Although about the same time that had been allotted to the First Tour, namely a whole quarter, had been set apart for the Second, the latter included within it but very little more than half the number of Readings given in the earlier and more rapid round of the provinces. The Second Tour, in point of fact—beginning on Monday, the 28th of October, 1861, at Norwich, and terminating on Thursday, the 30th of January, 1862, at Chester—comprised within it Forty-Seven, instead of, as on the former occasion, Eighty-Seven readings altogether. Many of the principal towns and cities of England, not visited during the more comprehensive sweep made in 1858, through the three kingdoms, were now reached—the tour, this time, being restricted within the English boundaries. Lancaster and Carlisle, for example, Hastings and Canterbury, Ipswich and Colchester, were severally included in the new programme. Resorts of fashion, like Torquay and Cheltenham, were no longer overlooked. Preston in the north, Dover in the south, were each in turn the scene of a Reading. Bury St. Edmund's, in 1861, was reached on the 30th of October, and on the 25th of November an excursion was even made to the far-off border town of Berwick-upon-Tweed. Less hurried and less laborious than the first, this second tour was completed, as we have said, at Chester, just before the close of the first month of 1862, namely, on the 30th of January.
Then came the turn once more of London, where a series of Ten Readings was given in the St. James's Hall, Piccadilly. These ten Readings, beginning on Thursday, the 13th of March, were distributed over sixteen weeks, ending on Friday, the 27th of June. Another metropolitan series, still under Mr. Headland's management, was given as nearly as possible at the same period of the London season in the following twelvemonth. The Hanover Square Booms were the scene of these Readings of 1863, which began on Monday, the 2nd of March, and ended on Saturday, the 13th of June, numbering in all not ten, as upon the last occasion, but Thirteen.
During the winter of this year, Two notable Readings were given by the Novelist at the British Embassy, in Paris, their proceeds being devoted to the British Charitable Fund in that capital. These Readings were so brilliantly successful, that, by particular desire, they were, a little time afterwards, supplemented by a Third, which was quite as numerously attended as either of its predecessors. The audience upon each occasion, partly English, partly French, comprised among their number many of the most gifted and distinguished of the Parisians. These three entertainments were given under the immediate auspices of the Earl Cowley, then Her Majesty's ambassador to the court of Napoleon III.
A considerable interval now elapsed, extending in fact over nearly three years altogether, before the author again appeared upon the platform in his capacity as a Reader, either in London or in the Provinces. During his last provincial tour, there had been some confusion caused to the general arrangements by reason of the abrupt but unavoidable postponement of a whole week's Readings, previously announced as coming off, three of them at Liverpool, one at Chester, and two at Manchester. These six readings instead, however, of duly taking place, as originally arranged, between the 16th and the 21st of December, 1861, had to be given four weeks later on, between the 13th and the 30th of the following January. The disarrangement of the programme thus caused arose simply from the circumstance of the wholly unlooked-for and lamented death of H. E. H. the Prince Consort. Another confusion in the carefully prepared plans for one of the London series, again, had been caused by an unexpected difficulty, at the last moment, in securing the great Hall in Piccadilly, that having been previously engaged on the required evenings for a series of musical entertainments. Hence the selection for that season of the Hanover Square Rooms, which, at any rate for the West-end public, could not but be preferable to that earliest scene of the London Readings, St. Martin's Hall, Long Acre. Apart from every other consideration, however, the Novelist's remembrance of the confusions and disarrangements which had been incidental to his last provincial tour, and to the last series of his London Readings, rather disinclined him to hasten the date of his re-appearance in his character as a public Reader. As it happened, besides, after the summer of 1863, nearly two years elapsed, between the May of 1864 and the November of 1865, during which he was in a manner precluded from seriously entertaining any such project by the circumstance that the green numbers of "Our Mutual Friend" were, all that while, in course of publication. Even when that last of his longer serial stories had been completed, it is doubtful whether he would have cared to take upon himself anew the irksome stress and responsibility inseparable from one of those doubly laborious undertakings—a lengthened series of Readings in London, coupled with, or rather interwoven with, another extended tour through the provinces.
As it fortunately happened, however, very soon after the completion of "Our Mutual Friend," Charles Dickens had held out to him a double inducement to undertake once more the duties devolving upon him in his capacity as a Reader. The toil inseparable from the Readings themselves, as well as the fatigue resulting inevitably from so much rapid travelling hither and thither by railway during the period set apart for their delivery, would still be his. But at the least, according to the proposition now made to him, the Reader would be relieved from further care as to the general supervision, and at any rate, from all sense of responsibility in the revived project as a purely financial or speculative undertaking. The Messrs. Chappell, of New Bond Street, a firm skilled in the organizing of public entertainments of various kinds, chiefly if not exclusively until then, entertainments of a musical character, offered, in fact, in 1866 to assume to themselves thenceforth the whole financial responsibility of the Readings in the Metropolis and throughout the United Kingdom. According to the proposal originally submitted to the Novelist by the Messrs. Chappell, and at once frankly accepted by him, a splendid sum was guaranteed to him in remuneration. Twice afterwards those terms were considerably increased,—and upon each occasion, it should be added, quite spontaneously.
Another inducement was held out to the Reader besides that of his being relieved from all further sense of responsibility in the undertaking as a merely speculative enterprise. It related to the chance of his finding himself released also from any further sense of solicitude as to the conduct of the general business management. The inducement, here, however, was of course in no way instantly recognizable. Experience alone could show the fitness for his post of the Messrs. Chappell's representative. As good fortune would have it, nevertheless, here precisely was an instance in which Mr. Layard's famous phrase about the right man in the right place, was directly applicable. As a thoroughly competent business manager, and as one whose companionship of itself had a heartening influence in the midst of enormous toil, Mr. Dolby speedily came to be recognised as the very man for the position, as the very one who in all essential respects it was most desirable should have been selected.
A series of Thirty Readings was at once planned under his supervision. It consisted for the first time of a tour through England and Scotland, interspersed with Readings every now and then in the Metropolis. The Reader's course in this way seemed to be erratic, but the whole scheme was admirably well arranged beforehand, and once entered upon, was carried out with the precision of clockwork. These thirty Readings, in 1866, began and ended at St. James's Hall, Piccadilly. The opening night was that of Tuesday, the 10th of April, the closing night that of Tuesday, the 12th of June. Between those dates half-a-dozen other Readings were given from the same central platform in London, the indefatigable author making his appearance meanwhile alternately in the principal cities of the United Kingdom. Besides revisiting in this way (some of these places repeatedly) in the north, Edinburgh and Glasgow and Aberdeen, in the south and south-west, Clifton and Portsmouth, as well as Liverpool and Manchester intermediately—Charles Dickens during the course of this tour read for the first time at Bristol, at Greenwich, and in the Crystal Palace at Sydenham.
The inauguration of the series of Readings now referred to had a peculiar interest imparted to it by the circumstance that, on the evening of Tuesday, the 10th of April, 1866, there was first of all introduced to public notice the comic patter and pathetic recollections of the Cheap Jack, Doctor Marigold.
Half a year afterwards a longer series of the Readings began under the organisation of the Messrs. Chappell, and under the direction of Mr. Dolby as their business manager. It took place altogether under precisely similar circumstances as the last, with this only difference that the handsome terms of remuneration originally guaranteed to the author were, as already intimated, considerably and voluntarily increased by the projectors of the enterprise, the pecuniary results of the first series having been so very largely beyond their expectations. Fifty Readings instead of thirty were now arranged for—Ireland being visited as well as the principal towns and cities of England and Scotland. Six Readings were given at Dublin, and one at Belfast; four were given at Glasgow, and two at Edinburgh. Bath, for the first time, had the opportunity of according a public welcome to the great humorist, some of the drollest scenes in whose earliest masterpiece occur in the city of Bladud, as every true Pickwickian very well remembers. Then, also, for the first time, he was welcomed—by old admirers of his in his capacity as an author, new admirers of his thenceforth in his later and minor capacity as a Reader—at Swansea and Gloucester, at Stoke and Blackburn, at Hanley and Warrington. Tuesday, the 15th of January, 1867, was the inaugural night of the series, when "Barbox, Brothers," and "The Boy at Mugby," were read for the first time at St. James's Hall, Piccadilly. Monday, the 13th of May, was the date of the last night of the season, which was brought to a close upon the same platform, the success of every Reading, without exception, both in London and in the provinces, having been simply unexampled.
It was shortly after this that the notion was first entertained by the Novelist of entering upon that Reading Tour in America, which has since become so widely celebrated. Overtures had been made to him repeatedly from the opposite shores of the Atlantic, with a view to induce him to give a course of Readings in the United States. Speculators would gladly, no doubt, have availed themselves of so golden an opportunity for turning to account his immense reputation. There were those, however, at home here, who doubted as to the advisability of the author entering, under any conceivable circumstances, upon an undertaking obviously involving in its successful accomplishment an enormous amount of physical labour and excitement. Added to this, the project was inseparable in any case—however favourable might be the manner of its ultimate arrangement—from a profound sense of responsibility all through the period that would have to be set apart for its realisation. It was among the more remarkable characteristics of Charles Dickens that, while he was endowed with a brilliant imagination, and with a genius in many ways incomparable, he was at the same time gifted with the clearest and soundest judgment, being, in point of fact, what is called a thoroughly good man of business. Often as he had shewn this to be the case during the previous phases of his career, he never demonstrated the truth of it so undeniably as in the instance of this proposed Reading Tour in the United States. Determined to understand at once whether the scheme, commended by some, denounced by others, was in itself, to begin with, feasable, and after that advisable, he despatched Mr. Dolby to America for the purpose of surveying the proposed scene of operations. Immediately on his emissary's return, Dickens drew up a few pithy sentences, headed by him, "The Case in a Nutshell." His decision was what those more immediately about him had for some time anticipated. He made up his mind to go, and to go quite independently. The Messrs. Chappell, it should be remarked at once, had no part whatever in the enterprise. The Author-Reader accepted for himself the sole responsibility of the undertaking. As a matter of course, he retained Mr. Dolby as his business manager, despatching him again across the Atlantic, when everything had been arranged between them, to the end that all should be in readiness by the time of his own arrival.
Within the brief interval which then elapsed, Between the business manager's return to, and the Author-Reader's departure for, America, that well-remembered Farewell Banquet was given to Charles Dickens, which was not unworthy of signalising his popularity and his reputation. He himself, upon the occasion, spoke of it as that "proud night," recognising clearly enough, as he could hardly fail to do, in the gathering around him, there in Freemasons' Hall, on the evening of the 2nd of November, 1867, one of the most striking incidents in a career that had been almost all sunshine, both from within and from without, from the date of its commencement. It was there, in the midst of what he himself referred to, at the time, as that "brilliant representative company," while acknowledging the presence around him of so many of his brother artists, "not only in literature, but also in the fine arts," he availed himself of the opportunity to relate very briefly the story of his setting out once more for America. "Since I was there before," he said, "a vast, entirely new generation has arisen in the United States. Since I was there before, most of the best known of my books have been written and published. The new generation and the books have come together and have kept together, until at last numbers of those who have so widely and constantly read me, naturally desiring a little variety in the relations between us, have expressed a strong wish that I should read myself. This wish at last conveyed to me, through public channels and business channels, has gradually become enforced by an immense accumulation of letters from individuals and associations of individuals, all expressing in the same hearty, homely, cordial, unaffected way a kind of personal interest in me; I had almost said a kind of personal affection for me, which I am sure you will agree with me, it would be dull insensibility on my part not to prize." Hence, as he explained, his setting forth on that day week upon his second visit to America, with a view among other purposes, according to his own happy phrase, to use his best endeavours "to lay down a third cable of intercommunication and alliance between the old world and the new." The illustrious chairman who presided over that Farewell Banquet, Lord Lytton, had previously remarked, speaking in his capacity as a politician, "I should say that no time could be more happily chosen for his visit;" adding, "because our American kinsfolk have conceived, rightly or wrongfully, that they have some cause of complaint against ourselves, and out of all England we could not have selected an envoy more calculated to allay irritation and to propitiate good will." As one whose cordial genius was, in truth, a bond of sympathy between the two great kindred nationalities, Charles Dickens indeed went forth in one sense at that time, it might almost have been said, in a semi-ambassadorial character, not between the rulers, but between the peoples. The incident of his visit to America could in no respect be considered a private event, but, from first to last, was regarded, and reasonably regarded, as a public and almost as an international occurrence. "Happy is the man," said Lord Lytton, on that 2nd of November, when proposing the toast of the evening in words of eloquence worthy of himself and of his theme, "Happy is the man who makes clear his title deeds to the royalty of genius, while he yet lives to enjoy the gratitude and reverence of those whom he has subjected to his sway. Though it is by conquest that he achieves his throne, he at least is a conqueror whom the conquered bless, and the more despotically he enthralls the dearer he becomes to the hearts of men." Observing, in conclusion, as to this portion of his argument, "Seldom, I say, has that kind of royalty been quietly conceded to any man of genius until his tomb becomes his throne, and yet there is not one of us now present who thinks it strange that it is granted without a murmur to the guest whom we receive to-night." As if in practical recognition of the prerogative thus gracefully referred to by his brother-author, a royal saloon carriage on Friday, the 8th of November, conveyed Charles Dickens from London to Liverpool. On the following morning he took his departure on board the Cuba for the United States, arriving at Boston on Tuesday, the 19th, when the laconic message "Safe and well," was flashed home by submarine telegraph.
The Readings projected in America were intended to number up as many as eighty altogether. They actually numbered up exactly Seventy-Six. They were inaugurated by the first of the Boston Readings on Monday, the 2nd of December, 1867. Extending over an interval of less than five months, they closed in Steinway Hall on Monday, the 20th April, 1868, with the last of the New York Readings. From beginning to end, the enthusiasm awakened by these Readings was entirely unparalleled. Simply to ensure a chance of purchasing the tickets of admission, a queue of applicants a quarter of a mile long would pass a whole winter's night patiently waiting in sleet and snow, out in the streets, to be in readiness for the opening of the office-doors when the sale of tickets should have commenced. Blankets and in several instances mattresses were brought with them by some of the more provident of these nocturnal wayfarers, many of whom of course were notoriously middle-men who simply speculated, with immense profit to themselves, in selling again at enormously advanced prices the tickets which were invariably dispensed by the business manager at the fixed charges originally announced.
As curiously illustrative of the first outburst of this enthusiasm even before the Novelist's arrival—on the very eve of that arrival, as it happened—mention may here be made of the simple facts in regard to the sale of tickets on Monday, the 18th of November. During the whole of that day, from the first thing in the morning to the last thing at night, Mr. Dolby sat there at his desk in the Messrs. Ticknor and Fields' bookstore, literally doing nothing but sell tickets as fast as he could distribute them and take the money. For thirteen hours together, without taking bite or sup, without ever once for a passing moment quitting the office-stool on which he was perched—fortunately for him behind a strong barricade—he answered the rush of applicants that steadily pressed one another onwards to the pigeon-hole, each drifting by exhausted when his claims were satisfied. The indefatigable manager took in moneys paid down within those thirteen consecutive hours as many as twelve thousand dollars.
During the five months of his stay in America, four Readings a week were given by the Novelist to audiences as numerous as the largest building in each town of a suitable character could by any contrivance be made to contain. The average number of those present upon each of these occasions may be reasonably estimated as at the very least 1500 individuals. Remembering that there were altogether seventy-six Readings, this would show at once that upwards of one hundred thousand souls (114,000) listened to the voice of the great Author reading, what they had so often before read themselves, and raising their own voices in return to greet his ears with their ringing acclamations. At a moderate estimate, again, just as we have seen that each Reading represented 1500 as the average number of the audience, that audience represented, in its turn, in cash, at the lowest computation, nett proceeds amounting to fully $3000. At Rochester, for example, in the State of New York, was the smallest house anywhere met with in the whole course of these American Readings, and even that yielded $2500, the largest house in the tour, on the other hand, netting as much as $6000 and upwards. Multiplying, therefore, the reasonably-mentioned average of $3000 by seventy-six, as the aggregate number of the Readings, we arrive at the astounding result that in this tour of less than five months the Author-Reader netted altogether the enormous sum of $228,000. Supposing gold to have been then at par, that lump sum would have represented in our English currency what if spoken of even in a whisper would, according to Hood's famous witticism, have represented something like "the roar of a Forty Thousand Pounder!" Even as it was, then, gold being at 39 1/2 per cent, premium, with 1/4 per cent, more deducted on commission—virtually a drop of nearly 40 per cent, altogether!—the result was the winning of a fortune in what, but for the fatigue involved in it, might have been regarded as simply a holiday excursion.
The fatigue here referred to, however, must have been something very considerable. Its influence was felt all the more, no doubt, by reason of the Novelist having had to contend during upwards of four hard winter months, as he himself laughingly remarked just before his return homewards, with "what he had sometimes been quite admiringly assured, was a true American catarrh!" Nevertheless, even with its depressing and exhausting influence upon him, he not only contrived to carry out the project upon which he had adventured, triumphantly to its appointed close, but even upon one of the most inclement days of an unusually inclement season, namely, on Saturday, the 29th of February, 1868, he actually took part as one of the umpires in the good-humoured frolic of a twelve-mile walking match, up hill and down dale, through the snow, on the Milldam road, between Boston and Newton, doing every inch of the way, heel and toe, as though he had been himself one of the competitors. The first six miles having been accomplished by the successful competitor in one hour and twenty-three minutes, and the return six in one hour and twenty-five minutes, the Novelist—although, with his light, springy step, he had observantly gone the whole distance himself, as we have seen, in his capacity as umpire,—presided blithely, in celebration of this winter day's frolic, at a sumptuous little banquet, given by him at the Parker House, a banquet that Lucullus would hardly have disdained. Having appeared before his last audience in America on the 20th of April, 1868, at New York, the Author-Reader addressed through them to all his other auditors in the United States, after that final Reading was over, a few genial and generous utterances of farewell. Among other things, he said to them,—"The relations which have been set up between us, while they have involved for me something more than mere devotion to a task, have been sustained by you with the readiest sympathy and the kindest acknowledgment. Those relations must now be broken for ever. Be assured, however, that you will not pass from my mind. I shall often realise you as I see you now, equally by my winter fire, and in the green English summer weather. I shall never recall you as a mere audience, but rather as a host of personal friends,—and ever with the greatest gratitude, tenderness, and consideration." Two days before that last of all these American Readings, he had been entertained at a public banquet in New York, on the 18th of April, at Delmonico's. Two days after the final American Reading and address of farewell, he took his departure from New York on board the Russia, on Wednesday, the 22nd of April, arriving on Friday, the 1st of May, at Liverpool.
Scarcely a month had elapsed after his return homewards, when the prospective and definitive close of the great author's career as a public Reader was formally announced. Again the Messrs. Chappell, of New Bond Street, appeared between the Novelist and the public as intermediaries. They intimated through their advertisement, that "knowing it to be the determination of Mr. Dickens finally to retire from public Readings, soon after his return from America, they (as having been honoured with his confidence on former occasions) made proposals to him, while he was still in the United States achieving his recent brilliant successes there, for a final farewell series of Readings in this country." They added that "their proposals were at once accepted in a manner highly gratifying to them;" and that the series, which would commence in the ensuing autumn, would comprehend, besides London, several of the chief towns and cities of England, Ireland, and Scotland. Looking back to this preliminary advertisement now, there is a melancholy significance in the emphasis with which it was observed—"It is scarcely necessary to add that any announcement made in connection with these Farewell Readings will be strictly adhered to and considered final; and that on no consideration whatever will Mr. Dickens be induced to appoint an extra night in any place in which he shall have been announced to read for the last time." According to promise, in the autumn, these well-remembered Farewell Readings commenced. They were intended to run on to the number of one hundred altogether. Beginning within the first week of October, they were not to end until the third week of the ensuing May. As it happened, Seventy-Four Readings were given in place of the full hundred. On Tuesday, the 6th of October, 1868, the series was commenced. On Thursday, the 22nd of April, 1869, its abrupt termination was announced, by a telegram from Preston, that caused a pang of grief and anxiety to the vast multitude of those to whom the very name of Charles Dickens had, for more than thirty years, been endeared. The intimation conveyed through that telegram was the fact of his sudden and alarming illness. Already, in the two preceding months, though the public generally had taken no notice of the circumstance, three of the Readings had, for various reasons, been unavoidably given up—one at Hull, fixed for the 12th of March, and previously one at Glasgow, fixed for the 18th, and another at Edinburgh, fixed for the 19th of February. Otherwise than in those three instances, the sequence of Readings marked on the elaborate programme had been most faithfully adhered to; the Reader, indeed, only succumbing at last under the nervous exhaustion caused by his own indomitable perseverance.
It is, now, matter of all but absolute certainty that his immense energies, his elastic temperament, and his splendid constitution had all of them, long before this, been cruelly overtaxed and overweighted. Unsuspected by any of us at the time, he had, there can be little doubt of it, received the deadliest shock to his whole system as far back as on the 9th of June, 1865, in that terrible railway accident at Staplehurst, on the fifth anniversary of which fatal day, by a strange coincidence, he breathed his last. His intense vitality deceived himself and everybody else, however, until it was all too late. The extravagant toil he was going through for months together—whirling hither and thither in express trains, for the purpose of making one exciting public appearance after another, each of them a little world of animated impersonations—he accomplished with such unfailing and unflagging vivacity, with such an easy step, such an alert carriage, with such an animated voice and glittering eye, that for a long while at least we were under the illusion. Hurrying about England, Ireland, and Scotland as he was during almost the whole of the last quarter of 1868 and during the whole of the first quarter of 1869—dividing his time not only between Liverpool and Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow, Dublin and Belfast, with continual returns to his central reading-platform in the great Hall near Piccadilly, but visiting afterwards as well nearly all the great manufacturing towns and nearly all the fashionable watering-places—the wonder is now not so much that he gave in at last to the exorbitant strain, but that he did not give in much sooner.
A single incident will suffice to show the pace at which he was going before the overwrought system gave the first sign of its being overwrought. On the evening of Thursday, the 11th of March, 1869, an immense audience crowded the Festival Concert Room at York, the people there having only that one opportunity of attending a Farewell Reading. As they entered the room, each person received a printed slip of paper, on which was read, "The audience are respectfully informed that carriages have been ordered tonight at half-past nine. Without altering his Reading in the least, Mr. Dickens will shorten his usual pauses between the Parts, in order that he may leave York by train a few minutes after that time. He has been summoned," it was added, "to London, in connection with a late sad occurrence within the general knowledge, but a more particular reference to which would be out of place here." His attendance, in point of fact, was suddenly required at the funeral of a dear friend of his in the metropolis. To the funeral he had to go. From the poignantly irksome duty of the Reading he could not escape. Giving the latter even as proposed, he would barely have time to catch the up express, so as to arrive in town by the aid of rapid night travelling, and be true to the melancholy rendezvous at the scene of his friend's obsequies. The Readings that night were three, and they were given in rapid succession, the Reader, after the first and second, instead of withdrawing, as usual, for ten minutes' rest into his retiring room at the back of the platform, merely stepping for an instant or two behind the screen at the side of the platform, putting his lips to some iced champagne, and stepping back at once to the reading-desk. The selected Readings were these—"Boots at the Holly-Tree Inn," the murder scene of "Sikes and Nancy," and the grotesque monologue of "Mrs. Gamp." The Archbishop and the other principal people of York were there conspicuously noticeable in the stalls, eagerly listening and keenly observant, evidently in rapt attention throughout the evening, but more especially during the powerfully acted tragic incident from "Oliver Twist." The Reading, as a whole, was more than ordinarily successful—parts of it were exceptionally impressive. Directly it was over, the Reader, having had a coupe previously secured for his accommodation in the express, was just barely enabled, at a rush, to catch the train an instant or so before its starting. Then only, after it had started, could he give a thought to his dress, changing his clothes and snatching a morsel of supper in the railway carriage as he whirled on towards London. The occasion referred to serves, at any rate, to illustrate the wear and tear to which the Author had rendered himself, through these Readings, more or less continually liable.
The jeopardy in which it placed his life at last was alarmingly indicated by the peremptory order of his medical adviser, Mr. Frank Beard, of Welbeck Street—immediately on his arrival in Preston on the 22nd of April, in answer to a telegram summoning him thither upon the instant from London—that the Readings must be stopped then and thenceforth. When this happened, a fortnight had not elapsed after the grand Banquet given in honour of Charles Dickens at St. George's Hall, in Liverpool. As the guest of the evening, he had, there and then, been "cheered to the echo" by seven hundred enthusiastic admirers of his presided over by the Mayor of Liverpool. That was on Saturday, the 10th of April, during a fortnight's blissful rest in the whirling round of the Readings. Immediately that fortnight was over, the whirling round began again its momentarily interrupted gyrations. Three days in succession there was a Reading at Leeds—on Thursday, the 15th, Friday, the 16th, and Saturday, the 17th of April. On Monday, the 19th, there was a Reading at Blackburn; on Tuesday, the 20th, another at Bolton; on Wednesday, the 21st, another at Southport. Then came the morning of the 22nd, on the evening of which Thursday he was to have read at Preston. By the then Dickens's medical adviser had arrived from London, the audience had already begun assembling. Thereupon, not only was that particular Reading prohibited, but, by the same wise mandate, all thought of resuming the course, or even a portion of it, afterwards, was as peremptorily interdicted. In one sense, it is only matter for wistful regret, now, that that judicious interdict was so far removed, three-quarters of a year afterwards, that the twelve Final Readings of Farewell which were given at the St. James' Hall in the spring of 1870, beginning on Tuesday, the 11th of January, and ending on Tuesday, the 15th of March, were' assented to as in any way reasonable.
That even these involved an enormous strain upon the system, was proved to absolute demonstration by the statistics jotted down with the utmost precision during the Readings, as to the fluctuations of the Reader's pulse immediately before and immediately after each of his appearances upon the platform, mostly two, but often three, appearances in a single evening. The acceleration of his pulse has, to our knowledge, upon some of these occasions been something extraordinary. Upon the occasion of his last and grandest Reading of the Murder, for example, as he stepped upon the platform, resolved, apparently, upon outdoing himself, he remarked, in a half-whisper to the present writer, just before advancing from the cover of the screen to the familiar reading-desk, "I shall tear myself to pieces." He certainly never acted with more impassioned earnestness—though never once, for a single instant, however, overstepping the boundaries of nature. His pulse just before had been tested, as usual, keenly and carefully, by his most sedulous and sympathetic medical attendant. It was counted by him just as keenly and carefully directly afterwards—the rise then apparent being something startling, almost alarming, as it seemed to us under the circumstances.
Those twelve Farewell Readings are all the more to be regretted now when we come to look back at them, on our recalling to remembrance the fact that then, for the first time since he assumed to himself the position of a Public Reader professionally, Dickens consented to give a series of Readings at the very period when he was producing one of his imaginative works in monthly instalments. He appeared to give himself no rest whatever, when repose, at any rate for a while, was most urgently required. He seemed to have become his own taskmaster precisely at the time when he ought to have taken the repose he had long previously earned, by ministering so largely and laboriously to the world's enjoyment.
Summing up in a few words what has already been related in detail, one passing sentence may here recall to recollection the fact, that in addition to the various works produced by the Novelist during the last three lustres of his energetic life as a man of letters, he had personally, within that busy interval of fifteen years, given in round numbers at a moderate computation some 500 of these Public Readings—423 in a strictly professional capacity, the rest, prior to 1858, purely out of motives of generosity, in his character as a practical philanthropist. In doing this he had addressed as many as five hundred enormous audiences, whose rapt attention he had always secured, and who had one and all of them, without exception, welcomed his coming and going with enthusiasm. During this period he had travelled over many thousands of miles, by railway and steam-packet. In a single tour, that of the winter of 1867 and 1868, in America, he had appeared before upwards of 100,000 persons, earning, at the same time, over 200,000 dollars within an interval of very little more than four months altogether.
Later on, the circumstances surrounding the immediate close of this portion of the popular author's life, as a Public Reader of his own works, will be described when mention is made of his final appearance in St. James's Hall, on the night of his Farewell Reading. Before any particular reference is made, however, to that last evening, it may be advisable, as tending to make this record more complete, that there should now be briefly passed in review, one after another, those minor stories, and fragments of the larger stories, the simple recounting of which by his own lips yielded so much artistic delight to a great multitude of his contemporaries. Whatever may thus be remarked in regard to these Readings will be written at least from a vivid personal recollection; the writer, throughout, speaking, as before observed, from his intimate knowledge of the whole of this protracted episode in the life of the Novelist.
Whatever aid to the memory besides might have been thought desirable, he has had ready to hand all through, in the marked copies of the very books from which the author read upon these occasions, or from which, at the least, he had the appearance of reading. For, especially towards the last, Charles Dickens hardly ever glanced, even momentarily, at the printed pages, simply turning the leaves mechanically as they lay open before him on the picturesque little reading-desk. Besides the Sixteen Readings actually given, there were Four others which were so far meditated that they were printed separately as "Readings," though the reading copies of them that have been preserved, were never otherwise prepared by their author-compiler for representation. One of these the writer remembers suggesting to the Novelist, as a characteristic companion or contrast to Dr. Marigold,—meaning "Mrs. Lirriper." Another, strange to say,—about the least likely of all his stories one would have thought to have been thus selected,—was "The Haunted Man." A third was "The Prisoner of the Bastile," which would, for certain, have been one of Dickens's most powerful delineations. The fourth, if only in remembrance of the Old Bailey attorney, Mr. Jaggers, of the convict Magwitch, and of Joe the blacksmith, the majority would probably have been disposed to regret almost more than Mrs. Lirriper. Though the lodging-house keeper would have been welcome, too, for her own sake, as who will not agree in saying, if merely out of a remembrance of the "trembling lip" put up towards her face, speaking of which the good motherly old soul exclaims, "and I dearly kissed it;" or, bearing in mind, another while, her preposterous reminiscence of the "impertinent little cock-sparrow of a monkey whistling with dirty shoes on the clean steps, and playing the harp on the area railings with a hoop-stick." Actually given or only meditated, the whole of these twenty Readings—meaning the entire collection of the identical marked copies used by the Novelist himself on both sides of the Atlantic—have, for the verification of this retrospect, been placed for the time being in the writer's possession. Selecting from among them those merely which are familiar to the public, from their having been actually produced, he here proposes cursorily to glance one by one through the well-known series of Sixteen.
THE CHRISTMAS CAROL.
It can hardly be any matter for wonder that the "Christmas Carol" was, among all the Readings, the author's own especial favourite! That it was so, he showed from first to last unmistakeably. He began with it in 1853, and ended with it in 1870, upon the latter occasion appending to the long since abbreviated narrative, that other incomparable evidence of his powers as a humorist, "The Trial from Pickwick." Whoever went for the first time to see and hear Charles Dickens read one or other of his writings, did well in selecting a night when he was going to relate his immortal ghost story of Christmas. In compliance with the well-known wish of the Novelist, the audience, as a rule, contrived to assemble and to have actually taken their places several minutes before the time fixed for the Reader's appearance upon the platform. Occasionally it happened, nevertheless, that a stray couple or so would be still drifting in, here and there, among the serried ranks of the stalls, when, book in hand, with a light step, a smile on his face, and a flower in his button-hole, the author had already rapidly advanced and taken his place before his quaintly constructed but graceful little reading-desk. Then it was, perhaps, at those very times, that a stranger to the whole scene regarded himself almost as under a personal obligation to these vexatious stragglers. For, until every one of them had quietly settled down, there stood the Novelist, cheerfully, patiently, glancing to the right and to the left, taking the bearings of his night's company, as one might say, with an air of the most perfect ease and self-possession. Whosoever, consequently, was in attendance there for the first time, had an opportunity, during any such momentary pause, of familiarising himself with the appearance of the famous writer, with whose books he had probably been intimately acquainted for years upon years previously, but whom until then he had never had the chance of beholding face to face.
Everyone, even to the illiterate wayfarers in the public streets, had, to a certain extent, long since come to know what manner of man Charles Dickens was by means of his widely-scattered photographs. But, there, better than any photograph, was the man himself,—the master of all English humorists, the most popular author during his own lifetime that ever existed; one whose stories for thirty years together had been read with tears and with laughter, and whose books had won for him personal affection, as well as fame and fortune. Anyone seeing him at those moments for the first time, would unquestionably think—How like he was to a very few indeed, how utterly unlike the vast majority of his countless cartes-de-visites! To the last there was the bright, animated, alert carriage of the head—phrenologically a noble head—physiognomically a noble countenance. Encountering him within a very few weeks of his death, Mr. Arthur Locker has said, "I was especially struck with the brilliancy and vivacity of his eyes:" adding, "there seemed as much life and animation in them as in twenty ordinary pairs of eyes." Another keen observer, Mr. Arthur Helps, has in the same spirit exclaimed, "What portrait can do justice to the frankness, kindness, and power of his eyes?" None certainly that ever was painted by the pencil of the sunbeam, or by the brush of a Royal Academician. Fully to realise the capacity for indicating emotion latent in them, and informing his whole frame—his hands for example, in their every movement, being wonderfully expressive—those who attended these Readings soon came to know, that you had but to listen to his variable and profoundly sympathetic voice, and to watch the play of his handsome features.
The different original characters introduced in his stories, when he read them, he did not simply describe, he impersonated: otherwise to put it, for whomsoever he spoke, he spoke in character. Thus, when everything was quiet in the crowded assembly, and when the ringing applause that always welcomed his appearance, but which he never by any chance acknowledged, had subsided—when he began: "A Christmas Carol, in four staves. Stave one, Marley's Ghost. Marley was dead to begin with." Having remarked, yet further, that "there was no doubt whatever about that," the register of his burial being signed by this functionary, that and the other—when he added, "Scrooge signed it; and Scrooge's name was good upon 'Change for anything he chose to put his hand to"—Scrooge in the flesh was, through the very manner of the utterance of his name, brought vividly and upon the instant before the observant listener. "Oh! but he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, was Scrooge!" That we knew instinctively, without there being any need whatever for our hearing one syllable of the description of him, admirably given in the book, but suppressed in the Reading, judiciously suppressed enough, because, for that matter, we saw and heard it without any necessity for its being explained. As one might say—quoting here a single morsel from the animated description of Scrooge, that was actually illustrated by Scrooge's impersonator—it all "spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice!" And it was thus, not merely with regard to the leading personages of the little acted drama, as, turn by turn, they were introduced; precisely the same artistic care was applied by the impersonating realist to the very least among the minor characters, filling in, so to speak, little incidental gaps in the background. A great fat man with a monstrous chin, for example, was introduced just momentarily in the briefest street-dialogue, towards the close of this very Reading, who had only to open his lips once or twice for an instant, yet whose individuality was in that instant or two so thoroughly realised, that he lives ever since then in the hearers' remembrance. When, in reply to some one's inquiry, as to what was the cause of Scrooge's (presumed) death?—this great fat man with the monstrous chin answered, with a yawn, in two words, "God knows!"—he was before us there, as real as life, as selfish, and as substantial. So was it also with the grey-haired rascal, Joe, of the rag-and-bottle shop; with Topper, when he pronounced himself, as a bachelor, to be "a wretched outcast;" with the Schoolmaster, when he "glared on Master Scrooge with ferocious condescension, and threw him into a dreadful state of mind by shaking hands with him," all of whom were indicated by the merest touch or two, and yet each of whom was a living and breathing and speaking verisimilitude.
There was produced, to begin with, however, a sense of exhilaration in the very manner with which Dickens commenced the Reading of one of his stories, and which was always especially noticeable in the instance of this particular ghost story of his about Christmas. The opening sentences were always given in those cheery, comfortable tones, indicative of a double relish on the part of a narrator—to wit, his own enjoyment of the tale he is going to relate, and his anticipation of the enjoyment of it by those who are giving him their attention. Occasionally, at any rate during the last few years, his voice was husky just at the commencement, but as he warmed to his work, with him at all times a genuine labour of love, everything of that kind disappeared almost at the first turn of the leaf. The genial inflections of the voice, curiously rising, in those first moments of the Reading, at the end of every sentence, there was simply no resisting. Had there been a wedding guest present, he would hardly have repined in not being able to obey the summons of the loud bassoon. The narrator had his will with one and all. However large and however miscellaneous the audience, from the front of the stalls to the back of the gallery, every one listened to the familiar words that fell from his lips, from the beginning to the end, with unflagging attention. There could be small room for marvel at this, however, in the instance of the "Carol," on first reading which, Thackeray spoke of its author as that "delightful genius!" The Edinburgh editor, Lord Jeffrey, at the very same time, namely, towards the close of 1843, on the morrow of the little book's original publication, avowing, in no less glowing terms, that he had been nothing less than charmed by the exquisite apologue: "chiefly," as he declared, "for the genuine goodness which breathes all through it, and is the true inspiring angel by which its genius has been awakened." Never since he had first—and that but a very few years previously—taken pen in hand as a story-teller, had this "delightful genius" sat down in a happier vein for writing anything, than when he did so for the purpose of recounting how Scrooge was converted, by a series of ghostly apparitions, from the error of his utterly selfish way in life, until then, as a tough-skinned, ingrained curmudgeon.
Characters and incidents, brought before us anew in the Reading, were all so cordially welcomed,—the former being such old friends, the latter so familiarly within our knowledge! Insomuch that many passages were, almost word for word, remembered by those who, nevertheless, listened as if curious to learn what might follow, yet who could readily, any one of them, have prompted the Reader, that is the Author himself, supposing by some rare chance he had happened, just for one moment, to be at fault. It is curious to observe, on turning over the leaves of the marked copy of this Reading, the sententious little marginal notes for his own guidance, jotted down by the hand of this wonderful master of elocutionary effect. "Narrative" is written on the side of p. 5 where Scrooge's office, on Christmas Eve, is described, just before mention is made of the Clerk's dismal little cell seeming to be "a sort of tank," and of his fire being so small that it looked like "one coal," and of his trying at last to warm himself by the candle, "in which effort, not being a man of strong imagination, he failed." Again, "Cheerful" is penned on the side of p. 6, where Scrooge's Nephew comes in at a burst with "A Merry Christmas, uncle! God save you!"
After Scrooge's inhuman retort of "Bah! humbug!" not a word was added of the descriptive sentence immediately following. Admirable though every word of it is, however, one could hardly regret its suppression. Is it asked why? Well then, for this simple reason—the force of which will be admitted by anyone who ever had the happiness of grasping Charles Dickens's hand in friendship—that his description of Scrooge's Nephew was, quite unconsciously but most accurately, in every word of it, a literal description of himself, just as he looked upon any day in the blithest of all seasons, after a brisk walk in the wintry streets or on the snowy high road. "He had so heated himself with rapid walking in the fog and frost, this Nephew of Scrooge's, that he was all in a glow; his face was ruddy and handsome; his eyes sparkled, and his breath smoked again." The Novelist himself was depicted there to a nicety. No need, therefore, was there for even one syllable of this in the Reading. Scrooge's Nephew was visibly before us, without a word being uttered.
To our thinking, it has always seemed as if the one chink through which Scrooge's sympathies are got at and his heart-strings are eventually touched, is discernable in his keen sense of humour from the very outset. It is precisely through this that there seems hope, from the very beginning, of his proving to be made of "penetrable stuff." When, after his monstrous "Out upon merry Christmas!" he goes on to say, "If I had my will every idiot who goes about with 'merry Christmas' on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly in his heart: he should!" one almost feels as if he were laughing in his sleeve from the very commencement. Instance, as yet more strikingly to the point in respect to what we are here maintaining, the wonderfully comic effect of the bantering remarks addressed by him to the Ghost of Jacob Marley all through their confabulation, even when the spectre's voice, as we are told, was disturbing the very marrow in his bones. True, it is there stated that, all through that portentous dialogue, he was only trying to be smart "as a means of distracting his own attention." But the jests themselves are too delicious, one would say, for mere make-believes. Besides which, hear his laugh at the end of the book! Hardly that of one really so long out of practice—"a splendid laugh, a most illustrious laugh, the father of a long, long line of brilliant laughs!" A laugh, one might suppose, as contagious as that of his own Nephew when he was "so inexpressibly tickled that he was obliged to get up off the sofa and stamp!" Speaking of which our author writes so delectably, "If you should happen by any unlikely chance to know a man more blest in a laugh than Scrooge's Nephew, all I can say is, I should like to know him too. Introduce him to me, and I'll cultivate his acquaintance." At which challenge one might almost have been tempted anticipatively to say at a venture—Scrooge! Good-humoured argument apart, however, what creatures were those who, one by one—sometimes, it almost seemed, two or three of them together—appeared and disappeared upon the platform, at the Reader's own good-will and pleasure!
After Scrooge's "Good afternoon!"—delivered with irresistibly ludicrous iteration—we caught something more than a distant glimpse of the Clerk in the tank, when—on Scrooge's surly interrogation, if he will want all day to-morrow?—the Reader replied in the thinnest and meekest of frightened voices, "If quite convenient, sir!" It brought into full view instantaneously, and for the first time, the little Clerk whom one followed in imagination with interest a minute afterwards on his "going down a slide at the end of a lane of boys twenty times in honour of Christmas, and then, with the long ends of his white comforter dangling below his waist (for he boasted no greatcoat) running home as hard as he could pelt to play at blind man's buff." Instantly, upon the heels of this, we find noted on the margin, p. 18, "Tone to mystery." The spectral illusion of the knocker on Scrooge's house-door, looking for all the world not like a knocker, but like Marley's face, "with a dismal light about it like a bad lobster in a dark cellar," prepared the way marvellously for what followed. Numberless little tid-bits of description that anybody else would have struck out with reluctance, as, for instance, that of Scrooge looking cautiously behind the street door when he entered, "as if he half expected to be terrified with the sight of Marley's pigtail sticking out into the hall," were unhesitatingly erased by the Reader, as, from his point of view, not necessarily to the purpose. Then, after the goblin incident of the disused bell slowly oscillating until it and all the other bells in the house rang loudly for a while—afterwards becoming in turn just as suddenly hushed—we got to the clanking approach, from the sub-basement of the old building, of the noise that at length came on through the heavy door of Scrooge's apartment! "And"—as the Reader said with startling effect, while his voice rose to a hurried outcry as he uttered the closing exclamation—"upon its coming in, the dying flame leaped up, as though it cried, 'I know him! Marley's Ghost!'" The apparition, although the description of it was nearly stenographically abbreviated in the Reading, appeared to be, in a very few words, no less startlingly realised. "Same face, usual waistcoat, tights, boots," even to the spectral illusion being so transparent that Scrooge (his own marrow, then, we may presume, becoming sensitized) looking through his waistcoat "could see the two back buttons on the coat behind"—with the incorrigible old joker's cynical reflection to himself that "he had often heard Marley spoken of as having no bowels, but had never believed it until then." The grotesque humour of his interview with the spectre seemed scarcely to have been realised, in fact, until their colloquy was actually listened to in the Reading.
Scrooge's entreaty addressed to the Ghost, when the latter demanded a hearing, "Don't be flowery, Jacob, pray!" was only less laughable, for example, than the expression of the old dreamer's visage when Marley informed him that he had often sat beside him invisibly! Promised a chance and hope in the fixture—a chance and hope of his dead partner's procuring—Scrooge's "Thank 'ee!"—full of doubt—was a fitting prelude to his acknowledgment of the favour when explained. "You will be haunted," quoth the Ghost, "by three Spirits." The other faltering, "I—I think I'd rather not:" and then quietly hinting afterwards, "Couldn't I take 'em all at once, and have it over, Jacob?"
As for the revelations made to Ebenezer Scrooge by those three memorable Spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, who can ever hope to relate them and impersonate them as they were related and impersonated by the Author himself of this peerless ghost-story! Fezziwig, for example, with his calves shining like moons, who, after going through all the intricacies of the country dance, bow, corkscrew, thread-the-needle, and back again to your place, cut—"cut so deftly that he appeared to wink with his legs, and came upon his feet again without a stagger!" The very Fiddler, who "went up to the lofty desk and made an orchestra of it, and tuned like fifty stomach-aches!" Master Peter Cratchit, again, arrayed in his father's shirt collars, who, rejoicing to find himself so gallantly attired, at one moment "yearned to show his linen in the fashionable parks," and at another, hearing his sister Martha talk of some lord who "was much about as tall as Peter, pulled up his collars so high that you couldn't have seen him if you had been there." As for the pathetic portions of the narrative, it is especially observable in regard to those, that they were anything rather than made too much of. There, more particularly, the elisions were ruthless. Looking through the marked copy, it really would appear that only a very few indeed of the salient points were left in regard to the life and death of Tiny Tim. Bob's visit to the death-bed was entirely unmentioned. Even the words "Spirit of Tiny Tim, thy childish essence was from God!" were never uttered. Two utterances there were, however, the one breathing an exquisite tenderness, the other indicative of a long-suppressed but passionate outburst of grief, that thrilled to the hearts of all who heard them, and still, we doubt not, haunt their recollection. The one—where the mother, laying her mourning needlework upon the table, put her hand up to her face. "'The colour hurts my eyes,' she said. The colour? Ah! poor Tiny Tim!" The other, where the father, while describing the little creature's grave, breaks down in a sudden agony of tears. "It would have done you good to see how green a place it is. But you'll see it often. I promised him that I would walk there on a Sunday—My little, little child! My little child!" It was a touch of nature that made the Reader and his world of hearers, upon the instant, kin. The tearful outcry brimmed to the eyes of those present a thousand visible echoes. "He broke down all at once. He couldn't help it," said the Reader, adding in subdued accents the simple words, "If he could have helped it, he and his child would have been further apart perhaps than they were." With that ended all reference to the home-grief at Bob Cratchit's. Everything else in relation to the loss of Tiny Tim was foregone unhesitatingly.
The descriptive passages were cut out by wholesale. While the Christmas dinner at Scrooge's Clerk's, and the Christmas party at Scrooge's Nephew's, were left in almost in their entirety, the street-scenes and shop-window displays were obliterated altogether. Nothing at all was said about the "great round, pot-bellied baskets of chestnuts, shaped like the waistcoats of jolly old gentlemen lolling at the doors and tumbling into the streets in their apoplectic opulence." Nothing about the ruddy, brown-faced, broad-girthed Spanish onions, shining in the fatness of their growth like Spanish friars, and "winking from their shelves in wanton slyness at the girls as they went by, and glanced demurely at the hung-up mistletoe." Nothing about the canisters of tea and coffee "rattled up and down like juggling tricks," or about the candied fruits, "so caked and spotted with molten sugar as to make the coldest lookers-on feel faint, and subsequently bilious."
Nay, we were denied even a momentary glimpse, on the snow-crusted pavement at nightfall, of that group of handsome girls, all hooded and fur-booted, and all chattering at once, tripping lightly off to some near neighbour's house, "where, woe upon the single man who saw them enter—artful witches, well they knew it—in a glow!" Topper was there, however, and the plump sister in the lace tucker, and the game of Yes-and-No, the solution to which was, "It's your uncle Scro-o-o-o-oge!" Happiest of all these non-omissions, as one may call them, there was that charming picture of Scrooge's niece by marriage, which—as brightly, exquisitely articulated by the lips of her imaginer—was like the loveliest girl-portrait ever painted by Greuze. "She was very pretty, exceedingly pretty. With a dimpled, surprised-looking, capital face; a ripe little mouth, that seemed made to be kissed—as no doubt it was; all kinds of good little dots about her chin, that melted into one another when she laughed; and the sunniest pair of eyes you ever saw in any little creature's head. Altogether she was what you would have called provoking, you know; but satisfactory, too. Oh, perfectly satisfactory." The grave face and twinkling eyes with which this cordial acquiescence in the conclusion arrived at was expressed were irresistibly exhilarating. Just in the same way there was a sort of parenthetical smack of the lips in the self-communing of Scrooge when, at the very close of the story, after hesitating awhile at his Nephew's door as to whether he should knock, he made a dash and did it. "Is your master at home, my dear?" said Scrooge. "Nice girl! very." Then, as to the cordiality of his reception by his Nephew, what could by possibility have expressed it better than the look, voice, manner of the Reader. "'Will you let me in, Fred?' Let him in! It is a mercy he didn't shake his arm off." The turkey that "never could have stood upon its legs, that bird," but must have "snapped 'em short off in a minute, like sticks of sealing-wax!"—the remarkable boy who was just about its size, and who, when told to go and buy it, cried out "Walk-ER!"—Bob Cratchit's trying to overtake nine o'clock with his pen on his arriving nearly twenty minutes afterwards; his trembling and getting a little nearer the ruler when regenerated Scrooge talks about raising his salary, prior to calling him Bob, and, with a clap on the back, wishing him a merry Christmas!—brought, hilariously, the whole radiant Reading of this wonderful story to its conclusion. It was a feast of humour and a flow of fun, better than all the yule-tide fare that ever was provided—fuller of good things than any Christmas pudding of plums and candied fruit-peel—more warming to the cockles of one's heart, whatever those may be, than the mellowest wassail-bowl ever brimmed to over-flowing. No wonder those two friends of Thackeray, who have been already mentioned, and who were both of them women, said of the Author of the "Carol," by way of criticism, "God bless him!" This being exclaimed by them, as will be remembered, simply after reading it to themselves. If only they had heard him read it!
THE TRIAL FROM PICKWICK.
Reader and audience about equally, one may say, revelled in the "Trial from Pickwick." Every well-known person in the comic drama was looked for eagerly, and when at last Serjeant Buzfuz, as we were told, "rose with more importance than he had yet exhibited, if that were possible, and said, 'Call Samuel Weller,'" a round of applause invariably greeted the announcement of perhaps the greatest of all Dickens's purely humorous characters. The Reading copy of this abbreviated report of the great case of Bardell v. Pickwick has, among the complete set of Readings, one very striking peculiarity. Half-bound in scarlet morocco like all the other thin octavos in the collection, its leaves though yellow and worn with constant turning like the rest, are wholly unlike those of the others in this, that the text is untouched by pen or pencil. Beyond the first condensation of that memorable 34th chapter of Pickwick, there is introduced not one single alteration by way of after-thought. Struck off at a heat, as it was, that first humorous report of the action for breach of promise of marriage brought by Martha Bardell against Samuel Pickwick admitted in truth in no way whatever of improvement. Anything like a textual change would have been resented by the hearers—every one of them Pickwickian, as the case might be, to a man, woman, or child—as in the estimation of the literary court, nothing less than a high crime and misdemeanour. Once epitomised for the Reading, the printed version, at least of the report, was left altogether intact. Nevertheless, strange to say, there was perhaps no Reading out of the whole series of sixteen, in the delivery of which the Author more readily indulged himself with an occasional gag. Every interpolation of this kind, however, was so obviously introduced on the spur of the moment, so refreshingly spontaneous and so ludicrously apropos, that it was always cheered to the very echo, or, to put the fact not conventionally but literally, was received with peals of laughter. Thus it was in one instance, as we very well remember, in regard to Mr. Justice Stareleigh—upon every occasion that we saw him, one of the Reader's most whimsical impersonations. The little judge—described in the book as "all face and waistcoat"—was presented to view upon the platform as evidently with no neck at all (to speak of), and as blinking with owl-like stolidity whenever he talked, which he always did under his voice, and with apparently a severe cold in the head. On the night more particularly referred to, Sam Weller, being at the moment in the witness-box, had just replied to the counsel's suggestion, that what he (Sam) meant by calling Mr. Pickwick's "a very good service" was "little to do and plenty to get."—"Oh, quite enough to get, sir, as the soldier said ven they ordered him three hundred and fifty lashes." Thereupon—glowering angrily at Sam, and blinking his eyes more than ever—Mr. Justice Stareleigh remarked, with a heavier cold in the head than hitherto, in a severe monotone, and with the greatest deliberation, "You must not tell us what the soldier says unless the soldier is in court, unless that soldier comes here in uniform, and is examined in the usual way—it's not evidence." Another evening, again, we recall quite as clearly to mind, when the Reader was revelling more even than was his wont, in the fun of this representation of the trial-scene, he suddenly seemed to open up the revelation of an entirely new phase in Mr. Winkle's idiosyncrasy. Under the badgering of Mr. Skimpin's irritating examination, as to whether he was or was not a particular friend of Mr. Pickwick the defendant, the usually placable Pickwickian's patience upon this occasion appeared gradually and at last utterly to forsake him. "I have known Mr. Pickwick now, as well as I can recollect at this moment, nearly——"
"Pray, Mr. Winkle, do not evade the question. Are you or are you not a particular friend of the defendant's?" "I was just about to say——" "Will you, or will you not, answer my question, sir?" "Why, God bless my soul, I was just about to say that———" Whereupon the Court, otherwise Mr. Justice Stareleigh, blinking faster than ever, blurted out severely, "If you don't answer the question you'll be committed to prison, sir!" And then, but not till then, Mr. Winkle was sufficiently restored to equanimity to admit at last, meekly, "Yes, he was!"
In the Reading of the Trial the first droll touch was the well-remembered reference to the gentlemen in wigs, in the barristers' seats, presenting as a body "all that pleasing variety of nose and whisker for which the bar of England is so justly celebrated." Even the allusion to those among their number who carried a brief "scratching their noses with it to impress the fact more strongly on the observation of the spectators," and the other allusion to those who hadn't a brief, carrying instead red-labelled octavos with "that under-done-pie-crust cover, technically known as law calf," was each, in turn, welcomed with a flutter of amusement. Every point, however minute, told, and told eifectively. More eifectively than if each was heard for the first time, because all were thoroughly known, and, therefore, thoroughly well appreciated. The opening address of Serjeant Buzfuz every one naturally enough regarded as one of the most mirth-moving portions of the whole representation. In the very exordium of it there was something eminently absurd in the Serjeant's extraordinarily precise, almost mincing pronunciation. As where he said, that "never in the whole course of his professional experience—never from the first moment of his applying himself to the study and practice of the law—had he approached a case with such a heavy sense of respon-see-bee-lee-ty imposed upon him—a respon-see-bee-lee-ty he could never have supported were he not," and so forth. Again, a wonderfully ridiculous effect was imparted by the Reader to his mere contrasts of manner when, at one moment, in the bland and melancholy accents of Serjeant Buzfuz, he referred to the late Mr. Bardell as having "glided almost imperceptibly from the world to seek elsewhere for that repose and peace which a custom-house can never afford," adding, the next instant in his own voice, and with the most cruelly matter-of-fact precision, "This was a pathetic description of the decease of Mr. Bardell, who had been knocked on the head with a quart-pot in a public-house cellar." The gravity of the Reader's countenance at these moments, with, now and then, but very rarely, a lurking twinkle in the eye, was of itself irresistibly provocative of laughter. Even upon the Serjeant's mention of the written placard hung up in the parlour window of Goswell Street, bearing this inscription, "Apartments furnished for single gentlemen: inquire within," the sustained seriousness with which he added, that there the forensic orator paused while several gentlemen of the jury "took a note of the document," one of that intelligent body inquiring, "There is no date to that, is there, sir?" made fresh ripples of laughter spread from it as inevitably as the concentric circles on water from the dropping of a pebble. The crowning extravagances of this most Gargantuan of comic orations were always of course the most eagerly welcomed, such, for example, as the learned Serjeant's final allusion to Pickwick's coming before the court that day with "his heartless tomato-sauce and warming-pans," and the sonorous close of the impassioned peroration with the plaintiff's appeal to "an enlightened, a high-minded, a right-feeling, a conscientious, a dispassionate, a sympathising, a contemplative jury of her civilised countrymen." It was after this, however, that the true fun of the Reading began with the examination and cross-examination of the different witnesses. These, as a matter of course, were acted, not described.
Mrs. Cluppins first entered the box, with her feelings, so far as they could be judged from her voice, evidently all but too many for her. Her fluttered reply showed this at the very commencement, in answer to an inquiry as to whether she remembered one particular morning in July last, when Mrs. Bar-dell was dusting Pickwick's apartment. "Yes, my lord and jury, I do." "Was that sitting-room the first-floor front?" "Yes, it were, sir"—something in the manner of Mrs. Crupp when at her faintest. The suspicious inquiry of the red-faced little Judge, "What were you doing in the back-room, ma'am?" followed—on her replying lackadaisically, "My lord and jury, I will not deceive you"—by his blinking at her more fiercely, "You had better not, ma'am," were only exceeded in comicality by Justice Stare-leigh's bewilderment a moment afterwards, upon her saying that she "see Mrs. Bardell's street-door on the jar."
Judge (in immense astonishment).—"On the what?"
Counsel.—"Partly open, my lord."
Judge (with more owl-like stolidity than ever).—"She said on the jar."
Counsel.—"It's all the same, my lord."
Then—blinking more quickly than before, with a furtive glance at witness, and a doubtful look of abstraction into space—the little Judge made a note of it.
As in Mrs. Cluppins' faintness there was a recognizable touch of Mrs. Crupp, when the spasms were engendering in the nankeen bosom of that exemplary female, so also in the maternal confidences volunteered by the same witness, there was an appreciable reminder of another lady who will be remembered as having been introduced at the Coroner's Inquest in Bleak House as "Anastasia Piper, gentlemen." Regarding that as a favourable opportunity for informing the court of her own domestic affairs, through the medium of a brief dissertation, Mrs. Cluppins was interrupted by the irascible Judge at the most interesting point in her revelations, when, having mentioned that she was already the mother of eight children, she added, that "she entertained confident expectations of presenting Mr. Cluppins with a ninth about that day six months"—whereupon the worthy lady was summarily hustled out of the witness-box.
Nathaniel Winkle, however, consoled us immediately. Don't we remember how, even before he could open his lips, he was completely disconcerted? Namely, when, bowing very respectfully to the little Judge, he had that complimentary proceeding acknowledged snappishly with, "Don't look at me, sir; look at the jury——" Mr. Winkle, in obedience to the mandate, meekly looking "at the place where he thought that the jury might be." Don't we remember also perfectly well how the worst possible construction was cast by implication beforehand upon his probable reply to the very first question put to him, namely, by the mere manner in which that first question was put? "Now, sir, have the goodness to let his lordship and the jury know what your name is, will you?" Mr. Skimpin, in propounding this inquiry, inclining his head on one side and listening with great sharpness for the answer, "as if to imply that he rather thought Mr. Winkle's natural taste for perjury would induce him to give some name which did not belong to him." Giving in, absurdly, his surname only; and being asked immediately afterwards, if possible still more absurdly, by the Judge, "Have you any Christian name, sir?" the witness, in the Reading, more naturally and yet more confusedly even it seemed than in the book, got that eminent functionary into a great bewilderment as to whether he (Mr. Winkle) were called Nathaniel Daniel, or Daniel Nathaniel. Bewildered himself, in his turn, and that too almost hopelessly, came Mr. Winkle's reply, "No, my lord; only Nathaniel—not Daniel at all." Irascibly, the Judge's, "What did you tell me it was Daniel for, then, sir?" Shamefaced and yet irritably, "I didn't, my lord." "You did, sir!"—with great indignation, topped by this cogent reasoning,—"How could I have got Daniel on my notes, unless you told me so, sir?" Nothing at all was said about it in the Reading; but, again and again, Mr. Winkle, as there impersonated, while endeavouring to feign an easiness of manner, was made to assume, in his then state of confusion, "rather the air of a disconcerted pickpocket."
Better almost than Mr. Winkle himself, however, as an impersonation, was, in look, voice, manner, Mr. Skimpin, the junior barrister, under whose cheerful but ruthless interrogations that unfortunate gentleman was stretched upon the rack of examination. His (Mr. Skimpin's) cheery echoing—upon every occasion when it was at last extorted from his victim—of the latter's answer (followed instantly by his own taunts and insinuations), remains as vividly as anything at all about this Reading in our recollection. When at length Mr. Winkle, with no reluctance in the world, but only seemingly with reluctance, answers the inquiry as to whether he is a particular friend of Pickwick, "Yes, I am!"—"Yes, you are!" said Mr. Skimpin (audibly to the court, but as if it were only to himself). "And why couldn't you say that at once, sir? Perhaps you know the plaintiff, too—eh, Mr. Winkle?" "I don't know her; I've seen her!" "Oh, you don't know her, but you've seen her! Now have the goodness to tell the gentlemen of the jury what you mean by that, Mr. Winkle." As to how this unfortunate witness, after being driven to the confines of desperation, on being at last released, "rushed with delirious haste" to the hotel, "where he was discovered some hours after by the waiter, groaning in a hollow and dismal manner, with his head buried beneath the sofa cushions"—not a word was said in the Reading.
A flavour of the fun of Mrs. Sanders's evidence was given, but only a passing flavour of it, in reference to Mr. Sanders having, in the course of their correspondence, often called her duck, but never chops, nor yet tomato-sauce—he being particularly fond of ducks—though possibly, if he had been equally fond of chops and tomato-sauce, he might have called her that instead, as a term of affection.
The evidence of all, however, was that of Sam Weller, no less to the enjoyment of the Author, it was plain to see, than to that of his hearers. After old Weller's hoarse and guttural cry from the gallery, "Put it down a wee, my lord," in answer to the inquiry whether the immortal surname was to be spelt with a V. or a W.; Sam's quiet "I rayther suspect it was my father, my lord," came with irresistible effect from the Reader, as also did his recollection of something "wery partickler" having happened on the memorable morning, out of which had sprung the whole of this trial of Bardell v. Pickwick, namely, that he himself that day had "a reg'lar new fit out o' clothes." Beyond all the other Wellerisms, however, was Sam's overwhelmingly conclusive answer to counsel's inquiry in regard to his not having seen what occurred, though he himself, at the time, was in the passage, "Have you a pair of eyes, Mr. Weller?" "Yes, I have a pair of eyes; and that's just it If they wos a pair o' patent double-million magnifying gas microscopes of hextra power, p'r'aps I might be able to see through two flights o' stairs and a deal door; but bein' only eyes, you see, my wision's limited." Better by far, in our estimation, nevertheless, than the smart Cockney facetiousness of the inimitable Sam; better than the old coachman's closing lamentation, "Vy worn't there a alleybi?" better than Mr. Winkle, or Mrs. Cluppins, or Serjeant Buzfuz, or than all the rest of those engaged in any capacity in the trial, put together, was the irascible little Judge, with the blinking eyes and the monotonous voice—himself, in his very pose, obviously, "all face and waistcoat." Than Mr. Justice Stareleigh there was, in the whole of this most humorous of all the Readings, no more highly comic impersonation.
The sea-beach at Yarmouth formed both the opening and the closing scene of this Reading, in six chapters, from "David Copperfield." In its varied portraiture of character and in the wonderful descriptive power marking its conclusion, it was one of the most interesting and impressive of the whole series in its delivery. Through it, we renewed our acquaintance more vividly than ever with handsome, curry-headed, reckless, heartless Steerforth! With poor, lone, lorn Mrs. Gummidge, not only when everythink about her went contrairy, but when her better nature gushed forth under the great calamity befalling her benefactor. With pretty little Emily, and bewitching little Dora. With Mr. Micawber, his shirt-collar, his eye-glass, the condescending roll in his voice, and his intermittent bursts of confidence. With Mrs. Micawber, who, as the highest praise we can bestow upon her, is quite worthy of her husband, and who is always, it will be remembered, so impassioned in her declaration that, come what may, she never will desert Mr. Micawber! With Traddles, and his irrepressible hair, even a love-lock from which had to be kept down by Sophy's preservation of it in a clasped locket! With Mr. Peggotty, in fine, who, in his tender love for his niece, is, according to his own account, "not to-look at, but to think on," nothing less than a babby in the form of a great sea Porkypine! Remembering the other originals, crowding the pages of the story in its integrity, how one would have liked to have seen even a few more of them impersonated by the protean Novelist! That "most wonderful woman in the world," Aunt Betsey, for example; or that most laconic of carriers, Mr. Barkis; or, to name yet one other, Uriah Heep, that reddest and most writhing of rascally attornies. As it was, however, there were abundant realizations within the narrow compass of this Reading of the principal persons introduced in the autobiography of David Copperfield. The most loveable, by the way, of all the young heroes portrayed in the Dickens' Gallery was there, to begin with, for example—the peculiar loveableness of David being indicated as plainly as by any means through the extraordinary variety of pet names given to him by one or another in the course of the narrative. For, was he not the "Daisy" of Steerforth, the "Doady" of Dora, the "Trotwood" of Aunt Betsy, and the "Mas'r Davy" of the Yarmouth boatmen, just as surely as he was the "Mr. Copper-full" of Mrs. Crupp, the "Master Copperfield" of Uriah Heep, and the "Dear Copperfield" of Mr. Wilkins Micawber?
That "The Personal History and Experiences of David Copperfield the Younger" was, among all its author's works, his own particular favourite, he himself, in his very last preface to it, in 1867, formally acknowledged. Several years previously, while sauntering with him to and fro one evening on the grass-plot at Gadshill, we remember receiving from him that same admission. "Which of all your books do you think I regard as incomparably your best?" "Which?" "David Copperfield." A momentary pause ensuing, he added, readily and without the smallest reservation, "You are quite right." The acknowledgment then made as to this being in fact his own opinion was thus simply but emphatically expressed. Pen in hand, long afterwards, he made the same admission, only with yet greater emphasis, when the Preface to the new edition of the story in 1867 was thus closed by Charles Dickens—"Of all my books, I like this the best. It will be easily believed that I am a fond parent to every child of my fancy, and that no one can ever love that family as dearly as I love them. But, like many fond parents, I have in my heart of hearts a favourite child. And his name is 'David Copperfield.'" Having that confession from his own lips and under his own hand, it will be readily understood that the Novelist always took an especial delight when, in the course of his Readings, the turn came for that of "David Copperfield."
One of the keenest sensations of pleasure he ever experienced as a Reader—as he himself related to us with the liveliest gratification, evidently, even in the mere recollection of the incident—occurred in connection with this very Reading. Strange to say, moreover, it occurred, not in England or in America, in the presence of an English-speaking audience, but in Paris, and face to face with an audience more than half of which was composed of Frenchmen. And the hearer who caused him, there, that artistic sense, one might almost call it thrill of satisfaction—-was a Frenchman! All that was expressed on the part of this appreciative listener, being uttered by him instantaneously in a half-whispered, monosyllabic ejaculation. As we have already explained upon an earlier page, the Readings which took place in Paris, and which were in behalf of the British Charitable Fund in that capital, were given there before a densely crowded but very select audience at the British Embassy, Lord Cowley being then her Majesty's ambassador. The Reading on the occasion referred to was "David Copperfield," and the Reader became aware in the midst of the hushed silence, just after he had been saying, in the voice of Steerforth, giving at the same moment a cordial grasp of the hand to the briny fisherman he was addressing: "Mr. Peggotty, you are a thoroughly good fellow, and deserve to be as happy as you are to-night. My hand upon it!" when, turning round, he added, still as Steerforth, but speaking in a very different voice and offering a very different hand-grip, as though already he were thinking to himself what a chuckle-headed fellow the young shipwright was—"Ham, I give you joy, my boy. My hand upon that too!" The always keenly observant Novelist became aware of a Frenchman, who was eagerly listening in the front row of the stalls, suddenly exclaiming to himself, under his breath, "Ah—h!"—having instantly caught the situation! The sound of that one inarticulate monosyllable, as he observed, when relating the circumstance, gave the Reader, as an artist, a far livelier sense of satisfaction than any that could possibly have been imparted by mere acclamations, no matter how spontaneous or enthusiastic.
As a Reading, it always seemed to us, that "David Copperfield" was cut down rather distressingly. That, nevertheless, was unavoidable. Turning in off Yarmouth sands, we went straight at once through the "delightful door" cut in its side, into the old black barge or boat, high and dry there on the sea-beach, and which was known to us nearly as familiarly as to David himself, as the odd dwelling-house inhabited by Mr. Peggotty. All the still-life of that beautifully clean and tidy interior we had revealed to us again, as of old: lockers, boxes, table, Dutch clock, chest of drawers—even tea-tray, only that we failed to hear anything said about the painting on the tea-tray, representing "a lady with a parasol, taking a walk with a military-looking child, who was trundling a hoop." The necessities of condensation in the same way restricted the definition of Mr. Peggotty's occupation in the Reading, to the simple mention of the fact that he dealt in lobsters, crabs, and craw-fish, without any explanation at all as to those creatures being heaped together in a little wooden out-house "in a state of wonderful conglomeration with one another, and never leaving off pinching whatever they laid hold of." Little Emily appeared as a beautiful young woman, and no longer as the prattling lassie who, years before had confided to her playfellow, David, how, if ever she were a lady, she would give uncle Dan, meaning Mr. Peggotty, "a sky-blue coat, with diamond buttons, nankeen trousers, a red velvet waistcoat, a cocked hat, a large gold watch, a silver pipe, and a box of money." Mrs. Gummidge, as became a faithful widow, was still fretting after the Old 'Un. Ham, something of Mr. Peggotty's own build, as the latter described him, "a good deal o' the sou-wester in him, wery salt, but on the whole, a honest sort of a chap, too, with his 'art in the right place," had just made good his betrothal to the little creature he had seen grow up there before him, "like a flower," when, at the very opening of the Reading, into the old Yarmouth boat, walked "Mas'r Davy" and his friend Steerforth. Mr. Peggotty's explanation to his unexpected but heartily welcomed visitors as to how the engagement between Ham and Emily, had but just then been brought about, opened up before the audience in a few words the whole scheme of the tragic little dramatic tale about to be revealed to them through a series of vivid impersonations.
The idiomatic sentences of the bluff fisherman, as in their racy vernacular they were blithely given utterance to by the manly voice of the Reader, seemed to supply a fitting introduction to the drama, as though from the lips of a Yarmouth Chorus. Scarcely had the social carouse there in the old boat, on that memorable evening of Steerforth's introduction, been recounted, when the whole drift of the story was clearly foreshadowed in the brief talk which immediately took place between him and David as they walked townwards across the sands towards their hotel. "Daisy,—for though that's not the name your godfathers and godmothers gave you, you're such a fresh fellow, that it's the name I best like to call you by—and I wish, I wish, I wish you could give it to me!" That of itself had its-significance. But still more significant was David's mention of his looking in at Steerforth's bed-room on the following morning, before himself going away alone, and of his there finding the handsome scapegrace fast asleep, "lying easily, with his head upon his-arm," as he had often seen him lie in the old school dormitory. "Thus in this silent hour I left him," with mournful tenderness, exclaimed the Reader, in the words and accents of his young hero. "Never more, O God forgive you, Steerforth! to touch that passive hand in love and friendship. Never, never more!" The revelation of his treachery, towards the pretty little betrothed of the young shipwright, followed immediately afterwards, on the occasion of David's next visit, some months later, to the old boat on the flats at Yarmouth.
The wonder still is to us, now that we are recalling to mind the salient peculiarities of this Reading, as we do so, turning over leaf by leaf the marked copy of it, from which the Novelist read; the wonder, we repeat, still is to us how, in that exquisite scene, the very words that have always moved us most in the novel were struck out in the delivery, are rigidly scored through here with blue inkmarks in the reading copy, by the hand of the Reader-Novelist. Those words we mean which occur, where Ham, having on his arrival, made a movement as if Em'ly were outside, asked Mas'r Davy to "come out a minute," only for him, on his doing so, to find that Em'ly was not there, and that Ham was deadly pale. "Ham! what's the matter?" was gasped out in the Reading. But—not what follows, immediately on that, in the original narrative: "'Mas'r Davy!' Oh, for his broken heart, how dreadfully he wept!" Nor yet the sympathetic exclamations of David, who, in the novel, describes himself as paralysed by the sight of such grief, not knowing what he thought or what he dreaded; only able to look at him,—yet crying out to him the next moment, "Ham! Poor, good fellow! For heaven's sake tell me what's the matter?" Nothing of this: only—"My love, Mas'r Davy—the pride and hope of my 'art, her that I'd have died for, and would die for now—she's gone!" "Gone?" "Em'ly's run away!" Ham, not then adding in the Reading, "Oh, Mas'r Davy, think how she's run away, when I pray my good and gracious God to kill her (her that is so dear above all things) sooner than let her come to ruin and disgrace!" Yet, for all that, in spite of these omissions—it can hardly by any chance have been actually by reason of them—the delivery of the whole scene was singularly powerful and affecting. Especially in the representation of Mr. Peggotty's profound grief, under what is to him so appalling a calamity. Especially also in the revelation of Mrs. Gummidge's pity for him, her gratitude to him, and her womanly tender-heartedness.
In charming relief to the sequel of this tragic incident of the bereavement of the Peggottys, came David's love passages with Dora, and his social unbendings with Mr. Micawber. Regaling the latter inimitable personage, and his equally inimitable wife, together with David's old schoolfellow, Tradelles, on a banquet of boiled leg of mutton, very red inside and very pale outside, as well as upon a delusive pigeon-pie, the crust of which was like a disappointing phrenological head, "full of lumps and bumps, with nothing particular underneath," David afforded us the opportunity of realising, within a very brief interval, something at least of the abundant humour associated with Mrs. Micawber's worldly wisdom, and Mr. Micawber's ostentatious impecuniosity. A word, that last, it always seems to us—describing poverty, as it does, with such an air of pomp—especially provided beforehand for Mr. Micawber (out of a prophetic anticipation or foreknowledge of him) by the dictionary.
The mere opening of the evening's entertainment at David Copperfield's chambers on this occasion, enabled the Humorist to elicit preliminary roars of laughter from his audience by his very manner of saying, with a deliciously ridiculous prolongation of the liquid consonant forming the initial of the last word—"As to Mrs. Micawber, I don't know whether it was the effect of the cap, or the lavender water, or the phis, or the fire, or the wax-candles, but she came out of my room comparatively speaking l-l-lovely!"
As deliciously ridiculous was the whole scene between Dora and David, where the latter, at length, takes courage to make his proposal—"Jip barking madly all the time "—Dora crying the while and trembling. David's eloquence increasing, the more he raved, the more Jip barked—each, in his own way, getting more mad every moment! Even when they had got married by licence, "the Archbishop of Canterbury invoking a blessing, and doing it as cheap as it could possibly be expected," their domestic experiences were sources of unbounded merriment.
As, for example, in connection with their servant girl's cousin in the Life Guards, "with such long legs that he looked like the afternoon shadow of somebody else." Finally, closing the whole of this ingenious epitome of the original narrative, came that grand and wonderfully realistic description of the stupendous storm upon the beach at Yarmouth, upon the extraordinary power of which as a piece of declamation we have already at some length commented. There, in the midst of the dying horrors of that storm—there, on those familiar sands, where Mas'r Davy and Little Em'ly had so often looked for shells when they were children, on the very spot where some lighter fragments of the old boat, blown down the night before, had been scattered by the tempest, David Copperfield was heard describing, in the last mournful sentence of the Reading, how he saw him lying with his curly head upon his arm, as he had often seen him lie when they were at school together.
THE CRICKET ON THE HEARTH.
A Fairy Tale of Home was here related, that in its graceful and fantastic freaks of fancy might have been imagined by the Danish poet, Hans Christian Andersen. In its combination of simple pathos and genial drollery, however, it was a story that no other could by possibility have told than the great English Humorist. If there was something really akin to the genius of Andersen, in the notion of the Cricket with its shrill, sharp, piercing voice resounding through the house, and seeming to twinkle in the outer darkness like a star, Dickens, and no other could, by any chance, have conjured up the forms of either Caleb Plummer, or Gruff-and-Tackleton. The cuckoo on the Dutch clock, now like a spectral voice, now hiccoughing on the assembled company, as if he had got drunk for joy; the little haymaker over the dial mowing down imaginary grass, jerking right and left with his scythe in front of a Moorish palace; the hideous, hairy, red-eyed jacks-in-boxes; the flies in the Noah's arks, that "an't on that scale neither as compared with elephants;" the giant masks, having a certain furtive leer, "safe to destroy the peace of mind of any young gentlemen between the ages of six and eleven, for the whole Christmas or Midsummer vacation," were all of them like dreams of the Danish poet, coloured into a semblance of life by the grotesque humour of the English Novelist. But dear little Dot, who was rather of the dumpling's shape—"but I don't myself object to that"—and good, lumbering John Peerybingle, her husband, often so near to something or another very clever, according to his own account, and Boxer, the carrier's dog, "with that preposterous nothing of a fag-end of a tail of his, describing circles of barks round the horse, making savage rushes at his mistress, and facetiously bringing himself to sudden stops,"—all bear upon them unmistakably the sign-manual of Boz.
As originally recounted in the Christmas story-book, the whole narrative was comprised within a very few pages, portioned out into three little chirps. Yet the letter-press was illustrated profusely by pencils as eminent as those of Daniel Maclise, of Clarkson Stanfield, of Richard Doyle, of John Leech, of Sir Edwin Landseer. The charming little fairy tale, moreover, was inscribed to Lord Jeffrey. It was a favourite of his, as it still is of many another critic north and south of the Tweed, light, nay trivial, though the materials out of which the homely apologue is composed. It can hardly be wondered at, however, remembering how less than four years prior to its first publication, a literary reviewer, no less formidable than Professor Wilson—while abstaining, in his then capacity as chairman of the public banquet given to Charles Dickens at Edinburgh, from attempting, as he said, anything like "a critical delineation of our illustrious guest"—nevertheless, added emphatically, "I cannot but express in a few ineffectual words the delight which every human bosom feels in the benign spirit which pervades all his creations." Christopher North thus further expressed his admiration then of the young English Novelist—"How kind and good a man he is," the great Critic exclaimed, laying aside for a while the crutch with which he had so often, in the Ambrosian Nights, brained many an arrant pretender to the title of genius or of philanthropist, and turning his lion-like eyes, at the moment beaming only with cordiality, on the then youthful face of Dickens,—"How kind and good a man he is I need not say, nor what strength of genius he has acquired by that profound sympathy with his fellow-creatures, whether in prosperity and happiness, or overwhelmed with unfortunate circumstances." Purely and simply, in his capacity as an imaginative writer, the Novelist had already (then in the June of 1841) impressed thus powerfully the heart and judgment of John Wilson, of Christopher North, of the inexorable Rhadamanthus of Blackwood and the "Noctes." Afterwards, but a very little more than two years afterwards, came the "Carol." The following winter rang out the "Chimes." The Christmas after that was heard the chirping of the "Cricket."