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Martin Chuzzlewit.- Pictures from Italy.-- First Carol. – Tiny Tim. - The Chimes.
- Cricket on the Hearth.
'Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good-will toward men.” – LUKE 11. 14.
OLLOWING his “Notes," on his return from America, Mr. Dickens wrote a novel called “Martin Chuzzlewit," which, like “ The Notes," created great excitement
on this side of the water; and they who had been fulsome in their adulation of the novelist were extremely indignant that he should repay, as they felt, their kind welcome with abuse and sarcasm. This book appeared in numbers during 1844. A writer in “ The Illustrated London News" thinks that Mr. Dickens's
“method of composing and publishing his tales in monthly parts, or sometimes in weekly parts, aided the experience of this immediate personal companionship between the writer and the reader. It was just as if we received a letter or a visit, at regular intervals, from a kindly observant gossip, who was in the habit of watching the domestic life of the Nicklebys or the Chuzzlewits, and who would let us know from time to time how they were going on. There was no assumption, in general, of having a complete and finished history to deliver: he came at fixed periods, merely to report what he had perceived since his last budget was opened for us. The course of his narrative seemed to run on, somehow, almost simultaneously with the real progress of events, only keeping a little behind, so that he might have time to write down whatever happened, and to tell us. This periodical and piece-meal form of publication, being attended by a fragmentary manner of composition, was not at all favorable to the artistic harmony of his work as a whole. But few persons ever read any of Dickens's stories as a whole for the first time, because every one was eager to enjoy the parts as they were printed; going on a twelve-month or twenty months in due succession, and growing in popularity as the pile of them increased. The obvious effect was to inspire all his constant readers - say a million or two — with a sense of habitual dependence on their contemporary, the man Charles Dickens, for a continued supply of the entertainment which he alone
could furnish. He was personally indispensable to them, as a favorite actor might be to the inveterate playgoers of a former age, who lived upon their Gairick or their Kemble. If each of his stories had appeared complete in three octavo volumes, with the lapse of a couple of years between one work and another, the feeling of continual dependence on the living author would have been less prevalent among us.
“But it was not by dint of this mechanical contrivance of publishing, and the corresponding talent of quick and manifold invention, presenting novel scenes and incidents, with a crowd of new figures, in each section of a story, that Charles Dickens obtained his immense command over the minds of the English people. Other novelists have shown the same power of inventing a multiplicity of incidents to strike the fancy, and filling every corner with countless persons or personal names, intended to represent the diversities of human life and character. The result is bewildering and fatiguing, if we should attempt to read any of those second-rate serial novels as a connected story. They found acceptance in monthly morsels; there was some vitality in their scattered limbs : but, when the body is put together, we find it is dead, so that it lies shut between the boards of the bound volume, as though enclosed in a coffin, extinct to the end of time. Such would have been the fate, likewise, of these stories of Dickens's, if he had been merely a writer of extraordinary talent and
skill ; but he was also a man of genius, – let us say, a prose poet. The genius of the poet, in which term we beg leave to include that of the genuine humorist, who is equally the man of imagination, cannot die, and be shut up in a coffin, and so buried and forgotten. Try to dispose of your Shakspeare in that manner! The forms of poetry may pass out of fashion ; they may change or perish ; they may have been imperfect at their best, for they were borrowed from the custom of the day: but the spirit of poetry is immortal. And we reckon true humor as a peculiar exhibition of this spirit; and we esteem Dickens, next after Shakspeare, as the greatest of English humorists, – that is to say, with reference to literary history, the greatest of all humorists ; for none of the foreigners, ancient or modern, — Aristophanes, Boccaccio, Rabelais, Cervantes, or Jean Paul, - have come near Shakspeare in this faculty, though possessing it in a large measure. That none of the · English humorists of the eighteenth century'— not even Swift or Fielding, much less Smollett or Sterneis to be compared with Dickens in this respect, we believe Thackeray himself would have been ready to admit. Hogarth, if the two arts of painting and novelwriting allow their comparison, may be deemed a precursor of Dickens. Many of our poets, from Chaucer onwards, - we cannot, indeed, name Milton or Wordsworth, but Robert Burns and Walter Scott on the north side of the Tweed, — have been richly endowed with
humor. It is a British or English gift; and Washington Irving has shown that it flourishes in transplantation to America. With the spirit of sympathetic fun and genial caprice is allied the special power of imagination that enters into the motives of eccentric characters, and of whimsical or absurd actions and behavior. This belongs to poetry, and chiefly to dramatic poetry, quite as much as those other special faculties of imagination which go to the conception and representation of exalted passions, or to the ideal combination of sublime and beautiful forms. Shakspeare's clowns, and his foolish varlets or blundering louts, are, equally with his heroes, the creation of a great poet. Shall we not say the same of Pickwick, of Sam Weller, of Pecksniff, of Mrs. Gamp, and of many other queer characters which only. a mighty creative imagination could have formed ?
“His genius was the gift of Nature ; but, for his art as a writer, he seems to have early studied two of the best examples in our language, - Henry Fielding and Washington Irving. The mock-heroic strain of his preambles to many chapters of “Pickwick,' • Nicholas Nickleby,' and · Martin Chuzzlewit,' was tuned in the key of similar diversions attending the history of Tom Jones; and the shrewd, sly commentary, enlivened by a variety of playful fancies and whimsical conceits, with which Dickens peeps into the minutest details of scenery and costume, reminds us of The Sketch Book,' and of