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no doubt, though with a curious revolution of circumstances, our schoolboys, our servants, contemplate us. Were our grooms habitually set to produce a picture of the existence of their masters, there is little chance that it would be so amusing as "Pickwick," but it would be in the same vein. The keenest, lively, sharp-eyed observation of the outside, without any sympathy or respect, or desire to understand the unseen—a lively apprehension of the folly of those who act as we ourselves would not think of acting, and by the guidance of principles which we don't care to fathom—lies at the bottom of the whole. It is the life of one class as it appears to a member of another; the commentary of a spectator who never identifies himself with the actors, who has no sense of community of interests or character, who is as indifferent to their right and wrong as we are to the Ants—but who notes everything, and has an instinctive perception of the fun, the ridiculousness, the absurdity inalienable from humanity. One touch of sympathy would change the whole—would bring in shame and moral sentiment, would probably give bitterness to the laugh, and modify the fun with meaning. But this idea had not occurred to Dickens at the time of "Pickwick." His is the very triumph of youthful profanity, of superficial insight, of bright-eyed, unsympathetic vision. The light of his laughing eyes throws a certain gleam of amused expectancy over the landscape— or rather stage, which is a better word. And how thoroughly we are repaid for our anticipations of fun !—how delightfully does everybody commit himself, make a fool of himself, exhibit his vanities, his absurdities, in unconscious candor before us. Never was there such a big, full, crowded pantomime stage—never so many lively changes of scene and character. There is scarcely more art or skill in the situations than is necesiary to please the mos indulgent holiday audience. Mr. Pickwick's memorable mistake about his bedroom—the troubles to which Mr. Winkle was subjected in consequence of his goodnature in opening the door in th* middle of the night to a lady coming home from a baH—are incidents for the planning of which the very minimum of invention has been employed; and yet how they amuse us! We laugh as we laugh at the preposterous innocent blunders which sometimes
occur in our own life. They have the same spontaneous unintentional air, the same want of meaning. For absence of meaning is a positive advantage in the circumstances. It improves the fun, and increases its resemblance to the fragmentary humors of ordinary existence. Thus our author moves us at the very smallest cost, so far as construction is concerned. But the panorama which he unfolds before us trembles with light and movement and variety. There is nothing dead, stagnant, or dull in the whole exhibition—in every corner it is alive; something is going on wherever we turn. We feel that it is out of his own inexhaustible being that he is pouring all those crowds upon us, and that as many more are ready to follow, all as full of eccentricity, absurdity, nonsense, and fun as their predecessors. It is the life, the flow and fulness of vitality, the easy wealth of witty comment, the constant succession of amusing scenes, which insure the popularity of "Pickwick." It is of its nature delightful to the very young —to the schoolboy mind yet unawakened to anything beyond the fun of existence; and at the very other end of the social scale, it is full of amusement to the wearied man, who has enough of serious life, and to whom it is a relief to escape into this curious world, where all is fun, and nothing serious. But of all the revelations of mind made by the first works of great artists, "Pickwick" is perhaps the most incomprehensible. With all its charming gaiety and good-humor, with its bits of fine moral reflection and demonstrative worship of benevolence, it is without heart and without sympathy—superficial and profane.
We do not use the latter word, however, in a religious sense; for Dickens has always persistently and most benevolently countenanced and patronized religion. He is humanly, not sacredly, profane in Ae first great effort of his genius—not bitterly sceptical of, but light-heartedly indifferent to, human excellence. This will, we fear, be considered strange doctrine by those who have taken for granted all his subsequent moralities on the subject, and die very great use he has made of moral transformations. But in "Pickwick" there is absolutely no moral sense. It either does not exist, or has not been awakened; and there is the deepest profanity—a profanity which scorns all the traditions of poetry and romance, as well as all the higher necessities of nature—in the total absence of any sentiment or grace in the heroes and heroines, the lovers, the one class of humanity on whose behalf there exists a lingering universal prejudice. It is true that this criticism refers in its fullest sense to "Pickwick" alone—but "Pickwick" is Dickens pur el simple in his first freshness, before the age of conventionality had begun. And the defect is closely connected with one of his best qualities—the genuine kindness of feeling which mingles with all his ridicule. He is never harsh, never ungenial, and much more disposed to put a good than an evil interpretation upon the motives of human folly. He does not permit us either to hate or to despise our fellowcreatures in their weaknesses; but yet he enjoys the contemplation of those weaknesses. He is cruel without intending it; but in his very cruelty he is kind.
The distinction, however, between this one book and all the others is as curious as anything in literature. It is the same hand which works; for who else could fill his canvas so lavishly ?—who else has such unbounded stores to draw upon? The life and brightness are the same, the boundless variety and animation; and the same also is that power of natural selection which brings to the author's hand those odd and unusual and unelevated figures which suit him best; but in everything else the whole fictitious world is changed. "Pickwick" was full of the most genial, natural, easy indifference to the higher morality; but every subsequent work is heavy with meaning, and has an almost polemical moral. In "Pickwick" everybody's aim was to make himself as charmingly absurd as possible for our delight and pleasure; for this end they roamed about the world seeking adventures which meant nothing but fun, and generally conducting themselves like men without any social bonds of duty upon them, with no responsibilities to the world, nor necessity to make their living or advance their fortunes. We even defy any one to make out to what social class these personages are intended to belong. Were we to describe Mr Pickwick as a retired tradesman, and his young friends as sons of well-to-do persons in the same class, we should convey the impression made by their manners and habits upon
ourselves personally; but there is no evidence that Dickens meant this. In all his other books, however, the social details are fully expressed, and the bondage of ordinary circumstances acknowledged. Many of these works have not only an individual moral, but are weighted besides with an attack upon some one national institution or public wrong, as if Mr. Dickens's sense of responsibility to the world for his great gift, and the manner in which he should use it, had developed all at once, and, having once developed, would not be trifled with. The Yorkshire cheap schools; the land speculations of America; the Court of Chancery, and other objectionable institutions—have each a book devoted to them; while the advantages of benevolence, and the drawbacks of selfishness, are developed in every new group of characters, to the edification of the world. This change is an odd one, and one for which we know no explanation. But however it came about, the fact is beyond doubt. The group of works which followed—" Nicholas Nickleby," "Oliver Twist," "Martin Chuzzlewit," "Dombey"—are all books with a purpose. They are books, too, in which the old traditions of construction are partially followed, and the love tale is restored to a certain prominence. They have a beginning, and, a middle, and an end, the due amount of orthodox difficulties, and the "lived very happy ever after" of primeval romance. Thus their character is altered. There is no longer the delightful Picwickian muddle, the story without an end, which might go on for ever. The orthodox machinery of the novel places a certain limit upon the book; it restricts it within conditions, and demands a certain exercise of those qualities of foresight and economy which are equally necessary, whether we are about to marry ourselves, or to arrange for the marriage of our hero and heroine. But notwithstanding this change of circumstances, the charm of "Nickleby" and "Chuzzlewit" is the same as the charm of "Pickwick." It lies in the wealth and fulness and lavish life, in the odd exhibitions of ignoble and unelevated humanity, in the gay malice (not maliciousness) with which all that is ridiculous is pursued and dwelt upon. Nothing can be worse than the bits of melodrama which now and then, in the exigencies of the story, the author is driven to indulge in; and the good people and gentlefolks are as a rule extremely feeble and uninteresting; but all the teeming wealth of lower life which makes the other rich abounds and overflows in these. The grim group of the Squeerses, the genial bigness of John Browdie, the Crummies and their troupe, Pecksniff, Mark Tapley, and Mrs. Gamp, Toots and Miss Nipper, are all perfect in their way. With them the author is at his ease. His artificial goodness and maudlin virtue fade out of our sight. When he is out of the benumbing presence of the ladies and gentlemen who are compelled to talk good English, and behave themselves accordingly, he expands like a flower. His foot is on his native heath, he is among the people and the scenes with which he is fully acquainted, and he can give himself his full swing. Sometimes he even rises into a strain higher than that of his old lighthearted, cynical, and amused toleration. The picture of Dotheboys Hall has a certain fierce reality in its fun, of which nothing in "Pickwick" gives promise; and the drama of Bill Sykes's vengeance and punishment is most effective and even terrible. His knot of criminals is revolting, but it is one of the most powerful pictures he has ever drawn; and it is all the more powerful in comparison with the insipid framework of goodness and prettiness in which this trenchant villany and gloom are enclosed. Here his utter failure and his highest success are put together so closely that it is impossible not to see the full force of the contrast. Fagin, the Artful Dodger, and Bumble, are all full of reality; and even such a miserable conception as that of Noah Claypole gives strange involuntary evidence that the very lowest type is more conceivable to our author's imagination than the gentle uniformity of civilized existence, into which he can put neither character nor spirit.
The same fact is apparent less unpleasantly in the "Old Curiosity Shop," where the false sentiment and mawkish pathos of little Nell, with all that exaggerated and foolish devotion which Mr. Dickens is so fond of representing, forms a husk and envelope for the delightful figure of Dick Swiveller, one of his greatest creations. We are not sure that we do not, as a matter of individual opinion, place Dick on a pinnacle above all the
rest—a pinnacle which, perhaps, he may divide with the Micawbers, inimitable pair! but which not even Sam Weller could reach. Sam is a saucy fellow, whom we all know we would not tolerate in our service for a day, useful as he was to Mr. Pickwick; but Dick Swiveller we take to our bosom. His very dissipatedness, his indebtedness, "the rosy" which he passes so much too often, the idle ways which we cannot help seeing—we look upon all with indulgent eyes. He is never a blackguard in his lowest days ; even the people in those streets, which he shut up gradually by buying a pair of gloves in one and a pot of pomade in another, must have missed him, when he no longer went by in his checked trousers swinging his cane. He is an indifferent member of society, and likely to break his aunt's heart; but there is no harm in Dick. The poor little Marchioness, in her big cap and bib, is as safe in his hands as if she possessed the rank her name implies, and he were her ladyship's most decorous chamberlain. He may beat her at cribbage, and teach her how egg-flip tastes, but no harm. In the chapters which discuss and describe Dick Swiveller there is more true humor than in all the rest of Dickens ; for he, perhaps, alone of all the many personages of his family, has got the love of his author. He is treated fondly, with a gentle touch; he is made fun of tenderly ; he is cunningly recommended to our affections, as a man recommends the truant boy who is the light of his eyes, in all manner of soft pretended reproaches and fond abuse. He is almost the only man disabled, and incapable of helping himself, of whom Dickens makes a favorite. Most of his pet characters are particularly clever and handy, and most of them find some way of turning the tide of fortune, and working themselves clear. But it is very certain that nature never meant our beloved Dick to do anything for himself. He would have gone stumbling on till doomsday, shutting up one street after another with his little purchases, making ineffectual appeals to his aunt, and taking the failure of them quite good-humoredly, in the most genial undiscourageable way, had not Mr. Dickens at last made up his mind to interfere. Perhaps that is why we like him so ; he is so dependent upon our liking and our sympathies. Then he is so friendly, so willing to be of use, so anxious to conciliate, and so charmingly unconscious of the harm he is doing by his good-natured efforts; so easily moved to one thing or another; so elastic and versatile in those innocent plans of his, which are always ready to be changed at a moment's notice. "No man knocks himself down; if his destiny knocks him down his destiny must pick him up again. Then I'm very glad that mine has brought all this upon itself, and I shall be as careless as I can, and make myself quite at home to spite it. So go on, my brick," said Mr Swiveller, "and let us see which of us will be tired first."
Such is the cheerful philosophy with which he beguiles his woes. But if Mr Swiveller struggling with fate is a fine spectacle, Dick in the pangs of disappointed love is finer still. When he contemplates gloomily the indigestible weddingcake—when he binds his hat with crape instead of the traditionary willow— when he takes comfort, and bids the faithless Sophy know that a young lady is saving up for him—he is inimitable. Pure comedy, as good almost as Falstaff in its way, is the entire episode. It wants the breadth which the greater artist gives to all his work ; and the surroundings are not equal to the central figure, and take off from its fine proportion. Such an artificial pair, for instance, as Sally Brass and her brother —such a mere monster as Quilp—have nothing to do with the more refined and true conception, and balk Dick of his due development. But even these cannot prevent the scenes, in which he is the principal actor, from taking the highest place in English comedy. When the Marchioness comes upon the stage the picture is perfect. It is hard to understand how so many inferior episodes have been dramatized, and this, which is as fine as Moliere, should have been neglected. The honest fellow's goodness to the forlorn child, the perfect ease with which he adapts himself to her society, the little fiction—so quaintly nonsensical, yet after a while so real—which he weaves about her,—to all this we know scarcely any match in the language, and certainly nothing more humorous and more captivating. For the first time Mr. Dickens goes direct to the heart; and he does so in one of the highest and most difficult ways,—not by tears, but by laughter. The humanity and innocent-heartedness of this irregular,
disorderly, dissipated young man, overcome all the defences which we erect unawares against the sickly sentimentality of little Nell. We defy her to move us, but we succumb to him without a struggle. The two playing cribbage in the damp kitchen, of which Dick remarks that "the marble floor is—if I may be allowed the expression—sloppy," has just that mixture of the pathetic which true humor demands. The miserable scene—the small, squalid, desolate child, who is one of the actors— the careless good heart, touched with a hundred gentle movements of pity and kindness, of the other—bring out the genuine comic nature of the intercourse, the quaint originality and fun, with double force. So vivid is the picture, that the present writer, turning to the book with the feeling that the cribbage-playing below stairs must have gone on for a considerable period, is struck with amazement to find that it only happened once. So reticent and modest is real power whenever it feels its strength, and so genuine is the impression made by the true humor, the happy tender naturalness, of this strange and touching scene.
We have said that the Micawbers may claim a place on the same platform with Dick; but. we are not sure whether we can fully justify the claim. The Micawbers are great, but they are not pathetic: there is not in them that deeper touch which dignifies the laughter. Nothing like a tear starts at their bidding; and consequently they do not attain to the same perfection as their wonderful predecessor. But if the humor is less deep and true, the wonderful energy and life of the picture—its truth to nature, its whimsical reality and force—are above all praise. Mr. Micawber is as genuine an addition to the world's population as if we knew where to find his mark in the parish register, and were acquainted with all the beginnings of his career,—how he fell in love with Mrs. Micawber, and how that lady's family permitted a union which was to give them so much trouble. His genteel air, his frankness on the subject of his difficulties, his delightful readiness to give his attention to anything that may turn up, the way in which his impecuniosity serves him as a profession, are all set before us with an unfailing spirit Mr. Micawber never flags; there is never a moment at which we can feel that the author has forgotten what went before, or lost the thread. Even his concern in one of those wonderful plots which are so dear to Dickens, his connection with Uriah Heep's disgusting villany, does not harm him. On the contrary, we feel disposed for once to welcome the plot which makes apparent to us Mrs. Micawber's distress of mind over her husband's new-born mysteriousness, the delightful power of racy letter-writing which she exhibits, and the beautiful devotion which she does not attempt to conceal. Mrs. Micawber is almost as good as her husband. The intrepid courage with which she keeps up that imaginary struggle with her family, scorning every temptation to leave Mr. Micawber, her occasional despair and beautiful power of overcoming it as a wife and a mother, and making herself as comfortable as circumstances permit; her anxiety that Mr. Micawber should have occupation worthy of his talents, and be appreciated at last; her never-failing gentility and sense of what is due to her position,—are all kept up with the same perfect spirit and reality. As we read, we too feel the exhilarating effect of a meal procured by the sale of a bedstead; we too are aware of that sensation of having settled a serious point of business, which possesses Mr. Micawber when he has put his name to a bill. We scorn the worldling who hesitates at that security; we understand the roll in our friend's voice, his consciousness that he has come into his property, and paid off all the charges ■with a liberal hand when he writes his name to that bit of paper. Perhaps none of us have ever encountered in the world the full-blown perfection of a Mr. Micawber—perhaps, as revealed by the inspiration of the poet, nothing so consistent and complete ever existed; for it is the mission of art to fill out the fragmentary types of human character, and give them form and substance. But how many hints and suggestions of Mr. Micawber has the ordinary observer met! and how kindly, how genially, with what a friendly insight, has the author combined those suggestions, and made them into one consistent being! A less friendly interpretation, an eye less kind or less enlightened by laughter, might have made a miserable Jeremy Diddler out of our hero—and the difference is very notable; for Micawber is no doubt as great a nuisance to his friends as Did
dler was, and has quite as little sense of the sanctity of money, that one fundamental principle which most of us hold so strenuously. Nor is Dickens without the power of treating this view of the character, as many slighter sketches, and the elaborate and cruel one of Harold Skimpole, which the reader will recollect in another book, abundantly testify. We do not know that in reality Micawber is more virtuous than Skimpole. The difference is too delicate to be defined; but of this we have no doubt, that humor has helped humanity in the picture of the former, and that the author's sense of the unbounded fun of the situations in which such a man places himself by nature, has actually helped us to realize a moral difference. For Mr. Micawber's sense of honor and generosity is strong, though it is not perhaps so effectual upon his character as might be desired. It is true that the signature of the bill is to him as it were a receipt in full, clearing him of all further responsibility ; but still how charmingly ready he is to sign it! how incapable of taking advantage of any one's generosity without that precaution! He fortifies his friends against the indiscretion of their own liberal impulses by those bits of stamped paper*. He mortgages that grand estate—the future which nobody can alienate from him—with the readiness of a prince, believing in it all the while with greater and more perfect faith than perhaps nowadays any prince would be justified in entertaining. And then how hospitable, how liberal, how ready to share what they have, be it pasty or cnist, sirloin or bread and cheese, are this most amiable couple! Not only do they hold themselves ready to sell their bedstead at a moment's notice on their own account, but they are equally ready to entertain you on the proceeds, giving you the genteelest yet cheerfulest of welcomes, a lavish portion, and the most charming talk to help it down. Their hearts are as open as if they had ten thousand a-year, —and so in fact they have, or as near it as circumstances allow, having a blithe unfailing faith in the something which is to turn up, and in their fellow-creatures and their good fortune. It is astonishing in what good stead this same faith in fortune stands even the commoner adventurers of ordinary life. And as for the Micawbers, we do not pretend to be capable of any