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larity of Boz's Sketches, a publishing firm asked Dickens to write something to illustrate some plates by a comic artist named Seymour. Seymour committed suicide before the second paper appeared, and among the unsuccessful applicants for his job was a young man named William Makepeace Thackeray. The papers, however, soon outstripped the pictures in popularity, and finally developed into one of the most laughable and lovable novels ever written. It is almost impossible to describe it to anybody who has not read it and to describe it to anybody who has is an impertinence. Indeed it may be said that a familiarity with Mr. Picwick himself, with his immortal servant Sam Weller, and with the details of the trial of Bardell vs. Pickwick have ever since been necessary ingredients in a liberal education.
“Pickwick ” was followed by“ The Adventures of Oliver Twist,” in which the author set before the British public such a picture of the dregs of life as it had never seen before, a picture terrible in its revelations of human depravity and in the intensity of its tragic scenes but redeemed from all vulgarity by the power of sympathy which enabled the author to depict the devotion and heroism of Nancy, the vivacity of the Artful Dodger, and the good humor of Charley Bates. Pickwick ” made his readers merry; in “ Oliver Twist " he thrilled them; and both books made them think better of mankind. The power of the book is irresistible. No reader can forget Fagin the Jew or the breathless excitement of the chapters that precede his downfall and that of his brutal accomplice Sikes.
In April, 1838, several months before the completion of “ Oliver Twist," appeared the first number of “Nicholas Nickleby.” The pleasantly metallic jingle of this name suggests its purpose. It is a savage but deserved attack on certain schools and schoolmasters whose aims were not to teach boys but to make money. Oliver Twist in the workhouse and Smike at Dotheboys Hall are Dickens's immortal protests against that brutality from which he himself had suffered as a boy at school, and the sweet reasonableness of modern pedagogues is no doubt due in some measure to his warfare against their brutal predecessors who are depicted in Mr. Squeers. The book, however, is full of fun. Its best comic figure is the verbose, roundabout, and parenthetic Mrs. Nickleby, who never deviates into coherence.
Nicholas Nickleby ” was followed 1840 by “ The Old Curiosity Shop," a book which has since made four generations of readers, including Lord Macaulay and Walter Savage Landor, glad, afraid, angry, and sad. Dick Swiveller and the Marchioness, Sally Brass and Quilp, are loved and hated with an intensity seldom excited even by live people. But the most wonderful picture in the book is that of Little Nell. Dickens afterward formed other characters not less affecting but none so essentially poetic.
Dickens's next book, "Barnaby Rudge," was less successful, though it contains the justly famous and popular portrait of Dolly Varden, a charming type of eighteenth century girl, and the scarcely less famous picture of Grip the Raven. With the exception of “A Tale of Two Cities," " Barnaby Rudge” is Dickens's only historical novel. It gives a vivid picture of the Lord George Gordon riots of 1780, but it is none too accurate, Dickens, unlike Scott, not being at once a student of books and of men.
Probably Dickens felt that this was the case. His less decisive success with “
Barnaby Rudge” seems to have led him to seek fresh material in strange lands. At all events on January 28, 1842, after a rough voyage, he and his wife landed in Boston. Their stay in the United States lasted about four months and included visits to New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Richmond, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Chicago, and Buffalo. Then they passed by Niagara into Canada, visited Montreal, and were safe at home again in July.
The literary results of this tour were a volume called “ American Notes” and “Martin Chuzzlewit," one of Dickens's best novels. Both gave great offence to Americans and were evidently meant to give offence. Even the Mississippi River, “great father of rivers, who (praise be to Heaven) has no young children like him,” was insulted. In spite of all this, when Dickens again visited America in 1868, he was received with great cordiality and apologized handsomely. The fact is that in his satire, mixed with some injustice, there was much truth, and if he is hard in “Martin Chuzzlewit ” on Americans he is equally hard on Englishmen. The former have no more reason to be angry with Mr. Jefferson Brick than the latter with the portrait of Mr. Pecksniff, in which he drew an immortal picture of the favorite English vice of hypocrisy, and that of Mrs. Gamp, by means of which he drove out of existence a generation of untrained nurses.
Dickens's nature indeed was full of kindliness. To cultivate good will, founded upon respect, toward the poor was always one of his chief ambitions. During the holiday seasons of 1843, 1844, 1845, 1846, and 1848, in his delightful Christmas books he bestowed upon the world his most successful efforts in this direction. Of these “ The Cricket on the Hearth” and “ The Christmas Carol are perhaps the best; but all of them, filled as they are with holly, mistletoe, red berries, ivy, turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, meat, pigs, sausages, oysters, pies, puddings, fruit, and punch, continue to enjoy a popularity which they richly deserve. “ Martin Chuzzlewit is a satire on selfishness. In
Dombey and Son,” which began to appear in 1847, Dickens sought to show what pride cannot achieve, conquer, or withstand. The story of Mr. Dombey's pride in little Paul, of his cruelty toward his daughter Florence, of Paul's death, and of Florence's love is at once one of the subtlest and most impressive in literature, while the death of Carker is wondrously powerful. The book is also rich in comic characters and Captain Cuttle is one of Dickens's most agreeable creations. Indeed it seemed that in this great book Dickens had reached a height beyond which even his genius could not rise.
Yet this is exactly what happened. The first number of “ David Copperfield” was published in May, 1849, the last in November, 1850. As Adolphus W. Ward says, it is a pearl without a peer amongst the later fictions of our English school. “Of all my books,” the author said himself, “I like this the best. It will be easily believed that I am a fond parent to every child of my fancy. But, like many fond parents, I have in my heart of hearts a favourite child—and his name is David Copperfield.” David Copperfield is Dickens. He put into it his life's blood. It is in reality the most delightful of all autobiographies. It contains the story of his own sordid and unhappy childhood, of his early love, and of his gradual rise to fame. It is all real and yet a triumph of art. The number, variety, and truth of the characters is marvelous even for Dickens. The shapeless nurse Peggotty, Barkis the willing, Little Emily, Ham, Mrs. Gummidge that lone lorn creature, Mr. Wilkins Micawber, Mrs. Micawber and the twins, Mr. Creakle the schoolmaster, Aunt Betsy Trotwood, Mr. Dick and his kites, ’umble Uriah Heep, Traddles and the dearest girl, that delicious little fool Dora, Gyp, and Agnes, sweetest and noblest of heroines,-all are as true and unforgettable as Hamlet and Mercutio, Rebecca and Ivanhoe. The style is as good as Stevenson's, which is by no means true of all of Dickens's work. The student who has time for only one of his books should read “ David Copperfield,” for if he reads “ David Copperfield ” he will surely find time to read the rest.
The man who had done all of this great work was now an intensely human gentleman of 38. From his youth he had been accustomed not only to work but also to play hard. He was a born actor, believing that the world falls into two divisions only—those whose place is before and those whose place is behind the footlights. His love of the stage led him to associate with actors, Macready and Fechter being among his dearest friends, and, after he had become a successful novelist, to manage and conduct amateur theatricals, if the word " amateur" can be applied to productions of “Every Man in his Humour” and “The Merry Wives of Windsor," acted with great applause in London, Liverpool, and Manchester, and of Bulwer Lytton's “Not so Bad as We Seem," played before the Queen with scenery painted by the best artists. The proceeds went to charity. Dickens was also an editor and on the whole a successful one, doing much in “ Household Words” and “ All the Year Round" to make periodical literature reputable and certainly making it popular. To these magazines he contributed his agreeable " Letters of an Uncommercial Traveller” and his disagreeable but powerful novel "Hard Times.” In the midst of his labors he found abundant leisure to take vacations in Italy, France, and England, mainly at seaside resorts, and to cultivate his friends, among whom he numbered his biographer Forster; the great portrait painter Maclise; Landseer, whose dogs and lions live in immortal canvas, stone, and bronze; Douglas Jerrold, prince of punsters; Lord Lytton, who wrote the "Last Days of Pompeii "; Thackeray; and even Carlyle. He was, like Scott, an early riser, because in no other way could he obtain the solitude that is needed for imaginative work; he lived temperately; and he had a theory, up to which he tried to live, that a man's hours of walking and of intellectual labor should be equal. He loved punctuality and hated disorder, slovenliness, and half-done work.
“David Copperfield” was followed 1852-1853 by" Bleak House," which surpassed it by 10,000 copies in circulation and decidedly in the skill of its plot, but is vastly its inferior in charm. It is a satire on the law's delay and incidentally a very good detective story. Its pictures of Inspector Buckett, Mr. Tulkinghorn the family solicitor, and Mr. Guppy are Dickens's most finished portraits of men of law.
While “Bleak House” was still appearing in monthly numbers, Dickens dictated and published in his journal“ A Child's History of England,” which is distinguished by its hatred of ecclesiasticism and war. It was followed 1853–1857 by "Little Dorrit," a stinging satire on the inefficiency of socialism. He was ill when he wrote it and it shows the effects of his illness. In his retreat at Gad's Hill, where in Shakespeare's “ Henry IV” Falstaff and Prince Hal had made merry, he sought and found rest and better health, however, though he speedily neutralized the benefit thus secured by embarking on a fresh enterprise that taxed to the utmost his impaired vitality. He began to give readings from his own books. Their success was enormous both financially and artistically, and they gratified at once his love of acting and his fondness for literary fame. Among the things he read were “The Christmas Carol," “ The Chimes," the trial in “ Pickwick," " Mrs. Gamp," " Paul Dombey," and passages from “David Copperfield," “ Nicholas Nickleby,” and “ Oliver Twist,” the last culminating in the murder of Nancy by Sikes.
In the midst of these labors he produced 1859 “ A Tale of Two Cities,” his second and last historical novel and perhaps, after“ David Copperfield,” his greatest masterpiece. The two cities are London and Paris and the period depicted is that of the French Revolution. It differs from his other books in being almost entirely devoid of humor, but it abounds in effective situations, the story is well-nigh matchless, and the picture of Sidney Carton's sacrifice excites the