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cence of insight, which pierces not only into but through their very nature, laying bare their most unconscious scenes of action, and in every instance indicating that he understands them better than they understand themselves. It is this perfection of knowledge and insight which gives to his novels their naturalness, their freedom of movement, and their value as lessons in human nature, as well as consummate representations of actual life. Dickens's eye for the forms of things is as accurate as Fielding's, and his range of vision more extended; but he does not probe so profoundly into the heart of what he sees, and he is more led away from the simplicity of truth by a tricky spirit of fantastic exaggeration. Mentally he is indisputably below Fielding ; but in tenderness, in pathos, in sweetness and purity of feeling, in that comprehensiveness of sympathy which springs from a sense of brotherhood with mankind, he is indisputably above him.”
Mr. Dickens gave in his preface to “ Oliver Twist," good and sufficient reasons for the choice of the characters there represented, in the following words:
“ I have yet to learn that a lesson of the purest good may not be drawn from the vilest evil. I have always believed this to be a recognized and established truth, laid down by the greatest men the world has ever seen, constantly acted upon by the best and wisest natures,
and confirmed by the reason and experience of every thinking mind.
“ In this spirit, when I wished to show, in little Oliver, the principle of good surviving through every adverse circumstance, and triumphing at last; and when I considered among what companions I could try him best, having regard to that kind of men into whose hands he would most naturally fall, - I bethought myself of those who figure in these volumes. When I came to discuss the subject more maturely with myself, I saw many strong reasons for pursuing the course to which I was inclined. I had read of thieves by scores, -- seductive fellows (amiable for the most part), faultless in dress, plump in pocket, choice in horse-flesh, bold in bearing, fortunate in gallantry, great at a song, a bottle, a pack of cards, or dice-box, and fit companions for the bravest. But I had never met (except in Hogarth) with the miserable reality. It appeared to me, that to draw a knot of such associates in crime as really do exist; to paint them in all their deformity, in all their wretchedness, in all the squalid poverty of their lives; to show them, as they really are, forever skulking uneasily through the dirtiest paths of life, with the great, black, ghastly gallows closing up their prospect, turn them where they may, — it appeared to me that to do this would be to attempt a something which was greatly needed, and which would be a service to society. And, therefore, I did it as I best could.”
Oliver Twist commenced life in a workhouse. The graphic picture drawn by Mr. Dickens of the workhouses in his day was not one calculated to give a favorable impression of English benevolence or justice. “Oliver asking for more” has become a proverb. The manner in which the fare of the poor boys was dealt out to them, is thus described :
“ The room in which the boys were fed was a large stone hall, with a copper at one end, out of which the the master, dressed in an apron for the purpose, and assisted by one or two women, ladled the gruel at mealtimes. Of this festive composition, each boy had one porringer, and no more, except on occasions of great public rejoicing, when he had two ounces and a quarter of bread besides. The bowls never wanted washing. The boys polished them with their spoons till they shone again ; and, when they had performed this operation (which never took very long, the spoons being nearly as large as the bowls), they would sit staring at the copper, with such eager eyes, as if they could have devoured the very bricks of which it was composed ; employing themselves, meanwhile, in sucking their fingers most assiduously, with a view of catching up any stray splashes of gruel that might have been cast thereon. Boys have, generally, excellent appetites. Oliver Twist and his companions suffered the tortures of slow starvation for three months : at last, they got so voracious and
wild with hunger, that one boy, who was tall for his age, and hadn't been used to that sort of thing (for his father had kept a small cook's shop), hinted darkly to his companions, that, unless he had another basin of gruel per diem, he was afraid he might some night happen to eat the boy who slept next him, who happened to be a weakly youth of tender age. He had a wild, hungry eye; and they implicitly believed him. A council was held: lots were cast who should walk up to the master after supper that evening, and ask for more; and it fell to Oliver Twist.
“ The evening arrived: the boys took their places. The master, in his cook's uniform, stationed himself at the copper; his pauper assistants ranged themselves behind him ; the gruel was served out; and a long grace was said over the short commons. The gruel disappeared: the boys whispered each other, and winked at Oliver, while his next neighbors nudged him. Child as he was, he was desperate with hunger, and reckless with misery. He rose from the table; and advancing to the master, basin and spoon in hand, said, somewhat alarmed at his own temerity,
“Please, sir, I want some more.'
“ The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale. He gazed in stupefied astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds, and then clung for support to the copper. The assistants were paralyzed with wonder, the boys with fear.
“What !' said the master at length, in a faint voice. 666 Please, sir,' replied Oliver, 'I want some more.'
66 The master aimed a blow at Oliver's head with the ladle, pinioned him in his arms, and shrieked aloud for the beadle.
“ The board was sitting in solemn conclave, when Mr. Bumble rushed into the room in great excitement, and, addressing the gentleman in the high-chair, said,
66. Mr. Limbkins, I beg your pardon, sir! Oliver Twist has asked for more!'
“ There was a general start. Horror was depicted on every countenance.
66 . For more !' said Mr. Limbkins. •Compose yourself, Bumble, and answer me distinctly. Do I understand that he asked for more, after he had eaten the supper allotted by the dietary ?'
6. He did, sir,' replied Bumble.
6. That boy will be hung,' said the gentleman in the white waistcoat. I know that boy will be hung.'
Nobody controverted the prophetic gentleman's opinion. An animated discussion took place. Oliver was ordered into instant confinement; and a bill was next morning pasted on the outside of the gate, offering a reward of five pounds to anybody who would take Oliver Twist off the hands of the parish. In other words, five pounds and Oliver Twist were offered to any man or woman who wanted an apprentice to any trade, business, or calling.”