John Forster

The Life of Charles Dickens


  2. BETWEEN "PICKWICK" AND "NICKLEBY" (1837 and 1838)
  3. "OLIVER TWIST" (1838)
  4. "NICHOLAS NICKLEBY" (1838 and 1839)
  5. DURING AND AFTER "NICKLEBY" (1838 and 1839)
  7. "OLD CURIOSITY SHOP" (1840 and 1841)
  9. "BARNABY RUDGE" (1841)
  10. IN EDINBURGH (1841)
  11. IN THE HIGHLANDS (1841)



The first letter I had from him was at the close of 1836 from Furnival's-inn, when he sent me the book of his opera of the Village Coquettes, which had been published by Mr. Bentley; and this was followed, two months later, by his collected Sketches, both first and second series; which he desired me to receive "as a very small testimony of the donor's regard and obligations, as well as of his desire to cultivate and avail himself of a friendship which has been so pleasantly thrown in his way. . . . In short, if you will receive them for my sake and not for their own, you will very greatly oblige me." I had met him in the interval at the house of our common friend Mr. Ainsworth, and I remember vividly the impression then made upon me.

Very different was his face in those days from that which photography has made familiar to the present generation. A look of youthfulness first attracted you, and then a candour and openness of expression which made you sure of the qualities within. The features were very good. He had a capital forehead, a firm nose with full wide nostril, eyes wonderfully beaming with intellect and running over with humour and cheerfulness, and a rather prominent mouth strongly marked with sensibility. The head was altogether well-formed and symmetrical, and the air and carriage of it were extremely spirited. The hair so scant and grizzled in later days was then of a rich brown and most luxuriant abundance, and the bearded face of his last two decades had hardly a vestige of hair or whisker; but there was that in the face as I first recollect it which no time could change, and which remained implanted on it unalterably to the last. This was the quickness, keenness, and practical power, the eager, restless, energetic outlook on each several feature, that seemed to tell so little of a student or writer of books, and so much of a man of action and business in the world. Light and motion flashed from every part of it. It was as if made of steel, was said of it, four or five years after the time to which I am referring, by a most original and delicate observer, the late Mrs. Carlyle. "What a face is his to meet in a drawing-room!" wrote Leigh Hunt to me, the morning after I made them known to each other. "It has the life and soul in it of fifty human beings." In such sayings are expressed not alone the restless and resistless vivacity and force of which I have spoken, but that also which lay beneath them of steadiness and hard endurance.

Several unsuccessful efforts were made by each to get the other to his house before the door of either was opened at last. A son had been born to him on twelfth-day (6 January, 1837), and before the close of the following month he and his wife were in the lodgings at Chalk they had occupied after their marriage. Early in March there is a letter from him accounting for the failure of a promise to call on me because of "a crew of house agents and attornies," through whom he had nearly missed his conveyance to Chalk, and been made "more than half wild besides." This was his last letter from Furnival's-inn. In that same month he went to 48, Doughty-street ; and in his first letter to me from that address, dated at the close of the month, there is this passage: "We only called upon you a second time in the hope of getting you to dine with us, and were much disappointed not to find you. I have delayed writing a reply to your note, meaning to call upon you. I have been so much engaged, however, in the pleasant occupation of 'moving' that I have not had time; and I am obliged at last to write and say that I have been long engaged to the Pickwick publishers to a dinner in honour of that hero which comes off to-morrow. I am consequently unable to accept your kind invite, which I frankly own I should have liked much better."

That Saturday's celebration of his twelfth number, the anniversary of the birth of Pickwick, preceded by but a few weeks a personal sorrow which profoundly moved him. His wife's next youngest sister, Mary, who lived with them, and by sweetness of nature even more than by graces of person had made herself the ideal of his life, died with a terrible suddenness that for the time completely bore him down. His grief and suffering were intense, and affected him, as will be seen, through many after years. The publication of Pickwick was interrupted for two months, the effort of writing it not being possible to him. He moved for change of scene to Hampstead, and here, at the close of May, I visited him, and became first his guest. More than ordinarily susceptible at the moment to all kindliest impressions, his heart opened itself to mine. I left him as much his friend, and as entirely in his confidence, as if I had known him for years. Nor had many weeks passed before he addressed to me from Doughty-street words which it is my sorrowful pride to remember have had literal fulfilment. "I look back with unmingled pleasure to every link which each ensuing week has added to the chain of our attachment. It shall go hard, I hope, ere anything but Death impairs the toughness of a bond now so firmly riveted." It remained unweakened till death came.

There were circumstances that drew us at once into frequent and close communication. What the sudden popularity of his writings implied, was known to others some time before it was known to himself; and he was only now becoming gradually conscious of all the disadvantage this had placed him at. He would have laughed if, at this outset of his wonderful fortune in literature, his genius acknowledged by all without misgiving, young, popular, and prosperous, any one had compared him to the luckless men of letters of former days, whose common fate was to be sold into a slavery which their later lives were passed in vain endeavours to escape from. Not so was his fate to be, yet something of it he was doomed to experience. He had unwittingly sold himself into a quasi-bondage, and had to purchase his liberty at a heavy cost, after considerable suffering.

It was not until the fourth or fifth number of Pickwick (in the latter Sam Weller made his first appearance) that its importance began to be understood by "the trade," and on the eve of the issue of its sixth number, 22 August, 1836, he had signed an agreement with Mr. Bentley to undertake the editorship of a monthly magazine to be started the following January, to which he was to supply a serial story; and soon afterwards he had agreed with the same publisher to write two other tales, the first at a specified early date; the expressed remuneration in each case being certainly inadequate to the claims of a writer of any marked popularity. Under these Bentley agreements he was now writing, month by month, the first half of Oliver Twist, and, under his Chapman and Hall agreement, the last half of Pickwick, not even by a week in advance of the printer with either; when a circumstance became known to him of which he thus wrote to me.

"I heard half-an-hour ago, on authority which leaves me in no doubt about the matter (from the binder of Pickwick in fact), that Macrone intends publishing a new issue of my Sketches in monthly parts of nearly the same size and in just the same form as the Pickwick Papers. I need not tell you that this is calculated to injure me most seriously, or that I have a very natural and most decided objection to being supposed to presume upon the success of the Pickwick, and thus foist this old work upon the public in its new dress for the mere purpose of putting money in my own pocket. Neither need I say that the fact of my name being before the town, attached to three publications at the same time, must prove seriously prejudicial to my reputation. As you are acquainted with the circumstances under which these copyrights were disposed of, and as I know I may rely on your kind help, may I beg you to see Macrone, and to state in the strongest and most emphatic manner my feeling on this point. I wish him to be reminded of the sums he paid for those books; of the sale he has had for them; of the extent to which he has already pushed them; and of the very great profits he must necessarily have acquired from them. I wish him also to be reminded that no intention of publishing them in this form was in the remotest manner hinted to me, by him or on his behalf, when he obtained possession of the copyright. I then wish you to put it to his feelings of common honesty and fair-dealing whether after this communication he will persevere in his intention." What else the letter contained need not be quoted, but it strongly moved me to do my best.

I found Mr. Macrone inaccessible to all arguments of persuasion however. That he had bought the book for a small sum at a time when the smallest was not unimportant to the writer, shortly before his marriage, and that he had since made very considerable profits by it, in no way disturbed his position that he had a right to make as much as he could of what was his, without regard to how it had become so. There was nothing for it but to change front, and, admitting it might be a less evil to the unlucky author to repurchase than to let the monthly issue proceed, to ask what further gain was looked for: but so wide a mouth was opened at this that I would have no part in the costly process of filling it. I told Dickens so, and strongly counselled him to keep quiet for a time.

But the worry and vexation were too great with all the work he had in hand, and I was hardly surprised next day to receive the letter sent me; which yet should be prefaced with the remark that suspense of any kind was at all times intolerable to the writer. The interval between the accomplishment of anything, and "its first motion," Dickens never could endure, and he was too ready to make any sacrifice to abridge or end it. This did not belong to the strong side of his character, and advantage was frequently taken of the fact. "I sent down just now to know whether you were at home (two o'clock), as Chapman and Hall were with me, and, the case being urgent, I wished to have the further benefit of your kind advice and assistance. Macrone and his friend (Arcades Ambo) waited on them this morning, and after a long discussion peremptorily refused to take one farthing less than the two thousand pounds. The friend repeated the statement of figures which he made to you yesterday, and put it to Hall whether he could say from his knowledge of such matters that the estimate of probable profit was exorbitant. Hall, whose judgment may be relied on in such matters, could not dispute the justice of the calculation. And so the matter stood. In this dilemma it occurred to them (my Pickwick men), whether, if the Sketches must appear in monthly numbers, it would not be better for them to appear for their benefit and mine conjointly, than for Macrone's sole use and behoof; whether they, having all the Pickwick machinery in full operation, could not obtain for them a much larger sale than Macrone could ever get; and whether, even at this large price of two thousand pounds, we might not, besides retaining the copyright, reasonably hope for a good profit on the outlay. These suggestions having presented themselves, they came straight to me (having obtained a few hours' respite), and proposed that we should purchase the copyrights between us for the two thousand pounds, and publish them in monthly parts. I need not say that no other form of publication would repay the expenditure; and they wish me to explain by an address that they, who may be fairly put forward as the parties, have been driven into that mode of publication, or the copyrights would have been lost. I considered the matter in every possible way. I sent for you, but you were out. I thought of" (what need not be repeated, now that all is past and gone) "and consented. Was I right? I think you will say yes." I could not say no, though I was glad to have been no party to a price so exorbitant; which yet profited extremely little the person who received it. He died in hardly more than two years; and if Dickens had enjoyed the most liberal treatment at his hands, he could not have exerted himself more generously for the widow and children.

His new story was now beginning largely to share attention with his Pickwick Papers, and it was delightful to see how real all its people became to him. What I had most indeed to notice in him, at the very outset of his career, was his indifference to any praise of his performances on the merely literary side, compared with the higher recognition of them as bits of actual life, with the meaning and purpose on their part, and the responsibility on his, of realities rather than creatures of fancy. The exception that might be drawn from Pickwick is rather in seeming than substance. A first book has its immunities, and the distinction of this from the rest of the writings appears in what has been said of its origin. The plan of it was simply to amuse. It was to string together whimsical sketches of the pencil by entertaining sketches of the pen; and, at its beginning, where or how it was to end was as little known to himself as to any of its readers. But genius is a master as well as a servant, and when the laughter and fun were at their highest something graver made its appearance. He had to defend himself for this; and he said that, though the mere oddity of a new acquaintance was apt to impress one at first, the more serious qualities were discovered when we became friends with the man. In other words, he might have said that the change was become necessary for his own satisfaction. The book itself, in teaching him what his power was, had made him more conscious of what would be expected from its use; and this never afterwards quitted him. In what he was to do hereafter, as in all he was doing now, with Pickwick still to finish and Oliver only beginning, it constantly attended him. Nor could it well be otherwise, with all those fanciful creations so real, to a nature in itself so practical and earnest; and in this spirit I had well understood the letter accompanying what had been published of Oliver since its commencement the preceding February, which reached me the day after I visited him. Something to the effect of what has just been said, I had remarked publicly of the portion of the story sent to me; and his instant warm-hearted acknowledgment, of which I permit myself to quote a line or two, showed me in what perfect agreement we were. "How can I thank you? Can I do better than by saying that the sense of poor Oliver's reality, which I know you have had from the first, has been the highest of all praise to me. None that has been lavished upon me have I felt half so much as that appreciation of my intent and meaning. You know I have ever done so, for it was your feeling for me and mine for you that first brought us together, and I hope will keep us so, till death do us part. Your notices make me grateful but very proud; so have a care of them."

There was nothing written by him after this date which I did not see before the world did, either in manuscript or proofs; and in connection with the latter I shortly began to give him the help which he publicly mentioned twenty years later in dedicating his collected writings to me. One of his letters reminds me when these corrections began, and they were continued very nearly to the last. They lightened for him a labour of which he had more than enough imposed upon him at this time by others, and they were never anything but an enjoyment to me. "I have," he wrote, "so many sheets of the Miscellany to correct before I can begin Oliver, that I fear I shall not be able to leave home this morning. I therefore send your revise of the Pickwick by Fred, who is on his way with it to the printers. You will see that my alterations are very slight, but I think for the better." This was the fourteenth number of the Pickwick Papers. Fred was his next younger brother, who lived with him at the time.

The number following this was the famous one in which the hero finds himself in the Fleet, and another of his letters will show what enjoyment the writing of it had given to himself. I had sent to ask him where we were to meet for a proposed ride that day. "HERE," was his reply. "I am slippered and jacketted, and, like that same starling who is so very seldom quoted, can't get out. I am getting on, thank Heaven, 'like a house o' fire,' and think the next Pickwick will bang all the others. I shall expect you at one, and we will walk to the stable together. If you know anybody at Saint Paul's, I wish you'd send round and ask them not to ring the bell so. I can hardly hear my own ideas as they come into my head, and say what they mean."

The exulting tone of confidence in what he had thus been writing was indeed well justified. He had as yet done nothing so remarkable, in blending humour with tragedy, as his picture of what the poor side of a debtors' prison was in the days of which we have seen that he had himself had bitter experience; and we have but to recall, as it rises sharply to the memory, what is contained in this portion of a work that was not only among his earliest but his least considered as to plan, to understand what it was that not alone had given him his fame so early, but which in itself held the germ of the future that awaited him. Every point was a telling one, and the truthfulness of the whole unerring. The dreadful restlessness of the place, undefined yet unceasing, unsatisfying and terrible, was pictured throughout with Defoe's minute reality; while points of character were handled in that greater style which connects with the richest oddities of humour an insight into principles of character universal as nature itself. When he resolved that Sam Weller should be occupant of the prison with Mr. Pickwick, he was perhaps thinking of his favourite Smollett, and how, when Peregrine Pickle was inmate of the Fleet, Hatchway and Pipes refused to leave him; but Fielding himself might have envied his way of setting about it. Nor is any portion of his picture less admirable than this. The comedy gradually deepening into tragedy; the shabby vagabonds who are the growth of debtors' prisons, contrasting with the poor simple creatures who are their sacrifices and victims; Mr. Mivins and Mr. Smangle, side by side with the cobbler ruined by his legacy, who sleeps under the table to remind himself of his old four-poster; Mr. Pickwick's first night in the marshal's room, Sam Weller entertaining Stiggins in the snuggery, Jingle in decline, and the chancery prisoner dying; in all these scenes there was writing of the first order, a deep feeling of character, that delicate form of humour which has a quaintly pathetic turn in it as well, comedy of the richest and broadest kind, and the easy handling throughout of a master in his art. We place the picture by the side of those of the great writers of this style of fiction in our language, and it does not fall by the comparison.

Of what the reception of the book had been up to this time, and of the popularity Dickens had won as its author, this also will be the proper place to speak. For its kind, its extent, and the absence of everything unreal or factitious in the causes that contributed to it, it is unexampled in literature. Here was a series of sketches, without the pretence to such interest as attends a well-constructed story; put forth in a form apparently ephemeral as its purpose; having none that seemed higher than to exhibit some studies of cockney manners with help from a comic artist; and after four or five parts had appeared, without newspaper notice or puffing, and itself not subserving in the public anything false or unworthy, it sprang into a popularity that each part carried higher and higher, until people at this time talked of nothing else, tradesmen recommended their goods by using its name, and its sale, outstripping at a bound that of all the most famous books of the century, had reached to an almost fabulous number. Of part one, the binder prepared four hundred; and of part fifteen, his order was for more than forty thousand. Every class, the high equally with the low, were attracted to it. The charm of its gaiety and good humour, its inexhaustible fun, its riotous overflow of animal spirits, its brightness and keenness of observation, and, above all, the incomparable ease of its many varieties of enjoyment, fascinated everybody. Judges on the bench and boys in the street, gravity and folly, the young and the old, those who were entering life and those who were quitting it, alike found it to be irresistible. "An archdeacon," wrote Mr. Carlyle afterwards to me, "with his own venerable lips, repeated to me, the other night, a strange profane story: of a solemn clergyman who had been administering ghostly consolation to a sick person; having finished, satisfactorily as he thought, and got out of the room, he heard the sick person ejaculate: 'Well, thank God, Pickwick will be out in ten days anyway!' -- This is dreadful."

Let me add that there was something more in it all than the gratification of mere fun and laughter, or even than the rarer pleasure that underlies the outbreak of all forms of genuine humour. Another chord had been struck. Over and above the lively painting of manners which at first had been so attractive, there was something that left deeper mark. Genial and irrepressible enjoyment, affectionate heartiness of tone, unrestrained exuberance of mirth, these are not more delightful than they are fleeting and perishable qualities; but the attention eagerly excited by the charm of them in Pickwick found itself retained by something more permanent. We had all become suddenly conscious, in the very thick of the extravaganza of adventure and fun set before us, that here were real people. It was not somebody talking humorously about them, but they were there themselves. That a number of persons belonging to the middle and lower ranks of life (Wardles, Winkles, Wellers, Tupmans, Bardells, Snubbinses, Perkers, Bob Sawyers, Dodsons and Foggs) had been somehow added to his intimate and familiar acquaintance, the ordinary reader knew before half a dozen numbers were out; and it took not many more to make clear to the intelligent reader that a new and original genius in the walk of Smollett and Fielding had arisen in England.

I do not, for reasons to be hereafter stated, think the Pickwick Papers comparable to the later books; but, apart from the new vein of humour it opened, its wonderful freshness and its unflagging animal spirits, it has two characters that will probably continue to attract to it an unfading popularity. Its pre-eminent achievement is of course Sam Weller; one of those people that take their place among the supreme successes of fiction, as one that nobody ever saw but everybody recognises, at once perfectly natural and intensely original. Who is there that has ever thought him tedious? Who is so familiar with him as not still to be finding something new in him? Who is so amazed by his inexhaustible resources, or so amused by his inextinguishable laughter, as to doubt of his being as ordinary and perfect a reality, nevertheless, as anything in the London streets? When indeed the relish has been dulled that makes such humour natural and appreciable, and not his native fun only, his ready and rich illustration, his imperturbable self-possession, but his devotion to his master, his chivalry and his gallantry, are no longer discovered, or believed no longer to exist, in the ranks of life to which he belongs, it will be worse for all of us than for the fame of his creator. Nor, when faith is lost in that possible combination of eccentricities and benevolences, shrewdness and simplicity, good sense and folly, all that suggests the ludicrous and nothing that suggests contempt for it, which form the delightful oddity of Pickwick, will the mistake committed be one merely of critical misjudgment. But of this there is small fear. Sam Weller and Mr. Pickwick are the Sancho and the Quixote of Londoners, and as little likely to pass away as the old city itself.

Dickens was very fond of riding in these early years, and there was no recreation he so much indulged, or with such profit to himself, in the intervals of his hardest work. I was his companion oftener than I could well afford the time for, the distances being great and nothing else to be done for the day; but when a note would unexpectedly arrive while I knew him to be hunted hard by one of his printers, telling me he had been sticking to work so closely that he must have rest, and, by way of getting it, proposing we should start together that morning at eleven o'clock for "a fifteen mile ride out, ditto in, and a lunch on the road," with a wind-up of six o'clock dinner in Doughty Street, I could not resist the good fellowship. His notion of finding rest from mental exertion in as much bodily exertion of equal severity continued with him to the last; taking in the later years what I always thought the too great strain of as many miles in walking as he now took in the saddle, and too often indulging it at night: for, though he was always passionately fond of walking, he observed as yet a moderation in it, even accepting as sufficient my seven or eight miles' companionship. "What a brilliant morning for a country walk!" he would write, with not another word in his dispatch. Or, "Is it possible that you can't, oughtn't, shouldn't, mustn't, won't be tempted, this gorgeous day!" Or, "I start precisely -- precisely mind -- at half-past one. Come, come, come, and walk in the green lanes. You will work the better for it all the week. COME! I shall expect you." Or, "You don't feel disposed, do you, to muffle yourself up, and start off with me for a good brisk walk, over Hampstead Heath? I knows a good 'ous there where we can have a red-hot chop for dinner, and a glass of good wine": which led to our first experience of Jack Straw's Castle, memorable for many happy meetings in coming years. But the rides were most popular and frequent. "I think," he would write, "Richmond and Twickenham, thro' the park, out at Knightsbridge and over Barnes Common -- would make a beautiful ride Or, "Do you know, I shouldn't object to an early chop at some village inn?" Or, "Not knowing whether my head was off or on it became so addled with work, I have gone riding the old road, and should be truly delighted to meet or be overtaken by you." Or, "Where shall it be -- oh where -- Hampstead, Greenwich, Windsor? WHERE?????? while the day is bright, net when it has dwindled away to nothing! For who can be of any use whatsomdever such a day as this, excepting out of doors? Or it might be interrogatory summons to "A hard trot of three hours?" or intimation as laconic "To be heard of at Eel Pie House, Twickenham!" When first I knew him, I may add his carriage for his wife's use was a small chaise with a smaller pair of ponies, which, having a habit of making sudden rushes up by-streets in the day and peremptory standstills in ditches by night, were changed in the following year for a more suitable equipage.

To this mention of his habits while at work when our friendship began, I have to add what will complete the relation already given, in connection with his Sketches, of the uneasy sense accompanying his labour that it was yielding insufficient for himself while it enriched others, which is a needful part of his story at this time. At Midsummer 1837, replying to some inquiries, and sending his agreement with Mr. Bentley for the Miscellany under which he was writing Oliver, he went on: "It is a very extraordinary fact (I forgot it on Sunday) that I have NEVER HAD from him a copy of the agreement respecting the novel, which I never saw before or since I signed it at his house one morning long ago. Shall I ask him for a copy, or no? I have looked at some memoranda I made at the time, and I fear he has my second novel on the same terms, under the same agreement. This is a bad look-out, but we must try and mend it. You will tell me you are very much surprised at my doing business in this way. So am I, for in most matters of labour and application I am punctuality itself. The truth is (though you do not need I should explain the matter to you, my dear fellow) that, if I had allowed myself to be worried by these things, I could never have done as much as I have. But I much fear, in my desire to avoid present vexations, I have laid up a bitter store for the future." The second novel, which he had promised in a complete form for a very early date, and had already selected subject and title for, was published four years later as Barnaby Rudge; but of the third he at present knew nothing but that he was expected to begin it, if not in the magazine, somewhere or other independently within a specified time.

The first appeal made, in taking action upon his letter, had reference to the immediate pressure of the Barnaby novel; but it also opened up the question of the great change of circumstances since these various agreements had been precipitately signed by him, the very different situation brought about by the extraordinary increase in the popularity of his writings, and the advantage it would be, to both Mr. Bentley and himself, to make more equitable adjustment of their relations. Some misunderstandings followed, but were closed by a compromise in September 1837; by which the third novel was abandoned on certain conditions, and Barnaby was undertaken to be finished by November 1838. This involved a completion of the new story during the progress of Oliver, whatever might be required to follow on the close of Pickwick; and I doubted its wisdom. But it was accepted for the time.

He had meanwhile taken his wife abroad for a ten days' summer holiday, accompanied by the shrewd observant young artist Mr. Hablot Browne, whose admirable illustrations to Pickwick had more than supplied Mr. Seymour's loss; and I had a letter from him on their landing at Calais on 2 July.

"We have arranged for a post-coach to take us to Ghent, Brussels, Antwerp, and a hundred other places, that I cannot recollect now and couldn't spell if I did. We went this afternoon in a barouche to some gardens where the people dance, and where they were footing it most heartily -- especially the women, who in their short petticoats and light caps look uncommonly agreeable. A gentleman in a blue surtout and silken berlins accompanied us from the hotel, and acted as curator. He even waltzed with a very smart lady (just to show us, condescendingly, how it ought to be done), and waltzed elegantly, too. We rang for slippers after we came back, and it turned out that this gentleman was the Boots."

His later seaside holiday was passed at Broadstairs, as were those of many subsequent years, and the little watering-place has been made memorable by his pleasant sketch of it. From his letters to myself a few lines may be given of his first doings and impressions there.

Writing on 3 September, he reports himself just risen from an attack of illness. "I am much better, and hope to begin Pickwick No. 18 to-morrow. You will imagine how queer I must have been when I tell you that I have been compelled for four-and-twenty mortal hours to abstain from porter or other malt liquor!!! I done it though -- really. . . . I have discovered that the landlord of the Albion has delicious hollands (but what is that to you, for you cannot sympathise with my feelings), and that a cobbler who lives opposite to my bedroom window is a Roman Catholic, and gives an hour and a half to his devotions every morning behind his counter. I have walked upon the sands at low-water from this place to Ramsgate, and sat upon the same at high-ditto till I have been flayed with the cold. I have seen ladies and gentlemen walking upon the earth in slippers of buff, and pickling themselves in the sea in complete suits of the same. I have seen stout gentlemen looking at nothing through powerful telescopes for hours, and, when at last they saw a cloud of smoke, fancying a steamer behind it, and going home comfortable and happy. I have found out that our next neighbour has a wife and something else under the same roof with the rest of his furniture -- the wife deaf and blind, and the something else given to drinking. And if you ever get to the end of this letter you will find out that I subscribe myself on paper as on everything else (some atonement perhaps for its length and absurdity)," etc.

In his next letter (from 12 High Street, Broadstairs, on the 7th) there is allusion to one of the many piracies of Pickwick, which had distinguished itself beyond the rest by a preface abusive of the writer plundered. "I recollect this 'member of the dramatic-authors'-society' bringing an action once against Chapman, who rented the City Theatre, in which it was proved that he had undertaken to write under special agreement seven melodramas for five pounds, to enable him to do which a room had been hired in a gin-shop close by. The defendant's plea was that the plaintiff was always drunk, and had not fulfilled his contract. Well; if the Pickwick has been the means of putting a few shillings in the vermin-eaten pockets of so miserable a creature, and has saved him from a workhouse or a jail, let him empty out his little pot of filth and welcome. I am quite content to have been the means of relieving him. Besides, he seems to have suffered by agreements!"

His own troubles in that way were compromised for the time as already hinted, at the close of this September month; and the end of the month following, after finishing Pickwick and resuming Oliver, the latter having been suspended by him during the recent disputes, he made his first visit to Brighton. The opening of his letter of Friday, 3 November, is full of friendly regrets that I had not joined them there. "It is a beautiful day and we have been taking advantage of it, but the wind until to-day has been so high and the weather so stormy that Kate has been scarcely able to peep out of doors. On Wednesday it blew a perfect hurricane, breaking windows, knocking down shutters, carrying people off their legs, blowing the fires out, and causing universal consternation. The air was for some hours darkened with a shower of black hats (second-hand) which are supposed to have been blown off the heads of unwary passengers in remote parts of the town, and have been industriously picked up by the fishermen. Charles Kean was advertised for Othello, 'for the benefit of Mrs. Sefton, having most kindly postponed for this one day his departure for London.' I have not heard whether he got to the theatre, but I am sure nobody else did. They do The Honeymoon to-night, on which occasion I mean to patronise the drayma. We have a beautiful bay-windowed sitting-room here, fronting the sea, but I have seen nothing of B.'s brother who was to have shown me the lions, and my notions of the place are consequently somewhat confined: being limited to the Pavilion, the Chain Pier, and the sea. The last is quite enough for me, and, unless I am joined by some male companion (do you think I shall be?), is most probably all I shall make acquaintance with. I am glad you like Oliver this month: especially glad that you particularise the first chapter. I hope to do great things with Nancy. If I can only work out the idea I have formed of her, and of the female who is to contrast with her, I think I may defy Mr.---- and all his works. I have had great difficulty in keeping my hands off Fagin and the rest of them in the evenings; but, as I came down for rest, I have resisted the temptation, and steadily applied myself to the labour of being idle. Did you ever read (of course you have, though) Defoe's History of the Devil? What a capital thing it is! I bought it for a couple of shillings yesterday morning, and have been quite absorbed in it ever since. We must have been jolter-headed geniuses not to have anticipated M.'s reply. My best remembrances to him. I see H. at this moment. I must be present at a rehearsal of that opera. It will be better than any comedy that was ever played. Talking of comedies, I still see NO THOROUGHFARE staring me in the face, every time I look down that road. I have taken places for Tuesday next. We shall be at home at six o'clock, and I shall hope at least to see you that evening. I am afraid you will find this letter extremely dear at eightpence, but if the warmest assurances of friendship and attachment, and anxious lookings-forward to the pleasure of your society, be worth anything, throw them into the balance, together with a hundred good wishes and one hearty assurance that I am," etc., "CHARLES DICKENS. No room for the flourish -- I'll finish it the next time I write to you."

The flourish that accompanied his signature is familiar to everyone. The allusion to the comedy expresses a fancy he at this time had of being able to contribute some such achievement in aid of Macready's gallant efforts at Covent Garden to bring hack to the stage its higher associations of good literature and intellectual enjoyment. It connects curiously now that unrealised hope with the exact title of the only story he ever took part himself in dramatising, arid which Mr. Fechter played at the Adelphi three years before his death.


1837 and 1838

Not remotely bearing on the stage, nevertheless, was the employment on which I found him busy at his return from Brighton; one result of his more satisfactory relations with Mr. Bentley having led to a promise to edit for him a life of the celebrated clown, Grimaldi. The manuscript had been prepared from autobiographical notes by a Mr. Egerton Wilks, and contained one or two stories told so badly, and so well worth better telling, that the hope of enlivening their dulness at the cost of very little labour constituted a sort of attraction for him. Except the preface he did not write a line of this biography, such modifications or additions as he made having been dictated by him to his father; whom I found often in exalted enjoyment of the office of amanuensis. He had also a most indifferent opinion of the mass of material which Mr. Wilks had raked together, describing it as "twaddle;" and his own modest estimate of the book, on its completion, may be guessed from the number of notes of admiration (no less than thirty) which accompanied his written mention to me of the sale with which it started in the first week of its publication. "Seventeen hundred Grimaldis have been already sold, and the demand increases daily!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

It was not to have all its own way however. A great many critical faults were found; and one point in particular was urged against his handling such a subject, that he could never himself even have seen Grimaldi. To this last objection he was moved to reply, and had prepared a letter for the Miscellany, "from editor to sub-editor," which it was thought best to suppress, but of which the opening remark may now be not unamusing. "I understand that a gentleman unknown is going about this town privately informing all ladies and gentlemen of discontented natures, that, on a comparison of dates and putting together of many little circumstances which occur to his great sagacity, he has made the profound discovery that I can never have seen Grimaldi whose life I have edited, and that the book must therefore of necessity be bad. Now, sir, although I was brought up from remote country parts in the dark ages of 1819 and 1820 to behold the splendour of Christmas pantomimes and the humour of Joe, in whose honour I am informed I clapped my hands with great precocity, and although I even saw him act in the remote times of 1823; yet as I had not then aspired to the dignity of a tail-coat, though forced by a relentless parent into my first pair of boots, I am willing, with the view of saving this honest gentleman further time and trouble, to concede that I had not arrived at man's estate when Grimaldi left the stage, and that my recollections of his acting are, to my loss, but shadowy and imperfect. Which confession I now make publicly, and without mental qualification or reserve, to all whom it may concern. But the deduction of this pleasant gentleman that therefore the Grimaldi book must be bad, I must take leave to doubt. I don't think that to edit a man's biography from his own notes it is essential you should have known him, and I don't believe that Lord Braybrooke had more than the very slightest acquaintance with Mr. Pepys whose memoirs he edited two centuries after he died."

Enormous meanwhile, and without objection audible on any side, had been the success of the completed Pickwick, which we celebrated by a dinner, with himself in the chair and Talfourd in the vice-chair, everybody in hearty good humour with every other body; and a copy of which I received from him on 11 December in the most luxurious of Hayday's bindings, with a note worth preserving for its closing allusion. The passage referred to in it was a comment, in delicately chosen words, that Leigh Hunt had made on the inscription at the grave in Kensal-green. "Chapman and Hall have just sent me, with a copy of our deed, three 'extra-super' bound copies of Pickwick, as per specimen inclosed. The first I forward to you, the second I have presented to our good friend Ainsworth, and the third Kate has retained for herself. Accept your copy with one sincere and most comprehensive expression of my warmest friendship and esteem; and a hearty renewal, if there need be any renewal when there has been no interruption, of all those assurances of affectionate regard which our close friendship and communion for a long time back has every day implied. . . . That beautiful passage you were so kind and considerate as to send me, has given me the only feeling akin to pleasure (sorrowful pleasure it is) that I have yet had, connected with the loss of my dear young friend and companion; for whom my love and attachment will never diminish, and by whose side, if it please God to leave me in possession of sense to signify my wishes, my bones, whenever or wherever I die, will one day be laid. Tell Leigh Hunt when you have an opportunity how much he has affected me, and how deeply I thank him for what he has done. You cannot say it too strongly."

The "deed" mentioned was one executed in the previous month to restore to him a third ownership in the book which had thus far enriched all concerned but himself. The original understanding respecting it Mr. Edwin Chapman thus describes for me. "There was no agreement about Pickwick except a verbal one. Each number was to consist of a sheet and a half, for which we were to pay fifteen guineas; and we paid him for the first two numbers at once, as he required the money to go and get married with. We were also to pay more according to the sale, and I think Pickwick altogether cost us three thousand pounds." Adjustment to the sale would have cost four times as much, and of the actual payments I have myself no note; but as far as my memory serves, they are overstated by Mr. Chapman. My impression is, that, above and beyond the first sum due for each of the twenty numbers (making no allowance for their extension after the first to thirty-two pages), successive cheques were given, as the work went steadily on to the enormous sale it reached, which brought up the entire sum received to two thousand five hundred pounds. I had however always pressed so strongly the importance to him of some share in the copyright, that this at last was conceded in the deed above-mentioned, though five years were to elapse before the right should accrue; and it was only yielded as part consideration for a further agreement entered into at the same date (19 November, 1837) whereby Dickens engaged to "write a new work the title whereof shall be determined by him, of a similar character and of the same extent as the Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club," the first number of which was to be delivered on the fifteenth of the following March, and each of the numbers on the same day of each of the successive nineteen months; which was also to be the date of the payment to him, by Messrs. Chapman and Hall, of twenty several sums of one hundred and fifty pounds each for five years' use of the copyright, the entire ownership in which was then to revert to Dickens. The name of this new book, as all the world knows, was The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby; and between April 1838 and October 1839 it was begun and finished accordingly.

All through the interval of these arrangements Oliver Twist had been steadily continued. Month by month, for many months, it had run its opening course with the close of Pickwick, as we shall see it close with the opening of Nickleby; and the expectations of those who had built most confidently on the young novelist were more than confirmed. Here was the interest of a story simply but well constructed; and characters with the same impress of reality upon them, but more carefully and skilfully drawn. Nothing could be meaner than the subject, the progress of a parish or workhouse boy, nothing less so than its treatment. As each number appeared, his readers generally became more and more conscious of what already, as we have seen, had revealed itself amid even the riotous fun of Pickwick, that the purpose was not solely to amuse; and, far more decisively than its predecessor, the new story further showed what were the not least potent elements in the still increasing popularity that was gathering around the writer. His qualities could be appreciated as well as felt in an almost equal degree by all classes of his various readers. Thousands were attracted to him because he placed them in the midst of scenes and characters with which they were already themselves acquainted; and thousands were reading him with no less avidity because he introduced them to passages of nature and life of which they before knew nothing, but of the truth of which their own habits and senses sufficed to assure them. Only to genius are so revealed the affinities and sympathies of high and low, in regard to the customs and usages of life; and only a writer of the first rank can bear the application of such a test. For it is by the alliance of common habits, quite as much as by the bonds of a common humanity, that we are all of us linked together; and the result of being above the necessity of depending on other people's opinions, and that of being below it, are pretty much the same. It would equally startle both high and low to be conscious of the whole that is implied in this close approximation; but for the common enjoyment of which I speak such consciousness is not required; and for the present Fagin may be left undisturbed in his school of practical ethics with only the Dodger, Charley Bates, and his other promising scholars.

With such work as this in hand, it will hardly seem surprising that as the time for beginning Nickleby came on, and as he thought of his promise for November, he should have the sense of "something hanging over him like a hideous nightmare." He felt that he could not complete the Barnaby Rudge novel by the November of that year as promised, and that the engagement he would have to break was unfitting him for engagements he might otherwise fulfil. He had undertaken what in truth was impossible. The labour of at once editing the Miscellany and supplying it with monthly portions of Oliver, more than occupied all the time left him by other labours absolutely necessary. "I no sooner get myself up," he wrote, "high and dry, to attack Oliver manfully, than up come the waves of each month's work, and drive me back again into a sea of manuscript." There was nothing for it but that he should make farther appeal to Mr. Bentley. "I have recently," he wrote to him on 11 February, 1838, "been thinking a great deal about Barnaby Rudge. Grimaldi has occupied so much of the short interval I had between the completion of the Pickwick and the commencement of the new work, that I see it will be wholly impossible for me to produce it by the time I had hoped, with justice to myself or profit to you. What I wish you to consider is this: would it not be far more to your interest, as well as within the scope of my ability, if Barnaby Rudge began in the Miscellany immediately on the conclusion of Oliver Twist, and were continued there for the same time, and then published in three volumes? Take these simple facts into consideration. If the Miscellany is to keep its ground, it must have some continuous tale from me when Oliver stops. If I sat down to Barnaby Rudge, writing a little of it when I could (and with all my other engagements it would necessarily be a very long time before I could hope to finish it that way), it would be clearly impossible for me to begin a new series of papers in the Miscellany. The conduct of three different stories at the same time, and the production of a large portion of each, every month, would have been beyond Scott himself. Whereas, having Barnaby for the Miscellany, we could at once supply the gap which the cessation of Oliver must create, and you would have all the advantage of that prestige in favour of the work which is certain to enhance the value of Oliver Twist considerably. Just think of this at your leisure. I am really anxious to do the best I can for you as well as for myself, and in this case the pecuniary advantage must be all on your side." This letter nevertheless, which had also requested an overdue account of the sales of the Miscellany, led to differences which were only adjusted after six months' wrangling; and I was party to the understanding then arrived at, by which, among other things, Barnaby was placed upon the footing desired, and was to begin when Oliver closed.

Of the progress of his Oliver, and his habits of writing at the time, it may perhaps be worth giving some additional glimpses from his letters of 1838. "I was thinking about Oliver till dinner-time yesterday," he wrote on 9 March, "and, just as I had fallen upon him tooth and nail, was called away to sit with Kate. I did eight slips however, and hope to make them fifteen this morning." Three days before, a daughter had been born to him, who became a god-daughter to me; on which occasion (having closed his announcement with a postscript of "I can do nothing this morning. What time will you ride? The sooner the better for a good long spell"), we rode out fifteen miles on the great north-road, and, after dining at the Red-lion in Barnet on our way home, distinguished the already memorable day by bringing in both hacks dead lame.

On that day week, Monday the 13th, after describing himself "sitting patiently at home waiting for Oliver Twist who has not yet arrived," which was his agreeable form of saying that his fancy had fallen into sluggishness that morning, he made remark in as pleasant phrase on some piece of painful news I had sent him, now forgotten. "I have not yet seen the paper, and you throw me into a fever. The comfort is, that all the strange and terrible things come uppermost, and that the good and pleasant things are mixed up with every moment of our existence so plentifully that we scarcely heed them." At the close of the month Mrs. Dickens was well enough to accompany him to Richmond, for now the time was come to start Nickleby; and having been away from town when Pickwick's first number came out, he made it a superstition to be absent at many future similar times. The magazine -- day of that April month, I remember, fell upon a Saturday, and the previous evening had brought me a peremptory summons: "Meet me at the Shakespeare on Saturday night at eight; order your horse at midnight, and ride back with me:" which was duly complied with. The smallest hour was sounding into the night from St. Paul's before we started, and the night was none of the pleasantest; but we carried news that lightened every part of the road, for the sale of Nickleby had reached that day the astonishing number of nearly fifty thousand! I left him working with unusual cheerfulness at Oliver Twist when I quitted the Star and Garter on the next day but one, after celebrating with both friends on the previous evening an anniversary which concerned us all (their second and my twenty-sixth); and which we kept always in future at the same place, except when they were living out of England, for twenty successive years. It was a part of his love of regularity and order, as well as of his kindliness of nature, to place such friendly meetings as these under rules of habit and continuance.



The whole of his time not occupied with Nickleby was now given to Oliver, and as the story shaped itself to its close it took extraordinary hold of him. I never knew him work so frequently after dinner, or to such late hours (a practice he afterwards abhorred), as during the final months of this task; which it was now his hope to complete before October, though its close in the magazine would not be due until the following March. "I worked pretty well last night," he writes, referring to it in May, "very well indeed; but although I did eleven close slips before half-past twelve I have four to write to close the chapter; and, as I foolishly left them till this morning, have the steam to get up afresh." A month later he writes: "I got to the sixteenth slip last night, and shall try hard to get to the thirtieth before I go to bed." Then, on a "Tuesday night" at the opening of August, he wrote: "Hard at work still. Nancy is no more. I showed what I have done to Kate last night, who was in an unspeakable 'state:' from which and my own impression I augur well. When I have sent Sikes to the devil, I must have yours." "No, no," he wrote, in the following month: "don't, don't let us ride till to-morrow, not having yet disposed of the Jew, who is such an out and outer that I don't know what to make of him." No small difficulty to an inventor, where the creatures of his invention are found to be as real as himself; but this also was mastered; and then there remained but the closing quiet chapter to tell the fortunes of those who had figured in the tale. To this he summoned me in the first week of September, replying to a request of mine that he'd give me a call that day. "Come and give me a call, and let us have 'a bit o' talk' before we have a bit o' som'at else. My missis is going out to dinner, and I ought to go, but I have got a bad cold. So do you come, and sit here, and read, or work, or do something, while I write the Last chapter of Oliver, which will be arter a lamb chop." How well I remember that evening! and our talk of what should be the fate of Charley Bates, on behalf of whom (as indeed for the Dodger too) Talfourd had pleaded as earnestly in mitigation of judgment as ever at the bar for any client he most respected.

The publication had been announced for October, but the third-volume-illustrations intercepted it a little. This part of the story, as we have seen, had been written in anticipation of the magazine, and the designs for it having to be executed "in a lump," were necessarily done somewhat hastily. The matter supplied in advance of the monthly portions in the magazine, formed the bulk of the last volume as published in the book; and for this the plates had to be prepared by Cruikshank also in advance of the magazine, to furnish them in time for the separate publication: Sikes and his dog, Fagin in the cell, and Rose Maylie and Oliver, being the three last. None of these Dickens had seen until he saw them in the book on the eve of its publication; when he so strongly objected to one of them that it had to be cancelled. "I returned suddenly to town yesterday afternoon," he wrote to the artist at the end of October, "to look at the latter pages of Oliver Twist before it was delivered to the booksellers, when I saw the majority of the plates in the last volume for the first time. With reference to the last one -- Rose Maylie and Oliver -- without entering into the question of great haste, or any other cause, which may have led to its being what it is, I am quite sure there can be little difference of opinion between us with respect to the result. May I ask you whether you will object to designing this plate afresh, and doing so at once, in order that as few impressions as possible of the present one may go forth? I feel confident you know me too well to feel hurt by this enquiry, and with equal confidence in you I have lost no time in preferring it." This letter, printed from a copy in Dickens's handwriting fortunately committed to my keeping, entirely disposes of a wonderful story originally promulgated in America, with a minute particularity of detail that might have raised the reputation of Sir Benjamin Backbite himself. Whether all Sir Benjamin's laurels however should fall to the person by whom the tale is told, or whether any part belongs to the authority alleged for it, is unfortunately not quite clear. There would hardly have been a doubt, if the fable had been confined to the other side of the Atlantic; but it has been reproduced and widely circulated on this side also, and the distinguished artist whom it calumniates by attributing the invention to him has been left undefended from its slander. Dickens's letter spares me the necessity of characterizing, by the only word which would have been applicable to it, a tale of such incredible and monstrous absurdity as that one of the masterpieces of its author's genius had been merely an illustration of etchings by Mr. Cruikshank!

The completed Oliver Twist found a circle of admirers, not so wide in its range as those of others of his books, but of a character and mark that made their honest liking for it, and steady advocacy of it, important to his fame; and the story has held its ground in the first class of his writings. It deserves that place. The admitted exaggerations in Pickwick are incident to its club's extravaganza of adventure of which they are part, and are easily separable from the reality of its wit and humour, and its incomparable freshness; but no such allowances were needed here. Make what deduction the too scrupulous reader of Oliver might please for "lowness" in the subject, the precision and the unexaggerated force of the delineation were not to be disputed. The art of copying from nature as it really exists in the common walks, had not been carried by any one to greater perfection, or to better results in the way of combination. Such was his handling of the piece of solid, existing, everyday life, which he made here the groundwork of his wit and tenderness, that the book which did much to help out of the world the social evils it portrayed, will probably preserve longest the picture of them as they then were. Thus far indeed he had written nothing to which in a greater or less degree this felicity did not belong. At the time of which I am speaking, the debtors' prisons described in Pickwick, the parochial management denounced in Oliver, and the Yorkshire schools exposed in Nickleby, were all actual existences; which now have no vivider existence than in the forms he thus gave to them. With wiser purposes, he superseded the old petrifying process of the magician in the Arabian tale, and struck the prisons and parish practices of his country, and its schools of neglect and crime, into palpable life for ever. A portion of the truth of the past, of the character and very history of the moral abuses of his time, will thus remain always in his writings; and it will be remembered that with only the light arms of humour and laughter, and the gentle ones of pathos and sadness, he carried cleansing and reform into those Augean stables.

Not that such intentions are in any degree ever intruded by this least didactic of writers. It is the fact that teaches, and not any sermonizing drawn from it. Oliver Twist is the history of a child born in a workhouse and brought up by parish overseers, and there is nothing introduced that is out of keeping with the design. It is a series of pictures from the tragi-comedy of lower life, worked out by perfectly natural agencies, from the dying mother and the starved wretches of the first volume, through the scenes and gradations of crime, careless or deliberate, which have a frightful consummation in the last volume, but are never without the reliefs and self-assertions of humanity even in scenes and among characters so debased. It is indeed the primary purpose of the tale to show its little hero, jostled as he is in the miserable crowd, preserved everywhere from the vice of its pollution by an exquisite delicacy of natural sentiment which clings to him under every disadvantage. There is not a more masterly touch in fiction (and it is by such that this delightful fancy is consistently worked out to the last) than Oliver's agony of childish grief on being brought away from the branch-workhouse, the wretched home associated only with suffering and starvation, and with no kind word or look, but containing still his little companions in misery.

Of the figures the book has made familiar to every one it is not my purpose to speak. To name one or two will be enough. Bumble and his wife; Charley Bates and the Artful Dodger; the cowardly charity boy, Noah Claypole, whose Such agony please sir puts a school-life into a single phrase; the so-called merry old Jew, supple and blackhearted Fagin; and Bill Sikes, the bolder-faced bulky-legged ruffian, with his white hat and white shaggy dog, -- who does not know them all, even to the least points of dress, look, and walk, and all the small peculiarities that express great points of character? I have omitted poor wretched Nancy; yet it is to be said of her, with such honest truthfulness her strength and weakness are shown, in the virtue that lies neighboured in her nature so closely by vice, that the people meant to be entirely virtuous show poorly beside her. But, though Rose and her lover are trivial enough beside Bill and his mistress, being indeed the weak part of the story, it is the book's pre-eminent merit that vice is no where made attractive in it. Crime is not more intensely odious, all through, than it is also most unhappy. Not merely when its exposure comes, when guilt's latent recesses are laid bare, and the agonies of remorse are witnessed; not in the great scenes only, but in lighter and apparently careless passages; this is emphatically so. Terror and retribution dog closely at the heels both of the comedy and the tragedy of crime. They are as plainly visible when Fagin is first shown in his den, boiling the coffee in the saucepan and stopping every now and then to listen when there is the least noise below, -- the villainous confidence of habit never extinguishing in him the anxious watchings and listenings of crime, -- as when we see him at the last in the condemned cell, like a poisoned human rat in a hole.

A word may be added upon the attacks directed against the subject of the book, to which Dickens made reply in one of his later editions; declaring his belief that he had tried to do a service to society, and had certainly done no disservice, in depicting a knot of such associates in crime in all their deformity and squalid wretchedness, skulking uneasily through a miserable life to a painful and shameful death. It is indeed never the subject that can be objectionable, if the treatment is not so, as we may see by much popular writing since, where subjects unimpeachably high are brought low by degrading sensualism. When the object of a writer is to exhibit the vulgarity of vice, and not its pretensions to heroism or cravings for sympathy, he may measure his subject with the highest. Swindlers and thieves are our associates in Gil Blas; we shake hands with highwaymen and housebreakers all round in the Beggars' Opera; we pack cards with La Ruse or pick pockets with Jonathan in Fielding's Mr. Wild the Great; cruelty and vice attend us in the prints of Hogarth; but our morals stand none the looser for any of them. As the spirit of the Frenchman was pure enjoyment, the strength of the Englishmen lay in wisdom and satire. The low was set forth to pull down the false pretensions of the high. They differ in design from Dickens, because they desire less to discover the soul of goodness in things evil than to brand the stamp of evil on things apt to pass for good, but their objects and results are substantially the same. Familiar with the lowest kind of abasement of life, the knowledge is used, by both him and them, to teach what constitutes its essential elevation; and by the very coarseness and vulgarity of the materials employed, we measure the gentlemanliness and beauty of the work that is done. The quack in morality will always call such writing immoral, and the impostors will continue to complain of its treatment of imposture; but for the rest of the world it will teach still the invaluable lesson of what men ought to be from what they are. We cannot learn it more than enough. We cannot too often be told that as the pride and grandeur of mere external circumstance is the falsest of earthly things, so the truth of virtue in the heart is the most lovely and lasting; and from the pages of Oliver Twist this teaching is once again to be taken by all who will look for it there.

And now, while Oliver was running a great career of popularity and success, the shadow of the tale of Barnaby Rudge which he was to write on similar terms, and to begin in the Miscellany when the other should have ended, began to darken everything around him. We had much discussion respecting it, and I had no small difficulty in restraining him from throwing up the agreement altogether; but the real hardship of his position, and the considerate construction to be placed on every effort made by him to escape from obligations incurred in ignorance of the sacrifices implied by them, will be best understood from his own frank statement. On 21 January, 1839, enclosing me the copy of a letter which he proposed to send to Mr. Bentley the following morning, he thus wrote: -- "From what I have already said to you, you will have been led to expect that I entertained some such intention. I know you will not endeavour to dissuade me from sending it. Go it must. It is no fiction to say that at present I cannot write this tale. The immense profits which Oliver has realized to its publisher, and is still realizing; the paltry, wretched, miserable sum it brought to me (not equal to what is every day paid for a novel that sells fifteen hundred copies at most); the recollection of this, and the consciousness that I have still the slavery and drudgery of another work on the same journeyman-terms; the consciousness that my books are enriching everybody connected with them but myself, and that I, with such a popularity as I have acquired, am struggling in old toils, and wasting my energies in the very height and freshness of my fame, and the best part of my life, to fill the pockets of others, while for those who are nearest and dearest to me I can realise little more than a genteel subsistence: all this puts me out of heart and spirits: and I cannot -- cannot and will not -- under such circumstances that keep me down with an iron hand, distress myself by beginning this tale until I have had time to breathe; and until the intervention of the summer, and some cheerful days in the country, shall have restored me to a more genial and composed state of feeling. There -- for six months Barnaby Rudge stands over. And but for you, it should stand over altogether. For I do most solemnly declare that morally, before God and man, I hold myself released from such hard bargains as these, after I have done so much for those who drove them. This net that has been wound about me, so chafes me, so exasperates and irritates my mind, that to break it at whatever cost -- that I should care nothing for -- is my constant impulse. But I have not yielded to it. I merely declare that I must have a postponement very common in all literary agreements; and for the time I have mentioned -- six months from the conclusion of Oliver in the Miscellany -- I wash my hands of any fresh accumulation of labour and resolve to proceed as cheerfully as I can with that which already presses upon me."

To describe what followed upon this is not necessary. It will suffice to state the results. Upon the appearance in the Miscellany, in the early months of 1839, of the last portion of Oliver Twist, its author, having been relieved altogether from his engagement to the magazine, handed over, in a familiar epistle from a parent to his child, the editorship to Mr. Ainsworth; and the still subsisting agreement to write Barnaby Rudge was, upon the overture of Mr. Bentley himself in June of the following year, 1840, also put an end to, on payment by Dickens, for the copyright of Oliver Twist and such printed stock as remained of the edition then on hand, of two thousand two hundred and fifty pounds. What was farther incident to this transaction will be told hereafter; and a few words may meanwhile be taken, not without significance in regard to it, from the parent's familiar epistle. It describes the child as aged two years and two months (so long had he watched over it); gives sundry pieces of advice concerning its circulation, and the importance thereto of light and pleasant articles of food; and concludes, after some general moralizing on the shiftings and changes of this world having taken so wonderful a turn that mail-coach guards were become noe


Sketches by Boz, Illustrative of Every-Day Life and Every-Day People (first series, 2 volumes, London: Macrone, 1836; second series, London: Macrone 1937); republished as Watkins Tottle and Other Sketches Illustrative of Every Day Life and Every Day People, 2 volumes (Philadelphia: Carey, Lea & Co.; Blanchard, 1837) and The Tuggs's at Ramsgate and Other Sketches Illustrative of Every Day People (Phil

Philadelphia: Carey, Lea & Co.; Blanchard, 1837);

The Village Coquettes: A Comic Opera in Two

adelphia: Carey, Lea & Co.; Blanchard, 1837);

The Village Coquettes: A Comic Opera in Two Acts, as "Boz" with music by John Hullah (London: Bentley, 1836);

The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, Edited by "Boz" (20 monthly parts, London: Chapman & Hall, 1836-1837; 5 volumes, Philadelphia: Carey, Lea & Co.; Blanchard, 1838);

The Strange Gentleman: A Comic Burletta, in Two Acts, as "Boz" (London: Chapman & Hall, 1837);

The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (20 monthly parts, London: Chapman & Hall, 1837-1839; 1 volume, New York: Turney, 1839);

Sketches of Young Gentleman, Dedicated to the Young Ladies (London: Chapman & Hall, 1838);

Memoirs of Joseph Grimaldi, Edited by "Boz," 2 volumes (London: Bentley, 1838; Philadelphia: Carey, Lea & Co.; Blanchard, 1838);

Oliver Twist; or, The Parish Boy's Progress, by "Boz" (3 volumes, London: Bentley, 1838; 2 volumes, Philadelphia: Carey, Lea & Co.; Blanchard, 1839);

Sketches of Young Couples, with an Urgent Remonstrance to the Gentlemen of England (Being Bachelors or Widowers), on the Present Alarming Crisis (London:Chapman & Hall, 1840);

The Old Curiosity Shop (2 volumes, London: Chapman & Co.; Hall, 1841; 1 volume, Philadelphia: Lea & Co.; Blanchard, 1841);

Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of 'Eighty (London: Chapman & Co.; Hall, 1841; Philadelphia: Lea & Co.; Blanchard, 1841);

American Notes for General Circulation (2 volumes, London: Chapman & Co.; Hall, 1841; 1 volume, New York: Wilson, 1841);

The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit, 20 monthly parts (London: Chapman & Co.; Hall, 1842-1844);

A Christmas Carol, in Prose: Being a Ghost Story of Christmas (London: Chapman & Co.; Hall, 1843; Philadelphia: Carey & Co.; Hart, 1844);

The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells That Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In (London: Chapman & Co.; Hall, 1845; Philadelphia: La & Co.; Blanchard, 1845);

Pictures from Italy London: Bradbury & Co.; Evans, 1846); republished as Travelling Letters Written on the Road (New York: Wiley & Co.; Putnam, 1846);

The Cricket on the Hearth: A Fairy Tale of Home (London: Bradbury & Co.; Evans, 1846; Boston: Redding, 1846);

The Battle of Life: A Love Story (London: Bradbury & Co.; Evans, 1846; Boston: Redding, 1847);

Dombey and Son (20 monthly parts, London: Bradbury & Co.; Evans, 1846-1848; 1 volume, New York: Burgess, Stringer, 1847);

The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain: A Fancy for Christmas Time (London: Bradbury & Co.; Evans, 1848; Philadelphia: Althemus, 1848);

The Personal History of David Copperfield (20 monthly parts, London: Bradbury & Co.; Evans, 1849-1850; 2 volumes, New York: Harper, 1852);

A Child's History of England (3 volumes, London: Bradbury & Co.; Evans, 1852- 1854; 1 volume, Boston: Jenks, Hickling & Co.; Swan, 1854);

Bleak House (20 monthly parts, London: Bradbury & Co.; Evans, 1852-1853; 1 volume, New York: Harper, 1853);

Hard Times: For These Times (London: Bradbury & Co.; Evans, 1854; New York: McElrath, 1854);

Little Dorrit (20 monthly parts, London: Bradbury & Co.; Evans, 1855-1857; 1 volume, Philadelphia: Peterson, 1857):

A Tale of Two Cities (London: Chapman & Co.; Hall, 1859; Philadelphia: Peterson, 1859);

Great Expectations (3 volumes, London: Chapman & Co.; Hall, 1861; 2 volumes, New York: Harper, 1861);

The Uncommercial Traveller (London: Chapman & Co.; Hall, 1861; New York, Sheldon, 1865);

Our Mutual Friend (20 monthly parts, London: Chapman & Co.; Hall, 1864-1865; 1 volume, New York: Harper, 1865)

Hunted Down: A Story, with Some Account of Thomas Griffiths Wainewright, The Poisoner (London: Hotten, 1870; Philadelphia: Peterson, 1870);

The Mystery of Edwin Drood (6 monthly parts, London: Chapman & Co.; Hall, 1870; 1 volume, Boston: Fields, Osgood, 1870);

A Child's Dream of a Star (Boston: Fields, Osgood, 1871);

Is She His Wife? Or, Something Singular: A Comic Burletta in One Act (Boston: Osgood, 1877);

The Life of our Lord (New York: Simon & Co.; Schuster, 1934);

The Speeches of Charles Dickens, edited by K. J. Fielding (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1960);

Uncollected Writings from Household Words, 1850-1859, 2 volumes (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1968; London: Allen Lane, 1969);

Charles Dickens' Book of Memoranda: A Photographic and Typographic Facsimile of the Notebook Begun in January 1855, transcribed and annotated by Fred Kaplan (New York: New York Public Library; Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations, 1981).

Collections: Cheap Edition of the Works of Mr. Charles Dickens (12 volumes, London: Chapman & Co.; Hall, 1847-1852; 3 volumes, London: Bradbury & Co.; Evans, 1858);

The Charles Dickens Edition, 21 volumes (London: Chapman & Co.; Hall, 1867-1875);

The Works of Charles Dickens, 21 volumes (London: Macmillan, 1892-1925);

The Works of Charles Dickens, Gadshill Edition, 36 volumes (London: Chapman & Co.; Hall/New York: Scribners, 1897-1908);

The Nonesuch Edition, edited by Arthur Waugh and others, 23 volumes (London: Nonesuch Press, 1937-1938);

The New Oxford Illustrated Dickens, 21 volumes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1947- 1958);

The Clarendon Dickens, edited by Kathleen Tillotson and others, 6 volumes, ongoing (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966- ).

This extract is taken from Harland S. Nelson, Charles Dickens [Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1981]