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THE GENIUS OF CHARLES DICKENS
WILLIAM MAKEPEACE THACKERAY
William Makepeace Thackeray, an eminent English novelist, was born in Calcutta, India, July 18, 1811, and died in London, England, December 24, 1863. This extract is from a lecture entitled “ Charity and Humor,” which was delivered at New York at the time of Mr. Thackeray's visit to America in 1852.
A S for the charities of Mr. Dickens, multiplied
kindnesses which he has conferred upon us all; upon our children ; upon people educated and uneducated; upon the myriads here and at home, who speak our common tongue; have not you, have not I, all of us reason to be thankful to this kind friend, who soothed and charmed so many hours, brought pleasure and sweet laughter to so many homes; made such multitudes of children happy; endowed us with such a sweet store of gracious thoughts, fair fancies, soft sympathies, hearty enjoyments? There are creations of Mr. Dickens's which seem to me to rank as personal benefits ; figures so delightful, that one feels happier and better for knowing them, as one does for being brought into the society of very good men and women. The atmosphere in which these people
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live is wholesome to breathe in; you feel that to be allowed to speak to them is a personal kindness; you come away better for your contact with them; your hands seem cleaner from having the privilege of shaking theirs. Was there ever a better charity sermon preached in the world than Dickens's “ Christmas Carol” ? I believe it occasioned immense hospitality throughout England; was the means of lighting up hundreds of kind fires at Christmas-time; caused a wonderful outpouring of Christmas good feeling; of Christmas punch brewing; an awful slaughter of Christmas turkeys, and roasting and basting of Christmas beef. As for this man's love of children, that amiable organ at the back of his honest head must be perfectly monstrous. All children ought to love him. I know two that do, and read his books ten times for once that they peruse the dismal preachments of their father. I know one who, when she is happy, reads “ Nicholas Nickleby "; when she is unhappy, reads “ Nicholas Nickleby”; when she is in bed, reads “ Nicholas Nickleby”; when she is tired, reads “ Nicholas Nickleby”; when she has nothing to do, reads “ Nicholas Nickleby”; and when she has finished the book, reads “ Nicholas Nickleby” over again. This candid young critic, at ten years of age, said, “I like Mr. Dickens's books much better than your books, Papa”; and frequently expressed her desire that the latter author should write a book like one of Mr. Dickens's books. Who can? Every man must say his own thoughts in his own voice, in his own way; lucky is he who has such a charming gift of nature as this, which brings all the children in the world trooping to him, and being fond of him.
I remember, when that famous “ Nicholas Nickleby" came out, seeing a letter from a pedagogue in the north of England, which, dismal as it was, was immensely comical. “Mr. Dickens's ill-advised publication," wrote the poor schoolmaster, “has passed like a whirlwind over the schools of the North.” He was a proprietor of a cheap school; Dotheboys Hall was a cheap school. There were many such establishments in the northern counties. Parents were ashamed that never were ashamed before until the kind satirist laughed at them; relatives were frightened; scores of little scholars were taken away; poor schoolmasters had to shut their shops up; every pedagogue was voted a Squeers, and many suffered, no doubt unjustly; but afterwards schoolboys' backs were not so much caned; schoolboys' meat was less tough and more plentiful; and schoolboys' milk was not so skyblue. What a kind light of benevolence it is that plays round Crummles and the Phenomenon, and all those poor theatre people in that charming book! What a humor! and what a good humor!
One might go on, though the task would be endless and needless, chronicling the names of kind folks with whom this kind genius has made us familiar. Who does not love the Marchioness and Mr. Richard Swiveller? Who does not sympathize, not only with Oliver Twist, but his admirable young friend the Artful Dodger? Who has not the inestimable advantage of possessing a Mrs. Nickleby in his own family? Who does not bless Sairey Gamp and wonder at Mrs. Harris? Who does not venerate the chief of that illustrious family who, being stricken by misfortune, wisely and greatly turned his attention to “ coals,” the accomplished, the Epicurean, the dirty, the delightful Micawber?
I may quarrel with Mr. Dickens's art a thousand and a thousand times, I delight and wonder at his genius; I recognize in it — I speak with awe and reverence — a commission from that Divine Beneficence whose blessed task we know it will one day be to wipe every tear from every eye. Thankfully I take my share of the feast of love and kindness which this gentle, and generous, and charitable soul has contributed to the happiness of the world. I take and enjoy my share, and say a Benediction for the meal.
DIGGING FOR THE THOUGHT
John Ruskin, a distinguished English art critic and prose writer, was born in London, February 8, 1819, and died near Coniston, Lancashire, January 20, 1900.
W HEN you come to a good book, you must
ask yourself, “ Am I inclined to work as an Australian miner would? Are my pickaxes and shovels in good order, and am I in good trim myself — and my sleeves well up to the elbows, and my breath good, and my temper?” And, keeping the figure a little longer, even at the cost of tiresomeness, for it is a thoroughly useful one, the metal you are in search of being the author's mind or meaning, his words are as the rock which you have to crush and smelt in order to get at it. And your pickaxes are your own care, wit, and learning; your smelting-furnace is your own thoughtful soul. Do not hope to get at any good author's meaning without those tools and that fire. Often you will need sharpest, finest chiselling, and pa