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faction than the world can give. The poet and novelist, in their reflections and transfigurations of human life, with all its pageantries, its fortunes, its passions, its greatness and littleness, will ever be interesting to us. Truth makes fiction, for the novelist idealizes the real. He does not make a world, but uses the materials he finds in it. Nothing human is indifferent to him. He sees life on all sides—its tragedy and comedy, its laughter and tears—and his excellency mainly consists in the breadth and width of his sympathies in the comprehensiveness and versatility of his conceptions.
One of the greatest of our modern novelists for creative power, imagination, wit, and humour, combined with wide-ranging sympathies (for his heart is more comprehensive than his understanding) — the novelist who is, perhaps, dearer to us than any other, and one of the names in this age we are most proud of (we do not say that it is the greatest, but we love it the most) is the subject of our study — Charles Dickens. When we think of the hearths he has brightened, the homes he has cheered, the hearts he has gladdened, the laughter and tears he has evoked, the charity and love he has infused into our nature, we feel that it is these God-gifted children who have made this world not only habitable, but enjoyable for us. One of the secrets of Dickens' success was that he knew something of the human heart, “its tricks and manners ;" that he could move us to laughter or tears at the commonest things. If he could not sound the depth or tumult of the soul, he could touch those lighter feelings which play upon the surface of our nature, and which are common to us all. He could write first-rate nonsense—a gift which is not to be despised, for nonsense is the very essence of mirth. If we laugh heartily, we cannot often give a reason for our doing so, and we all know how dismal and hopeless a task it is to explain a joke. What a host of sportive beings thronging and crowding into the brain he has conjured up,
unwearied in rogueries, and drolleries, and wheedling gibes, and loud, ringing, extravagant laughter!' In this world it is but little some of us can find to laugh at. The consequence is that one of God's best gifts to man is sorely neglected. But a wise and beneficent Power has given us more occasions for laughter than for tears. For, says the poet, “In Nature there is nothing melancholy"; therefore, let us be thankful to the man who can lead us into the realms of fun and nonsense, who can make us laugh at our own absurdities as well as those of other people. Dickens' early works are brimful of genuine English laughter—"a laughter holding both its sides." Gifted originally with a joyous temperament, great animal spirits, and a keen sense of the ludicrous, he has been enabled to show us the fun, frolic, and
sunny side of human life; yet he does not forget the uses of laughter. He has laughed down abuses where crying and preaching had been of little avail. If some of his characters are not lovable, they are at least laughable; if we cannot always laugh with them, he can make us laugh at them; but it is a laughter in which there is no malice-which tickles, but leaves no sting behind. "If," he wrote, in one of his early prefaces," he should only induce one reader to think better of his fellow men,
and to look upon the brighter and more kindly side of human nature, he would indeed be proud and happy to have led to such a result." And again, in reviewing his past efforts, he once said, “I felt an earnest and humble desire, and shall do till I die, incrcase the stock of harmless cheerfulness. I felt that the world was not utterly to be despised; that it was worthy of living in for many reasons."
But it is not for laughter only that we prize our author ; shall not bless him also for the tears he has evoked? He has caused us to shed tears of love for those who have departed—those long-buried, beauteous forms, upon whom “the mossy marbles rest,” and fond memory has
“ cleansed from the dishonours of the grave.” Many a mother has wept afresh “a fountain of sweet tears” for her lost darling over the grave of “ Little Nell.” Many a man bowed in sorrow, whose heart's fountain has been long dry in the barrenness of busy life, has wept afresh in remembrance of “Paul Dombey." We feel that such tears are not maudlin, for they make the heart better. They are not like the whinings and whimperings of a false sensibility, which laughs and weeps for mere entertainment over the pages of the last new novel, leaving the reader often in a state of mental intoxication, sometimes under the mild stimulus of pap, though, to suit the palate of the regular literary dramdrinker, it is necessary to make the mixture strong to
“Banish sense and wit,
And dash in lots of madness."
Dickens loved the creations of his own imagination ;
they were dear as his own children, and like flesh and blood to him. We read in his life how all these sportive beings were alive in his fancy, and such was their intense individuality, that “every word said by his characters, he confessed to G. H. Lewes, was distinctly heard by him.” Thus he did not use his imagination so much as his imagination used him. If any of his characters are inspired with life, they first of all inspired him, for he laughed and wept with them, and seemed as much under their influence as Goethe, when he said, “I feel myself surrounded, nay besieged, by all the spirits I ever conjured up." In a letter to Forster, his biographer, written in a time of illness and sorrow,
“But may I not be forgiven for thinking it a wonderful testimony of my being made for my art, that when, in the midst of this trouble and pain, I sit down to my book, 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." Yet his characters are not mere abstractions spun out of his brain: they carry the air of the world, and not the close atmosphere of the study about with them. We know them the moment we meet them, for they are like living beings : “they speak like men, not like authors.” In the street and market, in church and chapel, in society and in the family, we meet, rub shoulders, and recognise the Pecksniffs, Micawbers, Swivellers, and the Nicklebys, &c. They are not caricatures, for a caricaturist rarely presents but a bare outline or grotesque exaggeration of some peculiarity which marks the man, without representing him ; while Dickens presents the man, the actual features and lineaments, though exaggerated in
small details, yet perfect as a whole. We feel that it is almost impossible to believe that such persons as Mrs. Gamp, Mr. Micawber, Pecksniff, or the Wellers, never had an existence, and this belief was shared by none more than by Dickens himself. Alexander Smith says in one of his essays, “If Mr. Dickens' characters were gathered together, they would constitute a town populous enough to send a representative to Parliament. Let us enter. The style of architecture is unparalleled. There is an individuality about the buildings. In some obscure way they remind one of human faces. There are houses slylooking, houses wicked-looking, houses pompous-looking. Heaven bless us! what a rakish pump! What a selfimportant town-hall! What a hard-hearted prison! The dead walls are covered with advertisements of Mr. Sleary's circus. Newman Noggs comes shambling along. Mr. and the Misses Pecksniff come sailing down the sunny side of the street.
Miss Mercy's parasol is gay; papa's neckcloth is white and terribly starched. Dick Swiveller leans against a wall, his hands in his pockets, a primrose held between his teeth, contemplating the opera of Punch and Judy, which is being conducted under the management of Messrs. Codlin and Short.
You turn a corner, and you meet the coffin of little Paul Dombey borne along. Who would have thought of encountering a funeral in this place? In the afternoon you hear the rich tones of the organ from Miss La Creevy's first floor for Tom Pinch has gone to live there now, and
know all the people as you know your own brothers and sisters, and consequently require no letters of introduction, you go up and talk with the dear old fellow about all his