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But Dickens collected more jokes than all the cabmen in London would utter in a year, and bestowed the whole treasure upon Sam. His eye was far too acute for the comical to let it rest on any one funny man.
In the case of those of his characters whom we are simply to admire and love, the same distinctive mode of treatment is exhibited. Rose Maylie and Esther Summerson are breathing epitomes of the tendernesses, the sweetnesses, the beauties, of life. Oliver Twist concentrates the single good qualities of a hundred children. The kind-hearted man, Dickens's stock character, be his name Pickwick, Jarndyce, or Clennam, seems always radically the same, and corresponds well enough with our theory. Perhaps it is essential deficiency in the highest power of individualization, which drives Mr. Dickens, it may be unconsciously, to affix, by way of labels, to the personages of his story, those insignificant peculiarities which all can perceive.
Amid the tumult and distracting blaze of his fame, one is by no means safe from the blunder of overlooking the kernel of genuine and precious humanity, of honest kindliness, of tender yet expansive benignity, which is in the centre of Dickens's being. His nature must originally have been most sweetly tuned. He must from the first have abounded in those qualities, which are so beautiful and winning when combined with manly character and vigorous powers; a cheerful gentleness, a loving hopefulness, a willingness to take all things and men for the best, an eye for the loveable; such a disposition as one finds in Goldsmith, a passionate admiration of happy human faces, a delight in the sports and laughter of children. He has always, too, been earnestly desirous to promote the welfare of men, to remove abuses, to do practical good. In the conduct of Household Words, it is easy to
see, he has ever had his eye on the practical, coming down heartily now on one social wrong or absurdity, now on another, the manner perhaps not always unexceptionable, the spirit always right.
His stepping forward to aid the Administrative Reform Association was very characteristic, and strikingly indicated the practicality and nobleness of his nature. That miserable association could expose the evils of maladministration only as the Helot could expose the evils of drunkenness. But Dickens could not sit apart in the approved literary fashion. When men arose visibly, and declared it their wish and endeavor to bring talent into the councils of the nation, they could not, of course, look for any aid from him who had been preaching hero-worship and the importance of finding talent for the nation all his days. Mr. Carlyle was quiet. Mr. Maurice published a weak and windy pamphlet, to the effect, of course, that you both should and should not support Administrative Reform. Dickens simply attempted to render some practical assistance. Thus he has ever acted. A pure white flame of ambition to do practical good has ever burned steadily in his breast, and no blustering applause, no favoring fortune, could dim its brightness. It is a consideration of this fact, associated with that of his warm and generous sympathy with every emotion he believes at once noble and sincere, which makes it so mournful that Dickens has never really in any sense known what true evangelical Christianity is. The most earnest and exalted feeling that dwells in the human breast is to him strange and inconceivable. He has had no glimpse of the beauty and joy of holiness. The zeal which has sent hundreds from the luxuries and adulations of civilization, to die, with wasted cheek and burning brow, on the sterile sands of moral and physical desolation,
is to him a delusion and absurdity. The delight that can be found in the sabbatic calm of devotion, the solace and blissful rest of worship, are to him hypocritical affectations or wholly unknown. He has indeed felt his heart drawn out in sympathy towards the perfect humanity of the Saviour, towards His tender compassion and infinite selfsacrificing love: but of the religion of Jesus in its truest form now extant he knows only a painful and revolting caricature.
Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton seems to have been adapted by nature to succeed as a novelist; and he has succeeded. The characteristic of his mind is diffused and comprehen
ive energy. Neither emotionally nor intellectually, is Sir Edward's mind determined, with overwhelming force, in one direction. The result has been that neither in the province of pure imagination, nor in that of pure intellect, has he attained the highest degree of excellence. As a thinker, men will not accept him for a guide; as a poet, he has failed. The novel is in some respects a debatable region, between the spheres of the philosophic thinker and the poet. In the department of the novel he has accordingly won very distinguished honor. The creations of his fertile mind, decked out in the fairést colors, float between the domains of unimaginative prose and truly imaginative poetry. The rhythmic melody, the heaven-kindled enthusiasm, the deep, unfeigned faith, which pervade the prose of Milton are absent from his works; the penetrating logic of Butler, the determined inquisition of Foster, are' alike foreign to him; but his prose holds in solution about as much poetry as prose can, and his novels contain about as much thought as readers will endure.
The special ability of Bulwer appears to lie in the delineation of that passion with which the novel is so deeply concerned, the passion of love. All true and manly passions, let it be said, are honored and illustrated in his pages. But he stands alone among novelists of his sex in the portraiture of love, and specially of love in the female breast. The heroism, the perfect trust the strength in death, are painted by him with a sympathetic truth for which we know not where to seek a parallel. The effect of Eugene Aram's speech at his trial, upon Madeline, his betrothed, the calm, beautiful, satisfied smile, which lit up her wan features, --- is a golden letter from the very handwriting of nature. Then, where, out of Shakspeare, can we find such a series of female portraits as those in Rienzi ? One scarce knows to which of the masterly delineations to accord the palm. There is the weak, womanly Adeline, strong only in love, able to die beautifully, but not to live well. In Irene, there is love's complete, ineradicable devotion, all-subduing, spontaneous, self-sacrificing. In Nina, proud love gazes, self-reliant, and self-satisfied, on all the world around, but sinks in womanly tenderness on the breast of the loved one. Adeline is the soft, flower-like woman, growing fair in the calm summer radiance, but withering in the wintry blast. Irene is the human angel, of whom poets have so long sung.
Nina is the queen, ready to live with, or die for, her husband-king. Rienzi himself is nobly imagined, endeavoring to tread the surges and engulfed.
Mr. Thackeray is, as a novelist, so pointed and unmistakable a contrast to Mr. Dickens, that it is interesting to find them writing at the same time. Thackeray is as little of an idealizer as it seems possible to be, if you write novels at all. He cuts into conventionalism so daringly, that you fear sometimes, as when he gives you a novel without a hero, that he goes too far, and puts in peril the essence of his Art. If he does idealize, it is not in the manner of Dickens, but in one strikingly different. He selects characters as Dickens selects characteristics. But he depends for success not on the power of his personages to evoke sympathy, negative or positive, but on their strict correspondence with fact. It cannot, perhaps, be said that he, any more than Mr. Dickens, reaches the Shakspearean substratum of character. His eye is that of an artist. It has been trained to take in the whole aspect of the outer man, not only in the minutiæ of his dress, but in the whole monotonous circumstance of his every day life. His popularity is the most powerful evidence to which one could easily point, of the capacity residing in the exhibition of bare, or even repulsive fact, to interest mankind. It is said that Thackeray abandoned the career of an artist, because, according to his own avowal, he could only caricature. He felt the absence of the higher idealizing power. His novels exhibit the radical qualities which would have distinguished his pictures. It is not emotionally that we regard them. They call forth no glow of admiration, no warm, loving sympathy, no wonder, no reverence. He makes his appeal to sterner, colder powers, to reflection, to the cynic's philosophy, to contempt. It may be better, , higher, more noble and self-denying, in him, to do so; but the fact is patent. And its inevitable consequence has been and will be, a popularity not so wide, a command over the heart not so great, as those of men who permit fancy to lay on color, and imagination to heighten life. The non-existent Pickwick will always be more deeply loved than the actual Dobbin. The positive folly and knavishness of Job and Jingle will always interest more than the dismally negative stupidity of Jos. The metallic heartlessness, the machine-like selfishness, of Becky, marvel