| English Literature for Boys and Girls|
|by H. E. Marshall|
|Delightful introduction to the writers of English literature whose works hold the greatest appeal for the youthful reader. The life and personality of each author is given in outline, with enough material quoted from his works to give an idea of what he wrote. For most authors suggestions for further reading are included. The outline of historical background enables the young reader to grasp the connection between the literature and the life of the time. Excellent as a companion to a chronological study of English literature. Ages 12-15 |
DICKENS—SMILES AND TEARS
 CHARLES DICKENS was a novelist who lived and wrote at the same
time as Thackeray. He was indeed only six months younger, but he
began to make a name much earlier and was known to fame while
Thackeray was still a struggling artist. When they both became
famous these two great writers were to some extent rivals, and
those who read their books were divided into two camps. For
though both are men of genius, they are men of widely differing
John Dickens, the father, was a clerk with a small salary in the
Navy Pay Office, and his son Charles was born in 1812 at Portsea.
When Charles was about four his father was moved to Chatham, and
here the little boy Charles lived until he was nine. He was a
very puny little boy, and not able to join in the games of the
other boys of his own age. So he spent most of his time in a
small room where there was some books and where no one else
besides himself cared to go. He not only read the books, but
lived them, and for weeks together he would make believe to
himself that he was his favorite character in whatever book he
might be reading. All his life he loved acting a part and being
somebody else, and at one time thought of becoming an actor.
Then when Charles was seven he went to a school taught by a young
Baptist minister. It was not an
un-  happy life for the "Very queer
small boy" as he calls himself. There were fields in which he
could play his pretending games, and there was a beautiful house
called Gad's Hill near, at which he could go to look and dream
that if he were very good and very clever he might some day be a
fine gentleman and own that house.
When the very queer small boy was nine he and all his family
moved to London. Here they lived in a mean little house in a
mean little street. There were now six children, and the father
had grown very poor, so instead of being sent to school Charles
used to black the boots and make himself useful about the house.
But he still had his books to read, and could still make believe
to himself. Things grew worse and worse however, and John
Dickens, who was kind and careless, got into debt deeper and
deeper. Everything in the house that could be done without was
sold, and one by one the precious books went. At length one day
men came and took the father away to prison because he could not
pay his debts.
Then began for Charles the most miserable time of his life. The
poor, sickly little chap was set to work in a blacking factory.
His work was to cover the pots of paste-blacking, tie them down
neatly and paste on the labels. Along with two or three others
boys he worked all day long for six or seven shillings a week.
Oh, how the little boy hated it! He felt degraded and ashamed.
He felt that he was forgotten and neglected by every one, and
that never never more would he be able to read books and play
pretending games, or do anything that he loved. All week he
worked hard, ill clad and only half fed, and Sunday he spent with
this father at the prison. It was a miserable, sordid, and
pitiful beginning to life.
How long this unhappy time lasted we do not know. Dickens
himself could not remember. He seldom spoke of this time, but he
never forgot the misery of it. Long
 afterwards in one of his
books called David Copperfield, when he tells of the unhappy
childhood of his hero, it is of his own he speaks.
But presently John Dickens got out of prison, Charles left the
blacking factory, and once more went to school. And although in
after years he could never bear to think of these miserable days,
at the time his spirits were not crushed, and at school he was
known as a bright and jolly boy. He was always ready for any
mischief, and took delight in getting up theatricals.
At fifteen Dickens left school and went into a lawyer's office,
but he knew that he had learned very little at school, and now
set himself to learn more. He went to the British Museum
Reading-room, and studied there, and he also with a great deal of
labor taught himself shorthand.
He worked hard, determined to get on, and at nineteen he found
himself in the Gallery of the House of Commons as reporter for a
daily paper. Since the days when Samuel Johnson reported
speeches without having heard them things had changed. People
were no longer content with such make-believe reporting, and
Dickens proved himself one of the smartest reporters there had
ever been. He not only reported the speeches, but told of
everything that took place in the House. He had such a keen eye
for seeing, and such a vivid way of describing what he saw, that
he was able to make people realize the scenes inside the House as
none had done before.
Besides reporting in the Houses of Parliament Dickens dashed
about the country in post-chaises gathering news for his paper,
writing by flickering candle-light while his carriage rushed
along, at what seemed then the tremendous speed of fifteen miles
an hour. For those were not the days of railways and motors, and
traveling was much slower than it is now.
But even while Dickens was leading this hurried, busy
 life he
found time to write other things besides newspaper reports, and
little tales and sketches began to appear signed by Boz. Boz was
a pet name for Dickens's youngest brother. His real name was
Augustus, but he had been nicknamed Moses after Moses in the
Vicar of Wakefield. Pronounced through the nose it became Boses
and then Boz. That is the history of the name under which
Dickens at first wrote and won his earliest fame.
The sketches by Boz were well received, but real fame came to
Dickens with the Pickwick Papers which he now began to write.
This story came out in monthly parts. The first few numbers were
not very successful, only about four hundred copies being sold,
but by the fifteenth number London was ringing with the fame of
it, and forty thousand copies were quickly sold. "Judges on the
bench and boys in the street, gravity and folly, the young and
the old" all alike read it and laughed over it. Dickens above
everything is a humorist, and one of the chief features in his
humor is caricature, that is exaggerating and distorting one
feature or habit or characteristic of a man out of all likeness
to nature. This often makes very good fun, but it takes away
from the truth and realness of his characters. And yet no story-
teller perhaps is remembered so little for his stories and so
much for his characters. In Pickwick there is hardly any story,
the papers ramble on in unconnected incidents. No one could tell
the story of Pickwick for there is really none to tell; it is a
series of scenes which hang together anyhow. "Pickwick cannot be
classed as a novel," it has been said; "it is merely a great
So in spite of the fact that they are all caricatures it is the
persons of the Pickwick club that we remember and not their
doings. Like Jonson long before him, Dickens sees every man in
his humor. By his genius he enables
 us to see these humors too,
though at times one quality in a man is shown so strongly that we
fail to see any other in him, and so a caricature is produced.
Dickens himself was full of fun and jollity. His was a florid
personality. He loved light and color, and sunshine. He almost
covered his walls with looking-glasses and crowded his garden
with blazing geraniums. He loved movement and life, overflowed
with it himself and poured it into his creations, making them
live in spite of rather than because of their absurdities.
Winkle, one of the Pickwickians, is a mild and foolish boaster,
who pretends that he can do things he cannot. He pretends to be
able to shoot and succeeds only in hitting one of his friends.
He pretends to skate, and this is how he succeeds:—
" 'Now,' said Wardle, after a substantial lunch had been done
ample just to, 'what say you to an hour on the ice? We shall
have plenty of time.'
" 'Capital!' said Mr. Benjamin Allen.
" 'Prime!' ejaculated Mr. Bob Sawyer.
" 'You skate of course, Winkle?' said Wardle.
" 'Ye-yes; oh, yes,' replied Mr. Winkle. 'I—I am rather out of
" 'Oh, do skate, Mr. Winkle,' said Arabella. 'I like to see it so
" 'Oh, it is so graceful,' said another young lady. A third young
lady said it was elegant, and a fourth expressed her opinion that
it was 'swanlike.'
" 'I should be very happy, I'm sure,' said Mr. Winkle, reddening,
'but I have no skates.'
"This objection was at once overruled. Trundle had a couple of
pair, and the fat boy announced that there were half-a-dozen
more, downstairs: whereat Mr. Winkle expressed exquisite
delight, and looked exquisitely uncomfortable.
 "Old Wardle led the way to a pretty large sheet of ice, and the
fat boy and Mr. Weller, having shovelled and swept away the snow
which had fallen on it during the night, Mr. Bob Sawyer adjusted
his skates with a dexterity which to Mr. Winkle was perfectly
marvellous, and described circles with his left leg, and cut
figures of eight, and inscribed upon the ice, without once
stopping for breath, a great many other pleasant and astonishing
devices, to the excessive satisfaction of Mr. Pickwick, Mr.
Tupman, and the ladies: which reached a pitch of positive
enthusiasm, when old Wardle and Benjamin Allen, assisted by the
aforesaid Bob Sawyer, performed some mystic evolutions, which
they called a reel.
"All this time Mr. Winkle, with his face and hands blue with the
cold, had been forcing gimlet into the soles of his boots, and
putting his skates on, with the points behind, and getting the
straps into a very complicated and entangled state, with the
assistance of Mr. Snodgrass, who knew rather less about skates
than a Hindoo. At length, however, with the assistance of Mr.
Weller, the unfortunate skates were firmly screwed and buckled
on, and Mr. Winkle was raised to his feet.
" 'Now, then, Sir,' said Sam, in an encouraging tone; 'off with
you, and shoe 'em how to do it.'
" 'Stop, Sam, stop!' said Mr. Winkle, trembling violently and
clutching hold of Sam's arms with the grasp of a drowning man.
'How slippery it is, Sam!'
" 'Not a uncommon thing upon ice, Sir,' replied Mr. Weller. 'Hold
"This last observation of Mr. Weller's bore reference to a
demonstration Mr. Winkle made at the instant, of a frantic desire
to throw his feet in the air, and dash the back of his head on
" 'These—these—are very awkward skates; ain't they, Sam?'
inquired Mr. Winkle, staggering.
 " 'I'm afeerd there's an orkard gen'l'm'n in 'em, Sir,' replied
" 'Now, Winkle,' cried Mr. Pickwick, quite unconscious that here
was anything the matter. 'Come, the ladies are all anxiety.'
" 'Yes, yes,' replied Mr. Winkle, with a ghastly smile. 'I'm
" 'Just a-goin' to begin,' said Sam, endeavouring to disengage
himself. 'Now, Sir, start off!'
" 'Stop an instant, Sam,' gasped Mr. Winkle, clinging most
affectionately to Mr. Weller. 'I find I've got a couple of coats
at home, that I don't want, Sam. You may have them, Sam.'
" 'Thank'ee, Sir,' replied Mr. Weller.
" 'Never mind touching your hat, Sam,' said Mr. Winkle, hastily.
'You needn't take your hand away to do that. I meant to have
given you five shillings this morning for a Christmas-box, Sam.
I'll give it you this afternoon, Sam.'
" 'You're wery good, Sir,' replied Mr. Weller.
" 'Just hold me at first, Sam; will you?' said Mr. Winkle.
'There—that's right. I shall soon get in the way of it, Sam.
Not too fast, Sam; not too fast.'
"Mr. Winkle, stooping forward with his body half doubled up, was
being assisted over the ice by Mr. Weller, in a very singular and
un-swanlike manner, when Mr. Pickwick most innocently shouted
from the opposite bank,—
" 'Sir?' said Mr. Weller.
" 'Here, I want you.'
" 'Let go, Sir,' said Sam. 'Don't you hear the governor a-
callin'? Let go, Sir.'
"With a violent effort Mr. Weller disengaged himself from the
grasp of the agonised Pickwickian; and, in so
 doing, administered
a considerable impetus to the unhappy Mr. Winkle. With an
accuracy which no degree of dexterity or practice could have
insured, that unfortunate gentleman bore swiftly down into the
centre of the reel, at the very moment when Mr. Bob Sawyer was
performing a flourish of unparalleled beauty. Mr. Winkle struck
wildly against him, and with a loud crash they both fell heavily
"Mr. Pickwick ran to the spot. Bob Sawyer had risen to his feet,
but Mr. Winkle was far too wise to do anything of the kind, in
skates. He was seated on the ice, making spasmodic efforts to
smile, but anguish was depicted on every lineament of his
" 'Are you hurt?' inquired Mr. Benjamin Allen, with great anxiety.
" 'Not much,' said Mr. Winkle, rubbing his back very hard.
" 'I wish you'd let me bleed you,' said Mr. Benjamin, with great
" 'No, thank you,' replied Mr. Winkle hurriedly.
" 'What do you think, Mr. Pickwick?' enquired Bob Sawyer.
"Mr. Pickwick was excited and indignant. He beckoned to Mr.
Weller, and said in a stern voice, 'Take his skates off.'
" 'No; but really I had scarcely begun,' remonstrated Mr. Winkle.
" 'Take his skates off,' repeated Mr. Pickwick firmly.
"The command was not to be resisted. Mr. Winkle allowed Sam to
obey it, in silence.
" 'Lift him up,' said Mr. Pickwick. Sam assisted him to rise.
"Mr. Pickwick retired a few paces apart from the bystanders; and
beckoning his friend to approach, fixed a searching look upon
him, and uttering in a low,
 but distinct and emphatic tone, these
" 'You're a humbug, Sir.'
" 'A what!' said Mr. Winkle starting.
" 'A humbug, Sir. I will speak plainer, if you wish it. An
"With these words Mr. Pickwick turned slowly on his heel, and
rejoined his friends."
There is much life and fun and jollity and some vulgarity in
Pickwick. There is a good deal of eating and far too much
drinking. But when the fun is rather rough, we must remember
that Dickens wrote of the England of seventy years ago and more,
when life was rougher than it is now, and when people did not see
that drinking was the sordid sin we know it to be now.
To many people Pickwick remains Dickens's best book. "The glory
of Charles Dickens," it has been said, "will always be in his
Pickwick, his first, his best, his inimitable triumph."
Just when Dickens began to write Pickwick he married, and soon we
find him comfortably settled in a London house, while the other
great writers of his day gathered round him as his friends.
Although not born in London, Dickens was a true Londoner, and
when his work was done he loved nothing better than to roam the
streets. He was a great walker, and thought nothing of going
twenty or thirty miles a day, for though he was small and slight
he had quite recovered from his childish sickliness and was full
of wiry energy. The crowded streets of London were his books.
As he wandered through them his clear blue eyes took note of
everything, and when he was far away, among the lovely sights of
Italy or Switzerland, he was homesick for the grimy streets and
hurrying crowds of London.
 After Pickwick many other stories followed; in them Dickens
showed his power not only of making people laugh, but of making
them cry. For the source of laughter and the source of tears are
not very far apart. There is scarcely another writer whose
pathetic scenes are so famous as those of Dickens.
In life there is a great deal that is sad, and one of the things
which touched Dickens most deeply was the misery of children.
The children of to-day are happy in knowing nothing of the
miseries of childhood as it was in the days when Dickens wrote.
In those days tiny children had to work ten or twelve hours a day
in factories, many schools were places of terror and misery, and
few people cared. But Dickens saw and cared and wrote about
these things. And now they are of a bygone day. So children may
remember Dickens with thankful hearts. He is one of their great
Dickens loved children and they loved him, for he had a most
winning way with them and he understood their little joys and
sorrows. "There are so many people," says his daughter writing
about her father, "There are so many people good, kind, and
affectionate, but who can not remember that they once were
children themselves, and looked out upon the world with a child's
eyes only." This Dickens did always remember, and it made him a
tender and delightful father to whom his children looked up with
something of adoration. "Ever since I can remember anything,"
says his daughter, "I remember him as the good genius of the
house, or as its happy, bright and funny genius." As Thackeray
had a special handwriting for each daughter, Dickens had a
special voice for each child, so that without being named each
knew when he or she was spoken to. He sang funny songs to them
and told funny stories, did conjuring tricks and got up
theatricals, shared their fun and
com-  forted their sorrows. And
this same power of understanding which made him enter into the
joys and sorrows of his children, made him enter into the joys
and sorrows of the big world around him. So that the people of
that big world loved him as a friend, and adored him as a hero.
As the years went on Dickens wrote more and more books. He
started a magazine too, first called Household Words and later
All the Year Round. In this, some of his own works came out as
well as the works of other writers. It added greatly to his
popularity and not a little to his wealth. And as he became rich
and famous, his boyish dream came true. He bought the house of
Gad's Hill which had seemed so splendid and so far off in his
childish eyes, and went to live there with his big family of
growing boys and girls.
It was about this time, too, that Dickens found a new way of
entertaining the world. He not only wrote books but he himself
read them to great audiences. All his life Dickens had loved
acting. Indeed he very nearly became an actor before he found
out his great powers of writing. He many times took part in
private theatricals, one of his favorite parts, you will like to
know, being Captain Bobadil, in Jonson's Every Man in his Humor.
And now all the actor in him delighted in the reading of his own
works, so although many of his friends were very much against
these readings, he went on with them. And wherever he read in
England, Scotland, Ireland, and America, crowds flocked to hear
him. Dickens swayed his audiences at will. He made them laugh,
and cry, and whether they cried they cheered and applauded him.
It was a triumph and an evidence of his power in which Dickens
delighted and which he could not forego, although his friends
thought it was beneath his dignity as an author.
But the strain and excitement were too much. These
broke down Dickens's health and wore him out. He was at last
forced to give them up, but it was already too late. A few
months later he died suddenly one evening in June 1870 in his
house at Gad's Hill. He was buried in Westminster, and although
the funeral was very quiet and simple as he himself had wished,
for two days after a constant stream of mourners came to place
flowers upon his grave.
I have not given you a list of Dicken's books because they are to
be found in nearly every household. You will soon be able to
read them and learn to know the characters whose names have
become household words.
Dickens was the novelist of the poor, the shabby genteel, and the
lower middle class. It has been said many times that in all his
novels he never drew for us a single gentleman, and that is very
nearly true. But we need little regret that, for he has left us
a rich array of characters we might never otherwise have known,
such as perhaps no other man could have pictured for us.
BOOKS TO READ
Stories from Dickens, by J. W. M'Spadden.
The Children's Dickens.
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