"I hope for the enlargement of my mind, and for the improvement of my understanding. If I have done but little good, I trust I have done less harm, and that none of my adventures will be other than a source of amusing and pleasant recollection. God bless you all!"—Pickwick
The path of progress in certain problems seems barred as by a flaming sword.
More than a thousand years before Christ, an Arab chief asked, "If a man die shall he live again?" Every man who ever lived has asked the same question, but we know no more today about the subject than did Job.
There are one hundred five boy babies born to every one hundred girls. The law holds in every land where vital statistics have been kept; and Sairey Gamp knew just as much about the cause why as Brown-Sequard, Pasteur, Agnew or Austin Flint.
There is still a third question that every parent, since Adam and Eve, has sought to solve: "How can I educate this child so that he will attain eminence?" And even in spite of shelves that groan beneath tomes and tomes, and advice from a million preachers, the answer is: Nobody knows.
"There is a divinity that shapes our ends, Rough-hew them how we will."
Moses was sent adrift, but the tide carried him into power. The brethren of Joseph "deposited him into a cavity," but you can not dispose of genius that way!
Demosthenes was weighted (or blessed) with every disadvantage; Shakespeare got into difficulty with a woman eight years his senior, stole deer, ran away, and—became the very first among English poets; Erasmus was a foundling.
Once there was a woman by the name of Nancy Hanks; she was thin-breasted, gaunt, yellow and sad. At last, living in poverty, overworked, she was stricken by death. She called her son—homely as herself—and pointing to the lad's sister said, "Be good to her, Abe," and died—died, having no expectation for her boy beyond the hope that he might prosper in worldly affairs so as to care for himself and his sister. The boy became a man who wielded wisely a power mightier than that ever given to any other American. Seven college-bred men composed his cabinet; and Proctor Knott once said that "if a teeter were evenly balanced, and the members of the cabinet were all placed on one end, and the President on the other, he would send the seven wise men flying into space."
On the other hand, Marcus Aurelius wrote his "Meditations" for a son who did not read them, and whose name is a symbol of profligacy; Charles Kingsley penned "Greek Heroes" for offspring who have never shown their father's heroism; and Charles Dickens wrote "A Child's History of England" for his children—none of whom has proven his proficiency in historiology.
Charles Dickens himself received his education at the University of Hard Knocks. Very early in life he was cast upon the rocks and suckled by the she-wolf. Yet he became the most popular author the world has ever known, and up to the present time no writer of books has approached him in point of number of readers and of financial returns. These are facts—facts so hard and true that they would be the delight of Mr. Gradgrind.
At twelve years of age, Charles Dickens was pasting labels on blacking-boxes; his father was in prison. At sixteen, he was spending odd hours in the reading-room of the British Museum. At nineteen, he was Parliamentary reporter; at twenty-one, a writer of sketches; at twenty-three, he was getting a salary of thirty-five dollars a week, and the next year his pay was doubled. When twenty-five, he wrote a play that ran for seventy nights at Drury Lane Theater. About the same time he received seven hundred dollars for a series of sketches written in two weeks. At twenty-six, publishers were at his feet.
When Dickens was at the flood-tide of prosperity, Thackeray, one year his senior, waited on his doorstep with pictures to illustrate "Pickwick."
He worked steadily, and made from eight to twenty-five thousand dollars a year. His fame increased, and the "New York Ledger" paid him ten thousand dollars for one story which he wrote in a fortnight. His collected works fill forty volumes. There are more of Dickens' books sold every year now than in any year in which he lived. There were more of Dickens' books sold last year than any previous year.
"I am glad that the public buy his books," said Macready; "for if they did not he would take to the stage and eclipse us all."
"Not So Bad As We Seem," by Bulwer-Lytton, was played at Devonshire House in the presence of the Queen, Dickens taking the principal part. He gave theatrical performances in London, Liverpool and Manchester, for the benefit of Leigh Hunt, Sheridan Knowles and various other needy authors and actors. He wrote a dozen plays, and twice as many more have been constructed from his plots.
He gave public readings through England, Scotland and Ireland, where the people fought for seats. The average receipts for these entertainments were eight hundred dollars per night.
In Eighteen Hundred Sixty-three, he made a six months' tour of the United States, giving a series of readings. The prices of admission were placed at extravagant figures, but the box-office was always besieged until the ticket-seller put out his lights and hung out a sign: "The standing-room is all taken."
The gross receipts of these readings were two hundred twenty-nine thousand dollars; the expenses thirty-nine thousand dollars; net profit, one hundred ninety thousand dollars.
Charles Dickens died of brain-rupture in Eighteen Hundred Seventy, aged fifty-eight. His dust rests in Westminster Abbey.
"To know the London of Dickens is a liberal education," once said James T. Fields, who was affectionately referred to by Charles Dickens as "Massachusetts Jemmy." And I am aware of no better way to become acquainted with the greatest city in the world than to follow the winding footsteps of the author of "David Copperfield."
Beginning his London life when ten years of age, he shifted from one lodging to another, zigzag, tacking back and forth from place to place, but all the time making head, and finally dwelling in palaces of which nobility might be proud. It took him forty-eight years to travel from the squalor of Camden Town to Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey.
He lodged first in Bayham Street. "A washerwoman lived next door, and a Bow Street officer over the way." It was a shabby district, chosen by the elder Dickens because the rent was low. As he neglected to pay the rent, one wonders why he did not take quarters in Piccadilly.
I looked in vain for a sign reading, "Washin dun Heer," but I found a Bow Street orf'cer who told me that Bayham Street had long since disappeared.
Yet there is always a recompense in prowling about London, because if you do not find the thing you are looking for, you find something else equally interesting. My Bow Street friend proved to be a regular magazine of rare and useful information—historical, archeological and biographical.
A Lunnun Bobby has his clothes cut after a pattern a hundred years old, and he always carries his gloves in his hand—never wearing them—because this was a habit of William the Conqueror.
But never mind; he is intelligent, courteous and obliging, and I am perfectly willing that he should wear skirts like a ballet-dancer and a helmet too small, if it is his humor.
My perliceman knew an older orf'cer who was acquainted with Mr. Dickens. Mr. Dickens 'ad a full perliceman's suit 'imself, issued to 'im on an order from Scotland Yard, and he used to do patrol duty at night, carrying 'is bloomin' gloves in 'is 'and and 'is chinstrap in place. This was told me by my new-found friend, who volunteered to show me the way to North Gower Street.
It's only Gower Street now and the houses have been renumbered, so Number Four is a matter of conjecture; but my guide showed me a door where were the marks of a full-grown plate that evidently had long since disappeared. Some days afterward I found this identical brass plate at an old bookshop in Cheapside. The plate read: "Mrs. Dickens' Establishment." The man who kept the place advertised himself as a "Bibliopole." He offered to sell me the plate for one pun ten; but I did not purchase, for I knew where I could get its mate with a deal more verdigris—all for six and eight.
Dickens has recorded that he can not recollect of any pupils coming to the Establishment. But he remembers when his father was taken, like Mr. Dorrit, to the Debtors' Prison. He was lodged in the top story but one, in the very same room where his son afterwards put the Dorrits. It's a queer thing to know that a book-writer can imprison folks without a warrant and even kill them and yet go unpunished—which thought was suggested to me by my philosophic guide.
From this house in Gower Street, Charles used to go daily to the Marshalsea to visit Micawber, who not so many years later was to act as the proud amanuensis of his son.
The next morning after I first met Bobby he was off duty. I met him by appointment at the Three Jolly Beggars (a place pernicious snug). He was dressed in a fashionable, light-colored suit, the coat a trifle short, and a high silk hat. His large, red neckscarf—set off by his bright, brick-dust complexion—caused me to mistake him at first for a friend of mine who drives a Holborn bus.
Mr. 'Awkins (for it was he) greeted me cordially, pulled gently at his neck-whiskers, and, when he addressed me as Me Lud, the barmaid served us with much alacrity and things.
We went first to the church of Saint George; then we found Angel Court leading to Bermondsey, also Marshalsea Place. Here is the site of the prison, where the crowded ghosts of misery still hover; but small trace could we find of the prison itself, neither did we see the ghosts. We, however, saw a very pretty barmaid at the public in Angel Court. I think she is still prettier than the one to whom Bobby introduced me at the Sign of the Meat-Axe, which is saying a good deal. Angel Court is rightly named.
The blacking-warehouse at Old Hungerford Stairs, Strand, in which Charles Dickens was shown by Bob Fagin how to tie up the pots of paste, has rotted down and been carted away. The coal-barges in the muddy river are still there, just as they were when Charles, Poll Green and Bob Fagin played on them during the dinner-hour. I saw Bob and several other boys, grimy with blacking, chasing each other across the flatboats, but Dickens was not there.
Down the river aways there is a crazy, old warehouse with a rotten wharf of its own, abutting on the water when the tide is in, and on the mud when the tide is out—the whole place literally overrun with rats that scuffle and squeal on the moldy stairs. I asked Bobby if it could not be that this was the blacking-factory; but he said, No, for this one allus wuz.
Dickens found lodgings in Lant Street while his father was awaiting in the Marshalsea for something to turn up. Bob Sawyer afterward had the same quarters. When Sawyer invited Mr. Pickwick "and the other chaps" to dine with him, he failed to give his number, so we can not locate the house. But I found the street and saw a big, wooden Pickwick on wheels standing as a sign for a tobacco-shop. The old gentleman who runs the place, and runs the sign in every night, assured me that Bob Sawyer's room was the first floor back. I looked in at it, but seeing no one there whom I knew, I bought tuppence worth of pigtail in lieu of fee, and came away.
If a man wished to abstract himself from the world, to remove himself from temptation, to place himself beyond the possibility of desire to look out of the window, he should live in Lant Street, said a great novelist. David Copperfield lodged here when he ordered that glass of Genuine Stunning Ale at the Red Lion and excited the sympathy of the landlord, winning a motherly kiss from his wife.
The Red Lion still crouches (under another name) at the corner of Derby and Parliament Streets, Westminster. I daydreamed there for an hour one morning, pretending the while to read a newspaper. I can not, however, recommend their ale as particularly stunning.
As there are authors of one book, so are there readers of one author—more than we wist. Children want the same bear story over and over, preferring it to a new one; so "grown-ups" often prefer the dog-eared book to uncut leaves.
Mr. Hawkins preferred the dog-eared, and at the station-house, where many times he had long hours to wait in anticipation of a hurry-up call, he whiled away the time by browsing in his Dickens. He knew no other author, neither did he wish to. His epidermis was soaked with Dickensology, and when inspired by gin and bitters he emitted information at every pore. To him all these bodiless beings of Dickens' brain were living creatures. An anachronism was nothing to Hawkins. Charley Bates was still at large, Quilp was just around the corner, and Gaffer Hexam's boat was moored in the muddy river below.
Dickens used to haunt the publics, those curious resting-places where all sorts and conditions of thirsty philosophers meet to discuss all sorts of themes. My guide took me to many of these inns which the great novelist frequented, and we always had one legend with every drink. After we had called at three or four different snuggeries, Hawkins would begin to shake out the facts.
Now, it is not generally known that the so-called stories of Dickens are simply records of historic events, like What-do-you-call-um's plays! F'r instance, Dombey and Son was a well-known firm, who carried over into a joint stock company only a few years ago. The concern is now known as The Dombey Trading Company; they occupy the same quarters that were used by their illustrious predecessors.
I signified a desire to see the counting-house so minutely described by Dickens, and Mr. Hawkins agreed to pilot me thither on our way to Tavistock Square. We twisted down to the first turning, then up three, then straight ahead to the first right-hand turn, where we cut to the left until we came to a stuffed dog, which is the sign of a glover. Just beyond this my guide plucked me by the sleeve; we halted, and he silently and solemnly pointed across the street. Sure enough! There it was, the warehouse with a great stretch of dirty windows in front, through which we could see dozens of clerks bending over ledgers, just as though Mr. Dombey were momentarily expected. Over the door was a gilt sign, "The Bombay Trading Co."
Bobby explained that it was all the same.
I did not care to go in; but at my request Hawkins entered and asked for Mister Carker, the Junior, but no one knew him.
Then we dropped in at The Silver Shark, a little inn about the size of a large dustbin of two compartments and a sifter. Here we rested a bit, as we had walked a long way.
The barmaid who waited upon us was in curl-papers, but she was even then as pretty if not prettier than the barmaid at the public in Angel Court, and that is saying a good deal. She was about as tall as Trilby or as Ellen Terry, which is a very nice height, I think.
As we rested, Mr. Hawkins told the barmaid and me how Rogue Riderhood came to this very public, through that same doorway, just after he had his Alfred David took down by the Governors Both. He was a slouching dog, was the Rogue. He wore an old, sodden fur cap, Winter and Summer, formless and mangy; it looked like a drowned cat. His hands were always in his pockets up to his elbows, when they were not reaching for something, and when he was out after game his walk was a half-shuffle and run.
Hawkins saw him starting off this way one night and followed him—knowing there was mischief on hand—followed him for two hours through the fog and rain. It was midnight and the last stroke of the bells that tolled the hour had ceased, and their echo was dying away, when all at once——
But the story is too long to relate here. It is so long that when Mr. Hawkins had finished it was too late to reach Tavistock Square before dark. Mr. Hawkins explained that as bats and owls and rats come out only when the sun has disappeared, so there are other things that can be seen best by night. And as he did not go on until the next day at one, he proposed that we should go down to The Cheshire Cheese and get a bite of summat and then sally forth.
So we hailed a bus and climbed to the top.
"She rolls like a scow in the wake of a liner," said Bobby, as we tumbled into seats. When the bus man came up the little winding ladder and jingled his punch, Hawkins paid our fares with a heavy wink, and the guard said, "Thank you, sir," and passed on.
We got off at The Cheese and settled ourselves comfortably in a corner.
The same seats are there, running along the wall, where Doctor Johnson, "Goldy" and Boswell so often sat and waked the echoes with their laughter. We had chops and tomato-sauce in recollection of Jingle and Trotter. The chops were of that delicious kind unknown outside of England. I supplied the legend this time, for my messmate had never heard of Boswell.
Hawkins introduced me to "the cove in the white apron" who waited upon us, and then explained that I was the man who wrote "Martin Chuzzlewit."
He kissed his hand to the elderly woman who presided behind the nickel-plated American cash-register. The only thing that rang false about the place was that register, perked up there spick-span new. Hawkins insisted that it was a typewriter, and as we passed out he took a handful of matches (thinking them toothpicks) and asked the cashier to play a tune on the thingumabob, but she declined.
We made our way to London Bridge as the night was settling down. No stars came out, but flickering, fluttering gaslights appeared, and around each post was a great, gray, fluffy aureole of mist. Just at the entrance to the bridge we saw Nancy dogged by Noah Claypole. They turned down towards Billingsgate Fish-Market, and as the fog swallowed them, Hawkins answered my question as to the language used at Billingsgate.
"It's not so bloomin' bad, you know; why, I'll take you to a market in Islington where they talk twice as vile."
He started to go into technicalities, but I excused him.
Then he leaned over the parapet and spat down at a rowboat that was passing below. As the boat moved out into the glimmering light we made out Lizzie Hexam at the oars, while Gaffer sat in the stern on the lookout.
The Marchioness went by as we stood there, a bit of tattered shawl over her frowsy head, one stocking down around her shoetop. She had a penny loaf under her arm, and was breaking off bits, eating as she went.
Soon came Snagsby, then Mr. Vincent Crummels, Mr. Sleary, the horseback-rider, followed by Chops, the dwarf, and Pickleson, the giant. Hawkins said there were two Picklesons, but I saw only one. Just below was the Stone pier and there stood Mrs. Gamp, and I heard her ask:
"And which of all them smoking monsters is the Anxworks boat, I wonder? Goodness me!"
"Which boat do you want?" asked Ruth.
"The Anxworks package—I will not deceive you, Sweet; why should I?"
"Why, that is the Antwerp packet, in the middle," said Ruth.
"And I wish it was in Jonidge's belly, I do," cried Mrs. Gamp.
We came down from the bridge, moved over toward Billingsgate, past the Custom-House, where curious old sea-captains wait for ships that never come. Captain Cuttle lifted his hook to the brim of his glazed hat as we passed. We returned the salute and moved on toward the Tower.
"It's a rum place; let's not stop," said Hawkins. Thoughts of the ghosts of Raleigh, of Mary Queen of Scots and of Lady Jane Grey seemed to steady his gait and to hasten his footsteps.
In a few moments we saw just ahead of us David Copperfield and Mr. Peggotty following a woman whom we could make out walking excitedly a block ahead. It was Martha, intent on suicide.
"We'll get to the dock first and 'ead 'er orf," said 'Awkins. We ran down a side street. But a bright light in a little brick cottage caught our attention—men can't run arm in arm anyway. We forgot our errand of mercy and stood still with open mouths looking in at the window at little Jenny Wren hard at work dressing her dolls and stopping now and then to stab the air with her needle. Bradley Headstone and Charlie and Lizzie Hexam came in, and we then passed on, not wishing to attract attention.
There was an old smoke-stained tree on the corner which I felt sorry for, as I do for every city tree. Just beyond was a blacksmith's forge and a timber-yard behind, where a dealer in old iron had a shop, in front of which was a rusty boiler and a gigantic flywheel half buried in the sand.
There were no crowds to be seen now, but we walked on and on—generally in the middle of the narrow streets, turning up or down or across, through arches where tramps slept, by doorways where children crouched; passing drunken men, and women with shawls over their heads.
Now and again the screech of a fiddle could be heard or the lazy music of an accordion, coming from some "Sailors' Home." Steps of dancing with rattle of iron-shod boot-heels clicking over sanded floors, the hoarse shout of the "caller-off," and now and again angry tones with cracked feminine falsettos broke on the air; and all the time the soft rain fell and the steam seemed to rise from the sewage-laden streets.
We were in Stepney, that curious parish so minutely described by Walter Besant in "All Sorts and Conditions of Men"—the parish where all children born at sea were considered to belong. We saw Brig Place, where Walter Gay visited Captain Cuttle. Then we went with Pip in search of Mrs. Wimple's house, at Mill-Pond Bank, Chink's Basin, Old Green Copper Rope Walk; where lived old Bill Barley and his daughter Clara, and where Magwitch was hidden. It was the dingiest collection of shabby buildings ever squeezed together in a dark corner as a club for tomcats.
Then, standing out in the gloom, we saw Limehouse Church, where John Rokesmith prowled about on a 'tective scent; and where John Harmon waited for the third mate Radfoot, intending to murder him. Next we reached Limehouse Hole, where Rogue Riderhood took the plunge down the steps of Leaving Shop.
Hawkins thought he saw the Artful Dodger ahead of us on the dock. He went over and looked up and down and under an old upturned rowboat, then peered over the dock and swore a harmless oath that if we could catch him we would run him in without a warrant. Yes, we'd clap the nippers on 'im and march 'im orf.
"Not if I can help it," I said; "I like the fellow too well." Fortunately Hawkins failed to find him.
Here it was that the Uncommercial Traveler did patrol duty on many sleepless nights. Here it was that Esther Summerson and Mr. Bucket came. And by the light of a match held under my hat we read a handbill on the brick wall: "Found Drowned!" The heading stood out in big, fat letters, but the print below was too damp to read, yet there is no doubt it is the same bill that Gaffer Hexam, Eugene Wrayburn and Mortimer Lightwood read, for Mr. Hawkins said so.
As we stood there we heard the gentle gurgle of the tide running under the pier, then a dip of oars coming from out the murky darkness of the muddy river: a challenge from the shore with orders to row in, a hoarse, defiant answer and a watchman's rattle.
A policeman passed us running and called back, "I say, Hawkins, is that you? There's murder broke loose in Whitechapel again! The reserves have been ordered out!"
Hawkins stopped and seemed to pull himself together— his height increased three inches. A moment before I thought he was a candidate for fatty degeneration of the cerebrum, but now his sturdy frame was all atremble with life.
"Another murder! I knew it. Bill Sykes has killed Nancy at last. There 's fifty pun for the man who puts the irons on 'im—I must make for the nearest stishun."
He gave my hand a twist, shot down a narrow courtway—and I was left to fight the fog, and mayhap this Bill Sykes and all the other wild phantoms of Dickens' brain, alone.
A certain great general once said that the only good Indian is a dead Indian. Just why the maxim should be limited to aborigines I know not, for when one reads obituaries he is discouraged at the thoughts of competing in virtue with those who have gone hence.
Let us extend the remark—plagiarize a bit—and say that the only perfect men are those whom we find in books. The receipt for making them is simple, yet well worth pasting in your scrapbook. Take the virtues of all the best men you ever knew or heard of, leave out the faults, then mix.
In the hands of "the lady novelist" this composition, well molded, makes a scarecrow, in the hair of which the birds of the air come and build their nests. But manipulated by an expert a figure may appear that starts and moves and seems to feel the thrill of life. It may even take its place on a pedestal and be exhibited with other waxworks and thus become confounded with the historic And though these things make the unskilful laugh, yet the judicious say, "Dickens made it, therefore let it pass for a man."
Dear old M. Taine, ever glad to score a point against the British, and willing to take Dickens at his word, says, "We have no such men in France as Scrooge and Squeers!"
But, God bless you, M. Taine, England has no such men either.
The novelist takes the men and women he has known, and from life, plus imagination, he creates. If he sticks too close to nature he describes, not depicts: this is "veritism." If imagination's wing is too strong, it lifts the luckless writer off from earth and carries him to an unknown land. You may then fall down and worship his characters, and there is no violation of the First Commandment.
Nothing can be imagined that has not been seen; but imagination can assort, omit, sift, select, construct. Given a horse, an eagle, an elephant, and the "creative artist" can make an animal that is neither a horse, an eagle, nor an elephant, yet resembles each. This animal may have eight legs (or forty) with hoofs, claws and toes alternating; a beak, a trunk, a mane; and the whole can be feathered and given the power of rapid flight and also the ability to run like the East Wind. It can neigh, roar or scream by turn, or can do all in concert, with a vibratory force multiplied by one thousand.
The novelist must have lived, and the novelist must have imagination. But this is not enough. He must have power to analyze and separate, and then he should have the good taste to select and group, forming his parts into a harmonious whole.
Yet he must build large. Life-size will not do: the statue must be heroic, and the artist's genius must breathe into its nostrils the breath of life.
The men who live in history are those whose lives have been skilfully written. "Plutarch is the most charming writer of fiction the world has ever known," said Emerson.
Dickens' characters are personifications of traits, not men and women. Yet they are a deal funnier—they are as funny as a box of monkeys, as entertaining as a Punch-and-Judy show, as interesting as a "fifteen puzzle," and sometimes as pretty as chromos. Quilp munching the eggs, shells and all, to scare his wife, makes one shiver as though a Jack-in-the-box had been popped out at him. Mr. Mould, the undertaker, and Jaggers, the lawyer, are as amusing as Humpty-Dumpty and Pantaloon. I am sure that no live lawyer ever gave me half the enjoyment that Jaggers has, and Doctor Slammers' talk is better medicine than the pills of any living M.D. Because the burnt-cork minstrel pleases me more than a real "nigger" is no reason why I should find fault!
Dickens takes the horse, the eagle and the elephant and makes an animal of his own. He rubs up the feathers, places the tail at a fierce angle, makes the glass eyes glare, and you are ready to swear that the thing is alive.
By rummaging over the commercial world you can collect the harshness, greed, avarice, selfishness and vanity from a thousand men. With these sins you can, if you are very skilful, construct a Ralph Nickleby, a Scrooge, a Jonas Chuzzlewit, an Alderman Cute, a Mr. Murdstone, a Bounderby or a Gradgrind at will.
A little more pride, a trifle less hypocrisy, a molecule extra of untruth, and flavor with this fault or that, and your man is ready to place up against the fence to dry.
Then you can make a collection of all the ridiculous traits—the whims, silly pride, foibles, hopes founded on nothing and dreams touched with moonshine—and you make a Micawber. Put in a dash of assurance and a good thimbleful of hypocrisy, and Pecksniff is the product. Leave out the assurance, replacing it with cowardice, and the result is Doctor Chillip or Uriah Heap. Muddle the whole with stupidity, and Bumble comes forth.
Then, for the good people, collect the virtues and season to suit the taste and we have the Cheeryble Brothers, Paul Dombey or Little Nell. They have no development, therefore no history—the circumstances under which you meet them vary, that's all. They are people the like of whom are never seen on land or sea.
Little Nell is good all day long, while live children are good for only five minutes at a time. The recurrence with which these five-minute periods return determines whether the child is "good" or "bad." In the intervals the restless little feet stray into flowerbeds; stand on chairs so that grimy, dimpled hands may reach forbidden jam; run and romp in pure joyous innocence, or kick spitefully at authority. Then the little fellow may go to sleep, smile in his dreams so that mamma says angels are talking to him (nurse says wind on the stomach); when he awakens the five-minute good spell returns.
Men are only grown-up children. They are cheerful after breakfast, cross at night. Houses, lands, barns, railroads, churches, books, racetracks are the playthings with which they amuse themselves until they grow tired, and Death, the kind old nurse, puts them to sleep.
So a man on earth is good or bad as mood moves him; in color his acts are seldom pure white, neither are they wholly black, but generally of a steel-gray. Caprice, temper, accident, all act upon him. The North Wind of hate, the Simoon of Jealousy, the Cyclone of Passion beat and buffet him. Pilots strong and pilots cowardly stand at the helm by turn. But sometimes the South Wind softly blows, the sun comes out by day, the stars at night: friendship holds the rudder firm, and love makes all secure.
Such is the life of man—a voyage on life's unresting sea; but Dickens knows it not. Esther is always good, Fagin is always bad, Bumble is always pompous, and Scrooge is always—Scrooge. At no Dickens' party do you ever mistake Cheeryble for Carker; yet in real life Carker is Carker one day and Cheeryble the next—yes, Carker in the morning and Cheeryble after dinner.
There is no doubt that a dummy so ridiculous as Pecksniff has reduced the number of hypocrites; and the domineering and unjust are not quite so popular since Dickens painted their picture with a broom.
From the yeasty deep of his imagination he conjured forth his strutting spirits; and the names he gave to each are as fitting and as funny as the absurd smallclothes and fluttering ribbons which they wear.
Shakespeare has his Gobbo, Touchstone, Simpcox, Sly, Grumio, Mopsa, Pinch, Nym, Simple, Quickly, Overdone, Elbow, Froth, Dogberry, Puck, Peablossom, Taurus, Bottom, Bushy, Hotspur, Scroop, Wall, Flute, Snout, Starveling, Moonshine, Mouldy, Shallow, Wart, Bullcalf, Feeble, Quince, Snag, Dull, Mustardseed, Fang, Snare, Rumor, Tearsheet, Cobweb, Costard and Moth; but in names as well as in plot "the father of Pickwick" has distanced the Master. In fact, to give all the odd and whimsical names invented by Dickens would be to publish a book, for he compiled an indexed volume of names from which he drew at will. He used, however, but a fraction of his list. The rest are wisely kept from the public, else, forsooth, the fledgling writers of penny-shockers would seize upon them for raw stock.
Dickens has a watch that starts and stops in a way of its own—never mind the sun. He lets you see the wheels go round, but he never tells you why the wheels go round. He knows little of psychology—that curious, unseen thing that stands behind every act. He knows not the highest love, therefore he never depicts the highest joy. Nowhere does he show the gradual awakening in man of Godlike passion—nowhere does he show the evolution of a soul; very, very seldom does he touch the sublime.
But he has given the Athenians a day of pleasure, and for this let us all reverently give thanks.