Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

whose inconsistency led him to despise the American nation for its toleration of slavery and yet sympathize with the South during its great conflict with the North. But Martin Chuzzlewit is more than a satire on American self-satisfaction and intolerance; it is a fine exposition of the evils of selfishness. The principal characters have an individuality that place them among the immortals of his creation: Pecksniff, Mark Tapley, Tom Pinch, and, above all, Mrs. Gamp are masterpieces of characterization.

David Copperfield. — Passing by the Christmas stories such as the Christmas Carol, The Chimes, The Cricket on the Hearth, The Battle of Life, The Haunted Man, and the Ghost's Bargain, short stories prepared at the Christmas season, and without discussing Dombey and Son, a story portraying the vice and folly of pride, we come to what may be considered the culmination of his art, his masterpiece, David Copperfield. Dickens himself was fond of this novel:

"Of all my books, I like this the best. It will be easily believed that I am a fond parent to every child of my fancy, and that no one can ever love that family as dearly as I love them. But like many fond parents, I have in my heart of hearts a favorite child — and his name is David Copperfield.

Every man has in his own life the material for one novel at least; in Dickens, through his power of observation, his imagination and art, there were many, but in no other do we have such an intimate revelation of his own life and personality as in David Copperfield, for David is Dickens himself. It is too much to say that the autobiographical revelation is the quality that has made this novel a general favorite, for the book was a favorite long before the public knew that David and Dickens were one. David Copperfield is a work of art, unequal and irregular, but possessing more coherence in the plot, less melodrama and straining after effect, than many of his compositions.

Here we have genuine humor and simple pathos, and the characters, various and distinct, have the verisimilitude of life. Mr. Swinburne thinks that in this novel the comic and the tragic genius of

[ocr errors]

Dickens “rose now and then to the very highest pitch of all.” The characters are unforgettable — thousands who have never read a line of Dickens have heard of the optimistic Micawber, that “type of genial impecuniosity” who is forever waiting for something to turn up. Uriah Heep still remains the type of fawning, obsequious hypocrisy. The artificiality of Rose Dartle and Steerforth is offset by the life-likeness of Miss Betsy Trotwood, that “fine old gnarled piece of womanhood," the boatman Peggotty, and Mr. Dick, while the idyllic love story of Dora and David, and the sweet character of Agnes, infuse a strain of idealism very acceptable to the English reader.

Later Novels. — Bleak House, introducing the Chancery suit of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, is a study of the influence of a Chancery suit upon its unfortunate victims, and aims to bring about reforms of those legal abuses which cause the law's delay. In Harold Skimpole, the epicurean, we have an alleged portrait of Leigh Hunt, a portrayal resented by the author of Abou Ben Adhem, and in the vehement Boythorn there is seen a resemblance to Landor. Hard Times, dedicated to Carlyle, was concluded in Household Words for August 12, 1854. It deals with economic and political conditions. 'Sullen socialism” is Macaulay's characterization of the teachings of the book, while Ruskin thought it "entirely right in main drift and purpose,” and that the book should be studied carefully by persons interested in social questions. Dickens is right in insisting that the world is not to be governed by the application of hard and fast economic laws, but he lacked the philosophic grasp of economic conditions to enable him to solve one of the greatest problems of the ages. Little Dorrit was finished in his new home of Gad's Hill Place, purchased in March, 1856. This novel, exhibiting the author's power as an analyst of human character, and bearing marks of a diminution of inventive skill, is a satire on officialism. The Edinburgh Review rebuked him for his ridicule of the “institutions of the country, the laws, the administration, in a word, the government under which we live." The Tale of Two Cities deals with London and Paris in 1793, the awful year of the

French Revolution. It is a story of passion, misery, heroism,

. love, and happiness, with dramatic episodes and pathetic incidents. It is unlike his other novels in its lack of humor to relieve the intensity of feeling and action. “In dignity and eloquence,” thinks Mr. Chesterton, “it almost stands alone among the books by Dickens.” In Great Expectations, the story told by Pip, we again have the old Dickens both in picturesqueness and in humor. Joe Gargery, the blacksmith, ranks with Peggotty in David Copperfield as a masterpiece of creation. Our Mutual Friend, the last novel fully completed by Dickens, was written under adverse circumstances which in spite of fine realistic descriptions of river-side life and some of his old time humor and satire cause the work to fall below his earlier compositions. This novel was published in 1865. Four years later Dickens was busily engaged in writing a new novel, the very title of which shows how far Dickens had traveled since the days of Pickwick, for The Mystery of Edwin Drood suggests a story in which the plot should play a large part.

large part. But before the mystery was solved the author himself had entered the great Mystery.

Public Readings.- In taking a rapid survey of his novels we have passed by important biographical details. One of the most important incidents is his second trip to the United States for the purpose of giving public readings, the trip lasting from the 9th of November, 1867, to the beginning of the following May. Since 1853 Dickens had been giving public readings from his writings in England, Scotland, and Ireland. He had histrionic ability and was an excellent reader. It is said that had he not been a great author he would have been a great actor. “His readings,” according to Mr. Kent, "were, in the fullest meaning of the words, singularly ingenious and highly elaborated histrionic performances.” He liked to meet his admiring public face to face, and spared no pains to give them the very best dramatic interpretation of the most intense episodes in his fiction. Even had he been a poor reader his popularity was such that he would have had immense audiences wherever he went. In America his

audiences, forgetting all that Dickens had said against the American people, gathered in such numbers that he returned home richer by $100,000, but somewhat broken down in health. It is estimated that by his readings both at home and abroad he made $225,000. Upon his return to England he continued to give these public readings. During 1869 he read frequently from Oliver Twist, selecting passages culminating in the murder of Nancy. So thoroughly did he enter into the spirit of this dramatic episode that the excitement attending the emotional interpretation undoubtedly shortened his life.

The End. - He died on June 9, 1870, and was buried in Westminster Abbey, while the English-speaking world mourned the loss of its most popular novelist.

“So there he lies among his peers in the Southern Transept (writes Mr. Marzials). Close beside him sleep Dr. Johnson, the puissant literary autocrat of his own time; and Garrick, who was that time's greatest actor; and Handel, who may fittingly claim to have been one of the mightiest musicians of all time. There sleeps, too, after the fitful fever of his troubled life, the witty, the eloquent Sheridan. In close proximity rests Macaulay, the artist-historian and essayist. Within the radius of a few miles lies all that will ever die of Chaucer, who five hundred years ago sounded the spring note of English literature, and gave to all aftertime the best, brightest glimpse into mediaeval England; and all that is mortal of Spenser of the honey'd verse; and of Beaumont, who had caught an echo of Shakspere's sweetness if not his power; and of sturdy Ben Jonson, held in his own day a not unworthy rival of Shakspere's self; and of 'glorious' and most masculine John Dryden. From his monument Shakspere looks upon the place with his kindly eyes, and Addison too, and Goldsmith; and one can almost imagine a smile of fellowship upon the marble faces of those later dead - Burns, Coleridge, Southey, and Thackeray."

[ocr errors]

Personal Characteristics. — Carlyle's description of

the youthful Boz has already been quoted. In addition it may be added that later in life he had a brown moustache, a bushy brown

a beard, a complexion which Mrs. Carlyle thought metallic and like to clear steel; his eyes were active, darting hither and thither “like brilliant birds to pick up all the tiny things of which he made more, perhaps, than any other novelist has done"; the

mouth was large. A French painter remarked that "he was more like one of the old Dutch admirals we see in the picture galleries than a man of letters.” In dress he was somewhat of a dandy, enjoying velvet coats, waistcoats that have been likened to incredible sunsets, and expansive white hats. He liked to be noticed, and that is why he took much pleasure in his public readings. The relish with which he describes the many convivial scenes in his books might lead one to the opinion that he himself was somewhat of a gourmet; but he was abstemious rather than epicurean.

The same exuberant vitality that fills the pages of his novels filled his life. He was sensitive, active, restless. Though fond of home and knowing that he needed the inspiration of the familiar London streets to do his best work, he rushed, in addition to his American trips, again and again, to Paris, Switzerland, and Italy. At home or abroad, both in his youth and maturity, he was an unwearied walker. He thought nothing of a walk of twenty or thirty miles, a practice resulting in his wonderful intimacy with the street life of London. He liked especially to roam about at night. “Put me down on Waterloo Bridge,” he writes from Genoa to Forster, “at eight o'clock in the evening with leave to roam about as long as I like, and I would come home, as you know, panting to go on.”

His Humanity. He is a satirist, a humorist, and a caricaturist, and as such makes us laugh as he holds up to our view the foibles of our fellowmen. But he is much more than these - he is a lover of mankind. He is far removed from that pessimist who the more he saw of man, the more highly he thought of dogs. With a childhood that had experienced the bitterness of poverty, with first-hand information concerning the vice and degradation of the scum of the streets, Dickens maintains an optimism that puzzles the academic critic whose pessimism is the outcome of over-development of the intellect with under-development of the body. Although he may be lacking in a broad, comprehensive view of society, he is almost invariably on the side of righteousness and justice. Washington Irving once wrote to Dickens of

« AnteriorContinuar »