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By this admirable standpoint for his observation of humanity which he had adopted, Dickens had come to regard all men and women so thoroughly and exclusively on account of their moral, intellectual, and spiritual worth, that he was at home with all kinds of society, in the highest and the humblest walks. So that it is easy to picture him standing in a drawingroom at Windsor Castle, one arm just resting upon the sofa, and talking in his quiet earnest manner to the first lady in the land. There would not be the least shadow of nervousness in him; so great was the command which his trained brain and heart had given him, in the presence of humanity of every degree, under every conceivable circumstance, - by the throne, or facing thousands of his countrymen, who loved him, one and all, so well.
"The best of men
That e'er wore earth about him was a sufferer;
The "soft, meek, patient, humble, tranquil spirit," how often has Dickens painted! - the Christian gentleman, if not Poole's; the modest, high-souled gentlewoman, a lady, if not Worth's! He inclined to the Biblia Pauperum, and was delighted to catch heavy thumbs turning over the holy pictures. But he turned no sour face upon the well-to-do. Of the foibles and pretenses of these, he was an unsparing critic; but he was as unsparing when he had the vices of the ignorant and the poor to deal with. He was pre-Raphaelite in his allegiance and constancy to nature; but his eye loved the beautiful, and his spirit leaned to all that was valiant, noble, and holy in the human heart. If he took his heroes amid the lower or middle ranks of life, it was because here the picturesque in these won the artist's eye; and if he drew the good that was in the scenes he analyzed, rather than the bad, it was because he delighted in finding it under the most unpromising circumstances, and in showing, to quote a line from my father,
Dick Swiveller. In Great Expectations we have that wonderful character, Wemmick, and his well-conceived employer, the Old Bailey attorney. We need not add to the list."
"there is goodness, like wild honey, hived in strange nooks and corners of the world."
But I am not presuming to elaborate a literary estimate of Charles Dickens. The time is not now, if indeed it can ever be, necessary; for the popularity of his prodigious and glorious work has been, is, and will be universal. People tell you that Mrs. Gamp will not do, in French, as Madame Gamp, and that his fiction will not bear transplanting: but the transplanting steadily goes on nevertheless, and every day shows us how far the range of human sympathy stretches, when the name of Dickens wakes it. Papers in any tongue that has a printing-press have echoed the lamentations of our own over him whom Mr. Chorley has called "one of the greatest and most beneficent men of genius England has produced since the days of Shakspeare."
After writing the page on which Dickens as a painter of gentlefolk was handled, I saw the tearful, eloquent record which Mr. Chorley, who knew his subject so well, printed in "The Athenæum." I was delighted to find my view supported by so sound an authority and so intimate a friend. Mr. Chorley says: "It has been said that he could not draw gentlemen and ladies (as footmen understand the designation). This is false. The characters of Sir Leicester Dedlock in 'Bleak House,' that of Mrs. Steerforth in 'David Copperfield,' and fifty indications more, may be cited in disproof. That he found greater pleasure in selecting and marking out figures where the traits were less smoothed, or effaced by the varnish of polite society, than in picturing those of a world where the expression of individual characters becomes less marked, is true. To each man his own field. An essay could be recalled, written to prove that Scott was a miserable creature, because his imagination delighted in the legends and traditions of feudal times, with their Lords and their retainers. And yet Scott gave us the fisher-folk in 'The Antiquary,' and Jeannie Deans. But though, as a man of the people,' Dickens loved to draw the people in all their varieties and humor and incomplete ambitions; and though he was by nature and
experience a shrewd redresser of abuses, - tracing them back to their primal causes, he was in no respect the destroyer it was for a while the whim of fools of quality and the faded people who hang on their skirts, to consider him. One who redresses grievances is not, therefore, an overthrower of thrones. The life and work of Dickens expressed a living prótest against Disorder, no matter what the Order."
And in another place Mr. Chorley bears witness to that love of completeness, as well as of order, I have touched upon : "Those who were permitted to know Charles Dickens in the intimacy of his own home cannot, without such emotion as almost incapacitates the heart and hand, recall the charm of his bounteous and genial hospitality. Nothing can be conceived more perfect in tact, more freely equal, whatever the rank of his guests, than was his warm welcome. The frank grasp of his hand, the bright smile on his manly face, the cheery greeting, are things not to be forgotten while life and reason last, by those who were privileged to share them. Thus, his exquisite knowledge and punctuality gave him time, even when most busily at work for himself and others, to care for and to consider the pleasure of all whom he harbored beneath his roof.”
Signs of the end, and that he knew the end was at hand, were revealed day by day, immediately after his death; and they are so many marks of the love of order that was a ruling passion in Dickens throughout his life. Death could not catch Charles Dickens unprepared, in any sense. That he had misgivings, warnings, we cannot doubt; and these led him to prepare for the change. Only a few days before his death, he transferred the property of "All the Year Round" to his eldest son, and formally resigned its editorship. On the very day on which he died he was to have met his stanch and affectionate friend and fellow-worker, W. H. Wills, to make a final settlement of accounts. He wrote to his "ever-affectionately" Charles Kent: "To-morrow is a very bad day for me to make a call, as, in addition to my usual office business, I have a mass of accounts to settle; but I hope to be with you
at three o'clock. If I can't be, why then I shan't be." letter was written an hour or two before he lay insensible, his light forever quenched, in the dining-room of Gad's Hill Place.)—"You must really get rid of those opal enjoyments. They are too overpowering.
'These violent delights have violent ends.'
I think it was a father of your church who made this wise remark to a young gentleman who got up early (or strayed out late) at Verona ? ”
The "opal enjoyments " refer to the early sky, and the whole is pleasant banter on the vehement devotion of his friend (the distinguished poet) to his work as editor of "The Sun."
I had met Dickens about the middle of May, at Charing Cross, and had remarked that he had aged very much in appearance. The thought-lines of his face had deepened, and the hair had whitened. Indeed, as he approached me, I thought for a moment I was mistaken, and that it could not be Dickens; for that was not the vigorous, rapid walk, with the stick lightly held in the alert hand, which had always belonged to him. It was he, however; but with a certain solemnity of expression in the face, and a deeper earnestness in the dark eyes. However, when he saw me and shook my hand, the delightful brightness and sunshine swept over the gloom and sadness, and he spoke buoyantly, in the old kind way, not in the least about himself, but about my doings, about Doré, about London as a subject (which I and my friend had just resolved to write upon together), - about all that could interest me, and which occurred to him at the moment. And he wrung my hand again as we parted; and the cast of serious thought settled again upon the handsome face, when he turned, wearily, I thought for him, toward the Abbey.
That within a month he would be resting there forever, buried under flowers cast by loving hands, and that the whole civilized world would be lamenting the loss of the great and good Englishman, I never for one moment dreamed. But I thought sadly of him, I remember, after we had parted. Nor
was I alone in this. He was walking with a dear friend of his a few weeks ago, when this one said, speaking of "Edwin Drood, "
Well, you, or we, are approaching the mystery
Dickens, who had been and was at the moment, all vivacity, extinguished his gayety, and fell into a long and silent reverie, from which he never broke during the remainder of the walk. Was he pondering another and a deeper mystery than any his brain could unravel, facile as its mastery was over the hearts and brains of his brethren?
We can never know.
It is certain, however, that the railway accident on the 9th of June, 1865, in which Dickens so nearly lost his life, made an ineradicable impression on him; and that, when he referred to it, he would get up and describe it with extraordinary energy. He closed his last completed work with a reference to it: "I remember with devout thankfulness that I can never be much nearer parting company with my readers forever than I was then, until there shall be written against my life the two words with which I have this day closed this book, THE END."
Too soon, for the country that loved him and was so proud of him, were those two words written; and they were written on the 9th of June 1870!
SIR ARTHUR HELPS ON DICKENS.
When a great man departs from us, what we desire to know about him is not so much what he did, as what he was.
Volumes of criticism might be written upon the characters which Mr. Dickens has drawn for us, for they are persons with whom we have lived, and, as regards the reality of whose existence, even the most incredulous and unimaginative people refuse to entertain any historic doubts. But though these creatures of his brain tell us much about a man, they do not tell us all that we want to know, or even that which we crave to know most about him.
It is the same with great generals and great statesmen as