Изображения страниц

work; his school-fellows relate in the end, and how far does fiction embroide newspapers his boyish pranks; another man recalls exactly, and word for word, the conversations he had with nim more than a score of years ago. The lawyer, who manages the affairs of the deceased, draws up a list of the different offices he has filled, his titles, dates and figures, and reveals to the matter-of-fact readers how the money left has been invested, and how the fortune has been made; the grandnephews and second cousins publish an account of his acts of humanity, and the catalogue of his domestic virtues. If there is no literary genius in the family, they select an Oxford man, conscientious, learned, who treats the deceased like a Greek author, collects endless documents, overloads them with endless comments, crowns the whole with endless discussions, and comes ten years later, some fine Christmas morning, with his white tie and placid smile, to present to the assembled family three quartos of eight hundred pages each, he easy style of which would send a German from Berlin to sleep. He is embraced by them with tears in their eyes; they make him sit down; he is the chief ornament at their feasts; and his work is sent to the Edinburgh Review. The latter groans at the sight of the enormous present, and tells off a young and intrepid member of the staff to concoct some kind of a biography from the table of contents. Another advantage of posthumous biographies is, that the dead man is no longer there to refute either biographer or man of learning.

truth? All that is known, or rather all that is told, is that Dickens was born in 1812, that he is the son of a shorthand-writer, that he was himself at first a shorthand-writer, that he was poor and unfortunate in his youth, tha his novels, published in parts, have gained for him a great fortune and an immense reputation. The reader may conjecture the rest; Dickens will tell it him one day, when he writes his me moirs. Meanwhile he closes the door and leaves outside the too inquisitive folk who go on knocking. He has a right to do so. Though a man may be illustrious, he is not on that account public property; he is not compelled to be confidential; he still belongs to himself; he may reserve of himself what he thinks proper. If we give our works to our readers, we do not give our lives. Let us be satisfied with what Dickens has given us. Forty volumes suffice, and more than suffice, to enable us to know a man well; moreover, they show of him all that it is important to know. It is not through the accidental circumstances of his life that he belongs to history, but by his talent; and his talent is in his books. A man's genius is like a clock; it has its mechanism, and amongst its parts a mainspring. Find out this spring, show how it communicates movement to the others, pursue this movement from part to part down to the hands in which it ends. This inner history of genius does not depend upon the outer history of the man; and it is worth more.

Unfortunately Dickens is still alive, and refutes the biographies made of him. What is worse, he claims to be his own biographer. His translator in French once asked him for a few particalars of his life; Dickens replied that he kept them for himself. Without doubt, David Copperfield, his best novel, has much the appearance of a confession; but where does the confession


*M. Taine was not wrong in thinking so. In the Life of Charles Dickens by J. Forster we find (vol. i. p. 8) the following words:"And here I may at once expressly mention, what already has been hinted, that even as Fielding described himself and his belongings in Captain Booth and Amelia, and protested always that he had writ in his books nothing more than he had seen in life, so it may be



The first question which should be asked in connection with an artist is this: How does he regard objects} With what clearness, what energy, what force? The reply defines his whole work beforehand; for in a writer of novels the imagination is the master said of Dickens, in more especial relation to David Copperfield. Many guesses have been made since his death, connecting David's autobiography with his own. 'There is not only truth in all this, but it will very shortly be seen that the identity went deeper than any had supposed, and covered experiences not less startling in the reality than they appear to be in the fiction."-TR.

There is, amongst others, a descrip tion of the night wind, quaint and powerful, which recalls certain pages of Notre-Dame de Paris. The source of this description, as of all those of Dick

faculty; the art of composition, good taste, the feeling of what is true, depend upon it; one degree more of vehemence destroys the style which expresses it, changes the characters which it produces, breaks the plot in which itens, is pure imagination. He does nct, is enclosed. Consider the imaginative power of Dickens, and you will perceive therein the cause of his faults and his merits, his power and his excess.


There is a painter in him, and an English painter. Never surely did a mind figure to itself with more exact detail or greater force all the parts and tints of a picture. Read this description of a storm; the images seem photographed by dazzling flashes of lightning:

"The eye, partaking of the quickness of the flashing light, saw it in its every gleam a multitude of objects which it could not see at steady noon in fifty times that period. Bells in steeples, with the rope and wheel that moved them; ragged nests of birds in cornices and nooks: faces full of consternation in the tilted

waggons that came tearing past: their frightened teams ringing out a warning which the thunder drowned; harrows and ploughs left out in fields; miles upon miles of hedge-divided country, with the distant fringe of trees as obvious as the scarecrow in the beanfield close at hand; in a trembling, vivid, flickering instant, everything was clear and plain: then came a flush of red into the yellow light; a change to blue; a brightness so intense that there was nothing else but light; and then the Jeepest and profoundest darkness." *

An imagination so lucid and energetic cannot but animate inanimate objects without an effort. It provokes in the mind in which it works extraordinary emotions, and the author pours over the objects which he figures to himself,something of the ever-welling passion which overflows in him. Stones for him take a voice, white walls swell out into big phantoms, black wells yawn hideously and mysteriously in the darkness; legions of strange creatures whirl shud dering over the fantastic landscape; blank nature is peopled, inert matter But the images remain clear; in this madness there is nothing vague or disorderly; imaginary objects are designed with outlines as precise and details as numerous as real objects, and the dream is equal to the reality.


* Martin Chuzzlewit, ch. xlii. The translator has used the "Charles Dickens" edition, 1868, 18 vols.

like Walter Scott, describe in crder to give his reader a map, and to lay down the locality of his drama. He does not, like Lord Byron, describe from love of magnificent nature, and in order to display a splendid succession of grand pictures. He dreams neither of attaining exactness nor of selecting beauty. Struck with a certain spectacle, he is transported, and breaks out into unforeseen figures. Now it is the yellow leaves, pursued by the wind, fleeing and jostling, shivering, scared, in a giddy chase, clinging to the furrows, drowned in the ditches, perching on the trees.* Here it is the night wind, sweeping round a church, moaning as it tries 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 he 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 deep 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

"It was small tyranny for a respectable creatures as the fallen leaves; but this wind wind to go wreaking its vengeance on such poor happening to come up with a great heap of them just after venting its humour on the insulted Dragon, did so disperse and scatter them that they fled away, pell-mell, some here, some there, rolling over each other, whirling round and round upon their thin edges, taking frantic flights into the air, and playing all manner of extraordinary gambols in the extremity of their fury: for, not content with driving he distress. Nor was this enough for its macious abroad, it charged small parties of them and hunted them into the wheelwright's saw-pit and below the planks and timbers in the yard, and, scattering the saw-dust in the air, it looked for them underneath, and when it did meet with any, whew! how it drove them or

and followed at their heels!

all this, and a giddy chase it was: for thev got "The scared leaves only flew the faster for into unfrequented places, where there was no oudlet, and where their pursuer kept them eddying round and round at his pleasure; and they crept under the eaves of houses, and clung tightly to the sides of hay-ricks, like bats; and tore in at open chamber windows, and cowered close to hedges; and, in short, went anywhere for safety."-(Martin Chuzzlewit, ch. ii.)


stealthily and cnps 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."


metallic voice of the chimes which inhabit this trembling castle.

He writes a story about them, and it is not the first. Dickens is a poet; he is as much at home in the imaginative Hitherto you have only recognized the sombre imagination of a man of the world as in the actual. Here the chimes wwth. A little further you perceive the are talking to the old messenger and impassioned religion of a revolutionary consoling him. Elsewhere it is the Cricket on the Hearth singing of all Protestant, when he speaks to you of domestic joys, and bringing before the a ghostly sound too, lingering within the altar; where it seems to chaunt, in eyes of the lonely master the happy its wild way, of Wrong and Murder evenings, the intimate conversations, the comfort, the quiet cheerfulness done, and false Gods worshipped; in defiance of the Tables of the Law, which which he has enjoyed, and which he has no longer. In another tale it is the look so fair and smooth, but are so history of a sick and precocious child flawed and broken. Ugh! Heaven who feels itself dying, and who, sleeping preserve us, sitting snugly round the in the arms of its sister, hears the dis fire! It has an awful voice, that wind tant song of the murmuring waves at Midnight, singing in a church!" which rocked him to sleep. Objects, But an instant after, the artist speaks with Dickens, take their hue from the again; he leads you to the belfry, and thoughts of his characters. His imin the jingle of the accumulated words, agination is so lively, that it carries communicates to your nerves the sensation of an aerial tempest. The wind every thing with it in the path which it whistles, blows, and gambols in the chooses. If the character is happy, the stones, flowers, and clouds must be arches: High up in the steeple, happy too; if he is sad, nature must where it is free to come and go through many an airy arch and loophole, and weep with him. Even to the ugly houses in the street, all speak. The to twist and twine itself about the giddy style runs through a swarm of visions; stair, and twirl the groaning weather- it breaks out into the strangest oddities. cock, and make the very tower shake Here is a young girl, pretty and good, and shiver!" Dickens has seen it all who crosses Fountain Court and the in the old belfry; his thought is a mir- law purlieus in search of her brother. ror; not the smallest or ugliest detail What can be more simple ? what even escapes him. He has counted "the ""the more trivial? Dickens is carried away iron rails ragged with rust; sheets of lead, wrinkled and shriveiled, by it. To entertain her, he summons which crackle and heave beneath the up birds, trees, houses, the fountain, the offices, law papers, and much be unaccustomed tread; "the shabby sides. It is a folly, and it is all but an nests which "the birds stuff into corners " of the old oaken joists and beams; the dust heaped up; the speckled spiders, indolent and fat with long security," which, hanging by a thread, "swing idly to and fro in the vibration of the bells," and which 'climb up sailor-like in quick-alarm, or drop upon the ground and ply a score of nimble legs to save one life." This picture captivates us. Kept up at such à height, amongst the fleeting clouds which cast their shadows over the town and the feeble lights scarce distinguish ed in the mist, we feel a sort of dizziness; and we nearly discover, with Dickens, thought and a soul in the • The Chimes, first quarter. 1 Ibid.

[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]

enchantment :

"Whether there was life enough left in the slow vegetation of Fountain Court for the smoky shrubs to have any consciousness of the brightest and purest-hearted little woman in the world, is a question for gardeners, and those who are learned in the loves of plants. But that it was a good thing for that same paved yard to have such a delicate little figure flitting through it; that it passed like a smile from the grimy old houses, and the worn flag. stones, and left them duller, darker, sterner than before; there is no sort of doubt. The Temple fountain might have leaped up twenty feet to greet the spring of hopeful maidenhood, that in her person stole on, sparkling, through the dry and dusty channels of the Law; the chirping sparrows, bred in Temple chinks and crannies, might have held their peace to listen to imaginary sky-larks, as so fresh a little creatre passed; the dingy boughs

the love of Ruth." *

anused to droop, otherwise than in their puny | is like that of monomaniacs. To prunge growth, might have bent down in a kindred oneself into an idea, to be absorbed by gracefulness, to shed their benedictions on her graceful head; old love-letters, shut up in iron it, to see nothing else, to repeat it under boxes in the neighbouring offices, and made of a hundred forms, to enlarge it, to carry no account among the heaps of family papers it, thus enlarged, to the eye of the specinto which they had strayed, and of which, in their degeneracy, they formed a part, might tator, to dazzle and overwhelm him have stirred and fluttered with a moment's rec- with it, to stamp it upon him so firmly ollection of their ancient tenderness, as she and deeply that he can never again tear went lightly by. Anything might have hap- it from his memory,-these are the pened that did not happen, and never will, for great features of this imagination and This is far-fetched, without doubt. style. In this, David Copperfield is a French taste, always measured, revolts masterpiece. Never did objects remain more visible and present to the memory against these affected strokes, these of a reader than those which he de sickly prettinesses. And yet this af- scribes. The old house, the parlor, fectation is natural; Dickens does not the kitchen, Peggotty's boat, and above hunt after quaintnesses; they come all the school play-ground, are interiors to him. His excessive imagination is whose relief, energy, and precision are like a string too tightly stretched; it unequalled. Dickens has the passion produces of itself, without any violent and patience of the painters of his na shock, sounds not heard elsewhere. notes the various hues of the old treetion; he reckons his details one by one, trunks; sees the dilapidated cask, the

We shall see how it is excited. Imagine a shop, no matter what shop, the most repulsive; that of a mathe-greenish and broken flagstones, the

matical-instrument maker. Dickens

sees the barometers, chronometers, telescopes, compasses, charts, maps, sextants, speaking trumpets, and so forth. He sees so many, sees them so clearly, they are crowded and crammed, they replace each other so forcibly in his brain, which they fill and obstruct; there are so many geographical and nautical ideas exposed under the glass cases hung from the ceiling, nailed to the wall, they swamp him from so many sides, and in such abundance, that he loses his judgment. "The shop itself, partaking of the general infection, seemed almost to become a snug, sea-going, ship-shape concern, wanting only good sea-room, in the event of an unexpected launch, to work its way securely to any desert island in the world." t

chinks of the damp walls; he distin guishes the strange smells which rise from them; marks the size of the mil dewed spots, reads the names of the scholars carved on the door, and dwells on the form of the letters. And this minute description has nothing cold about it: if it is thus detailed, it is beit proves its passion by its exactness. cause the contemplation was intense; We felt this passion without accounting for it; suddenly we find it at the end of a page; the boldness of the style renders it visible, and the violence of the phrase attests the violence of the impression. Excessive metaphors bring before the mind grotesque fancies. We feel ourselves beset by extravagant visions. Mr. Mells take his flute, and blows on it, says Copperfield, "until I almost The difference between a madman thought he would gradually blow his and a man of genius is not very great. top, and ooze away at the keys." whole being into the large hole at the Napoleon, who knew men, said so to Tom Pinch, disabused at last, discov. Esquirol. The same faculty leads us ers that his master Pecksniff is a hyp to glory or throws us into a cell in a ocritical rogue. He "had so long lunatic asylum. It is visionary imagi been used to steep the Pecksniff of his nation which forges the phantoms of the madman and creates the person-upon his toast, and take him as a relish fancy in his tea, and spread him out ages of an artist, and the classifications with his beer, that he made but a poor serving for the first may serve for the breakfast on the first morning after his second. The imagination of Dickens expulsion." We think of Hoffmann's Martin Chusslewit, ch. xlv. ↑ Dombey and Son, ch. iv. David Copperfield, ch. v. * See ante note, page 123. ↑ Martin Chuzzlewit, c). XXEVİ.

fantastic tales; we are arrested by a fixed idea, and our head begins to ache. These eccentricities are in the style of sickness rather than of health.

Therefore Dickens is admirable in depicting hallucinations. We see that he feels himself those of his characters, that he is engrossed by their ideas, that he enters into their madness. As an Englishman and a moralist, he has described remorse frequently. Perhaps it may be said that he makes a scarecrow of it, and that an artist is wrong to transform himself into an assistant of the policeman and the preacher. What of that? The portrait of Jonas Chuzzlewit is so terrible, that we may pardon it for being useful. Jonas, leaving his chamber secretly, has treacherously murdered his enemy, and thinks henceforth to breathe in peace; but the recollection of the murder gradually disorganizes his mind, like poison. He is no longer able to control his ideas; they bear him on with the fury of a terrified horse. He is forever thinking, and shuddering as he thinks, of the room where people believed he slept. He sees this room, counts the tiles of the floor, pictures the long folds of the dark curtains, the tumbled bed, the door at which some one might have knocked. The more he wants to escape from this vision, the more he is immersed in it; it is a burning abyss in which he rolls, struggling, with cries and sweats of agony. He fancies himself lying in his bed, as he ought to be, and an instant after he sees himself there. He fears this other self. The dream is so vivid, that he is not sure that he is not in London. "He became in a manner his own ghost and phantoin." And this imaginary being, like a mirror, only redoubles before his conscience the image of assassination and punishment. He returns, and shuffles, with pale face, to the door of his chamber. He, a man of business, a man of figures, a coarse machine of positive reasoning, has become as fanciful as a nervous woman. "He stole on, to the door, on tiptoe, as if he dreaded to disturb his own imaginary rest." At the moment when he turns the key in the Lock, "a monstrous fear beset his mind. What if the murdered man were there before him." At last he enters, and

tumbles into bed, burnt up with fever "He buried himself beneath the blan kets," so as to try not to see "that in fernal room; " he sees it more clearly still. The rustling of the clothes, the buzz of an insect, the beatings of his heart, all cry to him Murderer! His mind fixed with "an agony of listening" on the door, he ends by thinking that people open it; he hears it creak. His senses are distorted; he dares no! mistrust them, he dares no longer be lieve in them; and in this nightmare in which drowned reason leaves noth ing but a chaos of hideous forms, he finds no reality but the incessant burden of his convulsive despair. Thence. forth all his thoughts, dangers. the whole world disappears for him in "the one dread question only," "When would they find the body in the wood?" He forces himself to distract his thoughts from this; they remain stamped and glued to it; they hold him to it as by a chain of iron. He continually figures himself going into the wood, "going softly about it and about it among the leaves, approaching it nearer and nearer through a gap in the boughs, and startling the very flies, that were thickly sprinkled all over it, like heaps of dried currants." His mind was fixed and fastened on the discovery, for intelligence of which he listened intently to every cry and shout; listened when any one came in, or went out; watched from the window the people who passed up and down the street. At the same time, he has ever before his eyes that corpse "lying alone in the wood; "he was for ever showing and presenting it, as it were, to every creature whom he saw. 'Look here ! do you know of this? Is it found? Do you suspect me?' If he had beer condemned to bear the body in his arms, and lay it down for recognition at the feet of every one he met, it could not have been more constantly with him, or a cause of more monotonous and dismal occupation than it was in this state of his mind." *

Jonas is on the verge of madness. There are other characters quite mad Dickens has drawn three or four por traits of madmen, very funny at first sight, but so true that they are in re

* Martin Chusslewit, ch. li.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »