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with great authors. Their skill in statesmanship or war has had its effect, and is duly chronicled; but, after a time, we are more anxious to know what the general or statesman was like; what manner of man he was; than to read about his military glories or his cruel triumphs.
There will be few households that will not desire some portrait of Mr. Dickens; but, alas, how little can any portrait tell of such a man! His was one of those faces which require to be seen with the light of life. What portrait can do justness. to the frankness, kindness, and power of his eyes? They seemed to look through you, and yet only to take notice of what was best in you and most worthy of notice. And then his smile, which was most charming! And then his laughter not poor, thin, and ambiguous laughter, that is ashamed of itself, that moves one feature only of the face, but the largest and heartiest kind, irradiating his whole countenance, and compelling you to participate in his immense enjoyment of it.
He was both witty and humorous, a combination rarely met with ́; and both in making and appreciating fun - which we may perhaps define as a happy product of humor and geniality, upborne by animal spirits I never met his equal.
It need hardly be said that his powers of observation were almost unrivaled; and therein, though it is a strange observation to make, he used to remind me of those modern magicians whose wondrous skill has been attained by their being taught from their infancy to see more things in less time than any other men. Indeed, I have said to myself, when I have been with him, he sees and observes nine facts for any two that I see and observe.
As is generally the case with imaginative men, I believe that he lived a great deal with the creatures of his imagination, and that they surrounded him at all times. Such men live in two worlds, the actual and imaginative, and he lived intensely in both.
I am confirmed in this opinion by a reply he once made to me. I jestingly remarked to him that I was very superior to
him, as I had read my "Pickwick " and my "David Copperfield," whereas he only wrote them. To which he replied, that I did not know the pleasure he had received from what he had written; and added words which I do not recollect, but which impressed me at the time with the conviction that he lived a good deal with the people of his brain, and found them very amusing society.
He was of a commanding and organizing nature; a good man of business, frank, clear, decisive, imperative; a man to confide in and look up to as a leader, in the midst of any great peril.
This brings me to another part of his character which was very remarkable. He was one of the most precise and accurate men in the world; and he grudged no labor in his work. Those who have seen his MSS. well recollect what elaborate notes, and comments, and plans (some adopted, many rejected) went to form the basis of his works. To see those manuscripts would cure anybody of the idle and presumptuous notion that men of genius require no forethought or preparation for their greatest efforts, but that these are dashed by the aid of a mysterious something which is comprehended in the mysterious word "genius." It was one of Mr. Dickens's theories, and I believe a true one, that men differ in hardly anything so much as in their power of attention, and he certainly, whatever he did, attended to it with all his might.
Mr. Dickens was a very good listener, paying the greatest attention to the person who was speaking (that is, if he was saying anything worth attending to), and never interrupting, except perhaps by uttering, as if he approved of what was being said, the words, "surely, surely," which was a favorite expression of his.
He was very refined in his conversation, at least what I call "refined," for he was one of those persons in whose society one is comfortable from the certainty that they will never say anything which can shock other people, or hurt their feelings, be they ever so fastidious or sensitive.
I have hardly spoken enough of his punctilious accuracy.
As a curious instance of this, I may mention that where most men use figures, he would use words: for example, in his letters, writing the day of the month always in full. He had a horror of being misunderstood, and grudged no labor to be "understanded of the people."
His love of order and neatness was almost painful, Unpunctuality made him unhappy. I am afraid, though, some people would hardly have called him punctual, for he was so anxious to be in time that he was invariably before the time. The present writer has this same fault if fault it be, which was once the cause of a droll circumstance that occasioned some amusement to our friends. We were going to a railway station together. I planned to be a quarter of an hour before the time, and he, who had the final ordering of the carriage, and who had not a proper belief in my punctuality, added another quarter of an hour of his own; so that our conjoint punctualities brought us to the station a good half hour before the time. That time, however, that we spent together on that occasion, was well spent by me in listening to him as he discoursed upon the beautiful forms of clouds.
At home, and as a host, he was delightful. I think I have observed that he looked at all things and people dramatically. He assigned to all of us characters; and in his company we could not help playing our parts.
He had the largest toleration. I had not intended to say anything about his works; but I must do so now, as I see that they afford a singular instance of this toleration. Think of this precise, orderly, methodical man depicting so lovingly such a disorderly, fearless, reckless, unmethodical character as that of Dick Swiveller, and growing more enamored of it as he went on depicting! I rather think that in this he was superior to Walter Scott, for in almost all Scott's characters there appears one or the other, or both combined, of Scott's principal characteristics, namely, nobility of nature and shrewdness. Andrew Fairservice is comparatively ignoble ; but he is always shrewd. And, in fact, I think it may be maintained that one or other of these characteristics is visible in every one of Scott's characters.
Mr. Dickens's own kindness of nature is visible in most of his characters. He could not well get rid of that, as a general rule, by any force of fiction Still there are a few characters, such as that of Jonas Chuzzlewit, in which he has succeeded in denuding the character of any trait belonging to himself.
We doubt whether there has ever been a writer of fiction who took such a real and loving interest in the actual world about him. Its many sorrows, its terrible injustice, its sufferings, its calamities, went to his heart. Care for the living people about him—for his "neighbor," if I may so express it
sometimes even diminished his power as an artist; a diminution of power for which, considering the cause, we ought to love his memory all the more.
I have sometimes regretted, perhaps unwisely, that he did not take a larger part-or shall I say a more prominent part? — in public affairs. Not for our own sakes, but for his. Like all men who see social evils very strongly and clearly, and also their way to remedies (to be, as they think, swiftly applied), he did not give enough weight, I think, to the inevitable difficulties which must exist in a free State to prevent the rapid and complete adoption of these remedies. “Circumlocution" is everywhere in the Senate, at the bar, in the field, in ordinary business as well as in official life; and men of Mr. Dickens's temperament, full of ardor for the public good and somewhat despotic in their habits of thought, find it difficult to put up with the tiresome aberrations of a freedom which will not behave itself at once in a proper way, and set to work to provide immediate remedies for that which ought to be remedied. When you come close to any great man, you generally find that he has somewhat of a despotic nature in this respect.
There is a certain characteristic of the highest and best minds; and perhaps it tends, more than almost any other, to produce greatness of character. It is the habit of telling the truth to one's self. The world would be a much more happy place to live in, if its inhabitants would only adopt the habit of telling the truth occasionally to themselves. Now, this
habit will not make what is called a consistent character; but it will make, what is far more important, a truthful character. Everybody knows that Mr. Dickens was simple in his ways of living, in his tastes, in his ambition. Probably, in the inevitable imitation of a great man, there will, for some time, be a run upon simplicity of this kind. But there are many persons whom such simplicity does not suit, or become. Now, if Mr. Dickens had professed a love for what is not simple, if he had been devoted to what is grand, and gorgeous, and resounding, we should have known it, because he would have known it, and would have been the first person to have told himself of it, and would, to use an official phrase, have "governed himself accordingly." That exquisite sincerity of nature which produces such a result was most manifest in him. He was very dramatic in his imagination, and brought all that he saw and felt into a magic circle of dramatic creation. But he never dramatized himself to himself. Of course, Shakespeare perceived the full meaning aad depth of this great quality which I have endeavored to portray as belonging preëminently to Mr. Dickens. We feel that Shakespeare must have done so, when he says
"To thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man."
Mr. Dickens loved the poor. He understood them. He was wise enough to see how very needful recreation is for them; and I shall never forget the delight with which he described to me, giving it with all those details that were with him pure touches of art, an entertainment that he had provided for the neighboring poor in his own fields; and how he rejoiced in their orderliness and good behavior.
He ardently desired, and confidently looked forward to, a time when there would be more intimate union between the different classes in the State a union embracing alike the highest and the lowest.
It always seemed to me that he had a power of narration which was beyond anything even which his books drew forth. How