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Dickens used with splendid effect that dramatic instinct which might have made him a great actor, but which, diverted to other channels, added much to the realism and action of his novels. It was during a series of such readings, while on his second visit to America in 1867-1868, that he overtaxed his strength, and, worn out by the incessant strain of his busy life, brought on his premature death. He died in 1870 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
His Work. --- With extraordinary vividness, pathos, and humor, Dickens brings before us the life of the middle and lower classes, as he had known it in London or in some of the smaller towns. His world is neither the court nor the country, his heroes neither kings nor shepherds; he shows us the plain people, the workers in shop, counting-house, or factory, the throngs that crowd the city streets, the everyday struggle of our modern world. In this way Dickens is the novelist of nineteenthcentury democracy, of the average man. And this everyday life, which to some might seem merely sordid or commonplace, is glorified by Dickens' overflowing kindliness and humor. He loves to picture the happiness of some simple household, and to describe such kindly and amiable characters as Tom Pinch and his sister Ruth in Martin Chuzzlewit. He shows a wholesome delight in the simple pleasures of his characters, and a keen perception of the lighter and more ludicrous aspects of life, yet, with all his love of fun, he had a profound sympathy with the hardship, squalor, and crime of the low life of London. It was part of his deliberate purpose to portray this misery that he might help to relieve it; and it seems but natural that he who had so bitter an experience in early life should have chosen to let in the sun and air on some of the
shabbier and darker phases of existence; depicting types of many social gradations; obscure respectability, the vagrants and adventurers in the outer circles of society, down, as in Oliver Twist (1837–1838), to the pickpocket and the murderer. There is Jo, the London street waif of Bleak House (1852-1853), “allers a-movin' on;" Jingle, the gay and voluble impostor of Pickwick (1836-1837); and that questionable fraternity, the Birds of Prey, that flit about the dark places of the Thames in Our Mutual Friend (1864–1865). These studies of the under-strata of society are the most remarkable instance in nineteenth-century England of the democratic spirit in literature, for Dickens' interest was genuine. He realized that “virtue may be found in the bye-ways of the world,” that "it is not incompatible with poverty and even with rags.
As a result of this broad sympathy, Dickens' novels are crowded with characters. On his pages there is the multifarious detail, the variety of incident, that suggest actual life in the crowded portions of our cities. Dickens' powers of observation and his resourcefulness have seldom been equaled. And yet we admit that Dickens falls short of being a great portrayer of character. His is for the most part a world of caricature, peopled not with real living persons, but with eccentricities and oddities, much like those of Ben Jonson's men of “humours." We know his people from some peculiarity of speech or manner, some oftrepeated phrase; they are painted from without; we are rarely enabled to get inside of their lives and look out at the world through their eyes. When he attempts to draw a gentleman or an average mortal distinguished by no special absurdities, the result is apt to be singularly insipid and lifeless. It may also
be admitted that we feel at times, in Dickens, the absence of that atmosphere of refinement which is an unobtrusive but inseparable part of the art of Thackeray.
Yet here is an enduring and characteristic charm in Dickens' work. His descriptions of nature are frequently in a highly poetic tone, and there is in his humor a whimsical and ludicrous extravagance, an irresistible ingenuity in the ridiculous, peculiar to him alone. From the time when a delighted people waited in rapturous impatience for the forthcoming number of Pickwick, to the publication of the unfinished Edwin Drood (1870), nineteenth-century England laid aside her weariness and her problems to join in Dickens' overflowing, infectious laughter. Since then the world has laughed but little; it smiles, or occasionally catches its breath in astonishment, but there is no more shaking of sides. Outside the field of pure humor, Dickens won a notable success in his Tale of Two Cities (1859), in which he departed from his usual manner. Many scenes throughout his other books, as the famous description of the storm in David Copperfield, are triumphs of tragic power.
WILLIAM MAKEPEACE THACKERAY
Our habit of grouping the names of Dickens and Thackeray has somewhat obscured the fact that there are great differences in the work of the two men. Not only is Thackeray interested above all in the upper classes of society, while Dickens portrays the lower; but in the methods of his art, Thackeray shows an
ability which makes him in several respects the superior of Dickens. Indeed, Thackeray's skill as a narrator, his virility, his masterly knowledge of character, distinguish him as the supreme novelist of the Victorian
Other men have perhaps had a broader or more subtle and poetic vision; but no one has combined to such an extent the qualities of realism, ease, and humor, with a knowledge of life as it is; no one has offered us such riches of comedy and tragedy, or tempered such keen satire with so ready and so abundant a charity.
Thackeray was born in Calcutta in 1811, of a family which for two generations had been engaged in the civil service in India. Losing his father when he was but six years old, the boy was early sent to England for his education. From his eleventh to his seventeenth year he attended the Charterhouse School in London, there becoming famous for his humorous verses and his clever pen-and-ink sketches. In 1829 he entered Trinity College, Cambridge; but he left the university within a year, with the purpose of studying art on the Continent. He went to Weimar, where he met the famous German poet and novelist, Goethe; and afterwards he lived in Paris. But Thackeray lacked the patience to perfect himself in art, and his sheer cleverness as a draughtsman was not such as to win great or lasting success. He returned to England, and, losing in newspaper ventures the money he had inherited, an amount sufficient to have made him independent, he was forced to seek a new activity and to apply himself with greater concentration. In 1837 he began writing for periodicals. For ten years (from 1843) he contributed to Punch, writing among other papers the famous Book of Snobs ; and in 1847-1848 he won his first notable success with the
publication of Vanity Fair. From then until 1859 his other great novels appeared at intervals of from two to four years: Pendennis (1850); Henry Esmond (1852); The Newcomes (1854); The Virginians (1859). Thackeray continued to write for the magazines, -essays, sketches, and burlesques; and at the time of his death in 1863 left an unfinished novel, Denis Duval.
His Work. - Thackeray is preëminently the novelist of the gay, dashing world of wealth and fashion. He knows to the heart the life of the club, the drawingroom, and the barracks; and he is fond of painting his heroes as young men of the world, high-spirited and clever, possessed of several amiable but by no means damaging weaknesses, and having no very great virtues beyond that of being honorable gentlemen. Thackeray's world is the world of gentility, a world less shabby than Dickens'; and his chief interest is in portraying that world as it is, in its strength as well as in its weakness, by contrasting sham gentility with real gentility. In The Book of Snobs and in Vanity Fair, the first works by which Thackeray became widely known, he shows the pretense, the shallowness, and snobbery of much of the society life of his time. With vigorous satire and some scorn, he ridicules those who fawn before riches, who live lavishly on nothing a year; and he laughs at mammas who scheme to get their daughters married. From his soul Thackeray abhorred humbug. Like Carlyle, he fought to destroy all shams and insincerities; but while Carlyle denounced these things, Thackeray laughed at them. "Such people there are,” Thackeray writes, stepping "down from the platform,” like his master, Fielding, to speak in his own person
"such people there are living and flourishing in the world — Faithless, Hopeless, Charity