been the first book he placed in my hands on his return from America, with reiterated injunctions to read it. I will add a word or two of what he wrote of the clever story of another popular writer, because it hits well the sort of ability that has become so common, which escapes the highest point of cleverness, but stops short only at the very verge of it. "The story extremely good indeed; but all the strongest things of which it is capable, missed. It shows just how far that kind of power can go. It is more like a note of the idea than anything else. It seems to me as if it were written by somebody who lived next door to the people, rather than inside of 'em."
IV. CHRISTMAS BOOKS
CLOSED AND "HOUSEHOLD WORDS" BEGUN
It has been seen that his fancy for his Christmas book of 1848 first arose to him at Lausanne in the summer of 1846, and that, after writing its opening pages in the autumn of the following year, he laid it aside under the pressure of his Dombey. These lines were in the letter that closed his 1848 Broadstairs holiday. "At last I am a mentally matooring of the Christmas book -- or, as poor Macrone used to write, 'booke,' 'boke,' 'buke,' &c." It was the first labour to which he applied himself at his return.
In London it soon came to maturity; was published duly as The Haunted Man, or the Ghost's Bargain; sold largely, beginning with a subscription of twenty thousand; and had a great success on the Adelphi stage, to which it was rather cleverly adapted by Lemon. He had placed on its title page originally four lines from Tennyson's Departure.
And o'er the hills,
and far away
Beyond their utmost purple rim,
Beyond the night, across the day,
Thro' all the world it followed him";
but they were less applicable to the close than to the opening of the tale, and were dropped before publication. The hero is a great chemist, a lecturer at an old foundation, a man of studious philosophic habits, haunted with recollections of the past "o'er which his melancholy sits on brood," thinking his knowledge of the present a worthier substitute, and at last parting with that portion of himself which he thinks he can safely cast away. The recollections are of a great wrong done him in early life, and of all the sorrow consequent upon it; and the ghost he holds nightly conference with, is the darker presentment of himself embodied in those bitter recollections. This part is finely managed. Out of heaped-up images of gloomy and wintry fancies, the supernatural takes a shape which is not forced or violent; and the dialogue which is no dialogue, but a kind of dreary dreamy echo, is a piece of ghostly imagination better than Mrs. Radcliffe. The boon desired is granted and the bargain struck. He is not only to lose his own recollection of grief and wrong, but to destroy the like memory in all whom he approaches. By this means the effect is shown in humble as well as higher minds, in the worst poverty as in competence or ease, always with the same result. The overthinking sage loses his own affections and sympathy, sees them crushed in others, and is brought to the level of the only creature whom he cannot change or influence, an outcast of the streets, a boy whom the mere animal appetites have turned into a small fiend. Never having had his mind awakened, evil is this creature's good; avarice, irreverence, and vindictiveness, are his nature; sorrow has no place in his memory; and from his brutish propensities the philosopher can take nothing away. The juxta-position of two people whom such opposite means have put in the same moral position is a stroke of excellent art. There are plenty of incredibilities and inconsistencies, just as in the pleasant Cricket on the Hearth, which we do not care about, but enjoy rather than otherwise; and, as in that charming little book, there were minor characters as delightful as anything in Dickens. The Tetterby group, in whose humble, homely, kindly, ungainly figures there is everything that could suggest itself to a clear eye, a piercing wit, and a loving heart, became enormous favourites. Tilly Slowboy and her little dot of a baby, charging folks with it as if it were an offensive instrument, or handing it about as if it were something to drink, were not more popular than poor Johnny Tetterby staggering under his Moloch of an infant, the Juggernaut that crushes all his enjoyments. The story itself consists of nothing more than the effects of the Ghost's gift upon the various groups of people introduced, and the way the end is arrived at is very specially in Dickens's manner. What the highest exercise of the intellect had missed is found in the simplest form of the affections. The wife of the custodian of the college where the chemist is professor, in whom are all the unselfish virtues that can beautify and endear the humblest condition, is the instrument of the change. Such sorrow as she has suffered had made her only zealous to relieve others' sufferings: and the discontented wise man learns from her example that the world is, after all, a much happier compromise than it seems to be, and life easier than wisdom is apt to think it; that grief gives joy its relish, purifying what it touches truly; and that "sweet are the uses of adversity" when its clouds are not the shadow of dishonour. All this can be shown but lightly within such space, it is true; and in the machinery a good deal has to be taken for granted. But Dickens was quite justified in turning aside from objections of that kind. "You must suppose," he wrote to me (21 November), "that the Ghost's saving clause gives him those glimpses without which it would be impossible to carry out the idea. Of course my point is that bad and good are inextricably linked in remembrance, and that you could not choose the enjoyment of recollecting only the good. To have all the best of it you must remember the worst also. My intention in the other point you mention is, that he should not know himself how he communicates the gift, whether by look or touch; and that it should diffuse itself in its own way in each case. I can make this clearer by a very few lines in the second part. It is not only necessary to be so, for the variety of the story, but I think it makes the thing wilder and stranger." Critical niceties are indeed out of place, where wildness and strangeness of means matter less than that there should be clearness of drift and intention. Dickens leaves no doubt as to this. He thoroughly makes out his fancy, that no man should so far question the mysterious dispensations of evil in this world as to desire to lose the recollection of such injustice or misery as he may suppose it to have done to himself. There may have been sorrow, but there was the kindness that assuaged it; there may have been wrong, but there was the charity that forgave it; and with both are connected inseparably so many thoughts that soften and exalt whatever else is in the sense of memory, that what is good and pleasurable in life would cease to continue so if these were forgotten. The old proverb does not tell you to forget that you may forgive, but to forgive that you may forget. It is forgiveness of wrong, for forgetfulness of the evil that was in it; such as poor old Lear begged of Cordelia.
The design for his much-thought-of new Periodical was still "dim," as we have seen, when the first cogitation of it at Bonchurch occupied him; but the expediency of making it clearer came soon after with a visit from Mr Evans, who brought his half-year's accounts of sales, and some small disappointment for him in those of Copperfield. "The accounts are rather shy, after Dombey, and what you said comes true after all. I am not sorry I cannot bring myself to care much for what opinions people may form; and I have a strong belief, that, if any of my books are read years hence, Dombey will be remembered as among the best of them: but passing influences are important for the time, and as Chuzzlewit with its small sale sent me up, Dombey's large sale has tumbled me down. Not very much, however, in real truth. These accounts only include the first three numbers, have of course been burdened with all the heavy expenses of number one, and ought not in reason to be complained of. But it is clear to me that the Periodical must be set agoing in the spring; and I have already been busy, at odd half-hours, in shadowing forth a name and an idea. Evans says they have but one opinion repeated to them of Copperfield, and they feel very confident about it. A steady twenty-five thousand, which it is now on the verge of, will do very well. The back numbers are always going off. Read the enclosed."
It was a letter from a Russian man of letters, dated from St. Petersburg, and signed "Trinarch Ivansvitch Wredenskii," sending him a translation of Dombey into Russian; and informing him that his works, which before had only been translated in the journals, and with certain omissions, had now been translated in their entire form by his correspondent, though even he had found an omission to be necessary in his version of Pickwick. He adds, with an exquisite courtesy to our national tongue which is yet not forgetful of the claims of his own nationality, that his difficulties (in the Sam Weller direction and others) had arisen from the "impossibility of portraying faithfully the beauties of the original in the Russian language, which, though the richest in Europe in its expressiveness, is far from being elaborate enough for literature like other civilized languages." He had however, he assured Dickens, been unremitting in his efforts to live with his thoughts; and the exalted opinion he had formed of them was attended by only one wish, that such a writer "could but have expanded under a Russian sky!" Still, his fate was an enviable one. "For the last eleven years your name has enjoyed a wide celebrity in Russia, and from the banks of the Neva to the remotest parts of Siberia you are read with avidity. Your Dombey continues to inspire with enthusiasm the whole of the literary Russia." Much did we delight in the good Wredenskii; and for a long time, on anything going "contrairy" in the public or private direction with him, he would tell me he had ordered his portmanteau to be packed for the more sympathizing and congenial climate of "the remotest parts of Siberia."
The week before he left Bonchurch I again had news of the old and often recurring fancy. "The old notion of the Periodical, which had been agitating itself in my mind for so long, I really think is at last gradually growing into form." This was on 24 September; and on 7 October, from Broadstairs, I had something of the form it had been taking. "I do great injustice to my floating ideas (pretty speedily and comfortably settling down into orderly arrangement) by saying anything about the Periodical now: but my notion is a weekly journal, price either three-halfpence or twopence, matter in part original and in part selected, and always having, if possible, a little good poetry.... Upon the selected matter, I have particular notions. One is, that it should always be a subject. For example, a history of Piracy; in connection with which there is a vast deal of extraordinary, romantic, and almost unknown matter. A history of Knight-errantry, and the wild old notion of the Sangreal. A history of Savages, showing the singular respects in which all savages are like each other; and those which civilised men, under circumstances of difficulty, soonest become like savages. A history of remarkable characters, good and bad, in history; to assist the reader's judgment in his observation of men, and in his estimates of the truth of many characters in fiction. All these things, and fifty others that I have already thought of, would be compilations; through the whole of which the general intellect and purpose of the paper should run, and in which there would be scarcely less interest than in the original matter. The original matter to be essays, reviews, letters, theatrical criticisms, &c. &c. as amusing as possible, but all distinctly and boldly going to what in one's own view ought to be the spirit of the people and the time.... Now to bind all this together, and to get a character established as it were which any of the writers may maintain without difficulty, I want to suppose a certain Shadow, which may go into any place, by sunlight, moonlight, starlight, firelight, candlelight, and be in all homes, and all nooks and corners, and be supposed to be cognisant of everything, and go everywhere, without the least difficulty. Which may be in the Theatre, the Palace, the House of Commons, the Prisons, the Unions, the Churches, on the Railroad, on the Sea, abroad and at home: a kind of semi-omniscient, omnipresent, intangible creature. I don't think it would do to call the paper The Shadow: but I want something tacked to that title, to express the notion of its being a cheerful, useful and always welcome Shadow. I want to open the first number with this Shadow's account of himself and his family. I want to have all the correspondence addressed to him. I want him to issue his warnings from time to time, that he is going to fall on such and such a subject; or to expose such and such a piece of humbug; or that he may be expected shortly in such and such a place. I want the compiled part of the paper to express the idea of this Shadow's having been in libraries, and among the books referred to. I want him to loom as a fanciful thing all over London; and to get up a general notion of 'What will the Shadow say about this, I wonder? What will the Shadow say about this? Is the Shadow here?' and so forth. Do you understand?... . I have an enormous difficulty in expressing what I mean, in this stage of the business; but I think the importance of the idea is, that once stated on paper, there is no difficulty in keeping it up. That it presents an odd, unsubstantial, whimsical, new thing: a sort of previously unthought of Power going about. That it will concentrate into one focus all that is done in the paper. That it sets up a creature which isn't the Spectator, and isn't Isaac Bickerstaff, and isn't anything of that kind: but in which people will be perfectly willing to believe, and which is just as mysterious and quaint enough to have a sort of charm for their imagination, while it will represent common-sense and humanity. I want to express in the title, and in the grasp of the idea to express also, that it is the Thing at everybody's elbow, and in everybody's footsteps. At the window, by the fire, in the street, in the house, from infancy to old age, everybody's inseparable companion.... Now do you make anything out of this? which I let off as if I were a bladder full of it, and you had punctured me. I have not breathed the idea to anyone; but I have a lively hope that it is an idea, and that out of it the whole scheme may be hammered."
Excellent the idea doubtless, and so described in his letter that hardly anything more characteristic survives him. But I could not make anything out of it that had a quite feasible look. The ordinary ground of miscellaneous reading, selection, and compilation out of which it was to spring, seemed to me no proper soil for the imaginative produce it was meant to bear. As his fancies grew and gathered round it, they had given it too much of the range and scope of his own exhaustless land of invention and marvel; and the very means proposed for letting in the help of others would only more heavily have weighted himself. Not to trouble the reader now with objections given him in detail, my judgment was clear against his plan; less for any doubt of the effect if its parts could be brought to combine, than for my belief that it was not in view practicable; and though he did not immediately accept my reasons, he acquiesced in them ultimately. "I do not lay much stress on your grave doubts about Periodical, but more anon." The more anon resolved itself into conversations out of which the shape given to the projects was that which it finally took.
It was to be a weekly miscellany of general literature; and its stated objects were to be, to contribute to the entertainment and instruction of all classes of readers, and to help in the discussion of the more important social questions of the time. It was to comprise short stories by others as well as himself; matters of passing interest in the liveliest form that could be given to them; subjects suggested by books that might most be attracting attention; and poetry in every number if possible, but in any case something of romantic fancy. This was to be a cardinal point. There was to be no mere utilitarian spirit; with all familiar things, but especially those repellent on the surface, something was to be connected that should be fanciful or kindly; and the hardest workers were to be taught that their lot is not necessarily excluded from the sympathies and graces of imagination. This was all finally settled by the close of 1849, when a general announcement of the intended adventure was made. There remained only a title and an assistant editor; and I am happy now to remember that for the latter important duty Mr. Wills was chosen at my suggestion. He discharged its duties with admirable patience and ability for twenty years, and Dickens's later life had no more intimate friend.
The title took some time and occupied many letters. One of the first thought-of has now the curious interest of having foreshadowed, by the motto proposed to accompany it, the title of the series of All the Year Round which he was led to substitute for the older series in 1859. "THE ROBIN. With this motto from Goldsmith. The redbreast, celebrated for its affection to mankind, continues with us, the year round." That however was rejected. Then came: "MANKIND. This I think very good." It followed the other nevertheless. After it came: "And here a strange idea, but with decided advantages. 'CHARLES DICKENS. A weekly journal designed for the instruction and entertainment of all classes of readers. CONDUCTED BY HIMSELF.'" Still something was wanting in that also. Next day there arrived: "I really think if there be anything wanting in the other name, that this is very pretty, and just supplies it. THE HOUSEHOLD VOICE. I have thought of many others, as -- THE HOUSEHOLD GUEST. THE HOUSEHOLD FACE. THE COMRADE. THE MICROSCOPE. THE HIGHWAY OF LIFE. THE LEVER. THE ROLLING YEARS. THE HOLLY TREE (with two lines from Southey for a motto). EVERYTHING. But I rather think the VOICE is it." It was near indeed; but the following day came, "HOUSEHOLD WORDS. This is a very pretty name:" and the choice was made.
The first number appeared on Saturday, 30 March, 1850, and contained among other things the beginning of a story by a very original writer, Mrs. Gaskell, for whose powers he had a high admiration, and with whom he had friendly intercourse during many years. Other opportunities will arise for mention of those with whom this new labour brought him into personal communication, but I may at once say that of all the writers, before unknown, whom his journal helped to make familiar to a wide world of readers, he had the strongest personal interest in Mr. Sala, and placed at once in the highest rank his capabilities of help in such an enterprise. An illustrative trait of what I have named as its cardinal point to him will fitly close my account of its establishment. Its first number, still unpublished, had not seemed to him quite to fulfil his promise, "tenderly to cherish the light of fancy inherent in all breasts;" and, as soon as he received the proof of the second, I heard from him. "Looking over the suggested contents of number two at breakfast this morning" (Brighton: 14 March, 1850) "I felt an uneasy sense of there being a want of something tender, which would apply to some universal household knowledge. Coming down in the railroad the other night (always a wonderfully suggestive place to me when I am alone) I was looking at the stars, and revolving a little idea about them. Putting now these two things together, I wrote the enclosed little paper, straightway; and should like you to read it before you send it to the printers (it will not take you five minutes), and let me have a proof by return." This was the child's "dream of a star," which opened his second number; and, though it appears among his reprinted pieces, it may justify a word or two of description. It is of a brother and sister, constant child-companions, who used to make friends of a star, watching it together until they knew when and where it would rise, and always bidding it good-night; so that when the sister dies the lonely brother still connects her with the star, which he then sees opening as a world of light, and its rays making a shining pathway from earth to heaven; and he also sees angels waiting to receive travellers up that sparkling road, his little sister among them; and he thinks ever after that he belongs less to the earth than to the star where his sister is; and he grows up to youth and through manhood and old age, consoled still under the successive domestic bereavements that fall to his earthly lot by renewal of that vision of his childhood; until at last, lying on his own bed of death, he feels that he is moving as a child to his child-sister, and he thanks his heavenly father that the star had so often opened before to receive the dear ones who awaited him.
His sister Fanny and himself, he told me long before this paper was written, used to wander at night about a churchyard near their house, looking up at the stars; and her early death, of which I am shortly to speak, had vividly reawakened all the childish associations which made her memory dear to him.
V. IN AID OF LITERATURE
In the year of the establishment of Household Words Dickens resumed what I have called his splendid strolling on behalf of a scheme for the advantage of men of letters, to which a great brother-author had given the sanction of his genius and name. In November 1850, in the hall of Lord Lytton's old family seat in Knebworth-park, there were three private performances by the original actors in Ben Jonson's Every Man in His Humour, of which all the circumstances and surroundings were very brilliant; some of the gentlemen of the county played both in comedy and farces; our generous host was profuse of all noble encouragement; and amid the general pleasure and excitement hopes rose high. Recent experience had shown what the public interest in this kind of amusement might place within reach of its providers; and there came to be discussed the possibility of making permanent such help as had been afforded to fellow writers, by means of an endowment that should not be mere charity, but should combine something of both pension list and college-lectureship, without the drawbacks of either. It was not enough considered that schemes for self-help, to be successful, require from those they are meant to benefit, not only a general assent to their desirability, but zealous co-operation. Too readily assuming what should have had more thorough investigation, the enterprise was set on foot, and the "Guild of Literature and Art" originated at Knebworth. A five-act comedy was to be written by sir Edward Lytton; and, when a certain sum of money had been obtained by public brepresentations of it, the details of the scheme were to be drawn up, and appeal made to those whom it addressed more especially. In a very few months everything was ready, except a farce which Dickens was to have written to follow the comedy, and which unexpected cares of management and preparation were held to absolve him from. There were other reasons. "I have written the first scene," he told me (23 March, 1851), "and it has droll points in it, 'more farcical points than you commonly find in farces,' really better. Yet I am constantly striving, for my reputation's sake, to get into it a meaning that is impossible in a farce; constantly thinking of it, therefore, against the grain; and constantly impressed with a conviction that I could never act in it myself with that wild abandonment which can alone carry a farce off. Wherefore I have confessed to Bulwer Lytton and asked for absolution." There was substituted a new farce of Lemon's, to which, however, Dickens soon contributed so many jokes and so much Gampish and other fun of his own, that it came to be in effect a joint piece of authorship; and Gabble-wigg which the manager took to himself, was one of those personation parts requiring five or six changes of face, voice, and gait in the course of it, from which, as we have seen, he derived all the early theatrical ambition that the elder Mathews had awakened in him. "You have no idea," he continued, "of the immensity of the work as the time advances, for the Duke even throws the whole of the audience on us, or he would get (he says) into all manner of scrapes."
"The Duke" was the Duke of Devonshire, of whose love of letters and interest for men of that calling I have given on a former page, one of the many instances that adorned a life which alone perhaps in England was genuinely and completely that of the Grand Seigneur. Well-read and very accomplished, he had the pleasing manners which proceed from a kind nature; and splendid in his mode of living beyond any other English noble, his magnificence, by the ease and elegance that accompanied it, was relieved from all offence of ostentation. He had offered his house in Piccadilly for the first representations, and in his princely way discharged all the expenses attending them. A moveable theatre was built and set up in the great drawing-room, the library was turned into a green-room, and here Lytton's comedy was presented. While the rehearsals were in progress our friend Macready was bidding adieu to the art of which he had long been the leading ornament; and before the comedy was produced its author presided at the farewell dinner to that distinguished actor on his quitting the stage. Dickens and myself came up for it from Malvern, and a few words from his speech proposing the chairman's health will illustrate the enterprise on foot and indicate its most generous helper. "There is a popular prejudice, a kind of superstition, that authors are not a particularly united body, and I am afraid that this may contain half a grain or so of the veracious. But of our chairman I have never in my life made public mention without adding what I can never repress, that in the path we both tread I have uniformly found him to be, from the first, the most generous of men; quick to encourage, slow to disparage, and ever anxious to assert the order of which he is so great an ornament. That we men of letters are, or have been, invariably or inseparably attached to each other, it may not be possible to say, formerly or now; but there cannot now be, and there cannot ever have been, among the followers of literature, a man so entirely without the grudging little jealousies that too often over-shadow its brightness, as he who now occupies that chair. Nor was there ever a time when such reason existed for bearing testimony to his great consideration for the evils sometimes unfortunately attendant upon literature, though never on his own pursuit of it. For, in conjunction with some other gentlemen now present, I have just embarked in a design with him to smooth the rugged way of young labourers both in literature and the fine arts, and to soften, but by no eleemosynary means, the declining years of meritorious age. If it prosper, as I hope it will, and as I know it ought, there will one day in England be an honour where there is now a reproach; and a future race of men of letters will gratefully remember that it originated in the sympathies, and was made practicable by the generosity, of Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton."
The design nevertheless did not prosper, and both the great writers who had associated themselves with it are now passed away. Since it first was mentioned on this page, Lord Lytton has himself been borne to the Abbey where Dickens is laid, and which never opened to receive a more varied genius, a more gallant spirit, a man more constant to his friends, more true to any cause he represented, or whose name will hereafter be found entitled to a more honoured place in the history of his time. The Guild design failed because the support indispensable to success was not, as Dickens too sanguinely hoped, given to it by literary men themselves. But one part of his prediction may yet have fulfilment, since the failure has made it perhaps even more rather than less likely that future followers of literature will have reason to remember, how wise and well-directed was the unavailing effort to enable the most sensitive of all professions to receive assistance in its hour of distress without the loss of self-respect or dignity. How high Dickens had carried his hope in this respect, and to what depth of disappointment he fell at its collapse, will have mention on a later page.
Lytton's comedy, Not so Bad as We Seem, was played for the first time at Devonshire-house on 16 May, 1851, before the Queen and Prince and as large an audience as places could be found for; the farce of Mr. Nightingale's Diary being reserved for the second performance. The success abundantly realised expectation; and, after many representations at the Hanover-square Rooms in London, strolling began in the country, and was continued at intervals for considerable portions of this and the following year. From much of it, I was myself disabled by illness and occupation, and substitutes had to be found; but to this I owe a lively and characteristic picture of Dickens amid the incidents and accidents to which his theatrical career exposed him, which may be taken from the closing performances. The company carried with them, it should be said, the theatre constructed for Devonshire-house, as well as the admirable scenes which Stanfield, David Roberts, Thomas Grieve, Telbin, Absolon, and Louis Haghe had painted as their generous free-offerings to the comedy; of which the representations were thus rendered irrespective of theatres or their managers, and took place in the large halls or concert-rooms of the various towns and cities. A design for the card of membership, taken from an incident in the life of De Foe, expressed the interest felt in the undertaking by another distinguished artist, Mr. E. M. Ward.
"The comedy," Dickens wrote from Sunderland on 29 August, 1852, "is so far improved by the reductions which your absence and other causes have imposed on us, that it acts now only two hours and twenty-five minutes, all waits included, and goes 'like wildfire,' as Mr. Tonson says. We have had prodigious houses, though smaller rooms (as to their actual size) than I had hoped for. The Duke was at Derby, and no end of minor radiances. Into the room at Newcastle (where Lord Carlisle was by the bye) they squeezed six hundred people, at twelve and sixpence, into a space reasonably capable of holding three hundred. Last night, in a hall built like a theatre, with pit, boxes, and gallery, we had about twelve hundred -- I dare say more. They began with a round of applause when Coote's white waistcoat appeared in the orchestra, and wound up the farce with three deafening cheers. I never saw such good fellows. Stanny is their fellow-townsman; was born here; and they applauded his scene as if it were himself. But what I suffered from a dreadful anxiety that hung over me all the time, I can never describe. When we got here at noon, it appeared that the hall was a perfectly new one, and had only had the slates put upon the roof by torchlight over night. Farther, that the proprietors of some opposition rooms had declared the building to be unsafe, and that there was a panic in the town about it; people having had their money back, and being undecided whether to come or not, and all kinds of such horrors. I didn't know what to do. The horrible responsibility of risking an accident of that awful nature seemed to rest only upon me; for I had only to say we wouldn't act, and there would be no chance of danger. I was afraid to take Sloman into council lest the panic should infect our men. I asked W. what he thought, and he consolingly observed that his digestion was so bad that death had no terrors for him! I went and looked at the place; at the rafters, walls, pillars, and so forth; and fretted myself into a belief that they really were slight! To crown all, there was an arched iron roof without any brackets or pillars, on a new principle! The only comfort I had was in stumbling at length on the builder, and finding him a plain practical north-countryman with a foot rule in his pocket. I took him aside, and asked him should we, or could, we, prop up any weak part of the place: especially the dressing-rooms, which were under our stage, the weight of which must be heavy on a new floor, and dripping wet walls. He told me there wasn't a stronger building in the world; and that, to allay the apprehension, they had opened it, on Thursday night, to thousands of the working people, and induced them to sing, and beat with their feet, and make every possible trial of the vibration. Accordingly there was nothing for it but to go on. I was in such dread, however, lest a false alarm should spring up among the audience and occasion a rush, that I kept Catherine and Georgina out of the front. When the curtain went up and I saw the great sea of faces rolling up to the roof, I looked here and looked there, and thought I saw the gallery out of the perpendicular, and fancied the lights in the ceiling were not straight. Rounds of applause were perfect agony to me, I was so afraid of their effect upon the building. I was ready all night to rush on in case of an alarm -- a false alarm was my main dread -- and implore the people for God's sake to sit still. I had our great farce-bell rung to startle Sir Geoffrey instead of throwing down a piece of wood, which might have raised a sudden apprehension. I had a palpitation of the heart, if any of our people stumbled up or down a stair. I am sure I never acted better, but the anxiety of my mind was so intense, and the relief at last so great, that I am half dead to-day, and have not yet been able to eat or drink anything or to stir out of my room. I shall never forget it. As to the short time we had for getting the theatre up; as to the upsetting, by a runaway pair of horses, of one of the vans at the Newcastle railway station with all the scenery in it, every atom of which was turned over; as to the fatigue of our carpenters, who have now been up four nights, and who were lying dead asleep in the entrances last night; I say nothing, after the other gigantic nightmare, except that Sloman's splendid knowledge of his business, and the good temper and cheerfulness of all the workmen, are capital. I mean to give them a supper at Liverpool, and address them in a neat and appropriate speech. We dine at two to-day (it is now one) and go to Sheffield at four, arriving there at about ten. I had been as fresh as a daisy; walked from Nottingham to Derby, and from Newcastle here; but seem to have had my nerves crumpled up last night, and have an excruciating headache. That's all at present. I shall never be able to bear the smell of new deal and fresh mortar again as long as I live."
Manchester and Liverpool closed the trip with enormous success at both places; and Sir Edward Lytton was present at a public dinner which was given in the former city, Dickens's brief word about it being written as he was setting foot in the train that was to bring him to London. "Bulwer spoke brilliantly at the Manchester dinner, and his earnestness and determination about the Guild was most impressive. It carried everything before it. They are now getting up annual subscriptions, and will give us a revenue to begin with. I swear I believe that people to be the greatest in the world. At Liverpool I had a Round Robin on the stage after the play was over, a place being left for your signature, and as I am going to have it framed, I'll tell Green to send it to Lincoln's-inn-fields. You have no idea how good Tenniel, Topham, and Collins have been in what they had to do."
These names, distinguished in art and letters, represent additions to the company who had joined the enterprise; and the last of them, Mr. Wilkie Collins, became, for all the rest of the life of Dickens, one of his dearest and most valued friends.
VI. LAST YEARS
IN DEVONSHIRE TERRACE
Excepting always the haunts and associations of his childhood, Dickens had no particular sentiment of locality, and any special regard for houses he had lived in was not a thing noticeable in him. But he cared most for Devonshire-terrace, perhaps for the bit of ground attached to it; and it was with regret he suddenly discovered, at the close of 1847, that he should have to resign it "next lady-day three years. I had thought the lease two years more." To that brief remaining time belong some incidents of which I have still to give account; and I connect them with the house in which he lived during the progress of what is generally thought his greatest book, and of what I think were his happiest years.
We had never had such intimate confidences as in the interval since his return from Paris; but these have been used in my narrative of the childhood and boyish experiences, and what remain are incidental only. Of the fragment of autobiography there also given, the origin has been told: but the intention of leaving such a record had been also in his mind at an earlier date; and it was the very depth of our interest in the opening of his fragment that led to the larger design in which it became absorbed. "I hardly know why I write this," was his own comment on one of his personal revelations, "but the more than friendship which has grown between us seems to force it on me in my present mood. We shall speak of it all, you and I, Heaven grant, wisely and wonderingly many and many a time in after years. In the meanwhile I am more at rest for having opened all my heart and mind to you.... This day eleven years, poor dear Mary died."
That was written on the seventh of May, 1848, but another sadness impending at the time was taking his thoughts still farther back; to when he trotted about with his little elder sister in the small garden to the house at Portsea. The faint hope for her which Elliotson had given him in Paris had since completely broken down; and I was to hear, in less than two months after the letter just quoted, how nearly the end was come. "A change took place in poor Fanny," he wrote on 5 July, "about the middle of the day yesterday, which took me out there last night. Her cough suddenly ceased almost, and, strange to say, she immediately became aware of her hopeless state; to which she resigned herself, after an hour's unrest and struggle, with extraordinary sweetness and constancy. The irritability passed, and all hope faded away; though only two nights before, she had been planning for 'after Christmas.' She is greatly changed. I had a long interview with her to-day, alone; and when she had expressed some wishes about the funeral, and her being buried in unconsecrated ground" (Mr. Burnett's family were dissenters), "I asked her whether she had any care or anxiety in the world. She said No, none. It was hard to die at such a time of life, but she had no alarm whatever in the prospect of the change; felt sure we should meet again in a better world; and although they had said she might rally for a time, did not really wish it. She said she was quite calm and happy, relied upon the mediation of Christ, and had no terror at all. She had worked very hard, even when ill; but believed that was in her nature, and neither regretted nor complained of it. Burnett had been always very good to her; they had never quarrelled; she was sorry to think of his going back to such a lonely home; and was distressed about her children, but not painfully so. She showed me how thin and worn she was; spoke about an invention she had heard of that she would like to have tried, for the deformed child's back; called to my remembrance all our sister Letitia's patience and steadiness; and, though she shed tears sometimes, clearly impressed upon me that her mind was made up, and at rest. I asked her very often, if she could ever recall anything that she could leave to my doing, to put it down, or mention it to somebody if I was not there; and she said she would, but she firmly believed that there was nothing -- nothing. Her husband being young, she said, and her children infants, she could not help thinking sometimes, that it would be very long in the course of nature before they were reunited; but she knew that was a mere human fancy, and could have no reality after she was dead. Such an affecting exhibition of strength and tenderness, in all that early decay, is quite indescribable. I need not tell you how it moved me. I cannot look round upon the dear children here, without some misgiving that this sad disease will not perish out of our blood with her; but I am sure I have no selfishness in the thought, and God knows how small the world looks to one who comes out of such a sick-room on a bright summer day. I don't know why I write this before going to bed. I only know that in the very pity and grief of my heart, I feel as if it were doing something." After not many weeks she died, and the little child who was her last anxiety did not long survive her.
In all the later part of the year Dicken's thoughts were turning much to the form his next book should assume. A suggestion that he should write it in the first person, by way of change, had been thrown out by me, which he took at once very gravely; and this, with other things, though as yet not dreaming of any public use of his early personal trials, conspired to bring about the resolve to use them. His determination once taken, with what a singular truthfulness he contrived to blend the fact with the fiction may be shown by a small occurrence of this time. It has been inferred, from the vividness of the boy-impressions of Yarmouth in David's earliest experiences, that the place must have been familiar to his own boyhood: but the truth was that at the close of 1848 he first saw that celebrated sea-port. One of its earlier months had been signalized by an adventure in which Leech, Lemon, and myself took part with him, when, obtaining horses from Salisbury, we passed the whole of a March day in riding over every part of the Plain; visiting Stonehenge, and exploring Hazlitt's "hut" at Winterslow, birthplace of some of his finest essays; altogether with so brilliant a success that now (13th of November) he proposed to "repeat the Salisbury Plain idea in a new direction in mid-winter, to wit, Blackgang Chine in the Isle of Wight, with dark winter cliffs and roaring oceans." But mid-winter brought with it too much dreariness of its own, to render these stormy accompaniments to it very palatable; and on the last day of the year he bethought him "it would be better to make an outburst to some old cathedral city we don't know, and what do you say to Norwich and Stanfield-hall?" Thither accordingly the three friends went, illness at the last disabling me; and of the result I heard (12th of January, 1849) that Stanfield-hall, the scene of a recent frightful tragedy, had nothing attractive unless the term might be applied to "a murderous look that seemed to invite such a crime. We arrived," continued Dickens, "between the Hall and Potass farm, as the search was going on for the pistol in a manner so consummately stupid, that there was nothing on earth to prevent any of Rush's labourers from accepting five pounds from Rush junior to find the weapon and give it to him. Norwich, a disappointment" (one pleasant face "transformeth a city," but he was unable yet to connect it with our delightful friend Elwin); "all save its place of execution, which we found fit for a gigantic scoundrel's exit. But the success of the trip, for me, was to come. Yarmouth, sir, where we went afterwards, is the strangest place in the wide world: one hundred and forty-six miles of hill-less marsh between it and London. More when we meet. I shall certainly try my hand at it." He made it the home of his "little Em'ly."
was taking that direction with him; and soon, to give his own account of if,
his mind was upon names "running like a high sea." Four days after the date
of the last-quoted letter ("all over happily, thank God, by four o'clock this
morning") there came the birth of his eighth child and sixth son; whom at first
he meant to call by Oliver Goldsmith's name, but settled afterwards into that
of Henry Fielding; and to whom that early friend Ainsworth who had first made
us known to each other, welcome and pleasant companion always, was asked to
be godfather. Telling me of the change in the name of the little fellow, which
he had made in a kind of homage to the style of work he was now so bent on beginning,
he added, "What should you think of this for a notion of a character? 'Yes,
that is very true: but now, What's his motive?' I fancy I could make
something like it into a kind of amusing and more innocent Pecksniff. 'Well
now, yes -- no doubt that was a fine thing to do! But now, stop a moment, let
us see -- What's his motive?'" Here again was but one of the many outward
signs of fancy and fertility that accompanied the outset of all his more important
books; though, as in their cases also, other moods of the mind incident to such
beginnings were less favourable. "Deepest despondency, as usual, in commencing,
besets me;" is the opening of the letter in which he speaks of what of course
was always one of his first anxieties, the selection of a name. In this particular
instance he had been undergoing doubts and misgivings to more than the usual
degree. It was not until 23 February he got to anything like the shape of a
feasible title. "I should like to know how the enclosed (one of those I have
been thinking of) strikes you, on a first acquaintance with it. It is odd, I
think, and new: but it may have A's difficulty of being 'too comic, my boy.'
I suppose I should have to add, though, by way of motto, 'And in short it led
to the very Mag's Diversions. Old Saying.' Or would it be better, there
being equal authority for either, 'And in short they all played Mag's Diversions.
Old Saying'?" "Mag's Diversions.
Being the personal history of
MR. THOMAS MAG THE YOUNGER,
Of Blunderstone House." This was hardly satisfactory, I thought; and it soon became apparent that he thought so too, although within the next three days I had it in three other forms. "Mag's Diversions, being the Personal History, Adventures, Experience, and Observation of Mr. David Mag the Younger, of Blunderstone House." The second omitted Adventures, and called his hero Mr. David Mag the Younger, of Copperfield House. The third made nearer approach to what the destinies were leading him to, and transformed Mr. David Mag into Mr. David Copperfield the Younger and his great-aunt Margaret; retaining still as his leading title, Mag's Diversions. It is singular that it should never have occurred to him, while the name was thus strangely as by accident bringing itself together, that the initials were but his own reversed. He was much startled when I pointed this out, and protested it was just in keeping with the fates and chances which were always befalling him. "Why else," he said, "should I so obstinately have kept to that name when once it turned up?"
It was quite true that he did so, as I had curious proof following close upon the heels of his third proposal. "I wish," he wrote on 26 February, "you would look over carefully the titles now enclosed, and tell me to which you most incline. You will see that they give up Mag altogether, and refer exclusively to one name -- that which I last sent you. I doubt whether I could, on the whole, get a better name.
- The Copperfield Disclosures. Being the personal history, experience, and observation, of Mr. David Copperfield the Younger, of Blunderstone House.
- The Copperfield Records. Being the personal history, experience, and observation, of Mr. David Copperfield the Younger, of Copperfield Cottage.
- The Last Living Speech and Confession of David Copperfield, Junior, of Blunderstone Lodge, who was never executed at the Old Bailey. Being his personal history found among his papers.
- The Copperfield Survey of the World as it Rolled. Being the personal history, experience, and observation of David Copperfield the Younger, of Blunderstone Rookery.
- The Last Will and Testament of Mr. David Copperfield. Being his personal history left as a legacy.
- Copperfield, Complete. Being the whole personal history and experience of Mr. David Copperfield of Blunderstone House, which he never meant to be published on any account.
Or, the opening words of No. 6 might be Copperfield's Entire; and The Copperfield Confessions might open Nos. 1 and 2. Now, WHAT SAY YOU?"
What I said is to be inferred from what he wrote back on the 28th. "The Survey has been my favourite from the first. Kate picked it out from the rest, without my saying anything about it. Georgy too. You hit upon it, on the first glance. Therefore I have no doubt that it is indisputably the best title; and I will stick to it." There was a change nevertheless. His completion of the second chapter defined to himself, more clearly than before, the character of the book; and the propriety of rejecting everything not strictly personal from the name given to it. The words proposed, therefore, became ultimately these only: "The Personal History, Adventures, Experience, and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger, of Blunderstone Rookery, which he never meant to be published on any account." And the letter which told me that with this name it was finally to be launched on the first of May, told me also (19 April) the difficulties that still beset him at the opening. "My hand is out in the matter of Copperfield. To-day and yesterday I have done nothing. Though I know what I want to do, I am lumbering on like a stage-waggon. I can't even dine at the Temple to-day, I feel it so important to stick at it this evening, and make some head. I am quite aground; quite a literary Benedict, as he appeared when his heels wouldn't stay upon the carpet; and the long Copperfieldian perspective looks snowy and thick, this fine morning." The allusion was to a dinner at his house the night before; when not only Rogers had to be borne out, having fallen sick at the table, but, as we rose soon after to quit the dining-room, Mr. Jules Benedict had quite suddenly followed the poet's lead, and fallen prostrate on the carpet in the midst of us. Amid the general consternation there seemed a want of proper attendance on the sick; the distinguished musician faring in this respect hardly so well as the famous bard, by whose protracted sufferings in the library, whither he had been removed, the sanitary help available on the establishment was still absorbed: and as Dickens had been eloquent during dinner on the atrocities of a pauper-farming case at Tooting which was then exciting a fury of indignation, Fonblanque now declared him to be no better himself than a second Drouet, reducing his guests to a lamentable state by the food he had given them, and aggravating their sad condition by absence of all proper nursing. The joke was well kept up by Quin and Edwin Landseer, Lord Strangford joining in with a tragic sympathy for his friend the poet; and the banquet so dolefully interrupted ended in uproarious mirth. For nothing really serious had happened. Benedict went laughing away with his wife, and I helped Rogers on with his over-shoes for his usual night-walk home. "Do you know how many waistcoats I wear?" asked the poet of me, as I was doing him this service. I professed my inability to guess. "Five!" he said: "and here they are!" Upon which he opened them, in the manner of the gravedigger in Hamlet, and showed me every one.
That dinner was in the April of 1849, and among others present were Mrs. Procter and Mrs. Macready, dear and familiar names always in his house. No swifter or surer perception than Dickens's for what was solid and beautiful in character; he rated it higher than intellectual effort; and the same lofty place, first in his affection and respect, would have been Macready's and Procter's, if the one had not been the greatest of actors, and the other a poet as genuine as old Fletcher or Beaumont. There were present at this dinner also the American minister and Mrs. Bancroft (it was the year of that visit of Macready to America, which ended in the disastrous Forrest riots); and it had among its guests Lady Graham, the wife of Sir James Graham, and sister of Tom Sheridan's wife, than whom not even the wit and beauty of her nieces, Mrs. Norton and Lady Dufferin, did greater justice to the brilliant family of the Sheridans; so many of whose members, and these three above all, Dickens prized among his friends. The table that day will be "full" if I add the celebrated singer Miss Catherine Hayes, and her homely good-natured Irish mother, who startled us all very much by complimenting Mrs. Dickens on her having had for her father so clever a painter as Mr. Hogarth.
Others familiar to Devonshire-terrace in these years will be indicated if I name an earlier dinner (3 January), for the "christening" of the Haunted Man, when, besides Lemons, Evanses, Leeches, Bradburys, and Stanfields, there were present Tenniel, Topham, Stone, Robert Bell, and Thomas Beard. Next month (24 March) I met at his table, Lord and Lady Lovelace; Milner Gibson, Mowbray Morris, Horace Twiss, and their wives; Lady Molesworth and her daughter (Mrs. Ford); John Hardwick, Charles Babbage, and Doctor Locock. That distinguished physician had attended the poor girl, Miss Abercrombie, whose death by strychnine led to the exposure of Wainewright's murders; and the opinion he had formed of her chances of recovery, the external indications of that poison being then but imperfectly known, was first shaken, he told me, by the gloomy and despairing cries of the old family nurse, that her mother and her uncle had died exactly so! These, it was afterwards proved, had been among the murderer's former victims. The Lovelaces were frequent guests after the return from Italy, Sir George Crawford, so friendly in Genoa, having married Lord Lovelace's sister; and few had a greater warmth of admiration for Dickens than Lord Byron's "Ada," on whom Paul Dombey's death laid a strange fascination. They were again at a dinner got up in the following year for Scribe and the composer Halevy, who had come over to bring out the Tempest at Her Majesty's theatre, then managed by Mr. Lumley, who with M. Van de Weyer, Mrs. Gore and her daughter, the Hogarths, and I think the fine French comedian, Samson, were also amongst those present. Earlier that year there were gathered at his dinner-table the John Delanes, Isambard Brunels, Thomas Longmans (friends since the earliest Broadstairs days, and special favourites always), Lord Mulgrave, and Lord Carlisle, with all of whom his intercourse was intimate and frequent, and became especially so with Delane in later years. Lord Carlisle amused us that night, I remember, by repeating what the good old Brougham had said to him of "those Punch people," expressing what was really his fixed belief. "They never get my face, and are obliged" (which, like Pope, he always pronounced obleeged) "to put up with my plaid trousers!" Of Lord Mulgrave, pleasantly associated with the first American experiences, let me add that he now went with us to several outlying places of amusement of which he wished to acquire some knowledge, and which Dickens knew better than any man; small theatres, saloons, and gardens in city or borough, to which the Eagle and Britannia were as palaces; and I think he was of the party one famous night in the summer of 1849 (29 June), when with Talfourd, Edwin Landseer, and Stanfield we went to the Battle of Waterloo at Vauxhall, and were astounded to see pass in immediately before us, in a bright white overcoat, the great Duke himself, Lady Douro on his arm, the little Ladies Ramsay by his side, and everybody cheering and clearing the way before him. That the old hero enjoyed it all, there could be no doubt, and he made no secret of his delight in "Young Hernandez;" but the "Battle" was undeniably tedious, and it was impossible not to sympathize with the repeatedly and very audibly expressed wish of Talfourd, that "the Prussians would come up!"
The preceding month was that of the start of David Copperfield, and to one more dinner (on the 12th) I may especially refer for those who were present at it. Carlyle and Mrs. Carlyle came, Thackeray and Rogers, Mrs. Gaskell and Kenyon, Jerrold and Hablot Browne, with Mr. and Mrs. Tagart; and it was a delight to see the enjoyment of Dickens at Carlyle's laughing reply to questions about his health, that he was, in the language of Mr. Peggotty's housekeeper, a lorn lone creature and everything went contrairy with him. Things were not likely to go better, I thought, as I saw the great writer, -- kindest as well as wisest of men, but not very patient under sentimental philosophies, -- seated next the good Mr. Tagart, who soon was heard launching at him various metaphysical questions in regard to heaven and such like; and the relief was great when Thackeray introduced, with quaint whimsicality, a story which he and I had heard Macready relate in talking to us about his boyish days, of a country actor who had supported himself for six months on his judicious treatment of the "tag" to the Castle Spectre. In the original it stands that you are to do away with suspicion, banish vile mistrust, and, almost in the words we had just heard from the minister to the philosopher, "Believe there is a heaven nor Doubt that heaven is just!" in place of which Macready's friend, observing that the drop fell for the most part quite coldly, substituted one night the more telling appeal, "And give us your Applause, for that is ALWAYS JUST!" which brought down the house with rapture.
This chapter would far outrun its limits if I spoke of other as pleasant gatherings under Dickens's roof during the years which I am now more particularly describing; when, besides the dinners, the musical enjoyments and dancings, as his children became able to take part in them, were incessant. "Remember that for my Biography!" he said to me gravely on twelfth-day in 1849, after telling me what he had done the night before; and as gravely I now redeem my laughing promise that I would. Little Mary and her sister Kate had taken much pains to teach their father the polka, that he might dance it with them at their brother's birthday festivity (held this year on the 7th, as the 6th was a Sunday); and in the middle of the previous night as he lay in bed, the fear had fallen on him suddenly that the step was forgotten, and then and there, in that wintry dark cold night, he got out of bed to practise it. Anything more characteristic could hardly be told, unless I were able to show him dancing it afterwards, and excelling the youngest performer in untiring vigour and vivacity. There was no one who approached him on these occasions excepting only our attached friend Captain Marryat, who had a frantic delight in dancing, especially with children, of whom and whose enjoyments he was as fond as it became so thoroughly good hearted a man to be. His name would have stood first among those I have been recalling, as he was among the first in Dickens's liking; but in the autumn of 1848 he had unexpectedly passed away. Other names however still reproach me for omission as my memory goes back. With Marryat's on a former page of this book stands that of Monckton Milnes, familiar with Dickens over all the period since, and still more prominent in Tavistock-house days when with Lady Houghton he brought fresh claims to my friend's admiration and regard. Of Bulwer Lytton's frequent presence in all his houses, and of Dickens's admiration for him as one of the supreme masters in his art, so unswerving and so often publicly declared, it would be needless again to speak. Nor shall I dwell upon his interchange of hospitalities with distinguished men in the two great professions so closely allied to literature and its followers; Denmans, Pollocks, Campbells, and Chittys; Watsons, Southwood Smiths, Lococks, and Elliotsons. To Alfred Tennyson, through all the friendly and familiar days I am describing, he gave full allegiance and honoured welcome. Tom Taylor was often with him; and there was a charm for him I should find it difficult to exaggerate in Lord Dudley Stuart's gentle yet noble character, his refined intelligence and generous public life, expressed so perfectly in his chivalrous face. Incomplete indeed would be the list if I did not add to it the frank and hearty Lord Nugent, who had so much of his grandfather, Goldsmith's friend, in his lettered tastes and jovial enjoyments. Nor should I forget occasional days with dear old Charles Kemble and one or other of his daughters; with Alexander Dyce; and with Harness and his sister, or his niece and her husband, Mr. and Mrs. Archdale; made especially pleasant by talk about great days of the stage. It was something to hear Kemble on his sister's Mrs. Beverley; or to see Harness and Dyce exultant in recollecting her Volumnia. The enchantment of the Mrs. Beverley, her brother would delightfully illustrate by imitation of her manner of restraining Beverley's intemperance to their only friend, "You are too busy, sir!" when she quietly came down the stage from a table at which she had seemed to be occupying herself, laid her hand softly on her husband's arm, and in a gentle half-whisper, "No, not too busy; mistaken perhaps; but----" not only stayed his temper but reminded him of obligations forgotten in the heat of it. Up to where the tragic terror began, our friend told us, there was nothing but this composed domestic sweetness, expressed even in the simplicity and neat arrangement of her dress, her cap with the strait hand, and her hair gathered up underneath; but all changing when the passion did begin; one single disordered lock escaping at the first outbreak, and, in the final madness, all of it streaming dishevelled down her beautiful face. Kemble made no secret of his belief that his sister had the highest genius of the two; but he spoke with rapture of "John's" Macbeth and parts of his Othello; comparing his "Farewell the tranquil mind" to the running down of a clock, an image which he did not know that Hazlitt had applied to the delivery of "To-morrow and to-morrow," in the other tragedy. In all this Harness seemed to agree; and I thought a distinction was not ill put by him, on the night of which I speak, in his remark that the nature in Kemble's acting only supplemented his magnificent art, whereas, though the artist was not less supreme in his sister, it was on nature she most relied, bringing up the other power only to the aid of it. "It was in another sense like your writing," said Harness to Dickens, "the commonest natural feelings made great, even when not rendered more refined by art." Her Constance would have been fishwify, he declared, if its wonderful truth had not overborne every other feeling; and her Volumnia escaped being vulgar only by being so excessively grand. But it was just what was so called "vulgarity" that made its passionate appeal to the vulgar in a better meaning of the word. When she first entered, Harness said, swaying and surging from side to side with every movement of the Roman crowd itself, as it went out and returned in confusion, she so absorbed her son into herself as she looked at him, so swelled and amplified in her pride and glory for him, that "the people in the pit blubbered all round," and he could no more help it than the rest.
There are yet some other names that should have place in these rambling recollections, though I by no means affect to remember all. One Sunday evening Mazzini made memorable by taking us to see the school he had established in Clerkenwell for the Italian organ-boys. This was after dining with Dickens, who had been brought into personal intercourse with the great Italian by having given money to a begging impostor who made unauthorised use of his name. Edinburgh friends made him regular visits in the spring time: not Jeffrey and his family alone, but Sheriff Gordon and his, with whom he was not less intimate, Lord Murray and his wife, Sir William Allan and his niece, Lord Robertson with his wonderful Scotch mimicries, and Peter Fraser with his enchanting Scotch songs; our excellent friend Liston the surgeon, until his fatal illness came in December 1848, being seldom absent from those assembled to bid such visitors welcome. Allan's name may remind me of other artists often at his house, Eastlakes, Leslies, Friths, and Wards, besides those who have had frequent mention, and among whom I should have included Charles as well as Edwin Landseer, and William Boxall. Nor should I drop from this section of his friends, than whom none were more attractive to him, such celebrated names in the sister arts as those of Miss Helen Faucit, an actress worthily associated with the brightest days of our friend Macready's managements, Mr. Sims Reeves, Mr. John Parry, Mr. Phelps, Mr. Webster, Mr. Harley, Mr. and Mrs. Keeley, Mr. Whitworth, and Miss Dolby. Mr. George Henry Lewes he had an old and great regard for; among other men of letters should not be forgotten the cordial Thomas Ingoldsby, and many-sided true-hearted Charles Knight. Mr. R. H. Home and his wife were frequent visitors both in London and at seaside holidays; and I have met at his table Mr. and Mrs. S. C. Hall. There were the Duff Gordons too, the Lyells, and, very old friends of us both, the Emerson Tennents; there was the good George Raymond. Mr. Frank Beard and his wife; the Porter Smiths, valued for Macready's sake as well as their own; Mr. and Mrs. Charles Black, near connections by marriage of George Cattermole, with whom there was intimate intercourse both before and during the residence in Italy; Mr. T. J. Thompson, brother of Mrs. Smithson formerly named, and his wife, whose sister Frederick Dickens married; Mr. Mitton, his own early companion; and Mrs. Torrens, who had played with the amateurs in Canada. These are all in my memory so connected with Devonshire Terrace, as friends or familiar acquaintance, that they claim this word before leaving it; and visitors from America, I may remark, had always a grateful reception. Of the Bancrofts mention has been made, and with them should be coupled the Abbot Lawrences, Prescott, Hillard, George Curtis, and Felton's brother. Felton himself did not visit England until the Tavistock House time. In 1847 there was a delightful day with the Coldens and the Wilkses, relatives by marriage of Jeffrey; in the following year, I think at my rooms because of some accident that closed Devonshire Terrace that day (25 April), Dickens, Carlyle, and myself, forgathered with the admirable Emerson; and M. Van de Weyer will remember a dinner where he took joyous part with Dickens in running down a phrase which the learned in books, Mr. Cogswell, on a mission here for the Astor library, had startled us by denouncing as an uncouth Scotch barbarism -- open up. You found it constantly in Hume, he said, but hardly anywhere else; and he defied us to find it more than once through the whole of the volumes of Gibbon. Upon this, after brief wonder and doubt, we all thought it best to take part in a general assault upon open up, by invention of phrases on the same plan that should show it in exaggerated burlesque, and support Mr. Cogswell's indictment. Then came a struggle who should carry the absurdity farthest and the victory remained with M. Van de Weyer until Dickens surpassed even him, and "opened up" depths of almost frenzied absurdity that would have delighted the heart of Leigh Hunt It will introduce the last and not least honoured n me into my list of his acquaintance and friends, if I mention his amusing little interruption one day to Professor Owen's description of a telescope of huge dimensions built by an enterprising clergyman who had taken to the study of the stars; and who was eager, said Owen, to see farther into heaven -- he was going to say, than Lord Rosse; if Dickens had not dryly interposed, "than his professional studies had enabled him to penetrate."
Some incidents that belong specially to the three years that closed his residence in the home thus associated with not the least interesting part of his career, will further show what now were his occupations and ways of life. In the summer of 1849 he came up from Broadstairs to attend a Mansion House dinner, which the lord mayor of that day had been moved by a laudable ambition to give to "literature and art," which he supposed would be adequately represented by the Royal Academy, the contributors to Punch, Dickens, and one or two newspaper men. On the whole the result was not cheering; the worthy chief magistrate, no doubt quite undesignedly, expressing too much surprise at the unaccustomed faces around him to be altogether complimentary. In general (this was the tone) we are in the habit of having princes, dukes, ministers, and what not for our guests, but what a delight, all the greater for being unusual, to see gentlemen like you! In other words, what could possibly be pleasanter than for people satiated with greatness to get for a while by way of change into the butler's pantry? This in substance was Dickens's account to me next day, and his reason for having been very careful in his acknowledgment of the toast of "The Novelists." He was nettled not a little therefore by a jesting allusion to himself in the Daily News in connection with the proceedings, and asked me to forward a remonstrance. Having a strong dislike to all such displays of sensitiveness, I suppressed the letter; but it is perhaps worth printing now. Its date is Broadstairs, Wednesday, 11 July, 1849. "I have no other interest in, or concern with, a most facetious article on last Saturday's dinner at the Mansion House, which appeared in your paper of yesterday, and found its way here to-day, than that it misrepresents me in what I said on the of that satire to state what I did say, I shall be much obliged occasion. If you should not think it at all damaging to the wit to you. It was this.... That I considered the compliment of a recognition of Literature by the citizens of London the more acceptable to us because it was unusual in that hall, and likely to be an advantage and benefit to them in proportion as it became in future less unusual. That, on behalf of the novelists, I accepted the tribute as an appropriate one; inasmuch as we had sometimes reason to hope that our imaginary worlds afforded an occasional refuge to men busily engaged in the toils of life, from which they came forth none the worse to a renewal of its strivings; and certainly that the chief magistrate of the greatest city in the world might be fitly regarded as the representative of that class of our readers."
Of an incident towards the close of the year, though it had important practical results, brief mention will here suffice. We saw the Mannings executed on the walls of Horsemonger Lane Gaol; and with the letter which Dickens wrote next day to The Times descriptive of what we had witnessed on that memorable morning, there began an active agitation against public executions which never ceased until the salutary change was effected which has worked so well. Shortly after this he visited Rockingham Castle, the seat of Mr. and Mrs. Watson, his Lausanne friends; and I must preface by a word or two the amusing letter in which he told me of this visit. It was written in character, and the character was that of an American visitor to England.
"I knew him, Horatio"; and a very kindly honest man he was, who had come to England authorised to make inquiry into our general agricultural condition, and who discharged his mission by publishing some reports extremely creditable to his good sense and ability, expressed in a plain nervous English that reminded one of the rural writings of Cobbett. But in an evil hour he published also a series of private letters to friends written from the various residences his introductions had opened to him; and these were filled with revelations as to the internal economy of English noblemen's country houses, of a highly startling description. As for example, how, on arrival at a house your "name is announced, and your portmanteau immediately taken into your chamber, which the servant shows you, with every convenience." How "you are asked by the servant at breakfast what you will have, or you get up and help yourself." How at dinner you don't dash at the dishes, or contend for the "fixings," but wait till "his portion is handed by servants to everyone." How all the wines, fruit, glasses, candlesticks, lamps, and plate are "taken care of" by butlers, who have under-butlers for their "adjuncts"; how ladies never wear "white satin shoes or white gloves more than once"; how dinner-napkins are "never left upon the table, but either thrown into your chair or on the floor under the table"; how no end of pains are taken to "empty slops"; and above all what a national propensity there is to brush a man's clothes and polish his boots, whensoever and wheresoever the clothes and boots can be seized without the man. This was what Dickens good-humouredly laughs at.
"Rockingham Castle: Friday, thirtieth of November, 1849. Picture to yourself, my dear F., a large old castle, approached by an ancient keep, portcullis, etc., filled with company, waited on by six-and-twenty servants; the slops (and wine-glasses) continually being emptied; and my clothes (with myself in them) always being carried off to all sorts of places; and you will have a faint idea of the mansion in which I am at present staying. I should have written to you yesterday, but for having had a very busy day. Among the guests is a Miss B., sister of the Honourable Miss B. (of Salem, Mass.), whom we once met at the house of our distinguished literary countryman Colonel Landor. This lady is renowned as an amateur actress, so last night we got up in the great hall some scenes from the School for Scandal; the scene with the lunatic on the wall, from the Nicholas Nickleby of Major-General the Hon. C. Dickens (Richmond, Va.); some conjuring; and then finished off with country dances; of which we had two admirably good ones, quite new to me, though really old. Getting the words, and making the preparations, occupied (as you may believe) the whole day; and it was three o'clock before I got to bed. It was an excellent entertainment, and we were all uncommonly merry. I had a very polite letter from our enterprising countryman Major Bentley (of Lexington, Ky.), which I shall show you when I come home. We leave here this afternoon, and I shall expect you according to appointment, at a quarter past ten a.m. to-morrow. Of all the country-houses and estates I have yet seen in England, I think this is by far the best. Everything undertaken eventuates in a most magnificent hospitality; and you will be pleased to hear that our celebrated fellow citizen General Boxall (Pittsburg, Penn.) is engaged in handing down to posterity the face of the owner of the mansion and of his youthful son and daughter. At a future time it will be my duty to report on the turnips, mangel-wurzel, ploughs, and live stock; and for the present I will only say that I regard it as a fortunate circumstance for the neighbouring community that this patrimony should have fallen to my spirited and enlightened host. Everyone has profited by it, and the labouring people in especial are thoroughly well cared-for and looked after. To see all the household, headed by an enormously fat housekeeper, occupying the back benches last night, laughing and applauding without any restraint; and to see a blushing sleek-headed footman produce, for the watch-trick, a silver watch of the most portentous dimensions, amidst the rapturous delight of his brethren and sisterhood; was a very pleasant spectacle, even to a conscientious republican like yourself or me, who cannot but contemplate the parent country with feelings of pride in our own land, which (as was well observed by the Honourable Elias Deeze, of Hartford, Conn.) is truly the land of the free. Best remembrances from Columbia's daughters. Ever thine, my dear F., -- H. C." Dickens, during the too brief time his excellent friend was spared to him, often repeated his visits to Rockingham, always a surpassing enjoyment; and in the winter of 1850 he accomplished there, with help of the country carpenter, "a very elegant little theatre," of which he constituted himself manager, and had among his actors a brother of the lady referred to in his letter, "a very good comic actor, but loose in words"; poor Augustus Stafford, "more than passable"; and "a son of Vernon Smith's, really a capital low comedian." It will be one more added to the many examples I have given of his untiring energy both in work and play, if I mention the fact that this theatre was opened at Rockingham for their first representation on Wednesday, 15 January; that after the performance there was a country dance which lasted far into the morning; and that on the next evening, after a railway journey of more than 120 miles, he dined in London with the prime minister, Lord John Russell.
A little earlier in that winter we had together taken his eldest son to Eton, and a little later he had a great sorrow. "Poor dear Jeffrey!" he wrote to me on 29 January, 185o. "I bought a Times at the station yesterday morning, and was so stunned by the announcement, that I felt it in that wounded part of me almost directly; and the bad symptoms (modified) returned within a few hours. I had a letter from him in extraordinary good spirits within this week or two -- he was better, he said, than he had been for a long time -- and I sent him proof-sheets of the number only last Wednesday. I say nothing of his wonderful abilities and great career, but he was a most affectionate and devoted friend to me; and though no man could wish to live and die more happily, so old in years and yet so young in faculties and sympathies, I am very very deeply grieved for his loss." He was justly entitled to feel pride in being able so to word his tribute of sorrowing affection. Jeffrey had completed with consummate success, if ever man did, the work appointed him in this world; and few, after a life of such activities, have left a memory so unstained and pure. But other and sharper sorrows awaited Dickens.
The chief occupation of the past and present year, David Copperfield, will have a section to itself, and in this may he touched but lightly. Once fairly in it, the story bore him irresistibly along; certainly with less trouble to himself in the composition, beyond that ardent sympathy with the creatures of the fancy which always made so absolutely real to him their sufferings or sorrows; and he was probably never less harassed by interruptions or breaks in his invention. His principal hesitation occurred in connection with the child-wife Dora, who had become a great favourite as he went on; and it was shortly after her fate had been decided, in the early autumn of 1850, but before she breathed her last, that a third daughter was born to him, to whom he gave his dying little heroine's name. On these and other points, without forestalling what waits to be said of the composition of this fine story, a few illustrative words from his letters will properly find a place here. "Copperfield half done," he wrote of the second number on 6 June. "I feel, thank God, quite confident in the story. I have a move in it ready for this month; another for next; and another for the next." "I think it is necessary" (15 November) "to decide against the special pleader. Your reasons quite suffice. I am not sure but that the banking house might do. I will consider it in a walk." "Banking business impracticable" (17 November) "on account of the confinement: which would stop the story, I foresee. I have taken, for the present at all events, the proctor. I am wonderfully in harness, and nothing galls or frets." "Copperfield done" (20 November) "after two days' very hard work indeed; and I think a smashing number. His first dissipation I hope will be found worthy of attention, as a piece of grotesque truth." "I feel a great hope" (23 January, 1850) "that I shall be remembered by little Em'ly, a good many years to come." "I begin to have my doubts of being able to join you" (20 February), "for Copperfield runs high, and must be done to-morrow. But I'll do it if possible, and strain every nerve. Some beautiful comic love, I hope, in the number." "Still undecided about Dora" (7 May), "but MUST decide to-day." "I have been" (Tuesday, 20 August) "very hard at work these three days, and have still Dora to kill. But with good luck, I may do it to-morrow. Obliged to go to Shepherd's Bush to-day, and can consequently do little this morning. Am eschewing all sorts of things that present themselves to my fancy -- coming in such crowds!" "Work in a very decent state of advancement" (13 August) "domesticity notwithstanding. I hope I shall have a splendid number. I feel the story to its minutest point." "Mrs. Micawber is still" (15 August), "I regret to say, in statu quo. Ever yours, WILKINS MICAWBER." The little girl was born the next day, the 16th, and received the name of Dora Annie. The most part of what remained of the year was passed away from home.
The year following did not open with favourable omen, both the child and its mother having severe illness. The former rallied, however, and "little Dora is getting on bravely, thank God!" was his bulletin of the early part of February. Soon after, it was resolved to make trial of Great Malvern for Mrs. Dickens; and lodgings were taken there in March, Dickens and her sister accompanying her, and the children being left in London. "It is a most beautiful place," he wrote to me (15 March). "0 Heaven, to meet the Cold Waterers (as I did this morning when I went out for a shower-bath) dashing down the hills, with severe expressions on their countenances, like men doing matches and not exactly winning! Then, a young lady in a grey polka going up the hills, regardless of legs; and meeting a young gentleman (a bad case, I should say) with a light black silk cap on under his hat, and the pimples of I don't know how many douches under that. Likewise an old man who ran over a milk-child, rather than stop! -- with no neckcloth, on principle; and with his mouth wide open to catch the morning air." He had to return to London after the middle of March, for business connected with a charitable Home established at Shepherd's Bush by Miss Coutts in the benevolent hope of rescuing fallen women by testing their fitness for emigration, frequently mentioned in his letters, and which largely and regularly occupied his time for several years. On this occasion his stay was prolonged by the illness of his father, whose health had been failing latterly, and graver symptoms were now spoken of. "I saw my poor father twice yesterday," he wrote to me on the 27th, "the second time between ten and eleven at night. In the morning I thought him not so well. At night, as well as anyone in such a situation could be." Next day he was so much better that his son went back to Malvern: but the end came suddenly. We were expecting him at Knebworth, and I supposed that some accident had detained him in Malvern; but at my return this letter waited me. "Devonshire Terrace, Monday, thirty-first of March, 1851.... My poor father died this morning at five and twenty minutes to six. They had sent for me to Malvern, but I passed John on the railway.... Arrived at eleven last night, and was in Keppel Street at a quarter past eleven. He did not know me, nor anyone. He began to sink at about noon yesterday, and never rallied afterwards. I remained there until he died -- O so quietly.... I hardly know what to do. I am going up to Highgate to get the ground. Perhaps you may like to go, and I should like it if you do. I will not leave here before two o'clock, but I must go down to Malvern again, at night.... " Mr. John Dickens was laid in Highgate Cemetery on 5 April; and the stone placed over him by the son who has made his name a famous one in England, bore tribute to his "zealous, useful, cheerful spirit." What more is to be said of him will be most becomingly said in speaking of David Copperfield. While the hook was in course of being written, all that had been best in him came more and more vividly back to its author's memory; as time wore on, nothing else was remembered; and five years before his own death, after using in one of his letters to me a phrase rather out of the common with him, this was added: "I find this looks like my poor father, whom I regard as a better man the longer I live."
He was at this time under promise to take the chair at the General Theatrical Fund On 14 April. Great efforts were made to relieve him from the promise; but such special importance was attached to his being present, and the Fund so sorely then required help, that, no change of day being found possible for the actors who desired to attend, he yielded to the pressure put upon him; of which the result was to throw upon me a sad responsibility. The reader will understand why, even at this distance of time, my allusion to it is brief.
The train from Malvern brought him up only five minutes short of the hour appointed for the dinner, and we first met that day at the London Tavern. I never heard him to greater advantage than in the speech that followed. His liking for this Fund was the fact of its not confining its benefits to any special or exclusive body of actors, but opening them undoubtingly to all and he gave a description of the kind of actor, going down to the infinitesimally small, not omitted from such kind help, which had a half-pathetic humour in it that makes it charming still. "In our Fund," he said, "the word exclusiveness is not known. We include every actor, whether he be Hamlet or Benedict: the ghost, the bandit, or the court physician; or, in his one person, the whole king's army. He may do the light business, or the heavy, or the comic, or the eccentric. He may be the captain who courts the young lady, whose uncle still unaccountably persists in dressing himself in a costume one hundred years older than his time. Or he may be the young lady's brother in the white gloves and inexpressibles, whose duty in the family appears to be to listen to the female members of it whenever they sing, and to shake hands with everybody between all the verses. Or he may be the baron who gives the fête, and who sits uneasily on the sofa under a canopy with the baroness while the fête is going on. Or he may be the peasant at the fête who comes on to the stage to swell the drinking chorus, and who, it may be observed, always turns his glass upside down before he begins to drink out of it. Or he may be the clown who takes away the doorstep of the house where the evening party is going on. Or he may be the gentleman who issues out of the house on the false alarm, and is precipitated into the area. Or, if an actress, she may be the fairy who resides for ever in a revolving star with an occasional visit to a bower or a palace. Or again, if an actor, he may be the armed head of the witch's cauldron; or even that extraordinary witch concerning whom I have observed in country places, that he is much less like the notion formed from the description of Hopkins than the Malcolm or Donalbain of the previous scenes This society, in short, says, 'Be you what you may, be you actor or actress, he your path in your profession never so high or never so low, never so haughty or never so humble, we offer you the means of doing good to yourselves, and of doing good to your brethren.'"
Half an hour before he rose to speak I had been called out of the room. It was the servant from Devonshire Terrace to tell me his child Dora was suddenly dead. She had not been strong from her birth; but there was just at this time no cause for special fear, when unexpected convulsions came, and the frail little life passed away. My decision had to be formed at once; and I satisfied myself that it would be best to permit his part of the proceedings to close before the truth was told to him. But as he went on, after the sentences I have quoted, to speak of actors having to come from scenes and sickness, of suffering, aye, even of death itself, to play their parts before us, my part was very difficult. "Yet how often is it with all of us," he proceeded to say, and I remember to this hour with what anguish I listened to words that had for myself alone, in all the crowded room, their full significance: "how often is it with all of us, that in our several spheres we have to do violence to our feelings, and to hide our hearts in carrying on this fight of life, if we would bravely discharge in it our duties and responsibilities." In the disclosure that followed when he left the chair, Mr. Lemon, who was present, assisted me; and I left this good friend with him next day, when I went myself to Malvern and brought back Mrs. Dickens and her sister. The little child lies in a grave at Highgate near that of Mr. and Mrs. John Dickens; and on the stone which covers her is now written also her father's name, and those of two of her brothers.
One more public discussion he took part in, before quitting London for the rest of the summer; and what he said (it was a meeting, with Lord Carlisle in the chair, in aid of Sanitary reform) very pregnantly illustrates what was remarked by me on a former page. He declared his belief that neither education nor religion could do anything really useful in social improvement until the way had been paved for their ministrations by cleanliness and decency. He spoke warmly of the services of Lord Ashley in connection with ragged schools, but he put the case of a miserable child tempted into one of those schools out of the noisome places in which his life was passed, and he asked what a few hours' teaching could effect against the ever-renewed lesson of a whole existence. "But give him, and his, a glimpse of heaven through a little of its light and air; give them water; help them to be clean; lighten the heavy atmosphere in which their spirits flag, and which makes them the callous things they are; take the body of the dead relative from the room where the living live with it, and where such loathsome familiarity deprives death itself of awe; and then, but not before, they will be brought willingly to hear of Him whose thoughts were so much with the wretched, and who had compassion for all human sorrow." He closed by proposing Lord Ashley's health as having preferred the higher ambition of labouring for the poor to that of pursuing the career open to him in the service of the State; and as having also had "the courage on all occasions to face the cant which is the worst and commonest of all, the cant about the cant of philanthropy." Lord Shaftesbury first dined with him in the following year at Tavistock House.
Shortly after the Sanitary meeting, came the first Guild performances; and then Dickens left Devonshire Terrace, never to return to it. With intervals of absence, chiefly at the Guild representations, he stayed in his favourite Fort House by the sea until October, when he took possession of Tavistock House; and from his letters may be added a few notices of this last holiday at Broadstairs, which he had always afterwards a kindly word for; and to which he said pleasant adieu in the sketch of our watering-place, written shortly before he left. "It is more delightful here" (1 June) "than I can express. Corn growing, larks singing, garden full of flowers, fresh air on the sea. -- O it is wonderful! Why can't you come down next Saturday (bringing work) and go back with me on Wednesday for the Copperfield banquet? Concerning which, of course, I say yes to Talfourd's kind proposal. Lemon by all means. And -- don't you think -- Browne? Whosoever, besides, pleases Talfourd will please me." Great was the success of this banquet. The scene was the Star and Garter at Richmond; Thackeray and Alfred Tennyson joined in the celebration; and the generous giver was in his best vein. I have rarely seen Dickens happier than he was amid the sunshine of that day. Jerrold and Thackeray returned to town with us; and a little argument between them about money and its uses, led to an avowal of Dickens about himself to which I may add the confirmation of all our years of intercourse. "No man," he said, "attaches less importance to the possession of money, or less disparagement to the want of it, than I do."
I joined him for the August regatta and stayed a pleasant fortnight. His paper on "Our Watering-place" appeared while I was there, and great was the local excitement. But now his own restlessness with fancies for a new book had risen beyond bounds, and for the time he was eager to open it in that prettiest quaintest bit of English landscape, Strood Valley, which reminded him always of a Swiss scene. I had not left him many days when these lines followed me. "I very nearly packed up a portmanteau and went away, the day before yesterday, into the mountains of Switzerland, alone! Still the victim of an intolerable restlessness, I shouldn't be at all surprised if I wrote to you one of these mornings from under Mont Blanc. I sit down between whiles to think of a new story, and, as it begins to grow, such a torment of a desire to be anywhere but where I am; and to be going I don't know where, I don't know why; takes hold of me, that it is like being driven away. If I had had a passport, I sincerely believe I should have gone to Switzerland the night before last. I should have remembered our engagement -- say, at Paris, and have come back for it; but should probably have left by the next express train." It was not until the end of November, when he had settled himself in his new London abode, that the book was begun (and as generally happened with the more important incidents of his life, though always accidentally, begun on a Friday); but precedence is due, before anything more is said of Bleak House, to what remains to be said of Copperfield.
It was the last book written in Devonshire Terrace; and on the page opposite is engraved a drawing by Maclise of this house where so many of Dickens's masterpieces were composed, done on the first anniversary of the day when his daughter Kate was born.
VII. "DAVID COPPERFIELD"
Dickens never stood so high in reputation as at the completion of Copperfield. From the first it had surpassed in popularity, though not in sale, all his previous books excepting Pickwick. "You gratify me more than I can tell you," he wrote to Lytton, "by what you say about Copperfield, because I hope myself that some heretofore deficient qualities are there." If the power was not greater than in Chuzzlewit, the subject had more attractiveness; there was more variety of incident, with a freer play of character; and there was withal a suspicion, which though general and vague had sharpened interest not a little, that underneath the fiction lay somethingof the author's life. How much was not known by the world until he had passed away. When engaged upon its close he had written thus (21 October, 1850): "I am within three pages of the shore; and am strangely divided, as usual in such cases, between sorrow and joy. Oh, my dear Forster, if I were to say half of what Copperfield makes me feel to-night, how strangely, even to you, I should be turned inside out! I seem to be sending some part of myself into the Shadowy World."
To be acquainted with English literature is to know, that into its most famous prose fiction autobiography has entered largely in disguise, and that the characters most familiar to us in the English novel had originals in actual life. Smollett never wrote a story that was not in some degree a recollection of his own adventures; and Fielding, who put something of his wife into all his heroines, had been as fortunate in finding, not Trulliber only, but Parson Adams himself, among his living experiences. To come later down, there was hardly any one ever known to Scott of whom his memory had not treasured up something to give minuter reality to the people of his fancy; and we know exactly whom to look for in Dandie Dinmont and Jonathan Oldbuck, in the office of Alan Fairford and the sick room of Crystal Croftangry. We are to observe also that it is never anything complete that is thus taken from life by a genuine writer, but only leading traits, or such as may give greater finish; that the fine artist will embody in his portraiture of one person his experiences of fifty; and that this would have been Fielding's answer to Trulliber if he had objected to the pigstye, and to Adams if he had sought to make a case of scandal out of the affair in Mrs. Slipslop's bedroom. Such questioning befell Dickens repeatedly in the course of his writings, where he freely followed, as we have seen, the method thus common to the masters in his art; but there was an instance of alleged wrong in the course of Copperfield where he felt his vindication to be hardly complete, and what he did thereupon was characteristic.
"I have had the queerest adventure this morning," he wrote (28 December, 1849) on the eve of his tenth number, "the receipt of the enclosed from Miss Moucher! It is serio-comic, but there is no doubt one is wrong in being tempted to such a use of power." Thinking a grotesque little oddity among his acquaintance to be safe from recognition, he had done what Smollett did sometimes, but never Fielding, and given way, in the first outburst of fun that had broken out around the fancy, to the temptation of copying too closely peculiarities of figure and face amounting in effect to deformity. He was shocked at discovering the pain he had given, and a copy is before me of the assurances by way of reply which he at once sent to the complainant. That he was grieved and surprised beyond measure. That he had not intended her altogether. That all his characters, being made up out of many people, were composite, and never individual. That the chair (for table) and other matters were undoubtedly from her, but that other traits were not hers at all; and that in Miss Moucher's "Ain't I volatile" his friends had quite correctly recognized the favourite utterance of a different person. That he felt nevertheless he had done wrong, and would now do anything to repair it. That he had intended to employ the character in an unpleasant way, but he would, whatever the risk or inconvenience, change it all, so that nothing but an agreeable impression, should be left. The reader will remember how this was managed, and that the thirty-second chapter went far to undo what the twenty-second had done.
A much earlier instance is the only one known to me where a character in one of his books intended to be odious was copied wholly from a living original. The use of such material, never without danger, might have been justifiable here if anywhere, and he had himself a satisfaction in always admitting the identity of Mr. Fang in Oliver Twist with Mr. Laing of Hatton-garden. But the avowal of his purpose in that case, and his mode of setting about it, mark strongly a difference of procedure from that which, following great examples, he adopted in his later books. An allusion to a common friend in one of his letters of the present date -- "A dreadful thought occurs to me! how brilliant in a book!" -- expresses both the continued strength of his temptations and the dread he had brought himself to feel of immediately yielding to them; but he had no such misgivings in the days of Oliver Twist. Wanting an insolent and harsh police-magistrate, he bethought him of an original ready to his hand in one of the London offices; and instead of pursuing his later method of giving a personal appearance that should in some sort render difficult the identification of mental peculiarities, he was only eager to get in the whole man complete upon his page, figure and face as well as manners and mind.
He wrote accordingly (from Doughty-street on 3 June, 1837) to Mr. Haines, a gentleman who then had general supervision over the police reports for the daily papers. "In my next number of Oliver Twist I must have a magistrate; and, casting about for a magistrate whose harshness and insolence would render him a fit subject to be shown up, I have as a necessary consequence stumbled upon Mr. Laing of Hatton-garden celebrity. I know the man's character perfectly well; but as it would be necessary to describe his personal appearance also, I ought to have seen him, which (fortunately or unfortunately as the case may be) I have never done. In this dilemma it occurred to me that perhaps I might under your auspices be smuggled into the Hatton garden office for a few moments some morning. If you can further my object I shall be really very greatly obliged to you." The opportunity was found: the magistrate was brought up before the novelist; and shortly after, on some fresh outbreak of intolerable temper, the home-secretary found it an easy and popular step to remove Mr. Laing from the bench.
This was a comfort to everybody, saving only the principal person; but the instance was highly exceptional, and it rarely indeed happens that to the individual objection natural in every such case some consideration should not be paid. In the book that followed Copperfield, characters appeared having resemblances in manner and speech to distinguished writers too vivid to be mistaken by their personal friends. To Lawrence Boythorn, under whom Landor figured, no objection was made; but Harold Skimpole, recognizable for Leigh Hunt, led to much remark; the difference being, that ludicrous traits were employed in the first to enrich without impairing an attractive person in the tale, whereas to the last was assigned a part in the plot which no fascinating foibles or gaieties of speech could redeem from contempt. Though a want of consideration was thus shown to the friend whom the character would be likely to recall to many readers, it is nevertheless very certain that the intention of Dickens was not at first, or at any time, an unkind one. He erred from thoughtlessness only. What led him to the subject at all, he has himself stated. Hunt's philosophy of moneyed obligations always, though loudly, half jocosely proclaimed, and his ostentatious wilfulness in the humouring of that or any other theme on which he cared for the time to expatiate, had so often seemed to Dickens to be whimsical and attractive, that, wanting an "airy quality" for the man he invented, this of Hunt occurred to him; and "partly for that reason, and partly, he has since often grieved to think, for the pleasure it afforded to find a delightful manner reproducing itself under his hand, he yielded to the temptation of too often making the character speak like his old friend." This apology was made after Hunt's death, and mentioned a revision of the first sketch, so as to render it less like, at the suggestion of two other friends of Hunt. The friends were Procter (Barry Cornwall) and myself; the feeling having been mine from the first that the likeness was too like. Procter did not immediately think so, but a little reflection brought him to that opinion. "You will see from the enclosed," Dickens wrote (17 March, 1852), "that Procter is much of my mind. I will nevertheless go through the character again in the course of the afternoon, and soften down words here and there." But before the day closed Procter had again written to him, and next morning this was the result. "I have again gone over every part of it very carefully, and I think I have made it much less like. I have also changed Leonard to Harold. I have no right to give Hunt pain, and I am so bent upon not doing it that I wish you would look at all the proof once more, and indicate any particular place in which you feel it particularly like. Whereupon I will alter that place."
Upon the whole the alterations were considerable, but the radical wrong remained. The pleasant sparkling airy talk, which could not be mistaken, identified with odious qualities a friend only known to the writer by attractive ones; and for this there was no excuse. Perhaps the only person acquainted with the original who failed to recognize the copy, was the original himself (a common case); but good-natured friends in time told Hunt everything, and painful explanations followed, where nothing was possible to Dickens but what amounted to a friendly evasion of the points really at issue. The time for redress had gone. I yet well remember with what eager earnestness, on one of these occasions, he strove to set Hunt up again in his own esteem. "Separate in your own mind," he said to him, "what you see of yourself from what other people tell you that they see. As it has given you so much pain, I take it at its worst, and say I am deeply sorry, and that I feel I did wrong in doing it. I should otherwise have taken it at its best, and ridden off upon what I strongly feel to be the truth, that there is nothing in it that should have given you pain. Every one in writing must speak from points of his experience, and so I of mine with you; but when I have felt it was going too close I stopped myself, and the most blotted parts of my Ms. are those in which I have been striving hard to make the impression I was writing from, unlike you. The diary-writing I took from Haydon, not from you. I now first learn from yourself that you ever set anything to music, and I could not have copied that from you. The character is not you, for there are traits in it common to fifty thousand people besides, and I did not fancy you would ever recognize it. Under similar disguises my own father and mother are in my books, and you might as well see your likeness in Micawber." The distinction is that the foibles of Mr. Micawber and of Mrs. Nickleby, however laughable, make neither of them in speech or character less loveable; and that this is not to be said of Skimpole's. The kindly or unkindly impression makes all the difference where liberties are taken with a friend; and even this entirely favourable condition will not excuse the practice to many, where near relatives are concerned.
For what formerly was said of the Micawber resemblances, Dickens has been sharply criticized; and in like manner it was thought objectionable in Scott that for the closing scenes of Crystal Croftangry he should have found the original of his fretful patient at the death-bed of his own father. Lockhart, who tells us this, adds with a sad significance that he himself lived to see the curtain fall at Abbotsford upon even such another scene. But to no purpose will such objections still be made. All great novelists will continue to use their experiences of nature and fact, whencesoever derivable; and a remark made to Lockhart by Scott himself suggests their vindication. "If a man will paint from nature, he will be most likely to interest and amuse those who are daily looking at it."
The Micawber offence otherwise was not grave. We have seen in what way Dickens was moved or inspired by the rough lessons of his boyhood, and the groundwork of the character was then undoubtedly laid; but the rhetorical exuberance impressed itself upon him later, and from this, as it expanded and developed in a thousand amusing ways, the full-length figure took its great charm. Better illustration of it could not perhaps be given than by passages from letters of Dickens, written long before Micawber was thought of, in which this peculiarity of his father found frequent and always agreeable expression. Several such have been given in this work from time to time, and one or two more may here be added. It is proper to preface them by saying that no one could know the elder Dickens without secretly liking him the better for these flourishes of speech, which adapted themselves so readily to his gloom as well as to his cheerfulness, that it was difficult not to fancy they had helped him considerably in both, and had rendered more tolerable to him, if also more possible, the shade and sunshine of his chequered life. "If you should have an opportunity, pendente lite, as my father would observe -- indeed did on some memorable ancient occasions when he informed me that the ban-dogs would shortly have him at bay" -- Dickens wrote in December 1847. "I have a letter from my father" (May 1841) "lamenting the fine weather, invoking congenial tempests, and informing me that it will not be possible for him to stay more than another year in Devonshire, as he must then proceed to Paris to consolidate Augustus's French." "There has arrived," he writes from the Peschiere in September 1844, "a characteristic letter for Kate from my father. He dates it Manchester, and says he has reason to believe that he will be in town with the pheasants, on or about the first of October. He has been with Fanny in the Isle of Man for nearly two months: finding there, as he goes on to observe, troops of friends, and every description of continental luxury at a cheap rate." Describing in the same year the departure from Genoa of an English physician and acquaintance, he adds: "We are very sorry to lose the benefit of his advice -- or, as my father would say, to be deprived, to a certain extent, of the concomitant advantages, whatever they may be, resulting from his medical skill, such as it is, and his professional attendance, in so far as it may be so considered."Thus also it delighted Dickens to remember that it was of one of his connections his father wrote a celebrated sentence; "And I must express my tendency to believe that his longevity is (to say the least of it) extremely problematical:" and that it was to another, who had been insisting somewhat obtrusively on dissenting and nonconformist superiorities, he addressed words which deserve to be no less celebrated; "The Supreme Being must be an entirely different individual from what I have every reason to believe Him to be, if He would care in the least for the society of your relations." There was a laugh in the enjoyment of all this, no doubt, but with it much personal fondness; and the feeling of the creator of Micawber, as he thus humoured and remembered the foibles of his original, found its counterpart in that of his readers for the creation itself, as its part was played out in the story. Nobody likes Micawber less for his follies; and Dickens liked his father more, the more he recalled his whimsical qualities. "The longer I live, the better man I think him," he exclaimed afterwards. The fact and the fancy had united whatever was most grateful to him in both.
It is a tribute to the generally healthful and manly tone of the story of Copperfield that such should be the outcome of the eccentricities of this leading personage in it; and the superiority in this respect of Micawber over Skimpole is one of the many indications of the inferiority of Bleak House to its predecessor. With leading resemblances that make it difficult to say which character best represents the principle or no principle of impecuniosity, there cannot be any doubt which has the advantage in moral and intellectual development. It is genuine humour against personal satire. Between the wordly circumstances of the two, there is nothing to choose; but as to everything else it is the difference between shabbiness and greatness. Skimpole's sunny talk might be expected to please as much as Micawber's gorgeous speech, the design of both being to take the edge off poverty. But in the one we have no relief from attendant meanness or distress, and we drop down from the airiest fancies into sordidness and pain; whereas in the other nothing pitiful or merely selfish ever touches us. At its lowest depth of what is worst, we never doubt that something better must turn up; and of a man who sells his bedstead that he may entertain his friend, we altogether refuse to think nothing but badly. This is throughout the free and cheery style of Copperfield. The masterpieces of Dickens's humour are not in it; but he has nowhere given such variety of play to his invention, and the book is unapproached among his writings for its completeness of effect and uniform pleasantness of tone.
What has to be said hereafter of those writings generally, will properly restrict what is said here, as in previous instances, mainly to personal illustration. The Copperfield disclosures formerly made will for ever connect the book with the author's individual story; but too much has been assumed, from those revelations, of a full identity of Dickens with his hero, and of a supposed intention that his own character as well as parts of his career should be expressed in the narrative. It is right to warn the reader as to this. He can judge for himself how far the childish experiences are likely to have given the turn to Dickens's genius; whether their bitterness had so burnt into his nature, as, in the hatred of oppression, the revolt against abuse of power, and the war with injustice under every form displayed in his earliest books, to have reproduced itself only; and to what extent mere compassion for his own childhood may account for the strange fascination always exerted over him by child-suffering and sorrow. But, many as are the resemblances in Copperfield's adventures to portions of those of Dickens, and often as reflections occur to David which no one intimate with Dickens could fail to recognize as but the reproduction of his, it would be the greatest mistake to imagine anything like a complete identity of the fictitious novelist with the real one, beyond the Hungerford scenes; or to suppose that the youth, who then received his first harsh schooling in life, came out of it as little harmed or hardened as David did. The language of the fiction reflects only faintly the narrative of the actual fact; and the man whose character it helped to form was expressed not less faintly in the impulsive impressionable youth, incapable of resisting the leading of others, and only disciplined into self-control by the later griefs of his entrance into manhood. Here was but another proof how thoroughly Dickens understood his calling, and that to weave fact with fiction unskilfully would be only to make truth less true.
The character of the hero of the novel finds indeed his right place in the story he is supposed to tell, rather by unlikeness than by likeness to Dickens, even where intentional resemblance might seem to be prominent. Take autobiography as a design to show that any man's life may be as a mirror of existence to all men, and the individual career becomes altogether secondary to the variety of experiences received and rendered back in it. This particular form in imaginative literature has too often led to the indulgence of mental analysis, metaphysics, and sentiment, all in excess: but Dickens was carried safely over these allurements by a healthy judgment and sleepless creative fancy; and even the method of his narrative is more simple here than it generally is in his books. His imaginative growths have less luxuriance of underwood, and the crowds of external images always rising so vividly before him are more within control.
Consider Copperfield thus in his proper place in the story, and sequence as well as connection will be given to the varieties of its childish adventure. The first warm nest of love in which his vain fond mother, and her quaint kind servant, cherish him; the quick-following contrast of hard dependence and servile treatment; the escape from that premature and dwarfed maturity by natural relapse into a more perfect childhood; the then leisurely growth of emotions and faculties into manhood; these are component parts of a character consistently drawn. The sum of its achievement is to be a successful cultivation of letters; and often as such imaginary discipline has been the theme of fiction, there are not many happier conceptions of it. The ideal and real parts of the boy's nature receive development in the proportions which contribute best to the end desired; the readiness for impulsive attachments that had put him into the leading of others, has underneath it a base of truthfulness on which at last he rests in safety; the practical man is the outcome of the fanciful youth; and a more than equivalent for the graces of his visionary days, is found in the active sympathies that life has opened to him. Many experiences have come within its range, and his heart has had room for all. Our interest in him cannot but be increased by knowing how much he expresses of what the author had himself gone through; but David includes far less than this, and infinitely more.
That the incidents arise easily, and to the very end connect themselves naturally and unobtrusively with the characters of which they are a part, is to be said perhaps more truly of this than of any other of Dickens's novels. There is a profusion of distinct and distinguishable people, and a prodigal wealth of detail; but unity of drift or purpose is apparent always, and the tone is uniformly right. By the course of the events we learn the value of self-denial and patience, quiet endurance of unavoidable ills, strenuous effort against ills remediable; and everything in the fortunes of the actors warns us, to strengthen our generous emotions and to guard the purities of home. It is easy thus to account for the supreme popularity of Copperfield, without the addition that it can hardly have had a reader, man or lad, who did not discover that he was something of a Copperfield himself. Childhood and youth live again for all of us in its marvellous boy-experiences. Mr. Micawber's presence must not prevent my saying that it does not take the lead of the other novels in humorous creation; but in the use of humour to bring out prominently the ludicrous in any object or incident without excluding or weakening its most enchanting sentiment, it stands decidedly first. It is the perfection of English mirth. We are apt to resent the exhibition of too much goodness, but it is here so qualified by oddity as to become not merely palatable but attractive; and even pathos is heightened by what in other hands would only make it comical. That there are also faults in the book is certain, but none that are incompatible with the most masterly qualities; and a book becomes everlasting by the fact, not that faults are not in it, but that genius nevertheless is there.
Of its method, and its author's generally, in the delineation of character, something will have to be said on a later page. The author's own favourite people in it, I think, were the Peggotty group; and perhaps he was not far wrong. It has been their fate, as with all the leading figures of his invention, to pass their names into the language, and become types; and he has nowhere given happier embodiment to that purity of homely goodness, which, by the kindly and all-reconciling influences of humour, may exalt into comeliness and even grandeur the clumsiest forms of humanity. What has been indicated in the style of the book as its greatest charm is here felt most strongly. The ludicrous so helps the pathos, and the humour so uplifts and refines the sentiment, that mere rude affection and simple manliness in these Yarmouth boatmen, passed through the fires of unmerited suffering and heroic endurance, take forms half-chivalrous half-sublime. It is one of the cants of critical superiority to make supercilious mention of the serious passages in this great writer; but the storm and shipwreck at the close of Copperfield, when the body of the seducer is flung dead upon the shore amid the ruins of the home he has wasted and by the side of the man whose heart he has broken, the one as unconscious of what he had failed to reach as the other of what he has perished to save, is a description that may compare with the most impressive in the language. And to those who, knowing Dickens best, know what realities his books were to him, the expression of his sense of suffering in composing such passages, will have in it not a grain of pretence or affectation. "I have been tremendously at work these two days" (15 September), "eight hours at a stretch yesterday, and six hours and a half to-day, with the Ham and Steerforth chapter, which has completely knocked me over -- utterly defeated me."
There are other people drawn into this catastrophe who are among the failures of natural delineation in the book. But though Miss Dartle is curiously unpleasant, there are some natural traits in her (which Dickens's least lifelike people are never without); and it was from one o£ his lady friends, very familiar to him indeed, he copied her peculiarity of never saying anything outright, but hinting it merely, and making more of it that way. Of Mrs. Steerforth it may also be worth remembering that Thackeray had something of a fondness for her. "I knew how it would be when I began," says a pleasant letter all about himself written immediately after she appeared in the story. "My letters to my mother are like this, but then she likes 'em -- like Mrs. Steerforth: don't you like Mrs. Steerforth?"
Turning to another group there is another elderly lady to be liked without a shadow of misgiving; abrupt, angular, extravagant, but the very soul of magnanimity and rectitude; a character thoroughly made out in all its parts; a gnarled and knotted piece of female timber, sound to the core; a woman Captain Shandy would have loved for her startling oddities, and who is linked to the gentlest of her sex by perfect womanhood. Dickens has done nothing better, for solidness and truth all round, than Betsy Trotwood. It is one of her oddities to have a fool for a companion; but this is one of them that has also most pertinence and wisdom. By a line thrown out in Wilhelm Meister, that the true way of treating the insane was, in all respects possible, to act to them as if they were sane, Goethe anticipated what it took a century to apply to the most terrible disorder of humanity; and what Mrs. Trotwood does for Mr. Dick goes a step further, by showing how often asylums might be dispensed with, and how large might be the number of deficient intellects manageable with patience in their own homes. Characters hardly less distinguishable for truth as well as oddity are the kind old nurse and her husband the carrier, whose vicissitudes alike of love and of mortality are condensed into the three words since become part of universal speech, Barkis is willin'. There is wholesome satire of much utility in the conversion of the brutal schoolmaster of the earlier scenes into the tender Middlesex magistrate at the close. Nor is the humour anywhere more subtle than in the country undertaker, who makes up in fulness of heart for scantness of breath, and has so little of the vampire propensity of the town undertaker in Chuzzlewit, that he dares not even inquire after friends who are ill for fear of unkindly misconstruction. The test of a master in creative fiction, according to Hazlitt, is less in contrasting characters that are unlike than in distinguishing those that are like; and to many examples of the art in Dickens, such as the Shepherd and Chadband, Creakle and Squeers, Charley Bates and the Dodger, the Guppys and the Wemmicks, Mr. Jaggers and Mr. Vholes, Sampson Brass and Conversation Kenge, Jack Bunsby, Captain Cuttle and Bill Barley, the Perkers and Pells, the Dodsons and Foggs, Sarah Gamp and Betsy Prig, and a host of others, is to be added the nicety of distinction between those eminent furnishers of funerals, Mr. Mould and Messrs. Omer and Joram. All the mixed mirth and sadness of the story are skilfully drawn into the handling of this portion of it; and, amid wooings and preparations for weddings and church-ringing bells for baptisms, the steadily-going rat-tat of the hammer on the coffin is heard.
Of the heroines who divide so equally between them the impulsive, easily swayed, not disloyal but sorely distracted affections of the hero, the spoilt foolishness and tenderness of the loving little child-wife, Dora, is more attractive than the too unfailing wisdom and self-sacrificing goodness of the angel-wife, Agnes. The scenes of the courtship and housekeeping are matchless; and the glimpses of Doctors' Commons, opening those views, by Mr. Spenlow, of man's vanity of expectation and inconsistency of conduct in neglecting the sacred duty of making a will, on which he largely moralises the day before he dies intestate, form a background highly appropriate to David's domesticities. This was among the reproductions of personal experience in the book; but it was a sadder knowledge that came with the conviction some years later, that David's contrasts in his earliest married life between his happiness enjoyed and his happiness once anticipated, the "vague unhappy loss or want of something" of which he so frequently complains, reflected also a personal experience which had not been supplied in fact so successfully as in fiction.
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