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old ■well-remembered green covers, everybody rushed to read, to praise, and to admire, if they could. There is something half affecting, half ridiculous—and. which shows in the very best light the grateful 'docility of the common mind—in the eagerness with which the public tried to convince itself that it was charmed by the opening of the fragment called 'Edwin Drood.' We all said to each other that this was going to be a powerful story—one of his best, perhaps; we were on the outlook for the familiar delights, the true Dickens vein, which we knew so well. The effect was flat, no doubt, and the effort severe; but perhaps we thought that was our own, the reade/s, fault. Thus faithfully does the British public, much-maligned and sorely-tried audience, uphold the minstrel who has once got possession of its ear. It stood by him with a piteous fidelity to the last. But now Dickens, too, has come, like so many more, to be a piece of history, and may be judged as the rest have been judged. For something between thirty and forty years he has reigned and had his day. He has been adulated publicly and privately, as (it is said) kings used to be adored. For a lifetime he was fed with praise, as well as with that which is more substantial than praise. The fictitious people of his making were received into the world as if they had been a new tribe, and he their king. Honor, and riches, and a kind of semi-royal power, were his. This great position he undoubtedly held in right of his genius alone, and retained it till he died. How he did this, how he managed to get so high, and keep the height so long, and what he did for the world thus subject to him during his reign, are interesting questions, to which we mean to try to give some satisfactory answer.
The world of fiction—or rather the world of poetry and imagination—in which the dullest of us spend so many hours, if • not years, of our lives, has many differing altitudes and longitudes, and many variations of spiritual atmosphere. It becomes narrow or large to us, low or lofty, noble or mean, according as is the guide we chose or find most congenial. There are some whq lead us into a tragic Inferno, echoing with mortal groans and dark with misery; some into a stately Eden, all novel and splendid, with two fair primeval creatures in the midst; and some into the
scenes we know—the common earth, which we recognize, and yet which is not the less enchanted ground. Of all the circles of imaginative creation, that of Shakespeare is the widest, as it is the most largely impartial, the most divinely calm. It is a very world full of creatures good and evil, of every thing the earth contains— the mean and miserable along with the noblest and highest All are there, great and small, because all are in nature. But there was but one Shakespeare and we do not compare the mere children of men with that son of the gods. To come along way farther down, there is much in the atmosphere of Scott which reflects that of Shakespeare. If there is no great intellectual being towering over common men, there is at least a full and honest conception of the variations in that gamut of humanity which strikes so high, and sinks into such depths profound. And in our own day we have still that heritage of truth and nature. Thackeray, so often miscalled cynic, though his pages may be over-full of the easy victims of social satire, has not left us without more than one noble testimony that mankind can be as good, and simple, and honest, and true, as it can be wicked, base, designing, and artful. This Shakespearian tradition has come down to us through the changes of ages. In the eighteenth century—that time of universal crisis—there was a fluttering and doubtfulness of standards. Richardson, narrow in his honest inexperience, would have made a world for us out of sublimities and fiends, lifting the ideal of humanity to the last taper-point of elevation; while, on the other hand, manliness had like to become identified with vice, had not Parson Adams saved Fielding. But through all, the creed of our best Makers has been that of our greatest Poet—which is, that the noble are, at least, as possible as the mean; that you are as likely to find in your next neighbor a generous friendly Antonio as a grasping Shylock; and that a man cannot truly picture the world of fact in the .world of art,'without tracing at least as many beautiful images as he does base ones—nay, that the beauty, the goodness, the nobility, must imprint themselves on the record, amid all baser chronicles, or the record cannot be true.
Now, the curious thing in the works of Mr. Dickens is, that whereas he has added a flood of people to the population of the world, he has not added one to that lofty rank where dwell the best of humanity. He has given us the most amusing fools that this generation knows, the most charmingly genial people in difficulties, the most intolerable and engaging of bores. But he has scarcely left us one character which is above ridicule, or of which we think with a smile and a tear mingled, as it is the highest boast of your true humorist to mingle smiles and tears. Not to ascend to my Shakespearian heights, there is not even such a light as Uncle Toby shining out of his pages; there is nothing like Thomas Newcome. He tries hard, and strains, and makes many an effort to cover the deficiency; but what he produces is sham, not real—it is maudlin, not pathetic. His highest ideal has a quiver, as of semi-intoxication, in its voice; its virtue is smug, self-conscious, surrounded by twittering choruses of praise. There is not even a woman among the many in his books that would bear putting up by the side of the women who are to live forever; and how strangely wanting must be the man of genius who cannot frame one woman, at least, worth placing in the crowd where Una is! This is the strange drawback, the one huge deficiency, which must always- limit the reputation of the much worshipped novelist. Mrs. Gamp, no doubt, is great; but she will not serve our turn here. He has represented with the most graphic and vivid clearness almost every grade of the species Fool. He has painted ridiculous people, silly people, selfish people, people occupied with one idea, oddities, eccentrics, a thousand varieties—but among all these has never once stumbled upon the simple, true, ideal, woman, or any noble type of man. Looking at his real power, his undeniable genius, the wonderful fertility of his imagination, the spectator asks with a certain surprise, How is it that he never fell upon one such accidentally, as we do in the world? The wonder seems how he could miss it. But miss it he did, with the curious persistency of those fate-directed steps which are fain to enter into every path but one. This is the first characteristic of Dickens among his compeers in the world of literature. He has given us pictures as powerful, individualities as distinct, as any have
done. Perhaps he has added to our common talk a larger number of side reflections from the thoughts and experiences of fictitious persons, than most writers even of equal power. But he has not created one character so close to us, yet so much above us, that we • can feel him a positive gain to humanity.
Now, when we make this complaint and accusation against the novelist, we are by no means setting up the ideal above the real, or demanding of heaven and earth a succession of Grandisons. Far be the thought from our mind: for one hero there must always be, no doubt, a hundred valets, with a variety and play of life -among them such as many people can appreciate a great deal better than they could appreciate the bigger nature. Let us have the valets by all means; but the writer who can set only valets before us cannot be placed in the highest rank. It must be understood that the difference between the mind which makes "the gentle lady wedded to the Moor" the central light in a picture, and the mind which places Mrs. Gamp in that position, is not a difference of degree, but one of kind. The latter may be amusing, versatile, brilliant, and full of genius, but it is clear that the best he can do for his race is a best which is infinitely beneath the other. He knows of no hidden excellence, no new glory which he can bring out into the light of day : he finds no stars in the half-discovered skies, nor even the violet hidden by the mossy stone. Hecan do a hundred other clever and wonderful things, but this he cannot do; he • has a bandage upon his eyes, a feebleness in his hands. He can identify and realize, and pour floods of laughing light upon all the lesser objects; but the central figure he cannot accomplish—it is beyond I his power.
And we cannot but think that Dickens himself must have been aware of his owr. limitation on this point. The struggle and strain of which we are always aware in the working out of his good characters,. shows something of that suppressed irritation with which a workman struggles against his special imperfection. He is angry that the cannot do it well, as some others can; and he works himself up into • an excitement which he tries to believe is creative passion, and heaps on accessories and results with a hand which is almost
feverish in its eagerness. The curious artificial cadence of the speeches which are meant to be impassioned—the explanations which every one of his higher female characters, for example, makes in measured sentences, each exactly like the other, at what is supposed the turningpoint of her existence, and in what are supposed to be the accents of lofty and'high-pitched feeling—are the most curious instances of this strain and conscious effort. He works himself up to it under the reader's very eyes—he makes enormous preparations before he takes the leap: when he sets himself in motion at length, it is with clenched hands and the veins swelling on his forehead—and then he fails. This process is gone through almost in the same monotonous succession whenever he attempts to strike any of the higher chords of life. The only thing real in it is the failure. In all the rest there is the strangest counterfeit air, and a consciousness of the sham which is as apparent to the writer as to the reader: the passion is stirred up and foamed and frothed, with always some new ingredient thrown in at the last moment in very desperation; the pathos is skimmed down, diluted, sweetened with the most anxious care. "No cook nor chemist could be more solicitous about the due mixture of every element. The only thing that is deficient is the effect.
It is a curious reflection, that perhaps the most popular wrjter of the period which is now closing—the enchanter who ruled over the youth of most of us, whose supremacy at one time was scarcely contested, and who even now has lost but little of his power—should be thus strangely incapable of entering into and representing the higher phases of existence. His works, we all know, are works of the purest morality, inculcating only benevolence, charity, and virtuous sentiments. Indeed, Mr. Dickens's genius is not even superior to the popular prejudice in favor of poetic justice: he likes to reward his good people substantially, and to make the wicked ones very uncomfortable. But with all this, he does not bring us into good company. The society of the cleverest of Cockney grooms—the most amusing of monthly nurses—would not be considered edifying in ordinary life. Were we condemned to it by any freak of fortune, we should feel ourselves deeply injured;
and whether the large amount of it enforced upon us by our favorite novelist is much to the advantage of our taste or manners as a nation, is a question worth considering. The genius which brought such an unlikely pair to the front of the contemporary stage, and has kept them there for something like a quarter of a century, is a very different matter. The difficulty of the task, and the extraordinary unsuitableness of the position, do but enhance the power of the creator : it is infinitely clever in him, but is it quite as good for -us? If, as people say, society in many of its circles has taken a lower and coarser tone, may not the indifferent company we have all been keeping in books have something to do with it? We think there is a great deal to be said on this point; but we are timorous, and do not feel equal to the task of charging upon the worshipped Dickens any such social offence. He who has always preached the most amiable of sentiments—he who was the first to find out the immense spiritual power of the Christmas turkey—he who has given us so many wonderful instances of sudden conversion from cruelty and unkindness to the most beaming, not to say maudlin, amiability,—shall we venture to say of him that his influence has not been of an elevating order? We shrink from the undertaking. But still we venture to repeat, it is a curious fact that this most influential writer has brought his readers into a great deal of very indifferent company, and has not left to us to neutralize it a single potential image of the elevated or the great—nay, has left us nothing but the weakest, sloppiests, maudlin exhibitions of goodness, big in complacency, but poor in every other point.
This, however, which is the worst we can say of Dickens in one particular, is the very highest in another. Those beings whom he has invented or brought out of obscurity have no natural claim to our interest, no attraction to bring them to us, not even any force of natural sympathy to give them power. By what strange gift is it that he captivates us to Sam Welter, and calls up a gleam upon the gravest countenance at the very name of Mrs. Gamp? Their truth to nature, some critics will answer: but this nature has nothing that is delightful in it: it is repul save, not attractive. Mrs. Gamp in real life would be hateful, tedious, and disgusting —yet there is not a beautiful lady in creation whose company we like better in print. How is it? Even when, as a question of art, we disapprove, the furtive smile steals to the corner of our mouth. This can be nothing but genius, that vivifying and creative principle which not only makes something out of nothing, but which communicates qualities to a bit of dull clay of which in itself it is utterly unconscious—-genius which we are always laboring to define without growing much the wiser, but which we can no more refuse to be influenced by, than we can deny the evidence of our senses. In this power of interesting his readers, Dickens does not even take such help of nature as other great artists have been glad to use. There is no story, no touch of natural emotion, to dispel our prejudices and bring near to us the strangely-chosen creature of our author's predilections. What he does, he does by sheer force of genius, scorning all auxiliaries, and his success is complete. His conception of the keen, illiterate Cockney mind, sharpened by contact with that life which abounds in the London streets, is as clear and sure as are those streets themselves which he can see; his glance goes through and through it with a divination more full than knowledge. Perhaps his consciousness of the influences which widen and light it up is more vivid than that of those which cramp and limit such an intelligence; he never ventures to go deep enough to bring it face to face with any problem beyond the reach of its philosophy ; and he is apt to endow it with a preternatural cleverness which makes all training and instruction unnecessary ; but with what certainty, swiftness, and freedom does he play its quaint original light over the surface of men and things ! what a command he has of its odd reflective power, its curious scraps of knowledge, its easy good-nature and tolerance—a tolerance which means close acquaintance with many kinds of evil! The fulness and clearness of this knowledge nobody can doubt ; though, on the other hand, it is less apparent how conventional and superficial it is: even here Dickens does not go deep. His instinct leads him to keep on the surface. There is more true insight in half-a-dozen lines which we could select here and there from other writers as to the effects of street education than in all Sam Weller.
Nevertheless, Sam Weller is not only true, but original. There is no tragic side to him. There is no real tragic side, indeed, to any of the Dickens characters. And Dickens, perhaps, is the only great artist of whom this can be said ; for to most creative minds there is a charm indescribable in the contact of human character with the profounder difficulties of life. An instinctive sense of his own weakness, however, keeps him as far as possible from these problems. And his Sam is the most light-hearted hero, perhaps, that has ever been put upon canvas. He is the very impersonation of easy conscious skill and cleverness. He has never met with anything in his career that he could not give a good account of. Life is all above-board with him, straightforward, jovial, on the surface. He stands in the midst of the confusion of the picture in very much the same position which the author himself assumes. He is the Deus ex machirtd, the spectator of everybody's mistakes and failures—a kind of laughing providence to set everything right. Sam's position in the " Pickwick Papers" is one of the great marvels in English art. It is the first act of the revolution which Mr. Dickens accomplished in his literary sphere —the new system which has brought those uppermost who were subordinate according to the old canons. This ostler from the City, this groom picked up from the pavement, is, without doubt or controversy, everybody's master in the story of which he is the centre. When the whole little community in the book is puzzled, Sam's cleverness cuts the knot. It is he who always sees what to do, who keeps everybody else in order. He even combines with his r6le of all accomplished serving-man the other r6le of jeunc premier, and retains his superiority all through the book, at once in philosophy and practical insight, in love and war.
The "Pickwick Papers" stands by itself among its author's works; and as the first work of a young man, it is, we think, unique in literature. Other writers have professed to write novels without a hero: Dickens, so far as we are aware, is the only one who, without making any profession, has accomplished that same. To be sure, "Pickwick" is not, in the ordinary sense of the word, a novel, and yet it would be hard to classify it in any other list. Strangest of books! which introduces us to a set of people, young men and old, women and girls, figures intended to represent the usual strain of flesh and blood—in order that we may laugh at them all! There is a horrible impartiality, a good-humored universal malice, running through the whole. The author stands in the midst, half himself, half revealed in the person of his favorite Sam, and looks at the world he has created, and holds his sides. He does not even feel contempt, to speak of— he feels nothing but what fun it is to see so many fools disporting themselves according to their folly. There is, as we have said, a horrible impartiality in it. Other writers have preserved a little respect, a little sympathy, for the lovers, at least—a little feeling that youth must have something fine in it, and that the gallant and the maiden have a right to their pedestal. But not so Dickens: the delight with which in this book he displays all the ridiculousness and inherent absurdity which he finds in life, is like the indiscriminate fun of a schoolboy who shouts with mirth at everything which can by any means be made an occasion of laughter, without acknowledging any restrain of natural reverence or decorum. In " Pickwick," the work is that of a man of genius, but the spirit is almost always that of a mischievous innocent schoolboy. When the great contemporary and rival of Dickens produced his first great work, all the virtuous world rose up and condemned the cynicism of "Vanity Fair"; but nobody has ever said a word about the cynicism of "Pickwick" ; and yet, to our thinking, the one is a hundred times more apparent than the other. "Vanity Fair" is a book full of deep and tragic meaning, of profound feeling and sentiment, which crop up through the fun, and are ever present, though so seldom expressed. The historian, story-teller, social philosopher, laughs, it is true, but he has a great mind to weep: he sneers sometimes, but it is because his heart grows hot as he watches the pranks that men play before high heaven. But the author of " Pickwick" cares not a straw what fools his puppets make of themselves; the more foolish they are, the more he laughs at their absurdity. He is too goodhumored, too full of cheerful levity and the sense of mischief, to think of their lies and brags and vanity as anything vile and blamable; they are so funny, that he forgets everything else. His characters go tumbling about the world as the clown and
pantaloon do in the midst of those immemorial immoralities of the pantomime— the ever-successful tricks and cheats in which we all find once a-year an unsophisticated pleasure. In short, the atmosphere of "Pickwick" is more like that of a pantomime than of any other region we know. Mr. Jingle, who is the villain, and has to be punished and reformed after a fashion in Mr. Dickens's favorite harlequin-wand manner of reformation, is a respectable character, with a purpose, beside Mr. Winkle, who is the veriest braggart, cheat, and sneak that ever was introduced into fiction. Yet the very funniest scenes in the book, those which the chance reader turns to by instinct, are the narratives of Mr. Winkle's exploits, though he is one of the foremost walking gentlemen, lover, and in a manner hero of the piece. Sam Weller, who picks him up with his unlucky skates on, and takes care of his equally unlucky gun, is, like the author, too merry over it, to feel any sort of indignation against Mr. Winkle. The two burst with private laughter aside, and find it the best fun!
The extreme youthfulness of this treatment is visible even in the more serious parts of the book, if anything in it can be called serious. Mr. Pickwick himself is just the kind of bland old gentleman, with money always ready in his old-fashioned breeches-pocket to make up for all deficiencies, and an everlasting disposition to meddle and set everything right, who is too apt to be a schoolboy's ideal: an old fellow who may be freely laughed at, but whose credulity is as unbounded as the funds at his disposal, and who is delightfully ready to be hoaxed, and falls by himself, almost too naturally, into the pitfalls of practical joking. It is, perhaps, the perfect good humor of this view of life which keeps it from being assailed as cynical. For it is thoroughly good-humored, by dint of being absolutely indifferent. There is the same large toleration in it which we have of the tyrannies, and extortions, and avarices of an ant-hill, when we take upon ourselves to observe the busy community there. When the weak one is overpowered and trodden upon, no indignation fills our superior bosom; we look on and smile, and watch without interference—without anything that can be called sympathy, but with a great deal of amusement. In the same way, there is