Изображения страниц

ality horrible.

tion like his, irregular, excessive, capable of fixed ideas, to exhibit the derangements of reason. Two especially there are, which make us laugh, and which make us shudder. Augustus, a gloomy maniac, who is on the point of marrying Miss Pecksniff; and poor Mr. Dick, partly an idiot, partly a monomaniac, who lives with Miss Trotwood. To understand these exaltations, these unforeseen gloominesses, these incredible summersaults of perverted sensitiveness; to reproduce these hiatuses of thought, these interruptions of reasoning, this recurrence of a word, always the same, which breaks in upon a phrase attempted and overturns renascent reason; to see the stupid smile, the vacant look, the foolish and uneasy physiognomy of these haggard old children who painfully grope about from one idea to another, and stumble at every step on the threshold of the truth which they cannot attain, is a faculty which Hoffmann alone has possessed in an equal degree with Dickens. The play of these shattered reasons is like the creaking of a door on its rusty hinges; it makes one sick to hear it. We find in it, if we like, a discordant burst of laughter, but we discover still more easily a groan and a lamentation, and we are terrified to gauge the lucidity, strangeness, exaltation, violence of imagination which has produced such creations, which has carried them on and sustained them unbendingly to the end, and which found itself in its proper sphere in imitating and producing their irrationality.

It needed an imagina- | objects, a curiosity shop, a sign-pest, a town-crier. He has vigor, he does not attain beauty. His instrument produces vibrating, but not harmonious sounds. If he is describing a house, he will draw it with geometrical clearness; he will put all its colors in relief, discover a face and thought in the shutters and the spouts; he will make a sort of human being out of the house, grimacing and forcible, which attracts our attention, and which we shall never forget; but he will not see the grandeur of the long monumental lines, the calm majesty of the broad shadows boldly divided by the white plaster; the cheer. fulness of the light which covers them, and becomes palpable in the black niches in which it dives as though to rest and to sleep. If he is painting a landscape, he will perceive the haws which dot with their red fruit the leafless hedges, the thin vapor steaming from a distant stream, the motions of an insect in the grass; but the deep poetry which the author of Valentine and André✶ would have felt, will escape him. He will be lost, like the painters of his country, in the minute and im passioned observation of small things; he will have no love of beautiful forms and fine colors. He will not perceive that the blue and the red, the straight line and the curve, are enough to compose vast concerts, which amidst so many various expressions maintain a grand serenity, and open up in the depths of the soul a spring of health and happiness. Happiness is lacking in him; his inspiration is a feverish rapture, which does not select its objects, which animates promiscuously the ugly, the vulgar, the ridiculous, and which communicating to his creations an indescribable jerkiness and violence, deprives them of the delight and har mony which in other hands they might have retained. Miss Ruth is a very pretty housekeeper; she puts on her apron; what a treasure this apron is ! Dickens turns it over and over, like a milliner's shopman who wants to sell it. She holds it in her hands, then she puts it round her waist, ties the strings, spreads it out, smoothes it that it may fall well. What does she not do with her apron? And how delight is *Novels of George Sand.


To what can this force be applied? Imaginations differ not only in their nature, but also in their object; after having guaged their energy, we must lefine their domain; in the wide world the artist makes a world for himself; involuntarily he chooses a class of objects which he prefers; others do not warm his genius, and he does not perceive them. Dickens does not perceive great things this is the second feature of his imagination. Enthusiasm seizes him in connection with every thing, especially in connection with vulgar

"Yoho, behind there, stop that bugle for 1 moment! Come creeping over to the front along the coach-roof, guard, and make one at th's basket! Not that we slacken in our pace the while, not we: we rather put the bits of blood upon their mettle, for the greater glory of the snack. Ah! It is long since this bottle mellow breath of night, you may depend, and of old wine was brought into contact with the rare good stuff it is to wet a bugler's whistle

Dickens during these innocent occupations? He utters little exclamations of joyous fun. "Oh heaven, what a wicked little stomacher!" He, apostrophizes a ring, he sports round Ruth, he is so delighted that he claps his hands. It is much worse when she is making the pudding; there is a whole scene, dramatic and lyric, with exclama-with. Only try it. Don't be afraid of turning tions, protasis, sudden inversions as up your finger, Bill, another pull! Now, take complete as a Greek tragedy. These your breath, and try the bugle, Bill. There's music! There's a tone! Over the bills kitchen refinements and this waggery of and far away," indeed, Yoho! The skittish imagination make us think, by way of mare is all alive to-night. Yoho! Yoho! contrast, of the household pictures of know it; making the earth reflect the objects "See the bright moon; high up before we George Sand, of the room of Geneviève on its breast like water. Hedges, trees, low the flower-girl. She, like Ruth, is cottages, church steeples, blighted stumps and making a useful object, very useful, flourishing young slips, have all grown vain since she will sell it to-morrow for tenupon the sudden, and mean to contemplate their own fair images till morning. The poppence; but this object is a full-blown lars yonder rustle, that their quivering leaves rose, whose fragile petals are moulded may see themselves upon the ground. Not so by her fingers as by the fingers of a the oak; trembling does not become him fairy, whose fresh corolla is purpled steadfastness, without the motion of a twig and he watches himself in his stout old burly with a vermilion as tender as that of The moss-grown gate, ill poised upon its creak her cheeks; a fragile masterpiece ing hinges, crippled and decayed, swings to which bloomed on an evening of poetic and fro before its glass like some fantasti emotion, whilst from her window she dowager; while our own ghostly likeness travels on, Yoho! Yoho! through ditch and beheld in the sky the piercing and brake, upon the ploughed land and the smooth divine eyes of the stars, and in the along the steep hill-side and steeper wall, as i depths of her virgin heart murmured it were a phantom-Hunter. the first breath of love. Dickens does low! Not a dull fog that hides it, but a light, And a mist upon the Hol not need such a sight for his transports; airy, gauze-like mist, which in our eyes d a stage-coach throws him into dithy-modest admiration gives a new charm to the rambs; the wheels, the splashing, the done ere now, and would again, so please you beauties it is spread before: as real gauze hai cracking whip, the clatter of the horses, though we were the Pope. Yoho! Why, now harness, the vehicle; here is enough to we travel like the Moon herself. Hiding this transport him. He feels sympathetic-minute in a grove of trees, next minute in a ally the motion of the coach; it bears him along with it; he hears the gallop of the horses in his brain, and goes off, uttering this ode, which seems to proceed from the guard's horn:

"Yoho, among the gathering shades; making of no account the deep reflections of the trees, but scampering on through light and darkness, all the same, as if the light of London, fifty miles away, were quite enough to travel by, and some to spare. Yoho, beside the village green, where cricket-players linger yet, and every little indent, tion made in the fresh grass by bat or wicket, ball or player's foot, sheds out its perfume on the night. Away with four fresh horses from the Baldfaced Stag, where topers congregate about the door admiring; and the last team, with traces hanging loose, go roaming off towards the pond, until observed and shouted after by a dozen throats, while volunteering boys pursue them. Now, with a clattering of hoofs and striking out of fiery sparks, across the old stone bridge, and down again into the shadowy road, and through the open gate, and far away, away

into the wold. Yoho

"Clouds too!

broad, clear course, withdrawing now, but al patch of vapour, emerging now upon our ways dashing on, our journey is a counterpart of hers. Yoho! A match against the Moon!

"The beauty of the night is hardly felt, when Day comes leaping up. Yoho! Two stages, and the country roads are almost changed to a continuous street. Yoho, past market gardens, rows of houses, villas, cres cents, terraces, and squares; past waggons, coaches, carts; past early workmen, late strag glers, drunken men, and sober carriers of loads; past brick and mortar in its every shape; and in among the rattling pavements, where a jaunty-seat upon a coach is not so easy to preserve! Yoho, down countless turnings, and through countless mazy ways, until an old Inn-yard is gained, and Tom Pinch, getting down,, quite stunned and giddy, is in Lon


All this to tell us that Tom Pinch is come to London ! This fit of lyric poetry, in which the most poetic ex travagances spring from the most vul gar commonplaces, like sickly flowers * Martin Chusslewit, ch. xxxvi.

growing in a broken old flower-pot, displays in its natural and quaint contrasts all the sides of Dickens' imagination. We shall have his portrait if we picture to ourselves a man who, with a stewpan in one hand and a postillion's whip in the other, took to making prophecies.


The reader already foresees what vehement emotions this species of imagination will produce. The mode of conception in a man governs the mode of thought. When the mind, barely attentive, follows the indistinct outlines of a rough sketched image, joy and grief glide past him with insensible touch. When the mind, with rapt attention, penetrates the minute details of a precise image, joy and grief shake the whole man.

violence to the mind, which carries it away in digressions and falls, and only casts it on the bank enchanted and exhausted. It is an intoxication, and on a delicate soul the effect would be too forcible; but it suits the English pub lic, and that public has justified it.

This sensibility can hardly have more than two issues-laughter and tears. There are others, but they are only reached by lofty eloquence; they are the path to sublimity, and we have seen that for Dickens this path is cut off. Yet there is no writer who knows better how to touch and melt; he makes us weep, absolutely shed tears before reading him we did not know there was so much pity in the heart. The grief of a child, who wishes to be loved by his father, and whom his father does not love; the despairing love and slow death of a poor half-imbecile young man ; all these pictures of secret grief leave an ineffaceable impression. The tears which he sheds are genuine, and compassion is their only source. Balzac, George Sand, Stendhal have also recorded human miseries; is it possible to write without recording them? But they do not seek them out, they hit upon them; they do not dream of displaying them to us; they were going elsewhere, and met them on their way. They love art better than men. They delight only in setting in motion the springs of passions, in combining large systems of events, in constructing powerful characters: they do not write from sympathy with the wretched, but from love of beauty. When we have finished George Sand's Mauprat, our emotion is not pure sympathy; we feel, in addition, a deep admiration for the greatness and the generosity of love. When we have come to the end of Balzac's Le Père Goriot, our heart is pained by the tortures of that anguish ; but the astonishing inventiveness, the accumulation of facts, the abundance of general ideas, the force of analysis, transport us into the world of science, and our painful sympathy is calmed by the spectacle of this physiology of the heart. Dickens never calms our sympathy; he selects subjects in which it alone, and more than elsewhere, is unfolded: the long oppression of children

Dickens has this attention, and sees these details: this is why he meets everywhere with objects of exaltation. He never abandons his impassioned tone; he never rests in a natural style and in simple narrative; he only rails of weeps; he writes but satires or elegies. He has the feverish sensibility of a woman who laughs loudly, or melts into tears at the sudden shock of the slightest occurrence. This impassioned style is extremely potent, and to it may be attributed half the glory of Dickens. The majority of men have only weak emotions. We labor mechanically, and yawn much; three-fourths of things leave us cold; we go to sleep by habit, and we no longer remark the household scenes, petty details, stale adventures, which are the basis of our existence. A man comes, who suddenly renders them interesting; nay, who makes them dramatic. changes them into objects of admiration, tenderness and dread. Without leaving the fireside or the omnibus, we are trembling, our eyes full of tears, or shaken by fits of inextinguishable laughter. We are transformed, our life is doubled; our soul had been vegetating; now it feels, suffers, loves. The contrast, the rapid succession, the number of the sentiments, add further to its trouble; we are immersed for two hundred pages in a torrent of new emotions, contrary and increasing, which communicates its

persecuted and starved by their schoolmaster; the life of the factory-hand Stephen, robbed and degraded by his wife, driven away by his fellow-workmen, accused of theft, lingering six days at the bottom of a pit into which he has fallen, maimed, consumed by fever, and dying when he is at length discovered. Rachael, his only friend, is there; and his delirium, his cries, the storm of despair in which Dickens envelopes his characters, have prepared the way for the painful picture of this resigned death. The bucket brings up a poor, crushed human creature, and we see "the pale, worn, patient face looking up to the sky, whilst the right hand, shattered and hanging down, seems as if waiting to be taken by another hand." Yet he smiles, and feebly said "Rachael!" She stooped down, and bent over him until her eyes were between his and the sky, for he could not so much as turn them to look at her. Then in broken words he tells her of his long agony. Ever since he was born he has met with nothing but misery and injustice; it is the rule the weak suffer, and are made to suffer. This pit into which he had fallen "has

cost hundreds and hundreds o' men's lives-fathers, sons, brothers, dear to thousands an' thousands, an' keeping 'em fro' want and hunger.. The men that works in pits... ha' pray'n an' pray'n the lawmakers for Christ's sake not to let their work be murder to

'em, but to spare 'em for th' wives and children, that they loves as well as gentlefok loves theirs;" all in vain. "When the pit was in work, it killed wi'out need; when 't is let alone, it kills wi'out need."* Stephen says this without anger, quietly, merely as the truth. He has his caluminator before him; he does not get angry, accuses no one; he only charges old Gradgrind to clear him and make his name good with all men as soon as he shall be dead. His heart is up there in heaven, where he has seen a star shining. In his agony, on his bed of stones, he has gazed upon it, and the tender and touching glance of the divine star has calmed, by its mystical serenity, the anguish of mind and body.

*Hard Times, bk. 3, ch. vi.

"It ha' shined upon me,' he said rever ently, in my pain and trouble down below. It thowt o' thee, Rachael, till the muddle in my ha' shined into my mind. I ha' lookn at't and mind have cleared awa, above a bit, I hope. I soom ha' been wantin' in vnnerstan'in' n

better, I, too, ha' been wantin' in unnerstan ́in

them better.

"In my pain an' trouble, lookin' up yorder,-wi' it shinin' on me.-I ha' seen more clear, and ha' made it my dyin' prayer that a get a better unnerstan'in' o' one another, th th' world may on'y coom toogether more, a' when I were in't my own weak seln.

"Often as I coom to myseln, and found i shinin' on me down there in my trouble, I iour's home. I awmust think it be the very thowt it were the star as guided to Our Sav star!'

"They carried him very gently along the fields, and down the lanes, and over the vide in hers. Very few whispers broke the moun. landscape; Rachael always holding the hand fui silence. It was soon a funeral processon. The star had shown him where to find the Goa of the poor; and through humility, and sor and forgiveness, he had gone to his le deemer's rest." *


This same writer is the most railing the most comic, the most jocose of English authors. And it is moreover a singular gayety! It is the only knd which would harmonize with this inpassioned sensibility. There a laughof elegy: if the second pleads for he ter akin to tears. Satire is the siser oppressed, the first combats the p pressors. Feeling painfully all he wrongs that are committed, and he

vices that

[ocr errors]

are practised, Dickens avenges himself by ridicule. He does not paint, he punishes. Nothing could be more damaging than those long chapters of sustained irony, in which the sarcasm is pressed, line after line, more sanguinary and piercing in the chosen adversary. There are five o six against the Americans,-their vena. newspapers, their drunken journalists, their cheating speculators, their women authors, their coarseness, their famil

iarity, their insolence, their brutality, enough to captivate an absolutist, and to justify the French Liberal who, returning from New York, embraced with tears in his eyes the first gendarme whom he saw on landing at Havre. Starting of commercial companies, interviews between a member of Parlia ment and his constituents, instructions

of a member of the House of Com mons to his secretary, the outward dis

* Ibid.

[ocr errors]




"Four horses to each vehicle boots. drivers in cloth cloaks and top trappings. the plumage of the ostrich, dyed black . any number of walking attendants, dressed in the first style of funeral fashion, and in Westminster Abbey itself, if he choose to carrying batons tipped with brass .. a place invest it in such a purchase. Oh! do not let us say that gold is dross, when it can buy such things as these.' Ay, Mrs. Gamp, you are be an honoured calling. right,' rejoined the undertaker. We should We do good by stealth, and blush to have it mentioned in our little bills. How much consolation may Ieven I,' cried Mr. Mould, have diffused among my fellow-creatures by means of my four long-tailed prancers, never harnessed under ten pund ten!'"*

play of great banking-houses, the lay-shows us, he dazzles the reader's eyes ing of the first stone of a public build- with it; but the reader is amused by ing, every kind of ceremony and lie of this irregular fancy: the fire of the ex English society are depicted with the ecution makes him forget that the fire and bitterness of Hogarth. There scene is improbable, and he laughs are parts where the comic element is heartily as he listens to the underta so vi lent, that it has the semblance of ker, Mould, enumerating the consola vengeance, as the story of Jonas tions which filial piety, well backed by Chuzzlewit. "The very first word money, may find in his shop. which this excellent boy learnt to spell grief could not be softened by was gain, and the second (when he came into two syllables) was money." ." This fine education had unfortunately produced two results: first, that, "having been long taught by his father to overreach everybody, he had imperceptibly acquired a love of overreaching that venerable monitor himself;" secondly, that being taught to regard every thing a matter of property, "he had gradually come to look with impatience on his parent as a certain amount of personal estate," who would be very well secured," in that particular description of strong-box which is commonly called a coffin, and banked in the grave. "Is that my father snoring, Pecksniff?" asked Jonas; "tread upon his foot; will you be so good? The foot next you is the gouty one." + Young Chuzzlewit is introduced to us with this mark of attention; we may judge by this of his other feelings. In reality, Dickens is gloomy, like Hogarth; but, like Hogarth, he makes us burst with laughter by the buffoonery of his invention and the violence of his caricatures. He pushes his characters to absurdity with unwonted boldness. Pecksniff hits off moral phrases and sentimental actions in so grotesque a manner, that they make him extravagant. Never were heard such monstrous oratorical displays. Sheridan had already painted an English hypocrite, Joseph Surface; but he differs from Pecksniff as much as a portrait of the eighteenth century differs from a cartoon of Punch. Dickens makes hypocrisy so deformed and monstrous, that his hypocrite ceases to resemble a man; we would call him one of those fantastic figures whose nose is greater than his body. This exaggerated comicality springs from excess of imagination. Dickens uses the same spring throughout. The better to make us see the object he

Martin Chusslewit, ch. viii. ↑ Ibid.

Tone and

Usually Dickens remains grave lish wit consists in saying very jocular whilst drawing his caricatures. Engthings in a solemn manner. ideas are then in contrast; every contrast makes a strong impression. Dickens loves to produce them, and his public to hear them.

If at times he forgets to castigate

his neighbor, if he tries to sport, to amuse himself, he is not the more hapPy for all that. The chief element of the English character is its want of happiness. The ardent and tenacious imagination of Dickens is impressed with things too firmly, to pass lightly and gayly over the surface. He leans too heavily on them, he penetrates, works into, hollows them out; all these violent actions are efforts, and all efforts are sufferings. To be happy, a man must be light-minded, as a Frenchman of the eighteenth century, or sensual, as an Italian of the sixteenth; a man must not get anxious about things, if he wishes to enjoy them. Dickens does get anxious, and does not enjoy. Let us take a little comical accident, such as we meet with in the street-a gust of wind which blows about the gar ments of a street-porter. Scaram зuche

Ibid. ch. xix.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »