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"They said of him, about the City that night, that
it was the peacefulest man's face ever beheld there.
Many added that he looked sublime and prophetic."
(A Tale of Two Cities.)




In the same Series.


|T was a glorious June morning
in the year 1857. The scarlet
geraniums, dear for their
brilliance and colour to their
master's heart, were in full
flamboyance of flower ; the
syringas were sending wafts of sweetness through
the garden : lovely shadows lay beneath the
two great cedar trees, — when a smallish, active,
brown-bearded man, strongly resembling a sea-
captain ashore, came out to survey his little
domain, in all its pomp of midsummer, while
yet the dew was on it : for there was to him,
as he had said, "something incomparably solemn
in the still solitude of the morning."

It is seldom that the man in his maturity
may fulfil the half-impossible aspirations of
boyhood : but Charles Dickens had done
this to the very letter. As a child he had
desired this quaint old Georgian house of
Gadshill on the Dover Road, with its magnifi-
cent views of Gobham Woods, the distant


Thames, the nearer Medway, the stately
contours of Rochester Castle and Cathedral.
And now, at forty-five years of age, behold him
ensconced as the owner thereof. " A grave
red brick house," he had written of it, " which
I have added to, and stuck bits upon, in all
manner of ways, so that it is as pleasantly
irregular, and as violently opposed to all
architectural ideas as the most hopeful man
could possibly desire."

The bronzed, hardy-looking man, with a
"face like steel," as Mrs. Carlyle had termed
it, looked eagerly to and fro, casting his eyes
of extraordinary brilliancy over the glorious
panorama of the landscape and the sunlit
splendours of the flowers : then, with the quick
light step of a practised pedestrian, he crossed
the road in front of the house, by an under-
ground passage, to a shrubbery on the opposite
side. Here was the Swiss chalet which
Fechter had sent him from Pans, and which
Dickens had turned into a study. " I have put
five mirrors," he told a friend, "in the chalet
where I write, and they reflect and refract, in
all kinds of ways, the leaves that are quivering
at the windows, and the great fields of waving
corn, and the sail-dotted river. My room is up


among the branches of the trees ; and the birds
and butterflies fly in and out, and the green
branches shoot in at the open windows, and the
lights and shadows of the clouds seem to come
and go with the rest of the company. The
scent of the flowers, and indeed of everything
that is growing for miles and miles, is most

The great author ran upstairs and busied
himself, with alert movements and dexterous
touches, in setting his papers in order for the
day's work : for he was the most methodical of
men. No writer, it has been said, ever lived,
of greater industry and more systematic method.
In short, as his daughter Mamie wrote of him,
" he was tidy in every way — in his mind, in his
handsome and graceful person, in his work, in
keeping his writing-table drawers, in his large
correspondence, in fact in his whole life."
Sometimes, indeed, this propensity to tidiness
developed into a fidgetty fussiness of detail, —
so that he would entirely re-arrange the whole
furniture of some hotel bedroom where he was
only staying for the night.

He could not write unless everything was
placed exactly ready to his hand in apple-pie
order, and unless he had, ranged around and


before him, that singular variety of objects upon
which he wished his eye to rest in any momen-
tary respite from actual work. A little cup full
of fresh flowers was invariably one of those
objects, — a bronze group of toads duelling — a
gilt leaf with a seated rabbit — a huge paper
knife — a French statuette of a dog-fancier
carrying a multiplicity of little dogs. And,
amongst these heterogeneous odds and ends,
the most popular and the most widely-read man
of his time — perhaps of any time — evolved his
intricate plots, and created that unrivalled
portrait-gallery, which was and is unique in the
annals of literature. Four months after he began
to write, he was famous : his career had known
no checks, no blights, no returned MSS., no
sicknesses of hope deferred. " His literary life
was a triumphal procession," and his characters
were already household words. It is hardly
possible to understand in this present day, when
novels are multiplied into a weariness of the
flesh, the feverish excitement and anticipation,
the immense furore, which anticipated and hailed
the issue of the monthly parts of "Pickwick"
and its successors : when Oxford undergraduates
raced each other for the mail coach to secure
the first copies, and men told each other seriously


in the City that " Quilp is dead ! " But at the
time of which we write, some sixty years ago,
men had hardly got over their wonder at the
cheery optimism of the famous author or ceased
chuckling over Mr. Winkle's skating exploits,
and the anxieties of Sam Weller over his
carefully-concocted " Walentine."

"A what!" exclaimed Mr. Weller,
apparently horror-stricken by the word.

"A walentine," replied Sam.

"Samivel, Samivel," said Mr. Weller in
reproachful accents, "I did'nt think you'd ha'
done it ... . after actiwally seein' and
bein' in the company of your own mother-
in-law, vich I should ha' thought was a moral
lesson as no man could never ha' forgotten to
his dyin' day ! Begin again,


Sam read as follows : " Lovely creetur I
feel myself ashamed and completely circum-
scribed in a dressin' of yer, for you are a
nice girl and nothing but it ! "

"That's a werry pretty sentiment," said
the elder Mr. Weller, removing his pipe to
make way for the remark. "Yes, I think
it is rayther good," observed Sam, highly



"Wot I like in that 'ere style of writin',"
said the elder Mr. Weller, "is, that there
'aint no callin' names in it — no Wenuses nor
nothin' o' that kind. Wot's the good of
callin' a young 'ooraan a Wenus or an angel,
Sammy? You might just as well call her a
griffin, or a unicorn, or a King's arms at once." '
(The Pickwick Papers.)

Dickens, having completed his preparations
to the smallest detail, returned to the house, —
that methodical, comfortable house, — "the
sweetest and cleanliest I have ever been in,"
as Marcus Stone said. In all the minutiae of
household management he took a personal and
masterful interest : every detail was ordered by
his own tastes. It was an ideal home in many
respects : and especially arranged with a view
to the comfort of those countless visitors whom
Charles Dickens loved to entertain. In the
hall, which was hung with Hogarth prints, was
a large letterbox with the postal hours conspic-
uously printed on it. In every bedroom was
the most somniferous of beds, the most luxurious
of sofas, the easiest of chairs : not to mention a
writing-table supplied with every kind of paper
and envelopes and continuous provision of new
quill pens. A small library of books, a lighted

Painting by L. Raven Hill. THE TWO WELLERS.

"That's a werry pretty sentiment," said the elder
Mr. Weller, removing his pipe to make way for the
remark " Yes, I think it is rayther good," observed
Sam, highly flattered." {The Pickwick Papers).


fire in winter, a shining copper kettle and a
tray with every appurtenance for tea, completed
the plenishing of the room : and as a conse-
quence of this thorough-going preparation for
every possible need, no servants were ever
visible in the house, except at meal-times : this,
perhaps, was the chief characteristic of Gadshill.
The household appeared to be conducted by
invisible agencies, much like the enchanted
palace in Beauty and the Beast.

Breakfast was at nine : besides the novelist
himself, and his wife, — a plump, handsome,
amiable, typical Early- Victorian woman, — were
several members of his large family, the ten sons
and daughters who were growing up around
him. Two or three guests were usually present:
men of note and name, happy to dwell awhile
in that vivacious company, and in that pre-
eminently hospitable home. It was a merry
breakfast table ; for Dickens, who could tell a
story well himself, was also a capital listener.
He was now, as Hans Andersen had observed,
in his best years, — "so youthful, lively, eloquent,
and rich in humour, through which the warmest
cordiality ever shone. . . . , Select the
best of Charles Dickens' works, form from this
the image of a man, and you have Dickens."



Breakfast over, the visitors dispersed to
amuse themselves, — and that was easy enough,
in a charming atmosphere of summer warmth
and dolce far niente. They smoked, read the
papers, and pottered about the garden in sweet
content until midday : some, indeed, went
walks or drives, but it was much less trouble
to potter.

The strenuous host, however, was already
hard at work. He had begun, with his usual
orderliness, by scanning every corner of his
kingdom : "seeing that all was in its place in
the several rooms, visiting also the dogs, stables,
and kitchen garden, and closing, unless the
weather was very bad indeed, with a turn or
two round the meadow before settling to his
desk." (Forster). He was usually accompanied
on this progress by his magnificent St. Bernard,
Linda : but this was only one of many canine

Dickens' love for dogs is not manifested in
his novels to the extent that one might expect.
With the exception of Bill Sikes' dog, Bull's-eye,
in Oliver Twist, which plays so prominent a part
through the tragedy of the escaped murderer,
there are to be found but few instances of a dog
figuring notably, as it does in many of Scott's tales.



He took a keen delight in the birds, especially
the nightingales, around Gadshill ; but that he
knew one species from another is quite problem-
atical. Grip, the Raven in Barnaby Rudge, is
treated more as one of the dramatis personce than
as a typical bird. And, indeed, it is the peculi-
arity of Dickens, that with all his indubitable
delight in out-door pursuits, he still regarded
nature mainly as a mise-en-scene. Scenery was
to him the back-ground, or the drop-curtain, —
animal and bird-life were but the chorus, — the
sunshine, or the moonbeams, were simply extra
limelight effects upon the stage of his inexhaust-
ible dramatic imagination. Take, for example,
the opening chapter of The Chimes, which de-
monstrates his method of visualising the wind.

1 * The night wind has a dismal trick of
wandering round and round a building of that
sort, and moaning as it goes : and of trying,
with its unseen hand, the windows and the
doors : and seeking out some crevices by which
to enter. And when it has got in : as one not
finding what it seeks, whatever that may be, it
wails and howls to issue forth again ; and, not
content with stalking through the aisles, and
gliding round and round the pillars, and, tempting
the great organ, soars up to the roof, and strives




to rend the rafters ; then flings itself despairingly
upon the stones below, and passes, muttering,
into the vaults. Anon it comes up stealthily,
and creeps along the walls, seeming to read, in
whispers, the Inscriptions Sacred to the Dead.
At some of these, it breaks out shrilly, as with
laughter : and at others, moans and cries as if it
were lamenting . . Ugh ! Heaven preserve
us, sitting snugly round the fire ! It has an
awful voice, that wind at midnight, singing in a
church ! "

In every book that proceeded from the pen
of Dickens, the same minuteness of observation
and description was used for the same effects.
The result, although it left the reader a very
iong way from the original simplicities of nature,
was undeniably fine ; the limelighting was done
by a master-hand.

His daily inspection of the little estate per-
formed, the novelist ascended to his sanctum in
the chalet, and there wrote for a good three
hours — sedulously, carefully, — thorough in all
that he undertook, plodding on with neither
haste nor faltering, deliberately covering sheet
after sheet in his small neat handwriting. For
he took himself very seriously as regards his
profession: and considered system, in this as



in all other matters, to be the very foundation
of it.

" I never could have done what I have
done," he said, "without the habits of punctu-
ality, order and diligence ; without the deter-
mination to concentrate myself upon one object
at a time, no matter how quickly its successor
should come upon its heels . . . Whatever
I have tried to do in life, I have tried with
all my heart to do well ... In great aims
and small, I have always been thoroughly in

"In the matter of concentrated toil and
clear purpose and unconquerable worldly
courage, he was like a straight sword." And
although the Dickens villains never eventually
usurp, like Scott's, the place and interest due to
the hero, — although he painted good and bad in
the most uncompromising colours, — this admira-
tion of the set, strong purpose is very notice-
able, even in the characters of the vilest. One
has only to recall Carker, in Dombey and Son, —
Jasper, in Edwin Drood,— Jonas, in Martin
Chuzzlewit, — as examples of this unswerving
course towards some goal which becomes,
humanly speaking, through very force of that
purpose, inevitable. By virtue also of this set



unflinching aim, the weak acquire strange
strength ; and to Dickens, whose main end,
consciously or unconsciously, was to reveal the
"soul of goodness in things evil," the portrayal
of this gradual recovery of lost chances, this
slow retrieval of errant steps, must have been a
labour of love. Its most signal exponent, may-
be, is Sydney Carton in the Tale of Two Cities,
the reckless and devil-may-care Carton, puri-
fied by passionate emotion, climbing on the
ladder of a hopelessly-unrequited love to a
height of self-sacrifice where few can follow him
— the height of the guillotine platform where he
stands in another man's name. In the Tale of
Two Cities, Dickens reached a summit, and
maintained a solemn nobility of attitude, which
he only touched in this one historical novel of
his. Humour is here for the most part a minor
quantity ; but in the man who becomes, at the
crucial moment, the central figure of the piece,
there is an austere joyfulness of altruism, which
can bring tears to the ayes of the most blase

"They said of him, about the city that
night, that it was the peacefulest man's face
ever beheld there. Many added that he looked
sublime and prophetic.



" One of the most remarkable sufferers by
the same axe— a woman — had asked at the foot
of the same scaffold, not long before, to be
allowed to write down the thoughts that were
inspiring her. If he had given any utterance to
his, they would have been these."

" *I see the lives for which I lay down my
life, peaceful, useful, prosperous and happy, in
that England which I shall see no more. I see
Her with a child upon her bosom, who bears
my name.'"

" ' I see that child who lay upon her bosom
and who bore my name, a man winning his way
up in that path of life which once was mine. I
see him winning it so well, that my name is
made illustrious there by the light of his. I see
the blots I threw upon it, faded away. I see
him . . bringing a boy of my name with a
forehead that I know and golden hair, to this
place . . and I hear him tell the child my
story, with a tender and a faltering voice.' "

" 'It is a far, far better thing that I do, than
I have ever done ; it is a far, far better rest that
I go to, than I have ever known.' "

(A Tale of Two Cities.)

Charles Dickens was not, to outward
semblance, what is usually termed a religious


man ; yet his morning and evening prayers
were part of his unvarying routine, and he
adhered to them with a child's punctuality.
Strongly Church of England, yet averse from
forcing his opinions on others, he was a
passionate hater of cant and rant, rather than a
passionate lover of any special form of devotion.
His Christianity, one might infer, was more of
the head than of the heart ; but it was an
inflexible and deeply-rooted conviction none the

" Try to do to others," he wrote, when his
youngest son was leaving for Australia, "as
you would have them do to you, and do not be
discouraged if they fail sometimes. It is much
better for you that they should fail in obeying
the greatest rule laid down by Our Saviour,
than that you should. I put a New Testament
among your books for the very same reasons,
and the very same hopes, that made me write
an easy account of it for you when you were a
little child. Because it is the best book that
ever was, or ever will be, known in the world :
and because it teaches you the best lessons by
which any human creature, who tries to be
truthful and faithful to duty, can possibly be
guided. As your brothers have gone away one



by one, I have written to each such words as I
am now writing to you, and have entreated them
all to guide themselves by the Book, putting
aside the interpretations and inventions of man.

"You will remember that you have never
at home been worried about religious observ-
ances or mere formalities. You will therefore
understand the better what I now solemnly
impress upon you, the truth and beauty of the
Christian religion as it came from Christ Him-
self. . . . Never abandon the wholesome
practice of saying your own private prayers,
night and morning. I have never abandoned it
myself, and I know the comfort of it."

And undoubtedly, Charles Dickens, "who
alone of modern writers did really destroy some
of the wrongs he hated, and bring about some
of the reforms he desired," was as powerful an
exponent of practical Christianity as ever led
an apparently forlorn hope in the eternal
crusade against evil. " He was a good man,"
it has been written of him, " as men go in this
bewildering world of ours : brave, transparent,
tender-hearted, scrupulously independent and
honourable." And Carlyle, not born to natter,
called him "the good, the gentle, high-gifted,
ever-friendly, noble Dickens -every inch of



him an honest man;" a philanthropist, as Jowett
said, " in the true sense."

The midsummer morning passed all too
soon, and the novelist at last threw down his
pen with a sigh of relief. The last page of Little
Dorrit was completed : in a few days the tale,
which had been issued in monthly numbers,
would be published as a whole ; and a certain
sense of strain was now exchanged for a
corresponding relaxing of mental effort.

" When I sit down to my book," he wrote,
"some beneficent power shows it all to me,
and tempts me to be interested, and I don't
invent it— really do not — but see it, and write it
down. ... It is only when it all fades away
and is gone, that I begin to suspect that its
momentary relief has cost me something."

"He is said to have declared . . . that
every word uttered by his characters was
distinctly heard by him before it was written
down." Yet on the other hand he averred,
"I work slowly and with great care, and never
give way to my invention recklessly, but con-
stantly restrain it." It is possible that so fertile,
so spendthrift an invention needed the bit rather
than the spur. To take the briefest glance at
the immense range, scope and variety of Charles



Dickens' creations, is absolutely dazzling and
bewildering. One may accuse him of staginess.
of exaggeration, of "pushing the hilarity to the
point of incredible character-drawing," debasing
sentiment into sentimentalism, and turning
comedy into farce. The fact remains that there
are "chords in the human mind," as Mr. Guppy
remarked in Bleak House, which he touched as
no novelist of wider scholarship and loftier style
has done : that "in everybody there is a certain
thing that loves babies, that fears death, that
likes sunlight: that thing enjoys Dickens." And
possibly, as a specimen of robust humour drawn
with the most incisively delicate touches, there
is no portrait to surpass that of Dick Swiveller.
Dickens took an infinity of pains and trouble in
the composing of The Old Curiosity Shop : the
impending fate of Little Nell weighed upon his
mind, till even his customary good sleep forsook
him. But he worked up conscientiously for "a
great effect at last with the Marchioness," and
got it — in those inimitable chapters where Dick
Swiveller introduces her to cribbage.

"Now," said Mr. Swiveller, putting two
sixpences into a saucer, and turning the wretched
candle, when the cards had been cut and dealt,
"those are the stakes. If you win, you get 'em all.



If I win, I get 'em. To make it seem more real
and pleasant, I shall call you the Marchioness,
do you hear ? " The small servant nodded.
"Then, Marchioness," said Mr. Swiveller,
"fire away!" The Marchioness, holding the
cards very tight in both hands, considered which
to play : and Mr. Swiveller, assuming the gay
and fashionable air which such society required,
took another pull at the tankard, and waited for
the lead. . . " The Baron Sampsono Brasso
and his fair sister are (you tell me) at the
play ? " said Mr. Swiveller, leaning his left arm
heavily upon the table, and raising his voice,
and his right leg, after the manner of a theatri-
cal bandit. The Marchioness nodded. "Ha!"
said Mr. Swiveller, with a portentous frown,
"'Tis well. Marchioness! but no matter.
Some wine there. Ho ! " He illustrated these
melodramatic morsels by handing the tankard
to himself with great humility, receiving it
haughtily, drinking from it fiercely, and smack-
ing his lips fiercely." (The Old Curiosity Shop,}

Luncheon-time having now arrived, Dickens
put his writing-table in order, fastened his papers
together, and returned to the house. He glanced
with fond admiration, as he passed by, at the in-
creasing splendour of his flower-beds. Colour


L. Raven Hill.

" The Marchioness, holding the cards very tight in
both hands, considered which to play ; and Mr
Swiveller, assuming the gay and fashionable air which
such society required, . . . waited for the lead."
{The Old Curiosity Shop.)


was with him a passion — manifested, it must be
confessed, in a somewhat crude and barbarous
form. • For the tender nuances and mezzotints
beloved of the painter, the exquisite gradations
of beauty, "silent silver lights and darks un-
dreamed of," he cared little. He revelled in
profusions and in sudden shocks of strong
colour : not only to look upon, but to wear.
He was capable of combining a bright green
waistcoat with a vivid scarlet tie and a huge
bouquet in his buttonhole ; or of a sky-blue coat
with red cuffs, with a huge gold chain and tie-
pin. But these trifling eccentricities endeared
him the more, perhaps, to his friends, 3 who
appreciated the true lovable worth of the man.
Some of these friends were already awaiting him
now. Albert Smith, the novelist and entertainer,
with the high treble voice. Frank Stone, the
tall good-looking painter ; Wilkie Collins, with
his small form and huge spectacles. They sat
down, full of mirth and gaiety, at the com-
fortable table, which was bright with flowers,
and at which — a daring innovation — the dishes
were handed round to each guest, instead of
being planked down simultaneously according to
the custom of the period. Luncheon at Gadshill
was a substantial meal : although the host himself



rarely ate more than a little bread and cheese
and ale. No " shop " talk jarred upon the easy
flow of conversation, as far as he himself
was concerned : for ' ' there never was so re-


Online LibraryMay Clarissa Gillington ByronA day with Charles Dickens → online text (page 1 of 2)