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and of giving interest and dignity to fiction by making it turn on the progress of great historical movements.
Scott's Example.—Since Scott's day many novelists— Dickens, Thackeray, Charles Kingsley, and George Eliot, have made attempts in the historical field. Bulwer Lytton's Last Days of Pompeii is the best known of his many volumes. In The Cloister and the Hearth by Charles Reade, we have the author's masterpiece, and one of the best historical novels since Scott. This vogue of the historical novel must be attributed in large part to Scott's example.
In general, however, the romantic temper, which first commended historical material to the novelist, gave place, after Scott's death, to a different mood. Scott's romantic pictures of the feudal past were flattering to a people struggling, as they thought, to preserve the relics of that past from the engulfing revolution. But after the immediate effect of the Napoleonic wars had passed away, new ideas began to make progress in England, broadening the current of English thought and life. The rapidity of social changes beginning with the Reform Bill of 1832, served to draw men's attention to the life of their own time. And while the taste for the new and the startling in literature still persisted, it was satisfied chiefly, as in Defoe's time, by the presentation of the exciting aspects of present-day society. Of these tendencies the best examples are to be found in the works of Edward Bulwer Lytton (1803-1873), Charles Reade (1814-1884), and Charles Dickens.
IV. CHARLES DICKENS (1812-1870)
Dickens's Life.—Charles Dickens was born at Portsea, where his father was a navy clerk in poor circumstances. The family moved to Chatham, and thence to London, where the elder Dickens was arrested for debt, his family accompanying him to the Marshalsea Prison. His son, a boy of ten years, was thought old enough to contribute his mite toward the parents' necessities, and was accordingly put at work in a blacking warehouse, sleeping beneath a counter, and spending his Sundays—his few hours of brightness in these wretched weeks—in the prison with his family. When matters improved a little, Charles Dickens was given a few years of school before he was obliged to take up again the part of bread-winner, first as a lawyer's clerk, and then as a reporter. His education remained deficient, but he brought from these years of desperate struggle with life a character of wonderful energy and resolution, a wide knowledge of the under world, and a deep sympathy with its inhabitants— all of which played a part in his subsequent career.
It was while Dickens, then about twenty, was a reporter that he began to write sketches of London life for the newspapers. These were collected in 1836 as Sketches by Boz, and from this time forth Dickens's fortune was changed. He became editor of magazines, and, for a time, of a great London newspaper; he travelled widely in Europe and America; he took up public questions and attacked social wrongs. And without any intermission he gave to the public that famous series of novels in which the humors of English life were displayed so abundantly, and the cause of the suffering pleaded so eloquently. Before he was thirty he was a great writer; and before he was forty, a notable public man. No writer in English ever gathered with a fuller hand the rewards of the literary calling. It is true, other writers have made more money, or have won peerages; but none has had in his lifetime so wide and intensely loyal a personal following; none has had, in addition to money, friends, and fame, the peculiar tribute which came to Dickens from vast audiences gathered together, not once or twice, but hundreds of times, in scores of cities, to testify by "roaring seas of applause" to his personal triumph. In middle life Dickens began to give semi-dramatic public readings from his works, and these grew to be his chief interest. The strain and excitement wore him out. It is a circumstance as tragic in its way as that which shadows the close of Scott's life, that this personal triumph was the direct cause of Dickens's death in 1870.
Dickens's Relation to the Public.—Dickens's peculiar success calls attention to the prime fact in his authorship, his nearness to his public. He began his career as a reporter, in the profession which is most immediately of the people. But though necessity made him a journalist, he wished to be an actor. As a young man he tried to get a position at Covent Garden Theatre. For years he was the leading spirit in a famous company of amateurs who played in various cities of England; and, as we have seen, his chief interest came to be his public readings. These two professional instincts account for much in Dickens's work. As reporter and as editor he studied his public; as actor, he taught himself to play upon it, through his writings and his dramatic readings from them, with incomparable skill.
Dickens's Characters.—From Dickens's success in Sketches by Boz came, in 1836, an engagement to write the letterpress for a series of cartoons representing the humors of sporting life. For this purpose he invented the "Pickwick Club," which at once made a popular hit. The death of the artist who was engaged upon the drawings left Dickens free to widen the scope of the adventures of the club, and to add other characters without stint. The complete result was a great book, formless as to plot, crowded with humorous figures. These figures are given with broadly exaggerated traits, as if Dickens had always in mind the cartoon which was to accompany the text. The characters talk freely, not to say inexhaustibly, and all differently. But the author's chief resource is his faculty for bringing his caricatures into contact with the actual world, in situations that expose their oddities in high relief. Mr. Tupman as a lover, Mr. Winkle as a duellist or a sportsman, Mr. Pickwick in a breach-of-promise suit with the Widow Bardell, the Pickwick Club contending with a recalcitrant horse, the Reverend Mr. Stiggins drunk at a temperance meeting—these incongruities are narrated in a style always copious, but often rapid and piquant.
In his later novels Dickens improved on his first attempts. He continued to be a caricaturist, to rely on distortions and exaggerations of feature or of manner, but his pencil became more subtle and his figures more significant. Micawber "waiting for something to turn up," Sairy Gamp haunted by the mythical Mrs. Harris, 'umble Uriah Heep, sanctimonious Pecksniff, cheerful Mark Tapley, all have distinct individ-
uality, yet all label so conveniently common attitudes and habits of mind that we use their names freely to describe whole classes of mankind.
In Pickwick Dickens is purely a humorist; in the novels which followed he created figures of a different sort, to excite not laughter, but loathing and terror. In the portrayal of these types also he gained subtlety with practice. Fagin and Sykes in Oliver Twist (1838), Quilp, the dwarf, in Old Curiosity Shop (1841), monstrous as they are, do not haunt the reader with the terrible suggestion of inhumanity that lurks behind the placid, smiling face of Mme. Defarge in A Tale of Two Cities (1859), as she sits in front of the guillotine, knitting, and counting the heads as they fall. In the stories just mentioned Dickens showed again his fertility in inventing situations for his characters, using his dramatic power as freely in melodrama as in farce. The part of Fagin at his trial and in prison is worked out as if for the stage, by an actor careful to make every gesture, every expression, tell on his audience.
His Purpose.—A third type of character which Dickens developed, and which in his time made immensely for his popularity, was the victim of society—usually a child. In his second novel, Dickens made his story centre about a child, Oliver Twist, and from that time forth children were expected and necessary characters in his novels. Little Nell, Florence Dombey, David Copperfield, represent in most telling form the case of the individual against society. For with Dickens the private cruelty which his malign characters inflict, is almost always connected with social wrong. Bumble's savage blow at Oliver Twist asking for more food, Little Dorrit's life in the Marshalsea, are carried back and laid at the door of a society which permitted the poor-house and the debtor's prison to exist. The championship of the individual against institutions, which had been a leading motive in later eighteenth-century fiction, had been checked by the reaction against the French Revolution; but in Dickens's day the "redress of wrongs" had become again a great public movement. The workings of later romanticism had begun to be reflected in a kind of sentimental hatred of organized