Not only does Dickens give poetic shape to the better characteristics of English life; he is also England's satirist. Often directed against abuses in their nature temporary, his satire has in some part lost its edge, and would have only historic interest but for the great preservative, humour, mingled with all his books; much of it, however, is of enduring significance, and reminds us that the graver faults of Englishmen are not to be overcome by a few years of popular education, by general increase of comfort and refinement, by the spread of a democratic spirit. Some of these blemishes, it is true, belong more or less to all mankind; but in Dickens's England they were peculiarly disfiguring, and the worst of them seem inseparable from the national character.
Much as they loved and glorified him, his countrymen did not fail to make protest when wounded by the force of his satiric portraiture. The cry was ''exaggeration . Naturally, this protest was very loud during the publication of Martin Chuzzlewit, in which book a vice supposed to be peculiarly English was vigorously dealt with. Dickens used the opportunity of a preface to answer his critics; he remarked that peculiarities of character often escape observation until they are directly pointed out, and asked whether the charge of exaggeration brought against him might not simply mean that he, a professed student of life, saw more than ordinary people. There was undoubted truth in the plea; Browning has put the same thought -- as an apology for art -- into the mouth of Fra Lippo Lippi. Dickens assuredly saw a great deal more in every day of his life than his average readers in threescore years and ten. But it still remained a question whether, in his desire to stigmatize an objectionable peculiarity, the satirist had not erred by making this peculiarity the whole man. Exaggeration there was, beyond dispute, in such a picture as that of Pecksniff, inasmuch as no man can be so consistently illustrative of an evil habit of mind. There was lack of proportion; the figure failed in human symmetry. Just as, in the same book, the pictures of American life erred through one-sidedness. Dickens had written satire, and satire as pointed, as effective, as any in literature. Let the galled jade wince; there was an outcry of many voices, appealing to common judgment. It might be noted that these same sensitive critics had never objected to "exaggeration" when the point at issue was merely one of art; they became aware of their favourite author's defect only when it involved a question of morals or of national character.
Merely as satirist, however, Dickens never for a moment endangered his popularity. The fact, already noticed, that Martin Chuzzlewit found fewer admirers than the books preceding it, had nothing to do with its moral theme, but must be traced to causes, generally more or less vague, such as from time to time affect the reception of every author's work; not long after its completion, this book became one of the most widely read. There is the satire which leaves cold, or alienates, the ordinary man, either because it passes above his head, or conflicts with his cherished prejudices; and there is the satire which, by appealing to his better self, -- that is, to a standard of morality which he theoretically, or in very deed, accepts, -- commands his sympathy as soon as he sees its drift. What is called the "popular conscience" was on Dickens's side; and he had the immense advantage of being able to raise a hearty laugh even whilst pointing his lesson. Among the rarest of things is this thorough understanding between author and public, permitting a man of genius to say aloud with impunity that which all his hearers say within themselves dumbly, inarticulately. Dickens never went too far; never struck at a genuine conviction of the multitude. Let us imagine him, in some moment of aberration, suggesting criticism of the popular idea of sexual morality! Would it have availed him that he had done the state some service? Would argument or authority have helped for one moment to win him a patient hearing? We know that he never desired to provoke such antagonism. Broadly speaking, he was one with his readers, and therein lay his strength for reform.
As for the charge of exaggeration, the truth is that Dickens exaggerated no whit more in his satire than in his sympathetic portraiture. It is an idle objection. Of course he exaggerated, in all but every page. In the last chapter I pointed to exceptional instances of literal or subdued truthfulness; not by these did he achieve his triumphs; they lurk for discovery by the curious. Granting his idealistic method, such censure falls wide of the mark. We are struck more forcibly when a character is exhibited as compact of knavery or grotesque cruelty, than when it presents incarnate goodness; that is all. The one question we are justified in urging is, whether his characterization is consistent with itself. In the great majority of cases, I believe the answer must be affirmative. Were it not so, Dickens's reputation would by this time linger only among the untaught; among those who are content to laugh, no matter how the mirth be raised.
His satire covers a great part of English life, public and private. Education, charity, religion, social morality in its broadest sense, society in its narrowest; legal procedure, the machinery of politics, and the forms of government. Licensed to speak his mind, he aims laughingly or sternly, but always in the same admirable spirit, at every glaring abuse of the day. He devotes a whole book, a prodigy of skilful labour, to that crowning example of the law's delay, which had wrought ruin in innumerable homes; he throws off a brilliant little sketch, in a Christmas number, and makes everybody laugh at the absurd defects of railway refreshment-rooms. We marvel at such breadth of untiring observation in the service of human welfare. Impossible to follow him through all the achievements of his satire; I can but select examples in each field, proceeding in the order just indicated.
It is natural that he should turn, at the beginning of his career, to abuses evident in the parish, the school, the place of worship. These were nearest at hand; they stared at him in his observant childhood, and during his life as a journalist. Consequently we soon meet with Mr. Bumble, with Mr. Squeers, with the Rev. Mr. Stiggins. Of these three figures, the one most open to the charge of exaggeration is the Yorkshire schoolmaster; yet who shall declare with assurance that Squeers's brutality outdoes the probable in his place and generation? There is crude workmanship in the portrait, and still more in the picture of Dotheboys, where overcharging defeats its own end. The extraordinary feature of this bit of work is the inextricable blending of horror and jocosity. Later, when Dickens had fuller command of his resources, he would have made Dotheboys very much more impressive; it remains an illustration of superabundant spirits in a man of genius. We can hardly help an amiable feeling towards the Squeers family, seeing the hearty gusto with which they pursue their monstrous business. The children who suffer under them are so shadowy that we cannot feel the wrong as we ought; such a spectacle should lay waste the heart, and yet we continue smiling. Dickens, of course, did not intend that this gathering of martyred children should have the effect of reality. Enough if he called attention to the existence of a monstrous state of things; reflection shall come afterwards; his immediate business is story-telling, that is to say, amusement. Wonderfully did he adapt means to ends; we find, in fact, that nothing could have been practically more effectual than this exhibition of strange gaiety. Mr. Bumble, though he comes earlier, is, in truth, better work than Squeers. Read carefully chapter iv of Oliver Twist, and you will discover, probably to your surprise, that the "porochial" functionary is, after all, human: in one line -- in a delicate touch -- we are shown Bumble softened, to the point of a brief silence, by Oliver's pleading for kind usage. No such moment occurs in the history of Squeers. And we see why not. The master of Dotheboys is not meant for a conscientious study of a human being; he is merely the representative of a vile institution. Admit a lurking humanity, and we have suggestion of possible reform. Now the parochial system, bad as it was, seemed a necessity, and only needed a thorough overhauling, -- observe the perfectly human behaviour of certain of the guardians before whom Oliver appears; but with the Yorkshire schools, it was root and branch, they must be swept from the earth. I do not think this is refining overmuch; Dickens's genius declared itself so consistently in his adaptation of literary means to ends of various kinds; and, however immature the details of his performance, he shows from the first this marvellous precision in effect.
Dotheboys was of course, even in these bad times, an exceptional method for the rearing of youth. It is not cold-blooded cruelty, but block-headed ignorance, against which Dickens has to fight over the whole ground of education. We have noticed his attitude towards the system of classical training; the genteel private schools of his day invited satire, and supplied him with some of his most entertaining chapters. Dr. Blimber's establishment is a favourable specimen of the kind of thing that satisfied well-to-do parents; genial ridicule suffices for its condemnation. But Dickens went deeper and laid stress upon the initial stages of the absurd system. Mrs. Pipchin, however distinct a personality, was not singular in her mode of dealing with children fresh from the nursery. Always profoundly interested in these little people, Dickens, without reaching any very clear conception of reform, well understood the evil consequences of such gross neglect or mistaken zeal as were common in households of every class. He knew that the vices of society could for the most part be traced to these bad beginnings A leader in this as in so many other directions, he taught his readers to think much of children just at the time when England had especial need of an educational awakening. Not his satire alone, but his so-called sentimentality, served a great purpose, and the death-bed of Paul Dombey, no less than the sufferings of Mr. Creakle's little victim, helped on the better day.
Though it has been "proved to demonstration" -- by persons who care for such proof -- that tenderness of heart led him astray in his bitterness against the new Poor Law, we see, of course, that herein he pursued his humane task, seeking in all possible ways to mitigate the harshness of institutions which pressed hardly upon the poor and weak. He could not away with those who held -- or spoke as if they held -- that a man had no duty to his fellows beyond the strict letter of the law. In this respect that very poor book, Hard Times, has noteworthy significance; but the figures of Gradgrind and Bounderby show how completely he could fail when he dispensed (or all but dispensed) with the aid of humour. Oliver Twist's "old gentleman in the white waistcoat" is decidedly better as portraiture, and as satire more effective. Apologists, or rampant glorifiers, of the workhouse, such as appear in the Christmas Books, need not be viewed too seriously; they stood forth at a season of none too refined joviality, and were in keeping with barons of beef, tons of plum-pudding, and other such heavy extravagances. They do not live in one's mind; nor, I think, does any one of Dickens's persons who are meant to satirize poor-law abuses. In this matter, his spirit did its work, his art not greatly assisting.
But when we come to his lashings of religious hypocrisy, the figures castigated are substantial enough. Always delighted to present a humbug, Dickens can scarce restrain himself when he gets hold of a religious humbug, especially of the coarse type. Brother Stiggins shines immortal in the same pages with Mr. Pickwick and the Wellers. Compare with him the Reverend Mr. Chadband. They are the same men, but one lived in 1837, the other in 1853. Brother Stiggins is, in plain English, a drunkard; Mr. Chadband would think shame of himself to be even once overtaken: he is a consumer of tea and muffins. It suited the author's mood, and the day in which he was writing, to have Mr. Stiggins soundly beaten in a pugilistic encounter with Tony Weller, to say nothing of other undignified positions in which the reverend gentleman finds himself; but Mr Chadband may discourse upon "Terewth" in Mr. Snagsby's parlour to any length that pleases him with no fear of such outrage. These same discourses are among the most mirth-provoking things in all Dickens: impossible to regard with nothing but contempt or dislike the man who has so shaken our sides. It might be well for the world if the race of Chadband should disappear (a consummation still far out of sight); but the satirist frankly glories in him, and to us he is a joy for ever. This is the best of the full-length pictures; but we have many a glimpse of kindred personages, always shown us with infinite gusto. The Rev. Melchisedech Howler, for instance. With what extravagance of humour, with what a rapture of robust mirth, are his characteristics touched off in a short passage of Dombey and Son! I must give myself the pleasure of copying it. "The Rev. Melchisedech Howler, who, having been one day discharged from the West India Docks on a false suspicion (got up expressly against him by the general enemy) of screwing gimlets into puncheons, and applying his lips to the orifice, had announced the destruction of the world for that day two years, at ten in the morning, and opened a front parlour for the reception of ladies and gentlemen, of the ranting persuasion, upon whom, on the first occasion of their assemblage, the admonition of the Rev. Melchisedech had produced so powerful an effect, that, in their rapturous performance of a sacred jig, which closed the service, the whole flock broke through into a kitchen below and disabled a mangle belonging to one of the fold" (chap. xv). There is a sheer boyishness in this irresistible glee; yet the passage was written more than ten years after Pickwick. It is the same all but to the end. Dickens treats a thoroughgoing humbug as though he loved him. Reverent of all true religion, and inclined to bitterness against respectable shortcomings in the high places of the Church, he goes wild with merriment over back-parlour proselytism and the brayings of Little Bethel. Perhaps in this respect alone did he give grave and lasting offence to numbers of people who would otherwise have been amongst his admirers. At a later time, he could draw, or attempt, a sympathetic portrait of a clergyman of the Established Church, in Our Mutual Friend, and, in his last book, could speak respectfully of Canons; but with Dissent he never reconciled himself. To this day, I believe, his books are excluded, on religious grounds, from certain families holding austere views. Remembering the England he sets before us, it is perhaps the highest testimony to his power that such hostility did not make itself more felt when he was mocking so light-heartedly at Stiggins and Chadband and the Rev. Melchisedech.
Connected with hypocrisy in religion, but very skilfully kept apart from it, is his finest satiric portrait, that of Mr. Pecksniff. Think of all that is suggested in this representative of an odious vice, and marvel at the adroitness with which a hundred pitfalls of the incautious satirist are successfully avoided. A moral hypocrite, an incarnation of middle-class respectability in the worst sense of the word, in the sense so loathed by Carlyle, and by every other man of brains then living; yet never a hint at subjects forbidden in the family circle, never a word to which that relative of Mr. Pecksniff, the famous Podsnap, could possibly object. The thing would seem impossible, but that it is done. Let the understanding read between the lines; as in all great art, much is implied that finds no direct expression. Mr. Pecksniff walks and talks before us, a cause of hilarity to old and young, yet the type of as ugly a failing as any class or people can be afflicted withal. The book in which he figures is directed against self-interest in all its forms. We see the sagacious swindler, and the greedy dupe whose unscrupulousness ends in murder. We see the flocking of the Chuzzlewit family, like birds of prey, about the sick-bed of their wealthy relative; and among them the gentlemanly architect of unctuous phrase, who, hearing himself called a hypocrite, signalizes his pre-eminence in an immortal remark: "Charity, my dear, when I take my chamber-candlestick to-night, remind me to be more than usually particular in praying for Mr. Anthony Chuzzlewit, who has done me an injustice". This man is another than Tartufe; he belongs to a different age, and different country. His religion is not an end in itself; he does not desire to be thought a saint; his prayers are inseparable from the chamber-candlestick, a mere item in the character of British respectability. A like subordination appears in the piety of all Dickens's religious pretenders; their language never becomes offensive to the ordinary reader, simply because it avoids the use of sacred names and phrases, and is seen to have a purely temporal application. Mr. Chadband is a tradesman, dealing in a species of exhortation which his hearers have agreed to call spiritual, and to rate at a certain value in coin of the realm; religion in its true sense never comes into question. Mr. Pecksniff, of course, might have become a shining light in some great conventicle, but destiny has made him a layman; he published his habit of praying, because to pray (over the chamber-candlestick) was incumbent upon an Englishman who had a position to support, who had a stake in the country. A reputation for piety, however, would not suffice to his self-respect, and to the needs of his business; he adds an all-embracing benevolence, his smile falls like the blessed sunshine on all who meet him in his daily walk. This it is which so impresses the simple-minded Tom Pinch. Tom, a thorough Englishman for all his virtues, would not be attracted by a show of merely religious exaltation; faith must be translated into works. Pecksniff must seem to him good, kind, generous, a great man at his profession, sound and trustworthy in all he undertakes. In other words, the Pecksniff whom Tom believes in is the type of English excellence, and evidently no bad type to be set before a nation. Such men existed, and do, and will; we talk little about them, and it is their last desire that we should; they live, mostly in silence, for the honour of their race and of humankind. But, since the Puritan revolution, it has unhappily seemed necessary to our countrymen in general to profess in a peculiar way certain peculiar forms of godliness, and this habit, gradually associated with social prejudices arising from high prosperity, results in the respectable man. Analysing this person down to his elements, Carlyle found it an essential, if not the essential, that he should "keep a gig". Mr. Pecksniff's gig, one remembers, was no very imposing vehicle; it looked "like a gig with a tumour". "Let us be moral", says the great man (happening at that moment to be drunk); and here we get to the honest root of the matter. Though the Englishman may dispense with a gig and remain respectable, he must not be suspected of immorality. "Let us contemplate existence", pursues the inebriate sage. We do so, we English, and find that the term morality (more decidedly than religion) includes all that, in our souls, we rate most highly. According to his recognized morality (sexual first and foremost), do we put trust in a man. We are a practical people; we point to our wealth in evidence; and our experience has set it beyond doubt that chastity of thought and act is a nation's prime safeguard.
Could we but be satisfied with the conviction, and simply act upon it! It is not enough. We must hold it as an article of faith that respectability not only does not err, but knows not temptation. A poet who never asked to be thought respectable has put into words we shall not easily forget his thought about immorality:
The quantum of the sin is so grave, the hazard of concealing so momentous, in English eyes, that we form a national conspiracy to exhibit English nature as distinct, in several points, from the merely human. Hence a characteristic delicacy, a singular refinement, resulting at its best in very sweet and noble lives; hence, also, that counterbalancing vice which would fain atone for vice in the more usual sense of the word. Though all within may be hopelessly hardened, the feeling petrified into a little idol of egoism, outwardly there shall be a show of everything we respect. "Homage to virtue", quotha? Well and good, were it nothing more. But Mr. Pecksniff takes up his parable, his innumerable kindred hold forth in the marketplace. Respectability cannot hold its tongue, in fact; and the language it affects is wont to be nauseous.
Lower than Pecksniff, but of obvious brotherhood with him, stands Uriah Heep. This example of a low-born man, who, chancing to have brains, deems it most expedient to use them for dishonest purposes, will not yield in the essentials of respectability to the best in the land. He is poor, he is 'umble, but his morals must not for a moment be doubted. The undisguisable fact of poverty is accepted and made the most of; it becomes his tower of strength. Mr. Pecksniff, conscious of a well-filled purse, assumes a certain modesty of demeanour -- a foretaste, by the by, of that affectation in rich people which promises such an opportunity for satire in our own day. Uriah Heep wallows in perpetual humility; he grovels before his social superiors, that he may prove to them his equality in soul. With regard to this slimy personage, we note at once that he is a victim of circumstances, the outcome of a bad education and of a society affected with disease. His like abounded at the time; nowadays they will not so easily be discovered. The doctrine that "A man's a man for a' that" has taken solid shape, and our triumphant democracy will soon be ashamed of a motto so disparaging. But Heep saw no prospect when he stood upright; only when he crawled did a chance of issue from that too humble life present itself. "Remember your place!" -- from his earliest years this admonition had sounded for him. This prime duty is ever present to his mind; it prompts him to avow, in and out of season, that he belongs to a very 'umble family, that he is himself the 'umblest of mortals. Meanwhile the man's vitals are consumed with envy, hatred, and malice. He cannot respect himself; his training has made the thing impossible; and all men are his enemies. When he is detected in criminal proceedings we are hard upon him, very hard. Dickens cannot relent to this victim of all that is worst in the society he criticises. Had Uriah stopped short of crime, something might have been said for him, but the fellow is fatally logical. Logic of that kind we cannot hear of for a moment; in our own logic of the police-court and the assizes we will take remarkably good care that there is no flaw.
Pecksniff and Uriah have a certain amount of intellect. In his last book Dickens presents us with the monumental humbug who is at the same time an egregious fool. Mr. Sapsea very honestly worships himself; he is respectability weighing a good many stone, with heavy watch-guard and expensive tailoring. By incessant lauding of his own virtues to a world always more or less attentive when such a speaker carries social weight, Sapsea has developed a mania of self-importance. His thickness of hide, his stolidity, are well displayed, but it seems to me that in this case Dickens has been guilty of a piece of exaggeration altogether exceeding the limits of art; perhaps the one instance where his illusion fails to make us accept an extravagance even for a moment. I refer to Sapsea's inscription for his wife's tomb (Edwin Drood, chap. iv). Contrasting this with anything to be found in Pecksniff or Uriah Heep, we perceive the limits of his satire, strictly imposed by art, even where he is commonly held to have been most fantastic.
Dickens applied with extraordinary skill the only method which, granted all his genius, could have ensured him so vast a sway over the public of that time. His art, especially as satirist, lies in the judicious use of emphasis and iteration. Emphasis alone would not have answered his purpose; the striking thing must be said over and over again till the most stupid hearer has it by heart. We of to-day sometimes congratulate ourselves on an improvement in the public taste and intelligence, and it is true that some popular authors conciliate their admirers by an appeal in a comparatively subdued note. But -- who has a popularity like to that of Dickens? Should there again rise an author to be compared with him in sincerity and universality of acceptance, once more will be heard that unmistakable voice of summons to Goodman Dull. We are educated, we are cultured; be it so; but, to say the least, some few millions of us turn with weariness from pages of concentrated art. Fifty years ago the people who did not might have been gathered from the English-speaking world into a London hall, without uncomfortable crowding. Dickens well understood that he must cry aloud and spare not; he did it naturally, as a man of his generation; he, and his fellow reformers, educators, popular entertainers, were perforce vociferous to the half-awakened multitudes. Carlyle was even more emphatic, and reiterated throughout a much longer life. Education notwithstanding, these will again be the characteristics of any writer for whom fate reserves a gigantic popularity in the century just beginning.
Yes, it is quite true that Mr. Micawber, Mr. Pecksniff, Uriah Heep, and all Dickens's prominent creations say the same thing in the same way, over and over again. The literary exquisite is disgusted, the man of letters shakes his head with a smile. Remember: for twenty months did these characters of favourite fiction make a periodical appearance, and not the most stupid man in England forgot them between one month and the next. The method is at the disposal of all and sundry; who will use it to this effect?
In his satires on "high life", Dickens was less successful than with the middle class. I have spoken of Sir Leicester Dedlock and Cousin Feenix, both well done, the latter especially, and characterizations worthy of the author, but they hold no place in the general memory. His earliest attempt at this kind of thing was unfortunate; Lord Frederick Verisopht and Sir Mulberry Hawk are on a par with the literary lady in Pickwick, who wrote the ode to an Expiring Frog -- an exercise of fancy which has no relation whatever to the facts of life. Possibly the young author of Nicholas Nickleby fancied he had drawn a typical baronet and a lord; more likely he worked with conscious reference to the theatre. In Little Dorrit we are introduced to certain high-born or highly-connected people, who make themselves deliberately offensive, but their names cannot be recalled. Much better is the study of an ancient worldling in Edith Dombey's mother, Mrs. Skewton. Her paralytic seizure, her death in life, are fine and grisly realism; but we do not accept Mrs. Skewton as a typical figure. Too obvious is the comparison with Thackeray's work; Dickens is here at a grave disadvantage, and would have done better not to touch that ground at all. Perhaps the same must be said of his incursions into political satire; and yet, one would be loth to lose the Circumlocution Office. Though by the choice of such a name he seems to forbid our expecting any picture of reality, there seems reason to believe that those pages of Little Dorrit are not much less true than amusing; at all events they are admirably written. Of the Barnacle family we accept readily enough the one who is described as bright and young; indeed, this youngster is a good deal of a gentleman, and represents the surviving element of that day's Civil Service; under a competitive system, he alone would have a chance. His relatives have significance enough, but very little life. Dickens wrote of them in anger, which was never the case in his satiric masterpieces. Anger abundantly justified, no doubt; but at the same time another critic of the English government was making heard his wrathful voice (it came from Chelsea), and with more of the true prophetic vehemence. Dickens did not feel at home in this Barnacle atmosphere; something of personal feeling entered into his description of its stifling properties. He could write brilliantly on the subject, but not with the calmness necessary for the creation of lasting characters.
The upstarts of commerce and speculation came more within his scope. Montague Tigg keeps a place in one's recollection, but chiefly, I think, as the impecunious braggart rather than as the successful knave. There is an impressiveness about Mr. Merdle, but perhaps rather in the description of his surroundings than in the figure of the man himself; readers in general know nothing of him, his name never points a paragraph. The Veneerings, in Our Mutual Friend, seem better on a re-reading than in a memory of the acquaintance with them long ago. This is often the case with Dickens, and speaks strongly in his favour. They smell of furniture polish; their newness in society is a positive distress to the nerves; to read of them is to revive a sensation one has occasionally experienced in fact. Being but sketches, they are of necessity (in Dickens's method) all emphasis; we never lose sight of their satiric meaning; their very name (like that of the Circumlocution Office) signals caricature. At this point Dickens connects himself once more with literary traditions; we are reminded of the nomenclature of English drama; of Justice Greedy, of Anthony Absolute, Mrs. Malaprop, and the rest. It is only in his subordinate figures, and rarely then, that he falls into this bad habit, so destructive of illusion. For the most part, his names are aptly selected, or invented with great skill -- skill, of course, different from that of Balzac, who aims at another kind of effectiveness. Gamp, Micawber, Bumble, Pipchin -- to be sure they are so familiar to us that we associate them inevitably with certain characters, but one recognizes their exquisite rightness. Pecksniff is more daring, and touches the limit of fine discretion. In a very few cases he drew upon that list of grotesque names which anyone can compile from a directory, names which are generally valueless in fiction just because they really exist; Venus, for example.
Anything but a caricature, though as significant a figure as any among these minor groups, is Mr. Casby in Little Dorrit, the venerable grandsire, of snowy locks and childlike visage; the Patriarch, as he is called, who walks in a light of contemplative benevolence. Mr. Casby is a humbug of a peculiarly dangerous kind; under various disguises he is constantly met with in the England of to-day. This sweetly philosophic being owns houses, and those of the kind which we now call slums. Of course he knows nothing about their evil condition; of course he employs an agent to collect his rents, and is naturally surprised when this agent falls short in the expected receipts. It pains him that human nature should be so dishonest; for the sake of his tenants themselves it behoves him to insist on full and regular payment. When, in the end, Mr. Casby has his impressive locks ruthlessly shorn by the agent risen in revolt against such a mass of lies and cruelty and unclean selfishness, we feel that the punishment is inadequate. This question of landlordism should have been treated by Dickens on a larger scale; it remains one of the curses of English life, and is likely to do so until the victims of house-owners see their way to cut, not the hair, but the throats, of a few selected specimens. Mr. Casby, nowadays, does not take the trouble to assume a sweet or reverend aspect; if he lives in the neighbourhood of his property, he is frankly a brute; if, as is so often the case, he resides in a very different part of the town, his associates are persons who would smile indeed at any affectation of sanctity. In this, and some other directions, hypocrisy has declined among us. Our people of all classes have advanced in the understanding of business, a word which will justify most atrocities, and excuse all but every form of shamelessness.
That rich little book, Great Expectations, contains a humbug less offensive than Casby, and on the surface greatly amusing, but illustrative of a contemptible quality closely allied with the commercial spirit. Seen at a distance Mr. Pumblechook is a source of inextinguishable laughter; near at hand he is seen to be a very sordid creature. A time-server to his marrow, he adds the preposterous self-esteem which always gave Dickens so congenial an opportunity. Here we have a form of moral dishonesty peculiar to no one people. Mr. Pumblechook's barefaced pretence that he is the maker of Pip's fortune, his heavy patronage whilst that fortune endures, and his sour desertion of the young man when circumstances alter, is mere overfed humanity discoverable all the world over. He has English traits, and we are constrained to own the man as a relative; we meet him as often as we do the tailor who grovels before the customer unexpectedly become rich. Compare him with the other embodiments of dishonesty, and it is seen, not only what inexhaustible material of this kind lay at Dickens's command, but with what excellent art he differentiates his characters.
Less successful are the last pieces of satiric drawing I can find space to mention. In this chapter, rather than in the next, is the place for Mrs. Jellyby, who loses all distinction of sex, and comes near to losing all humanity, in her special craze. Women have gone far towards such a consummation, and one dare not refuse to admit her possibility; but the extravagance of the thing rather repels, and we are never so assured of Mrs. Jellyby as of Mr. Pecksniff. Unacceptable in the same way is that fiercely charitable lady who goes about with her tracts and her insolence among the cottages of the poor. One knows how such persons nowadays demean themselves, and we can readily believe that they behaved more outrageously half a century ago; but being meant as a type, this religious female dragoon misses the mark; we refuse credence and turn away.
Caricature in general is a word of depreciatory meaning. I have already made it clear how far I am from agreeing with the critics who think that to call Dickens a caricaturist, and to praise his humour, is to dismiss him once for all. It seems to me that in all his very best work he pursues an ideal widely apart from that of caricature in any sense; and that in other instances he permits himself an emphasis, like in kind to that of the caricaturist, but by its excellence of art, its fine sincerity of purpose, removed from every inferior association. To call Mrs. Gamp a caricature is an obvious abuse of language; not less so, I think, to apply the word to Mr. Pecksniff or to Uriah Heep. Occasionally, missing the effect he intended, Dickens produced work which invites this definition; at times, again, he deliberately drew a figure with that literary overcharging which corresponds to the exaggeration, small or great, of professed caricaturists with the pencil. His finest humour, his most successful satire, belongs to a different order of art. To be convinced of this one need but think of the multiplicity of detail, all exquisitely finished, which goes to make his best-known portraits. Full justice has never been done to this abounding richness of invention, this untiring felicity of touch in minutiæ innumerable. Caricature proceeds by a broad and simple method. It is no more the name for Dickens's full fervour of creation, than for Shakespeare's in his prose comedy. Each is a supreme idealist.
With female readers Dickens was never a prime favourite. One feels very sure that they contributed little or nothing to the success of Pickwick. In the angelic Oliver they began, no doubt, to find matter of interest, and thence onward they might "take to" the triumphant novelist for the pathos of his child-life and to some extent because of his note of domesticity. But on the whole it was for men that Dickens wrote. To-day the women must be very few who by deliberate choice open a volume of his works.
The humorist never strongly appeals to that audience. Moreover, it is natural enough that a writer so often boisterous, who deals so largely with the coarser aspects of life, who gives us very little of what is conventionally called tenderness, and a good deal of bloodthirsty violence, should yield to many others in women's choice. For certain of them, Dickens is simply "vulgar" -- and there an end of it; they can no more read him with pleasure than they can his forerunners of the eighteenth century. In a class where this might not be honestly felt as an objection, he is practically unknown to mothers and daughters who devote abundant leisure to fiction of other kinds; and representatives of this public have been known to speak of him with frank dislike. One reason, it seems, for such coldness in presumably gentle hearts goes deeper than those which first suggest themselves. If George Eliot was of opinion that Shakespeare shows himself unjust to women, and on that account could not wholly revere him, we need not be surprised that average members of her sex should see in Dickens something like a personal enemy, a confirmed libeller of all who speak the feminine tongue.
For, setting aside his would-be tragic figures, the Lady Dedlocks and Edith Dombeys of whom enough has been said; neglecting also for the moment his exemplars in the life of home (doubtfully sympathetic to female readers of our day); it is obvious that Dickens wrote of women in his liveliest spirit of satire. Wonderful as fact, and admirable as art, are the numberless pictures of more or less detestable widows, wives, and spinsters which appear throughout his books. Beyond dispute, they must be held among his finest work; this portraiture alone would establish his claim to greatness. And I think it might be forcibly argued that, for incontestable proof of Dickens's fidelity in reproducing the life he knew, one should turn in the first place to his gallery of foolish, ridiculous, or offensive women.
These remarkable creatures belong for the most part to one rank of life, that which we vaguely designate as the lower middle class. In general their circumstances are comfortable; they suffer no hardship -- save that of birth, which they do not perceive as such; nothing is asked of them but a quiet and amiable discharge of household duties; they are treated by their male kindred with great, often with extraordinary, consideration. Yet their characteristic is acidity of temper and boundless licence of querulous or insulting talk. The real business of their lives is to make all about them as uncomfortable as they can. Invariably, they are unintelligent and untaught; very often they are flagrantly imbecile. Their very virtues (if such persons can be said to have any) become a scourge. In the highways and by-ways of life, by the fireside, and in the bed-chamber, their voices shrill upon the terrified ear. It is difficult to believe that death can stifle them; one imagines them upon the threshold of some other world, sounding confusion among unhappy spirits who hoped to have found peace.
There needs no historical investigation to ascertain the truthfulness of these presentments. Among the poorer folk, especially in London, such women may be observed to-day by any inquirer sufficiently courageous; they are a multitude that no man can number; every other house in the cheap suburbs will be found to contain at least one specimen -- very often two, for the advantage of quarrelling when men are not at hand. Education has done little as yet to improve the tempers and the intellects of women in this rank. A humorist of our time suggests that sheer dulness and monotony of existence explains their unamiable habits, that they quarrel because they can get no other form of excitement. I believe there is some truth in this, but it does not cover the whole ground. Many a woman who frequents theatres and music-halls, goes shopping and lives in comparative luxury, has brought the arts of ill-temper to high perfection. Indeed, I am not sure that increase of liberty is not tending to exasperate these evil characteristics in women vulgarly bred; if Dickens were now writing, I believe he would have to add to his representative women the well-dressed shrew who proceeds on the slightest provocation from fury of language to violence of act. Mrs. Varden does not dream of assaulting her husband, for in truth she loves him; Mrs. Snagsby is in genuine terror at the thought that the deferential law-stationer may come to harm. Nowadays these ladies would enjoy a very much larger life, would systematically neglect their children (if they chose to have any); and would soothe their nerves, in moments carefully chosen, by flinging at the remonstrant husband any domestic object to which they attached no special value.
Through his early life Dickens must have been in constant observation of these social pests. In every lodging-house he entered, such a voice would surely be sounding. His women use utterance such as no male genius could have invented; from the beginning he knew it perfectly, the vocabulary, the syntax, the figurative flights of this appalling language. ''God's great gift of speech abused" was the commonplace of his world. Another man, obtaining his release from those depths, would have turned away in loathing; Dickens found therein matter for his mirth, material for his art. When one thinks of it, how strange it is that such an unutterable curse should become, in the artist hands, an incitement to joyous laughter! As a matter of fact, these women produced more misery than can be calculated. That he does not exhibit this side of the picture is the peculiarity of Dickens's method; a defect, of course, from one point of view, but inseparable from his humorous treatment of life. Women who might well have wrecked homes, are shown as laughable foils for the infinite goodness and patience of men about them. Justly, by the by, a matter of complaint to the female critic. Weller, and Varden, and Snagsby, and Joe Gargery are too favourable specimens of the average husband; in such situations, one or other of them would certainly have lost his patience, and either have fled the country, or have turned wife-beater. Varden is a trifle vexed now and then, but he clinks it off at his cheery anvil, and restores his jovial mood with a draught from Toby. Mr. Snagsby coughs behind his hand, is nervously perturbed, and heartily wishes things were otherwise, but never allows himself a harsh word to his "little woman". As for Joe Gargery, what could be expected of the sweetest and humanest temper man was ever blest withal? No, it is decidedly unfair. Not even Jonas Chuzzlewit (who, of course, has a martyr of a wife) can outbalance such a partial record of long-suffering in husbands.
It is worth while to consider with some attention these promoters of public mirth. Pickwick would have been incomplete without this element of joviality, and we are not likely to forget the thorn in the flesh of Mr. Weller, senior. Sam's father is responsible, I suppose, for that jesting on the subject of widows, which even to-day will serve its turn on the stage or in the comic paper; it is vulgar, to be sure, but vulgarity in Pickwick becomes a fine art; we cannot lose a word of the old coaching hero. Mrs. Weller it is hard to describe in moderate terms; taking the matter prosaically, she has all the minor vices that can inhere in woman; but the mere mention of her moves to chuckling. On her death-bed, we are given to understand, she saw the error of her ways. Such persons occasionally do, but her conversion comes a trifle late. Enough for Dickens that we are touched by the old man's spirit of forgiveness. It is the bit of light in a picture felt, after all, to be grimy enough; the bit of sweet and clean humanity which our author always desires to show after he has made his fun out of sorry circumstance. In Oliver Twist, the feminine note grows shriller; we have Mrs. Sowerberry, sordid tyrant and scold, and the woman who becomes Mrs. Bumble. We are meant to reflect, of course, that the "porochial" dignitary gets only his deserts; he who marries with his eye upon a pair of silver sugar-tongs, and is a blustering jackass to boot, can hardly be too severely dealt with. So Mrs. Bumble exhibits her true self for her husband's benefit, and, so far as we know, does not repent of her triumphs as an obese virago. Barnaby Rudge is enriched with Mrs. Varden and her handmaid Miggs. Now of Mrs. Varden it can be said that she typifies a large class of most respectable wives. She is not coarse, she is not malignant, she is not incapable of good-humour; but so much value does she attach to the gleams of that bright quality, that not one is suffered to escape her until her household has been brought to the verge of despair by her persistent sourness and sulkiness. No reason whatever can be assigned for it; when she takes offence, it pleases her to do so. She has in perfection all the illogicality of thought, all the maddening tricks of senseless language, which, doubtless for many thousands of years, have served her like for weapons. It is an odd thing that evolution has allowed the persistence of this art, for we may be quite sure that many a primitive woman paid for it with a broken skull. Here it is, however, flourishing, and like to flourish. The generations do not improve upon it; this art of irritation has long ago been brought to its highest possible point. Who knows? A future civilization may discover lapses of common-sense and a finesse of fatuous language unknown to Mrs. Varden. For the present, she points a limit of possibility in these directions. Her talk is marvellously reported; never a note of exaggeration, and nothing essential ever forgotten. The same is always to be noted in Dickens's idiotic women; their phrases might have been taken down by a phonograph for reproduction in literature. Such accuracy is a very great thing indeed; few novelists can compare in it with Dickens. His men he may permit to luxuriate in periods obviously artificial; their peculiarities are sometimes overdone, their talk becomes a fantasia of the author's elaboration, but with his women (of the class we are reviewing) it is never so. Partly, no doubt, because one cannot exaggerate what is already exaggerated to the n'th power; but it was very possible to miss the absolutely right in such a maze of imbecilities, and I believe that Dickens does it never.
Mrs. Varden repents, Mrs. Varden is stricken with remorse, Mrs. Varden becomes a model wife. Let the Jew believe it! Not even on her death-bed did it happen, but simply because she had a fright in the Gordon riots. Yes; for one week, or perchance for two, she might have affected (even felt) penitence; after that, Heaven pity poor Gabriel for having taken her at her word! The thing is plainly impossible. Such women, at her age, are incapable of change; they will but grow worse, till the pangs of death shake them. Mrs. Varden would have lingered to her ninetieth year, mopping and mowing her ill-humour when language failed, and grinning illogicality with toothless gums. She is converted, to make things pleasant for us. We thank the author's goodness, and say, 'tis but a story.
Miggs, the admirer of Sam Tappertit, is idiocy and malice combined. To tell the truth, one does not much like to read of Miggs: we feel it is all a little hard upon women soured by celibacy. Dickens's time was hard indeed on the unwilling spinster, and we do not think it an amiable trait. Nowadays things are so different; it is common to find spinsters who are such by choice, and not a few of them are doing good work in the world. Sixty years ago, every unmarried woman of a certain age was a subject of open or covert mockery: she had failed in her chase of men, and must be presumed full of rancour against both sexes. As for Miggs, of course the detestable Mrs. Varden was largely answerable for her evil qualities; when the handmaid was turned out of doors, the mistress should by rights have gone with her. She amuses a certain class of readers, but has not much value either as humour or satire or plain fact.
There looms upon us the lachrymose countenance of Mrs. Gummidge. This superannuated nuisance serves primarily, of course, to illustrate the fine qualities of the Peggotty household; that she is borne with for one day says indeed much for their conscientious kindness. The boatman, delicately sympathetic, explains her fits of depression by saying that she has "been thinking of the old 'un". Possibly so, and the result of her mournful reflection is that she behaves with monstrous ingratitude to the people who keep her out of the workhouse. "I'm a lone lorn creature, and everything goes contrairy with me." This vice of querulousness is one of the most intolerable beheld by the sun. Dickens merely smiles; and of course it is large-hearted in him to do so: he would have us forbearing with such poor creatures, would have us understand that they suffer as well as cause suffering to others. One acknowledges the justice of the lesson. But we have not done with Mrs. Gummidge; together with the Yarmouth family, she emigrated to Australia, and there -- became a bright, happy, serviceable woman! Converted, she, by the great grief that had befallen her friends; made ashamed of whining over megrims when death and shame were making havoc in the little home. Well, it may have been so; but Mrs. Gummidge was very old for such a ray of reason to pierce her skull. In any case, we do not think of her in Australia. She sits for ever in the house on Yarmouth sands (sands not yet polluted by her kin from Whitechapel), and shakes her head and pipes her eye, a monument of selfish misery.
Behold Mrs. Snagsby. To all Mrs. Varden's vices this woman adds one that may be strongly recommended for the ruin of domestic peace when the others have failed -- if fail they can. She is jealous of the little law-stationer; she imagines for him all manner of licentious intrigues. That such imagination is inconsistent with the plainest facts of life in no way invalidates its hold upon Mrs. Snagsby's mind. She will make things as unpleasant as possible in the grimy house in Cook's Court; the little man shall have rest neither day nor night; his life shall become a burden to him. And goodness knows that the house, at the best of times, falls a good deal short of cheerfulness. There is Guster. Who shall restrain a laugh, hearing of Guster? Plainly described, this girl is an underpaid, underfed, and overworked slavey, without a friend in the world, -- unless it be Mr. Snagsby, -- and subject to frequent epileptic fits. And we roar with laughter as often as she is named! It is Dickens's pleasure that we shall do so, and, if it comes to defence of so strange a subject of humour, one can only say that, from a certain point of view, everything in this world is laughable. Look broadly enough, and it is undoubtedly amusing that such a woman as Mrs. Snagsby should coarsely tyrannize over a poor diseased creature, who toils hard and lives on a pittance. But, in strictness, the humour here perceivable is not of the kind we usually attribute to Dickens; it has something either of philosophic sublimity or of mortal bitterness. For my own part, I think Dickens points, in such situations as this, to larger significances than were consciously in his mind. I may return to the matter in speaking expressly of his humour; here we are specially concerned with the exhibition of Mrs. Snagsby's personality. Happily, she undergoes no moral palingenesis; by the date of Bleak House her creator had outgrown the inclination for that kind of thing. We are sure that she made the deferential little man miserable to the end of his days; and when she had buried him, she held forth for many years more on the martyrdom of her married life She is decidedly more hateful than Mrs. Varden, by virtue of her cruelty to the girl, and more of a force for ill by virtue of her animal jealousy. In short -- a most amusing figure.
It certainly is a troublesome fact for sensitive female readers that this, a great English novelist of the Victorian age, so abounds in women who are the curse of their husbands' lives. A complete list of them would, I imagine, occupy nearly a page of this book. Mrs. Jellyby I have already discussed. I have spoken of the much more lifelike Mrs. Pocket, a capital portrait. I have alluded to the uncommon realism of Dr. Marigold's wife. A mention must at least be made of Mrs. Macstinger, who, as Mrs. Bunsby, enters upon such a promising field of fresh activity. But there remains one full-length picture which we may by no means neglect, its name Mrs. Joe Gargery.
Mrs. Gargery belongs to Dickens's later manner. In such work as this, his hand was still inimitably true, and his artistic conscience no longer allowed him to play with circumstance as in the days of Mrs. Varden. The blacksmith's wife is a shrew of the most highly developed order. If ever she is good-tempered in the common sense of the word, she never lets it be suspected; without any assignable cause, she is invariably acrid, and ready at a moment's notice to break into fury of abuse. It gratifies her immensely to have married the softest-hearted man that ever lived, and also that he happens to be physically one of the strongest; the joy of trampling upon him, knowing that he who could kill her with a backhand blow will never even answer the bitterest insult with an unkind word! It delights her, too, that she has a little brother, a mere baby still, whom she can ill-use at her leisure, remembering always that every harshness to the child is felt still worse by the big good fellow, her husband. Do you urge that Dickens should give a cause for this evil temper? Cause there is none -- save of that scientific kind which has no place in English novels. It is the peculiarity of these women that no one can conjecture why they behave so ill. The nature of the animals -- nothing more can be said.
Notice, now, that in Mrs. Gargery, though he still disguises the worst of the situation with his unfailing humour, Dickens gives us more of the harsh truth than in any previous book. That is a fine scene where the woman, by a malicious lie, causes a fight between Joe and Orlick; a true illustration of character, and well brought out. Again, Mrs. Joe's punishment. Here we are very far from the early novels. Mrs. Gargery shall be brought to quietness; but how? By a half-murderous blow on the back of her head, from which she will never recover. Dickens understood by this time that there is no other efficacious way with these ornaments of their sex. A felling and stunning and all but killing blow, followed by paralysis and slow death. A sharp remedy, but no whit sharper than the evil it cures. Mrs. Gargery, under such treatment, learns patience and the rights of other people. We are half sorry she cannot rise and put her learning into practice, but there is always a doubt. As likely as not she would take to drinking, and enter on a new phase of ferocity.
Of higher social standing, not perhaps better educated but certainly better bred, are the women who acknowledge their great exemplar in Mrs. Nickleby. This lady -- all things considered, the term may be applied without abuse -- has passed the greater part of her life in a rural district, and morally she belongs, I think, rather to the country than the town; there is a freshness about her, a naïveté not -- up to a certain point -- disagreeable; her manners and conversation are suggestive of long afternoons, and evenings of infinite leisure. Mrs. Nickleby is, above all, well-meaning; according to her lights she is gracious and tolerant; she has natural affections, and would be sincerely distressed by a charge of selfishness. Unhappily the poor woman has been born with the intellectual equipment of a Somerset ewe. It would be a delicate question of psychology to distinguish her from the harmless, smiling idiot whom we think it unnecessary and cruel to put under restraint. One may say, indeed, that this defect is radical in all Dickens's female characters; the better-hearted succeed in keeping it out of sight -- in the others it becomes flagrant and a terror. Sixty years ago there was practically no provision in England for the mental training of women. Sent early to a good school, and kept there till the age, say, of one-and-twenty, Mrs. Nickleby would have grown into a quite endurable gentlewoman, aware of her natural weakness, and a modest participant in general conversation. Allowed to develop in her own way, and married to a man only less unintelligent than herself she puts forth a wonderful luxuriance of amiable fatuity. Thoughts, in the strict sense of the word, she has none; her brain is a mere blind mechanism for setting in motion an irresponsible tongue; together they express in human language the sentiments of the ewe aforesaid. Mr. Nickleby died in the prime of life; what else could be the fate of a man doomed to listen to this talk morning, noon, and night? With Mrs. Nickleby one cannot converse; she understands the meaning of nothing that is said to her; she is incapable of answering a question, or of seeing the logical bearings of any statement whatsoever. One conviction is impressed upon her (pardon the word) mind: that throughout life she has invariably said and done the right thing, and that other persons, in their relations with her, have been as invariably wrong. Let events turn how they may, they do but serve to confirm her complacent position. Having exerted herself to the utmost in urging a particular line of conduct, which, on trial, proves to have been the worst that could have been followed, Mrs. Nickleby blandly reminds her victims that she had known from the first, and repeatedly declared, what would be the result of such manifest imprudence. Should this lead to an outbreak of masculine impatience, not to say anger, the good lady receives a nervous shock, under which she pales, and pants, and falters as the domestic martyr, the victim of surprising unreason and brutality. As it happens, she does not bring her children to the gutter and herself to the workhouse; we acknowledge the providence that watches over exemplary fools. And after all, as men must laugh at something, it is as well that they should find in Mrs. Nickleby matter for mirth. She is ubiquitous, and doubtless always will be. She cannot be chained and muzzled, or forbidden to propagate her kind. We must endure her, as we endure the caprices of the sky. An ultimate fact of nature, and a great argument for those who decline to take life too seriously.
This was early work of Dickens, but not to be improved upon by any increase of experience or of skill. A good many years later, he produced a companion portrait, that of Flora Finching in Little Dorrit -- the neglected book which contains several of his best things. We are told that the picture is from life (as was that of Mrs. Nickleby), and that the exuberant Flora, in the bloom of her youth, had been to Dickens himself even what Dora was to David Copperfield -- a piece of biography in which one is very willing to put faith. I am disposed to credit Flora Finching with mental power superior to Mrs. Nickleby's; the preference may provoke a charge of subtlety, but I adhere to it after a long acquaintance with both ladies. Indeed, one rather likes Flora. Of course she has killed her husband; but one chooses to forget all that. Flora, to tell the truth, has some imagination, a touch of poetry; in her heart she is convinced that as Mrs. Clennam she would have been a happier woman. Yet she has sense enough and fantasy enough only to play with the thought; it becomes something graceful in her commonplace life; a little lacking in delicacy, she causes her old lover some embarrassment, but never seriously hopes to win him back. When Clennam marries little Dorrit, Flora behaves admirably -- the all-sufficient proof of what I have just said. Her character is in truth a very strong plea for the fair education of women. Flora needed but that; it would have made her, I really think, rather a charming person. Nowadays one will rarely meet any one suggestive of her; for she was at all times an exception in the vulgar world, and her like have since been schooled into the self-restraint, of which, under favourable conditions, they are perfectly capable. The species of sentimentality seen in Flora was at that time fed upon songs and verses congenial to the feeble mind; born thirty years later, Flora would have been led to a much better taste in that direction, with the result of greater self-command in all. She is a kind soul, and doubtless became a very pleasant, even useful, friend of little Mrs. Clennam. Such a woman is only dangerous when she feels that the law has surrendered to her a real live man -- has given him, bound hand and foot, to her care and her mercy. As a maid, as a widow, she will do no harm, nor wish to do any, beyond distressing the tympanum and tasking the patience of anyone with whom she genially converses.
One does not venture to begin praising work such as this. Eulogy would lose itself in enthusiasm. Pass, rather, to the gallery of women who are neither married shrews nor well-meaning pests, yet each peculiar for her mental and moral vice. We glance at Miss Squeers. Fanny, it is plain, has relatives in the pages of Smollett; one seems to remember a damsel in Roderick Random of whom, perhaps, the less said the better; the intercourse between Miss Squeers and Nicholas brings this chapter to mind, and points a change alike in national manners and in literature. As a wife, Fanny would pass into that other category with which we have done. Her London parallel is perhaps Sophy Wackles, from whom Mr. Swiveller had so narrow and so fortunate an escape. Such maidens as these, Dickens must have had many opportunities of observing; his social canvas would have been imperfect without them. Though it seems unjust to put her in this place, I must mention Susan Nipper, the nurse of Florence Dombey. Susan begins well on the pattern of her class; she is snappy, and brief-tempered, fond of giving smacks and pulling hair; one sees no reason why with favouring circumstances she should not develop into a nagger of distinction. But something is observable in her which imposes caution on prophecy; we see that Susan, though a mere domestic, has a very unusual endowment of wit; she is sharp in retort, but also in perception; in any case she cannot become a mere mouthing idiot. In course of time we see that she has a good heart. And so it comes to pass that, in spite of origin and evil example, the girl grows in grace. She is fortunately situated; her sweet young mistress does her every kind of good; and when she marries Mr. Toots we have no misgivings whatever as to that eccentric gentleman's happiness.
Then, typical of a very large class indeed, comes Mrs. Crupp, who "does for" David Copperfield in his chambers. It is unnecessary to use the short words which would adequately describe Mrs. Crupp; enough to say that she stands for the baser kind of London landlady -- a phrase which speaks volumes. Some day it will cause laughter, indeed, and something else, to think that young men beginning life as students, and what not, should have fallen, as a matter of course, into the hand of Mrs. Crupp. Her name smells of strong liquor; it includes all dishonesty and uncleanliness. The monstrosity of her pretensions touches the highest point of the ludicrous. What, then, is one to say of Sarah Gamp, of Betsy Prig, considered as women? Of Mrs. Gamp in another aspect I have spoken at some length; she is one of those figures in Dickens to which one necessarily returns, again and again; as art, the very quintessence of his genius; as social fact, worthy of repeated contemplation. After all, women they are, these sister hags of the birth and death chamber. Mrs. Gamp has her own ideas of tender emotion; she is touched by the sight of an undertaker's children "playing at berryings down in the shop, and follerin' the order-book to its long home in the iron safe!" Be it remarked that there is an appreciable difference between Mrs. Gamp's nature and that of Mrs. Prig; we are clearly shown that Betsy is the harder, coarser, more mercenary of the twain. If well plied with spirits and pickled cucumber, Sarah Gamp might be capable of an elementary generosity; it is our perception of this which helps to keep the creature amusing, where she might so easily sink below everything but our contemptuous disgust. Betsy Prig is of a lower order, even socially; one may be sure that she had much less to do with the better class of clients. There is in her a spitefulness, a greedy malignancy, not found in the nurse of Kingsgate Street; where Mrs. Gamp would exhibit hostility in astounding contortions of thick-throated phrase, irresistibly laughable, Betsy Prig would fall into the mere language of the gutter. Their quarrel (one of the great things in literature) makes proof of this, though Dickens's most adroit idealism avoids the offensiveness of the real dialogue. As a girl -- try to imagine Sarah Gamp as a young girl! We know where and how she lived, what examples she had. It was practically Hogarth's London which saw her birth and breeding; but the London of to-day is well able to produce such women; one catches a glimpse of her life in the market streets, and the public-houses. Well, as a girl she must have been very plump and good-humoured, with quaint turns of speech, foretelling the eloquence of her prime. Mr. Ruskin has well pointed out the broad distinction between this London jargon and anything worthy of being called a dialect (by the by, the dialect on which London has exercised its deforming influence is that of Essex, where a confusion of v and w, no longer heard in town, may still be noticed); he adds that the speech of Mrs. Gamp is pure vulgarity, its insurpassable illustration. And the woman herself (one lingers over her affectionately) may be dismissed as vulgarity incarnate. Her profession, her time, even her sex, may, from this point of view, be called accidents. Desiring to study the essential meaning of the vulgar, one turns from every living instance, every acute disquisition, and muses over Sarah Gamp.
When we speak of the working-class, we understand something quite distinct from, though not of necessity inferior to, the classes represented by all these women; though Mrs. Gargery, no doubt, belongs to that social order. With the working-class household, Dickens, I think, is never entirely successful; one reason among others being that he shrinks from criticising the very poor. In the homes of toilers his great heart has its way, and he can only in general show us such people at their best. But one recalls two working-class women, who, however gently drawn, are living characters: Polly Toodle and Mrs. Plornish. Paul Dombey's nurse, who would have it considered in the wages if she is to be called "out of her name", and who as the mother of Rob the Grinder suffers so many anxieties, may fairly stand for a good woman of the proletary; and how very favourably she compares with ordinary women in the class (for reasons of money) just above her! She is not vulgar, and, as a typical good wife in that rank, need not be so; for it is easier to escape such taint in the house of the engine-driver Toodle than in Mr. Snagsby's upstairs parlour. Mrs. Plornish, the plasterer's wife, is likewise an excellent creature marked by more peculiarity; her firm belief that she makes herself intelligible to a foreigner by grotesque distortion of the English tongue is one of the truest and most amusing things in Dickens. Many a Mrs. Plornish honestly supposes that in order to speak foreign languages, it is only necessary -- as I once heard one of them remark -- to "learn how to twist the mouth". This is an innocent conviction, which disturbs nobody's peace. We like Mrs. Plornish, too, for her tenderness to the old father from the workhouse, and her sincere admiration when he pipes his thin little song. These women are blessed with a good temper, the source of everything enjoyable in life. However poor and ignorant, they shed about them the light of home. It is a type that does not much change, so far; and one thinks with misgivings of the day when that increased comfort which is their due, shall open to such women the dreadful possibilities of half-knowledge.
Come the eccentrics; of all classes, of all tempers; the signal for mirth. Here, I suppose, must be introduced the sister of Sampson Brass; though one finds it difficult to think of Miss Sally as feminine. She has the courage of her opinions, and shows something like heroism in scoundreldom, when brought face to face with the criminal law. One never met Miss Brass, but it is very possible that Dickens did. Later, he omits the ferocity from his grotesques. Miss Mowcher, we are told, was meant originally to play a very ugly part in the story of Emily and Steerforth, but an odd incident, nothing less than the reception of a letter from Miss Mowcher herself, led Dickens to use the character in quite another way, making it point a lesson of charity. Mr. Dombey's friend Miss Tox is a first-rate toady, if the word may be used of one so respectable and kind-hearted; she represents, with abundance of oddity, the army of genteel old maids, as the term was in that day understood. Miss Tox is out of date, or very nearly so; to-day she finds much better occupation than in prostrating herself before Mr. Dombey, or jealously watching the Major, or looking after her canaries; her goodness is reinforced by knowledge, and her presence is a blessing in many of the dark places of our vast city. Eccentric, indeed, but on a fine basis of sense and character, is the immortal Betsy Trotwood. Wasted in her time, or nearly so; no scope for her beyond the care of Mr. Dick, varied by assaults upon seaside donkeys (the quadrupeds). To be sure, she is the making of David, but that came accidentally. But Miss Trotwood is in advance of her age; victim of a bad marriage, she does not see in this an all-sufficient destiny; where others would have passed their life in tears and tracts, Miss Betsy sets about making for herself a rational existence. We all know her -- in various disguises, and should not be sorry to meet her more frequently. For the woman of sense and character is the salt of the earth; with however flagrant peculiarities, may she increase and multiply!
One remembers Miss La Creevy, in her way no less admirably independent. That she got her living by the travesty of art was a misfortune which neither she nor any of her contemporaries (half a dozen perhaps excepted) saw in that light, for she is of the Earliest Victorian. Rememberable, too, is the little doll's dressmaker in Our Mutual Friend, whose "bad child", her boneless drunkard of a father, keeps her leisure so fully occupied. But they are too numerous for several mention, these quaint examples of more or less distorted womankind -- distorted by evil circumstances, and then ridiculed by the world responsible for their abnormalities. Dickens looked on them with tenderness, and makes us like, or respect, them, even whilst we laugh. He saw, too, the larger questions involved in their existence; but on these it was no part of his mission as a story-teller to insist. Had he uttered his whole thought it would hardly have satisfied us for whom a new century has begun. His view of the possibilities of womanhood becomes tolerably clear when we turn to his normal types of marriageable maiden.
In Pickwick there are several of them, and we think them vulgar. They must be called young ladies; they are in an easy position, and find it occupation enough to amuse themselves. Speaking plainly, Dickens as a young man could hardly have a just criterion of refinement; the damsels of Dingley Dell were probably as like ladies as anything he had seen. Does he mean them to be delicate in thought and speech and behaviour? Or is he designedly showing us the decent girl of an unrefined class? Their little screams -- their shrill laughter -- their amorous facetiousness -- you will not find that kind of thing now at Dingley Dell; and even then, I fancy, it was rather out of place in the home of a country gentleman. Put these girls at Pentonville, and the picture excites no uneasiness.
Mrs. Varden, we know, had a daughter, and the blushing, laughing, petulant Dolly has always been a favourite. Has she not even given her name to millinery? For my own part, I see in Dolly her mother restored to youth, and notwithstanding the Gordon riots, notwithstanding Joe Willet's loss of an arm in "the Salwanners, in America where the war is", I feel an unpleasant certainty as to Dolly's conduct when she becomes a matron. It was (and is) precisely because so many men admire the foolish in girlhood that at least an equal number deplore the intolerable in wives. Dolly is a sort of kitten. This comparison is used by George Eliot of Hetty Sorrel, and George Eliot used it advisedly; she knew very well indeed what comes of human kittenishness. The reader perhaps interposes, smilingly protests, that this is considering altogether too curiously; would hint, with civility, at a defect in appreciation of humour. But no; Dickens's humour and delightfulness are as much to me as to any man living. For the moment, I write of him as the social historian of his day, and endeavour to disclose his real thoughts concerning woman. To Dickens, Dolly Varden was an ideal maiden; one, to be sure, of several ideals which haunt the young man's brain. It is nothing to him that Dolly is totally without education, and that her mother's failings are traceable first and foremost to that very source. Instruction was needless for sweet seventeen; it tended, if anything, to blue-stockingism. Dolly's business in graver hours is to look after stockings of a more common hue. For relaxation, she may smirk and simper and tell little fibs, and smile treacherous little smiles, and on occasion drop a little tear, which means nothing but pique or selfish annoyance. This is the very truth of Dolly. But she wore a delicious hat, and had a dainty little mouth, and was altogether so very kittenish; and to the end of time poor Gabriel Varden, poor Joe Willet, will find these things irresistible.
Passing to a book written nearly a quarter of a century after Barnaby Rudge, I discover Dolly in a new incarnation; she has learnt somewhat, she obeys a stricter rule of decorum, and her name is now Bella Wilfer. I admit that Miss Wilfer belongs to a slightly, very slightly, higher grade of society, but in those five-and-twenty years all things had advanced. Of Bella one easily grants the charm, and one admires her for not being more spoilt by good fortune; we perceive, however, the old traits; we tremble, now and then, at lurking kittenishness. It is permitted us to behold Bella as wife and mother, and we see her doing well in both relations; but the peril is not past. There will come a day when her husband is less fascinated by pretty ways, when he wants a little intellectual companionship by his fireside, and that moment must test Bella's mettle. Dolly would have made hopeless failure, reproducing Mrs. Varden in the sourest particulars. Bella, perchance, had her self-respect strengthened by the example of her time, and fought down the worst of the feminine.
Between Barnaby and Our Mutual Friend, Dickens had portrayed many girls. Early come the daughters of Mr. Pecksniff, Charity and Mercy, "not unholy names, I hope". They are masterpieces, finished to the nail. Here -- I cannot remind the reader too often of this fact in regard to Dickens's women -- one discerns absolutely nothing of "exaggeration"; not a word, not a gesture, goes beyond the very truth. Here the master would have nothing to learn from later art; he is the realist's exemplar. How admirably are these sisters likened and contrasted! That Jonas Chuzzlewit's wife becomes broken in spirit, meek, morally hopeful, is no instance of such literary optimism as one has noticed elsewhere, but a strict development of character. Her sister's rancorous appetency, with its train of consequences, belongs no less to nature. The artist must glory in these figures, so representative, so finely individualized. Public merriment has, of course, done them only the scantiest justice; their value cannot be appraised in laughter. They are among the most precious things left to us by Victorian literature.
Together with them, let me speak of Fanny Dorrit. In the London of to-day there is a very familiar female type, known as the shop-girl. Her sphere of action is extensive, for we meet her not only in shops, strictly speaking, but at liquor-bars, in workrooms, and, unfortunately, sometimes in the post-office, to say nothing of fifty other forms of employment open to the underbred, and more or less aggressive, young woman. Dickens saw nothing like so much of her, but he has drawn her portrait, with unerring hand, in Fanny Dorrit. Her first characteristic is a paltry and ignorant ambition, of course allied with vanity; she is crudely selfish, and has only the elementary scruples of her sex. Withal, there glimmers in her, under favouring circumstance, a vulgar good-nature; if she has much to spare she will bestow it upon those she likes, and at all times she prefers to see cheerfulness around her. In a time of social transition, when the womankind of labourer and office-man tend to intermingle, and together gall the kibes of the daughters of quick-growing capital, Fanny becomes a question. It is not easy to get her taught, either in literature or good manners; it is not easy to recompense her services, such as they are, on a scale which makes her free of the temptation ever present to this class. When she marries, her knowledge of domestic duties is found to be on a par, say, with that of a newspaper-boy; her ideas as to expenditure resemble those of a prima donna. Miss Dorrit, we know, had an unhappy training; but not worse in degree, though different in kind, from that of her modern parallel. Dickens did not know how significant was the picture when working at its details in the year of the Crimean War. Before his death he must have had many opportunities of recalling, and reflecting upon, the features of that young person.
It occurs to one how little love-making there is in all his books. This results, in part, from the fact of his dealing with a class which is anything but sentimental, and as little endowed with imagination as any order of civilized beings discoverable throughout the world; partly, again, from his own practical nature. Little Dorrit has her love story, and at one moment it is well told; the chapter describing her travel in Italy deserves high praise. But, on the whole, Amy Dorrit is not a success in characterization. Florence Dombey is, no doubt, in love, but we never think of it as more than the affection of a child; one forms no image whatever of her married life with Walter Gay. Then there is the shadowy betrothed of Richard Carstone, a good girl, to be sure, but remarkably placid. Esther Summerson cannot count, she has no existence. A favourite with readers of her own sex is Lizzie Hexam, and, putting aside her impossibility, Dickens has perhaps made her his most sympathetic love-heroine. One credits her with loyalty, with ardour; she is more nearly a poetical figure than that of any other girl in his books. Of Little Emily I find it difficult to say more than had its place in a previous chapter. She belongs to the stage, where such a story as hers is necessarily presented in the falsest possible light. Let us note one thing, however. Out of regard for what we call propriety, is it not obvious that this girl is shown to us as acting with something like cold-blooded deliberation, the simplest form of true immorality? We have no hint of her temptation, and it really looks very much as if she had calculated the probable advantages of flight with Steerforth. I have always felt the same with regard to the central incident of Adam Bede; it comes upon one, at the first reading, as a moral shock. So determined are these novelists not to offend our precious delicacy, that in the upshot they offend it beyond endurance, springing upon us, so to speak, the results of uncontrollable passion, without ever allowing us to suspect that such a motive was in play. The effect of this is a sort of grossness, which dishonours our heroine. So far as we are permitted to judge, there is much reason in the insults hurled at Emily by the frantic Rosa Dartle -- a pretty result, indeed, of all our author's delicate gliding over slippery places.
The Emperor Augustus, we are told, objected to the presence of women at the public games when athletes appeared unclad; but he saw nothing improper in their watching the death combats of gladiators. May we not find a parallel to this in the English censorship? To exhibit the actual course of things in a story of lawless (nay, or of lawful) love is utterly forbidden; on the other hand, a novelist may indulge in ghastly bloodshed to any extent of which his stomach is capable. Dickens, the great writer, even appears on a public platform and recites with terrible power the murder of a prostitute by a burglar, yet hardly a voice is raised in protest. Gore is perfectly decent; but the secrets of an impassioned heart are too shameful to come before us even in a whisper.
On this account I do not think it worth while to speak of Nancy, or of other lost creatures appearing in Dickens. But read, I beg, that passage of Little Dorrit where Amy herself and her idiot friend Maggy, wandering about the streets at night, are addressed by a woman of the town (Book i, chap. 14); read that passage, and wonder that the same man who penned this shocking rubbish could have written in the same volume pages of a truthfulness beyond all eulogy.
Little Em'ly has, after all, but a subordinate part in David Copperfield. The leading lady is Dora. Dora is wooed, Dora is wed -- the wooing and wedding of a butterfly. Yet it is Dickens's prettiest bit of love, and I shall scarce find it in my heart to criticise the "little Blossom", the gauze-winged fairy of that "insubstantial, happy, foolish time". Dora is Dolly Varden volatilized; every fault is there, prevented from becoming vice only by utter lack of purpose. The featherbrained little creature has no responsibility; as reasonably would one begin to argue with her toy dog, Jip, when he takes his stand on the cookery book. I have said that we cannot look in Copperfield for any true picture of an author's daily life; but, worse than that, we have very comical misrepresentation. Think only of David at his desk and Dora holding the pens! Pray, how much work was our friend likely to get through with that charming assistance? But it is all a fantasy and defies the test of common daylight. Take Dora seriously, and at once you are compelled to ask by what right an author demands your sympathy for such a brainless, nerveless, profitless simpleton. Enter into the spirit of the chapter, and you are held by one of the sweetest dreams of humour and tenderness ever translated into language.
There is no better illustration of Dickens's progress with the time than a comparison of his heroine in Edwin Drood with those of the early books. I think it is a great misfortune that we so abruptly lost sight of Rosa Bud; if; as seemed likely, the development of her character was to go on throughout the story, she would have been by far the best of Dickens's intelligent and sympathetic women. At first we have misgivings; Dolly Varden and Dora and others of our old acquaintances seem blended in Miss Twinkleton's pupil; a tricksy and provoking little person, whose reason for not knowing her own mind is probably the old one -- that she has no mind to know. But presently we understand; the girl -- little more than a child -- is in a false position, and suffers under it very consciously. A few pages more, and we see her behaving with rational force of character, the silly prettiness is thrown aside; Rosa declares herself as sensible and just and kind a girl as one could wish to meet. In the days of Copperfield, Dickens could not have managed this characterization; in the days of Barnaby Rudge he could as soon have created Rosalind. Change of times, growth of experience, widening of artistic consciousness and power -- all are evident in this study which was never to be completed. He laughs at Miss Twinkleton and her establishment, but we have an assurance that Rosa Bud was receiving a much better education than fell to the lot of girls thirty years before; even as we feel convinced that Mr. Crisparkle's tuition was a vast improvement upon that of Dr. Blimber. It is possible, of course, that Edwin Drood's paltry "mystery", with its blood and opium, would have ousted Rosa from the scene; perhaps we had seen the best of her. None the less, she remains a real and interesting little woman, and we should much have liked to watch the course of her affection for Tartar.
A "little woman". The phrase is inevitable in speaking of Dickens's pets. A Lady Dedlock might have stature; a Betsy Trotwood even might be of average height; but Em'ly and Amy and Ruth, Dolly and Dora and Esther, must all be tiny vessels for their great virtues. Shakespeare took another view of this matter; but Shakespeare was not concerned with the lower middle-class of the nineteenth century. There is agreement, I am told, among trustworthy observers that the stature of English women has notably increased during the last two or three decades; a natural consequence of improvement in the conditions of their life. In Dickens's day, when girls took no sort of exercise, fed badly, and (amid London streets) never breathed fresh air, of course they were generally diminutive. And among all the little women he presents to us, who exhibits more concentrated charm of littleness than Ruth Pinch?
I have left her to the last, because she will serve us as the type of all that Dickens really admired in woman. Truth to tell, it was no bad ideal. Granted that the world must go on very much in the old way, that children must be born and looked after, that dinners must be cooked, that houses must be kept sweet, it is hard to see how Ruth Pinch can ever be supplanted. Ruth is no imbecile -- your thoroughly kind-hearted and home-loving woman never will be; with opportunities, she would learn much, even beyond domestic limits, and still would delight in her dainty little aprons, her pastry-board and roller. Ruth would be an excellent mother; when, in the latter days, she sat grey-haired and spectacled, surely would her children arise and call her blessed. A very homely little woman, to be sure. She could not be quite comfortable with domestics at her command; a little house, a little garden, the cooking her own peculiar care, a little maid for the little babies -- this is her dream. But never, within those walls, a sound of complaining or of strife, never a wry face, acidly discontented with the husband's doings or sayings. Upon my word -- is it a bad ideal?
There are who surmise that in the far-off time when girls are universally well-taught, when it is the exception to meet, in any class, with the maiden or the wife who deems herself a natural inferior of brother, lover, husband, the homely virtues of Ruth Pinch will be even more highly rated than in the stupid old world. There are who suspect that our servant-question foretells a radical change in ways of thinking about the life of home; that the lady of a hundred years hence will be much more competent and active in cares domestic than the average shopkeeper's wife today; that it may not be found impossible to turn from a page of Sophocles to the boiling of a potato, or even the scrubbing of a floor. When every spendthrift idiot of a mistress, and every lying lazybones of a kitchen-wench, is swept into Time's dust-bin, it may come to pass that a race of brave and intelligent women will smile sister-like at this portrait of little Ruth. They will prize Dickens, instead of turning from him in disgust or weariness; for in his pages they will see that ancient deformity of their sex, and will recognize how justly he pointed out the way of safe reform; no startling innovation, no extravagant idealism, but a gentle insistence on the facts of human nature, a kindly glorifying of one humble little woman, who saw her duty, and did it singing the while.
A word or two about the children whom he loved to bring into his books, and to make pathetic or amusing. First, of course, we see little Nell; we see her, because she is the mid-figure in a delightful romance; but her face is not very plain to us. She is innocence walking among grotesque forms of suffering and wrong; simplicity set amid quaint contortions. Her death is not the dying of a little girl, but the vanishing of a beautiful dream. Oliver Twist is no more real, and certainly less interesting. Into what sort of man did this astonishing lad develop? The children of Dotheboys are writhing ghosts; perhaps they had lived in some other world, and were bad boys, and afterwards came into Squeers' hands for purification. Sally Brass's poor little slavey is, on the other hand, well realized; a good study of childhood brought to the verge of idiocy by evil treatment. Tiny Tim serves his admirable purpose in a book which no one can bear to criticise; we know that he did die, but in his little lifetime he has softened many a heart. Next rises the son and heir of "our friend Dombey". Dickens believed that little Paul was one of the best things he had ever done; contemporary readers were much excited about the child, whose "old-fashioned" ways became a by-word. I do not find it difficult to accept Paul's enquiry about what the waves were saying (in spite of a most dreadful song, made of that passage, which sounds in my ears from long ago), and of a surety I give more credit to Paul's death-bed speeches than to those of the child in Our Mutual Friend, who bequeathed a kiss to "the boofer lady"; but on the whole, Mr. Dombey's hope has only a little more of substance than little Nell. His sister Florence is prettiness and gentleness; an abstraction which affects us not. Passing to young David Copperfield, it is a different matter. Here we have the author's vision of his own childhood, and he makes it abundantly convincing. This part of Copperfield is one of the narratives which every reader illustrates for himself; the poor little lad stands plain before us, as we read, and in our memory. The picture, I should say, suggests very faithfully an artist's early years, his susceptibility, his abnormal faculty of observation, the vivid workings of his mind and heart. Dickens told Forster that this bit of autobiography might be worthy to stand on the shelf together with the corresponding part of that written by Holcroft. Holcroft is forgotten, I suppose; if the mention of him leads a stray reader to his book, that reader's time will not be wasted.
Of Dickens's true and deep sympathy with childhood there can be no doubt; it becomes passionate in the case of little ones doomed to suffering by a cruel or careless world. In all his excellent public speeches, perhaps the best and most moving passage is that which describes a poor baby he saw in Scotland, a wasting little mortal, whose cradle was an old egg-box; where, he says, it lay dumb and pitiful, its eyes seeming to wonder "why, in the name of an All-merciful God, such things should be". In his novels, we like those children best, of whom we obtain only a passing glimpse, the reason, again, being that remorseless necessity of drama which spoils so many of his older people. But in one case he has written a whole story about children, and these toddlers the most lifelike to be found in his pages. It is the story put into the mouth of Boots at the Holly Tree. Accept the fantasy, and these little actors are wonderfully well shown; their talk is true, their behaviour -- down to the crossness of the bride-elect when she gets tired -- as truly observed as it is mirth-provoking. No wonder that Boots at the Holly Tree was one of the "readings" most acceptable to Dickens s audience. If he must needs read in public, he could not have chosen a piece more likely to keep sweet his personal memory with those who heard him.
To write of Dickens at all, is to presuppose his humour. The plan of my essay has necessitated a separate consideration of the various features of his work, and at moments it may have appeared that I found fault without regard to a vast counterbalance; but it was never possible for me to lose sight of that supreme quality of his genius which must be now dwelt upon with undivided attention. It was as a humorist that Dickens made his name; and in a retrospect of his life's activity one perceives that his most earnest purposes depended for their furtherance upon this genial power, which he shares with nearly all the greatest of English writers. Holding, as he did, that the first duty of an author is to influence his reader for good, Dickens necessarily esteemed as the most precious of his gifts that by virtue of which he commanded so great an audience. Without his humour, he might have been a vigorous advocate of social reform, but as a novelist assuredly he would have failed; and as to the advocacy of far-reaching reforms by men who have only earnestness and eloquence to work with, English history tells its tale. Only because they laughed with him so heartily, did multitudes of people turn to discussing the question his page suggested. As a story-teller pure and simple, the powers that remain to him, if humour be subtracted, would never have ensured popularity. Nor, on the other hand, would they have availed him in the struggle for artistic perfection, which is a better thing. Humour is the soul of his work. Like the soul of man, it permeates a living fabric which, but for its creative breath, could never have existed.
In his earliest writing we discover only the suggestion of this quality. The Sketches have a touch of true humour, but (apart from the merits of acute observation and great descriptive power) there is much more of merely youthful high spirits, tending to the farcical. Such a piece as The Tuggs's at Ramsgate is distinct farce, and not remarkably good of its kind. This vein Dickens continued to work throughout his career, and often with great success. One must distinguish between the parts of his writing which stir to mere hilarity, and his humour in the strict sense of the word. It is none of my business to define that term, which has long ago been adequately expounded; enough that the humorist has by no means invariably a chuckle in his throat; at moments of his supreme success, he will hardly move us to more of merriment than appears in a thoughtful smile. But there is a perfectly legitimate, and tolerably wide, range for the capers of a laughing spirit, and as a writer of true farce I suppose Dickens has never been surpassed Pickwick abounds in it, now quite distinct from, and now all but blending with, the higher characteristic. One can imagine that the public approval of his Sketches had given the author an impetus which carried him of a sudden into regions of extravagant buoyancy and mirthfulness. The first few pages are farce of the frankest. Winkle, Snodgrass, and Tupman remain throughout farcical characters, but not so Mr. Pickwick himself. Farce is the election at Eatanswill, and the quarrel of the rival Editors, and many another well-remembered passage. Only a man of genius has the privilege of being so emphatically young. "Though the merriment was rather boisterous, still it came from the heart and not from the lips; and this is the right sort of merriment after all." How could one better describe, than in these words from the book itself, that overflowing cheeriness which conquered Dickens's first public! Or take the description of old Wardle coming through the early sunshine to bid Mr. Pickwick good morning, -- "out of breath with his own anticipations of pleasure". Alas old gentlemen, however jolly, do not get breathless in this fashion; but the young may, and Dickens, a mere boy himself, was writing for the breathless boyhood of many an age to come.
The farce in his younger work always results from this exuberance of spirits; later, he introduces it deliberately; with conscious art -- save perhaps at those moments when the impulse of satire is too much for him. One easily recalls his best efforts in this direction. The wild absurdity of the Muffin Company at the beginning of Nickleby shows him still in his boyish mood, and the first chapter of Chuzzlewit finds him unluckily reverting to it at the moment when he was about to produce a masterpiece of genuine humour. Mr. Mantalini is capital fun; he never quite loses his hold upon one, and to the end we shall laugh over the "demnition egg" and the "demnition bow-wows". At this stage Dickens was capable of a facetiousness of descriptive phrase which hints the peril involved in a reputation such as he had won. "Madame Mantalini wrung her hands for grief and rung the bell for her husband; which done, she fell into a chair and a fainting fit simultaneously." When he had written that passage, and allowed it to stand, his genius warned him; I remember nothing so dangerous in after-time. Quilp, at his best, is rich entertainment; in Dick Swiveller we touch higher things. The scene between little David Copperfield and the waiter (chapter v) seems to me farce, though very good; country innkeepers were never in the habit of setting a dish-load of cutlets before a little boy who wanted dinner, and not even the shrewdest of waiters, having devoured them all, could make people believe that it was the little boy's achievement; but the comic vigour of the thing is irresistible. Better still is the forced marriage of Jack Bunsby to the great MacStinger. Here, I think, Dickens reaches his highest point. We cannot call it "screaming" farce; it appeals not only to the groundlings. Laughter holding both his sides was never more delightfully justified; gall and the megrims were never more effectually dispelled. It is the ludicrous in its purest form, tainted by no sort of unkindliness, and leaving behind it nothing but the wholesome aftertaste of self-forgetful mirth.
We may notice how Dickens makes use of farcical extravagance to soften the bitterness of truth. When Sally Brass goes down into the grimy cellar-kitchen to give the little slavey her food, we are told that she cut from the joint "two square inches of cold mutton", and bade her victim never say that she had not had meat in that house. This makes one laugh; who can refrain? If he had avoided exaggeration, and shown us the ragged, starving child swallowing the kind of meal which was really set before her, who could have endured it? The point is vastly important for an understanding of Dickens's genius and his popularity. That "two square inches" makes all the difference between painful realism and fiction universally acceptable; it is the secret of Dickens's power for good. Beside it may be set another instance. Judy Smallweed, in Bleak House, likewise has her little slavey over whom she tyrannizes; a child, too, who has won our sympathy in a high degree, and whom we could not bear to see brutally used. She is brutally used; but then Judy Smallweed is a comical figure; so comical that no one takes her doings with seriousness. Harsh words and broken meats are again provocative of laughter, when in very truth we should sob. With Dickens's end in view, how wise his method! After merriment comes the thought: "But what a shame!" And henceforth the reader thinks sympathetically of poor little girls, whether ruled by vicious trollops or working under easier conditions. Omit the jest -- and the story becomes too unpleasant to remember.
Between Dickens's farce and his scenes of humour the difference is obvious. In Mantalini or Jack Bunsby we have nothing illuminative; they amuse, and there the matter ends. But true humour always suggests a thought, always throws light on human nature. The humorist may not be fully conscious of his own meaning; he always, indeed, implies more than he can possibly have thought out; and therefore it is that we find the best humour inexhaustible, ever fresh when we return to it, ever; as our knowledge of life increases, more suggestive of wisdom.
Both the Wellers are creations strictly humorous. For one thing, each is socially representative; each, moreover, is a human type, for ever recognizable beneath time's disguises. Be it noticed that neither the old coachman nor his son is ever shown in a grotesque, or improbable, situation; there is no cutting of capers, even when they make us laugh the loudest. The fantastic is here needless; nature has wrought with roguish intention, and we are aware of it at every moment of their common life. No one takes Mantalini to his heart; but Tony and Sam become in very truth our friends, and for knowing them, improbable as it might seem, we know ourselves the better. They are surprising incarnations of the spirit of man, which is doomed to inhabit so variously. The joke consists in perceiving how this spirit adjusts itself to an odd situation, reconciles itself with queerest circumstance. In old Weller, it is a matter of stress; his difficulties, never too severe, bring out the quaint philosophy of the man, and set us smiling in fellowship. Sam, at ease in the world, makes life his jest, and we ask nothing better than to laugh with one who sees so shrewdly, feels so honestly. Sam cannot away with a humbug -- in this respect, Dickens's own child. Put him face to face with Job Trotter, and how his countenance shines, how his tongue is loosed! It is a great part of Sam's business in life to come into genial conflict with Job Trotter; his weapon of mockery is in the end irresistible, and a Cockney serving-man strikes many a stroke for the good of humankind. Of course he does not know it; that is our part, as we look on, and feel in our hearts the warmth of kindly merriment, and give thanks to the great humorist who teaches us so much.
To survey all his humorous characters would be to repeat, in substance, the same remarks again and again. I have no space for a discussion, from this point of view, of the figures which have already passed before us. But of Mrs. Gamp one word. She sometimes comes into my thought together with Falstaff, and I am tempted to say that there is a certain propriety in the association. Where else since Shakespeare shall we find such force in the humorous presentment of gross humanity? The two figures, of course, stand on different planes. In Falstaff, intellect and breeding are at issue with the flesh, however sorely worsted; in Sarah Gamp, little intellect and less breeding are to be looked for, and the flesh has its way; but I discover some likeness of character. If Betsy Prig's awful assertion regarding Mrs. Harris must be held as proved is there not a hint of resemblance between the mood that elaborated this delicious fiction and the temper native to the hero of Gadshill? A fancy; let it pass. But to my imagination the thick-tongued, leering, yet half-genial woman walks as palpably in Kingsgate Street as yon mountain of a man in Eastcheap. The literary power exhibited in one and the other portrait is of the same kind; the same perfect method of idealism is put to use in converting to a source of pleasure things that in life repel or nauseate; and in both cases the sublimation of character, of circumstance, is effected by a humour which seems unsurpassable.
From a mention of Mrs. Harris, one passes very naturally to Spenlow and Jorkins -- an only less happy bit of humour. Of course it was taken straight from life; we know that without any authority; at this moment, be sure of it, more than one Mr. Spenlow is excusing his necessity or his meanness with the plea of Mr. Jorkins's inflexibility. But only the man of genius notes such a thing, and records it for ever among human traits.
Very rich is Dickens's humour in those passages which serve rather as illustrations of manners than of individual character. Take the scene at Mrs. Kenwigs's confinement -- a shining chapter in the often weak and crude pages of Nickleby. So quietly it is done, yet so vividly; never a note of the extravagant; every detail of the scene set before us as it must have been shown in fact, but invested with such mirthful significance. Or, again, the servants' hall at Mr. Dombey's; so much better, because done with so much more geniality, than the life that went on upstairs. Or Mr. Guppy giving his friend Jobling a dinner at the chop-house; where we hear the chink of plates and glasses, and feel hungry at Jobling's acceptance of each new succulent suggestion, and see the law-clerk's wink as he reckons up with Polly the waitress. Among things supreme stands "Todgers's". Whenever I chance to come within sight of the Monument, it is not of the fire of London that I think, but of Todgers's; one feels that the house must be still existing, discoverable by sufficiently earnest search. It is inconceivable that any age which has not outgrown our language should forget this priceless description: every line close-packed with humorous truth. And how generous the scale! Here is no "hitting off" in a page or so; a broad canvas filled with detail that never tires, and no touch ever superfluous. Not only are the inhabitants of Todgers's made real to us, collectively and individually, by the minutest portraiture; but the very building and its furniture fix themselves in the mind, so described that each room, each table, becomes symbolic, instinct with a meaning which the ordinary observer would never have suspected. The grim old city of London has of a sudden revealed to us a bit of its very self, and we see in it a museum of human peculiarities, foibles, and vices. There this little group of people lives squeezed amid the brick-and-mortar labyrinth; each so vastly important to himself, so infinitesimal in the general view. They remind us of busy ants, running about with what seems such ridiculous earnestness; yet we know that their concerns are ours, and turn from laughing at them -- to go and do likewise.
The subtlest bit of humour in all Dickens's books is, to my mind, that scene I have already mentioned as a triumph of characterization, the Father of the Marshalsea entertaining his old pensioner Nandy. But public favour turns to pictures of life that have more familiarity. Dickens was always happy when dealing with that common object of his time -- nothing like so common nowadays -- the travelling show: were it dramatic or equestrian, waxworks or Punch and Judy. From Mr. Crummles and his troupe in Nickleby down to Chops the Dwarf in a story written for All the Year Round, he never failed in such humorous picturing. Codlin and Short are typical instances. These figures never become farcical; they are always profoundly true, and amuse by pure virtue of their humanity. Akin to this order of beings is another with which he had remarkable acquaintance -- the inn waiter. Read again (or only too possibly read for the first time) the waiter's autobiography in Somebody's Luggage. Here is no satire, but very fact made vocal; made, at the same time, such a delightful example of unconscious self-disclosure that we cannot sufficiently wonder at the author's sympathetic knowledge.
No one has equalled him in bringing out the humours of stupidity. One of his masterpieces is old Willet, the landlord of the Maypole. Willet is all but a born idiot, in the proper sense of the word; and that "all but" becomes in Dickens's hand the opportunity for elaborate portraiture. You may compare the man with the weakest-minded of Dickens's lower-class women (whichever that may be), and find in the parallel a rich subject of speculation. Being masculine, Willet is sparing of his words; his great resource is a blank stare of imbecile resentment, implying an estimate of his own importance at which the very gods might stand fixed between amaze and laughter. Inimitable the skill with which this asserter of human dignity is shown at last suffering from mental shock -- a shock so severe that it almost reduces him to the condition of a deaf-mute. We had thought it impossible that he could fall intellectually lower; when it comes, we can only acknowledge the author's reserve of power. There he sits, amid the wreck of his fine old inn, staring at his old-time companion, the kitchen boiler. Seeing him thus, we have it brought to mind that he really was, in his way, a capable landlord, and had kept the Maypole spick and span for many a long year; which possibly suggests an aspect of English character, and English conservatism, not out of keeping with some of Dickens's views on such subjects.
I must not omit mention of those sketches of genuine grotesques -- not Quilp-like extravagances -- which now and then flash upon us at some odd moment of the story: wonders of swift character-drawing, and instinct with humour. The finest examples I can remember are the figure of Mr. Nadgett, in Chuzzlewit (chap. xxvii), and that of the old woman called Tamaroo, in the same book (chap. xxxii). Language cannot do more in the calling up of a vivid image before the mind; and this result is mainly traceable to the writer's humorous insight. There could be no better illustration of the difference between Dickens's grasp and presentment of a bit of human nature, a bit of observable fact, and that method which the critics of to-day, inaccurately but intelligibly, call photographic. Nadgett, the tracker of sordid mysteries, and Tamaroo, successor of young Bailey at Todgers's, acquire an imaginative importance like in kind (however different in degree) to that of the grandest figures in fiction. Every stroke of such outlines is a manifestation of genius.
Inseparable from the gift of humour is that of pathos. It was Dickens's misfortune that, owing to habits of his mind already sufficiently discussed, he sometimes elaborated pathetic scenes, in the theatrical sense of the word. I do not attribute to him the cold insincerity so common in the work of playwrights; but at times he lost self-restraint and unconsciously responded to the crude ideals of a popular audience. Emphasis and iteration, however necessary for such hearers, were out of place in pathetic narrative. Thus it comes about that he is charged with mawkishness, and we hear of some who greatly enjoy his humour rapidly turning the pages meant to draw a tear. Chiefly; I suppose, it is the death of Paul Dombey that such critics have in mind; they would point also to the death of Jo, the crossing-sweeper, and to that of little Nell. On a re-perusal of these chapters, I feel that nothing can be said in defence of Jo; on his death-bed he is an impossible creature, and here for once moral purpose has been undeniably fatal to every quality of art. Regarding the other narratives, it strikes me that they have been too hastily condemned. The one line which describes the death of Paul's mother is better, no doubt, than the hundreds through which we follow the fading of Paul himself; but these pages I cannot call mawkish, for I do not feel that they are flagrantly untrue. The tear may rise or not -- that depends upon how we are constituted -- but we are really standing by the bed of a gentle little child, precociously gifted and cruelly overwrought, and, if the situation is to be presented at all, it might be much worse done. Such pathos is called ''cheap''. I can only repeat that in Dickens's day, the lives, the happiness of children were very cheap indeed, and that he had his purpose in insisting on their claims to attention. As for the heroine of The Old Curiosity Shop, distaste for her as a pathetic figure seems to me unintelligent. She is a child of romance; her death is purely symbolical, signifying the premature close of any sweet, innocent, and delicate life. Heaven forbid that I should attribute to Dickens a deliberate allegory; but, having in mind those hapless children who were then being tortured in England's mines and factories, I like to see in Little Nell a type of their sufferings; she, the victim of avarice, dragged with bleeding feet along the hard roads, ever pursued by heartless self-interest, and finding her one safe refuge in the grave. Look back upon the close of that delightful novel, and who can deny its charm? Something I shall have to say presently about the literary style; but as a story of peaceful death it is beautifully imagined and touchingly told.
Of true pathos Dickens has abundance. The earliest instance I can call to mind is the death of the Chancery prisoner in Pickwick, described at no great length, but very powerful over the emotions. It worthily holds a place amid the scenes of humour enriching that part of the book. We feel intensely the contrast between the prisoner's life and that which was going on in the free world only a few yards away; we see in his death a pitifulness beyond words. A scene in another book, -- Bleak House, -- this, too, connected with that accursed system of imprisonment for debt, shows Dickens at his best in bringing out the pathos of child-life. The man known to Mr. Skimpole as "Coavinses" has died, and Coavinses' children, viewed askance by neighbours because of their father's calling, are living alone in a garret. They are presented as simply as possible -- nothing here of stage emphasis -- yet the eyes dazzle as we look. I must quote a line or two. "We were looking at one another," says Esther Summerson, "and at these two children, when there came into the room a very little girl, childish in figure but shrewd and older-looking in the face -- pretty faced too -- wearing a womanly sort of bonnet much too large for her, and drying her bare arms on a womanly sort of apron. Her fingers were white and wrinkled with washing, and the soap-suds were yet smoking which she wiped oft her arms. But for this, she might have been a child playing at washing and imitating a poor working-woman with a quick observation of the truth." It is Charley, of course, who had found a way to support herself and the younger ones. We see how closely the true pathetic and a "quick observation" are allied. Another picture shown us in Esther's narrative, that of the baby's death in the starved labourer's cottage, moves by legitimate art. Still more of it is felt in the story of Doctor Marigold, the Cheap-Jack, whose child is dying in his arms, whilst for daily bread he plays buffoon before the crowd. This is a noble piece of work, and defies criticism. The tale is told by the man himself as simply as possible; he never insists upon the pitifulness of his position. We hear his whispers to the child, between his hoarse professional shoutings and the guffaws in front; then he finds his word of tenderness brings no response -- he looks closer -- he turns from the platform. A piece of work that might atone for literary sins far worse than Dickens ever committed.
Little Dorrit is strong in pathos, as in humour. Dickens's memories of childhood made his touch very sure whenever he dealt with the squalid prison-world, and life there was for him no less fertile in pathos than death. Very often it is inextricably blended with his humour; in the details of the Marshalsea picture, who shall say which element of his genius prevails? Vet, comparing it with the corresponding scenes in Pickwick, we perceive a subdual of tone, which comes not only of advancing years, but of riper art; and as we watch the Dorrits step forth from the prison door, it is another mood than that which accompanied the release of Mr. Pickwick. Pathos of this graver and subtler kind is the distinguishing note of Great Expectations, a book which Dickens meant, and rightly meant, to end in the minor key. The old convict, Magwitch, if he cannot be called a tragical personality, has feeling enough to move the reader's deeper interest, and in the very end acquires through suffering a dignity which makes him very impressive. Rightly seen, is there not much pathos in the story of Pip's foolishness? It would be more manifest if we could forget Lytton's imbecile suggestion, and restore the original close of the story.
To the majority of readers it seemed -- and perhaps still seems -- that Dickens achieved his best pathos in the Christmas books. Two of those stories answered their purpose admirably; the other two showed a flagging spirit; but not even in the Carol can we look for anything to be seriously compared with the finer features of his novels. The true value of these little books lies in their deliberate illustration of a theme which occupied Dickens's mind from first to last. Writing for the season of peace, good-will, and jollity, he sets himself to exhibit these virtues in an idealization of the English home. The type of domestic beauty he finds, as a matter of course, beneath a humble roof. And we have but to glance in memory through the many volumes of his life's work to recognize that his gentlest, brightest humour, his simplest pathos, occur in those unexciting pages which depict the everyday life of poor and homely English folk. This is Dickens's most delightful aspect, and I believe it is the most certainly enduring portion of what he has left us.
His genius plays like a warm light on the characteristic aspects of homely England. No man ever loved England more; and the proof of it remains in picture after picture of her plain, old-fashioned life -- in wayside inns and cottages, in little dwellings hidden amid the city's vastness and tumult, in queer musty shops, in booths and caravans. Finding comfort or jollity, he enjoys it beyond measure, he rubs his hands, he sparkles, he makes us laugh with him from the very heart. Coming upon hardship and woe, he is moved as nowhere else, holds out the hand of true brotherhood, tells to the world his indignation and his grief. There would be no end of selecting passages in illustration, but we must recall a few for the mere pleasure of the thing. Try to imagine the warmest welcome of a cosy little inn, at the end of a long lonely road, on a night of foul weather; you must needs have recourse to the Jolly Sandboys, where Nell and her grandfather and the wandering showmen all found shelter. "There was a deep ruddy blush upon the room, and when the landlord stirred the fire, sending the flames skipping and leaping up -- when he took off the lid of the iron pot, and there rushed out a savoury smell, while the bubbling sound grew deeper and more rich, and an unctuous steam came floating out, hanging in a delicious mist above their heads -- when he did this, Mr. Codlin's heart was touched" (Old Curiosity Shop, chap. xxviii). And whose is not? What dyspeptic exquisite but must laugh with appetite over such a description?
As good is the picture of Ruth Pinch at the butcher's. "To see him slap the steak before he laid it on the block, and give his knife a sharpening, was to forget breakfast instantly. It was agreeable, too, -- it really was -- to see him cut it off, so smooth and juicy. There was nothing savage in the act. Although the knife was large and keen, it was a piece of high art. . . . Perhaps the greenest cabbage-leaf ever grown in a garden was wrapped about this steak before it was delivered over to Tom. But the butcher had a sentiment for his business, and knew how to refine upon it. When he saw Tom putting the cabbage-leaf into his pocket awkwardly, he begged to be allowed to do it for him; 'for meat', he said with some emotion, 'must be humoured and not drove'!" (Chuzzlewit, chap. xxxix). Reading this, how does one regret that Dickens should have filled with melodrama many a page which might have been given to the commonest doings of the humble street!
There is a great chapter of The Old Curiosity Shop (chap. xxxix), where Kit and Barbara, with their respective mothers, with little Jacob, too, and the Baby, go to spend the evening at Astley's. It would have seemed impossible to get so much kindly fun out of a group of the London poor. Dickens does it by dint of his profound, his overflowing sympathy with them. He glows with delight when they are delighted; he understands precisely what they enjoy, and why; it does his very soul good to hear Kit's guffaws and the screaming laugh of little Jacob. Where else in literature is there such infinite good-feeling expressed with such wondrous whimsicality? After the circus, Kit takes all his companions to have an oyster supper (by the way, in those days, as Sam Weller assures us, poverty and oysters always went together). And not one of them enjoyed the meal more than he who gaily described it. How the London poor should love Dickens! But -- with his books always obtainable -- they can scarce be said to read him at all.
Remember that such a scene as this was new in literature, a bold innovation. Dickens had no model to imitate when he sat down to tell of the joys of servant-lads and servant-girls with their washerwomen and sempstress mothers, But in spirit he continues the work of two writers whom he always held dear, Goldsmith and Sterne. Goldsmith's sweetness and compassion, Sterne's sensitive humanity, necessarily had their part, and that no small one, in forming Dickens. There is a foretaste of his humour in Moses ("Boz", as we know), the son of the Vicar of Wakefield, and in the would-be fine company; there is a palpable hint to him in the Vicar preaching among poor prisoners. Turning to Uncle Toby, to Corporal Trim, we are perforce reminded of those examples of grotesque goodness, of sweet humility under the oddest exteriors, upon which Dickens lavished his humour and his love.
Captain Cuttle is as well known as any of them. In what terms of literary criticism shall one describe that scene (Dombey, chap. xlix) where the Captain sits in Solomon Gills's parlour and Florence mixes his grog for him? It is a sort of fairy tale of modern life. No one can for a moment believe that two such persons ever were in such relations; but so irrelevant an objection never occurs to us. All we know is, that a spell is laid upon us; that we pass from smiles to laughter, and from laughter to smiles again. Who ever paused to think that the old coasting Captain, Mrs. MacStinger's lodger, must have been in person and manners and speech not a little repulsive to a young lady straight from a great house in the west of London? It is not germane to the matter. These are actors in the world of humour and imagination, raised above the inessentials of life. Dickens's thought. was to make a picture delightful to every heart which can enjoy fun, respect innocence, and sympathize with kindness. Moreover, he wished to point a contrast between the stately house, inhabited by wealth and pride, the atmosphere of which had grown poisonous from the evil passions nurtured in it; and the little back parlour of a shop somewhere amid the City's noisiest streets, where the homeliest -- and therefore the most precious -- virtues have a secure abode. Fleeing from the home that is none, the mansion where her womanly instincts have been outraged, Florence betakes herself to this poor haven of refuge, and lives there guarded and honoured as any queen in her palace. What could make stronger appeal to the sensibilities of English readers? No national foible is here concerned: we respond with the very best that is in us. We feel that these are the ideals of English life. We are proud of the possibility underlying a fancy of such irresistible charm.
For his own fame, Dickens, I think, never puts his genius to better use than in the idealization of English life and character. Whatever in his work may be of doubtful interest to future time, here is its enduring feature. To be truly and profoundly national is great strength in the maker of literature. What a vast difference from all but every point of view between Dickens and Tennyson; yet it is likely enough that these two may survive together as chosen writers of the Victorian age. They are at one in their English sentiment They excite the same emotion whenever they speak of the English home; none, I think, of their contemporaries touches so powerfully that island note. In Tennyson's glorious range, humour is not lacking; it exercises itself on a theme of the most intimately national significance, and his Northern Farmer will live as long as the poet's memory. Of humour the very incarnation, Dickens cannot think of his country without a sunny smile. In our hearts we love him for it, and so, surely, will the island people for many an age to come.
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