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WAS passing in review masses of correspondence, betimes, on June 10th, 1870, clearing the weeds from the flowers, and tying up the precious papers of a life passed in the thick of the literary activities of my time, when I received a letter: "I should have written to you earlier to-day but from the smart blow of this sudden illness of our dear Charles Dickens, who had engaged to meet me this very afternoon (June 9) at 3 o'clock, little dreaming of what was to put aside the appointment." I rang for the morning papers.
Charles Dickens had passed away from us! Lay before me his letter in which he told me how, on a certain June day, travelling from Gad's Hill to London, a bluff City man had piped over the edge of his morning paper, "Do you see this? Douglas Jerrold is dead!" Dickens was inexpressibly shocked, for he had seen into the heart of his friend and they had parted only a few days before, with the intention of spending some happy hours in the house by Rochester. "Few of his friends"-I have the words before me in a blurred writing not often written by that firm and willing hand—“I think, can have had more favourable opportunities of knowing him, in his gentlest and most affectionate aspect, than I have had. He was one of the gentlest and most affectionate of men.”
So of Dickens. Who knew him best and closest, saw how little he would ever produce to the outer world, of the bright, chivalrous, engaging, and deep and tender heart that beat within his bosom. The well of kindness was open to mankind, and from it generations will drink : but it was never fathomed. Charles Dickens, as all writers about him have testified, was so graciously as well as lavishly endowed by Nature that every utterance was sunny, every sentiment pure, every emotional opinion instinctively right—like a woman's. The head that governed the richlystored heart was wise, prompt, and alert at the same time. He communicated to all he did the delightful sense of ease with power. Prodigal
as he was, he seemed ever to reserve more love and tenderness than he gave. His vigour was sustained, as well as brilliant and daring. His mind, so marked in its self-respect and equal poise, was never weak on great occasions, as the judicial mind so often is. There was something feminine in the quality that led him to the right verdict, the appropriate word, the core of the heart of the question in hand. The air about him vibrated with his activity, and his surprising vitality. In a difficulty men felt safe, merely because he was present. Most easily, among all thinkers it has been my fortune to know, was he master of every situation in which he placed himself. Not only because of the latent, conscious power that was in him, and the knightly cheerfulness which became the pure-minded servant of humanity who had used himself to victory; but because he adopted always the old plain advice, and deliberated well before he acted with the vigour which was inseparable from any activity of his.
The art with which Charles Dickens managed men and women was nearly all emotional. As in his books, he drew at will upon the tears of his readers in his life he helped men with a spontaneous grace and sweetness which are indescribable. The deep, rich, cheery voice; the brave and noble countenance; the hand that had the fire of friendship in its grip-all played their part in comforting in a moment the creature who had come to Charles Dickens for advice, for help, for sympathy. When he took a cause in hand, or a friend under his wing, people who knew him breathed in a placid sense of security. He had not only the cordial will to be of use wherever his services could be advantageously enlisted, but he could see at a glance the exact thing he might do; and beyond the range of his conviction as to his own power, or the limit of proper asking or advancing, no power on earth could move him the breadth of a hair.
Slow to adopt a cause, Charles Dickens was the first in the battle for it when he had espoused it. He had the qualities of the perfect trooper, as well as the far-seeing captain. I have a letter of his, about Italy, dated 1844, in which, amid hearty gossip, he turns to a cause that was dear to him at the time. "Come and see me in Italy," he says to my father. "Let us smoke a pipe among the vines. I have taken a little house surrounded by them, and no man in the world should be more welcome to it than you ;" and from the midst of the vines he turns to the Sanatorium in the New Road, nearly opposite the Devonshire Place in which so many wisely happy evenings have been passed. "Is your modesty really a confirmed habit, or could you prevail upon yourself, if you are moderately well, to let me call you up for a word or two at the Sanatorium dinner? There are some men-excellent men-connected with that institution who would take the very strongest interest in your doing so, and do advise me one of these days, that if I can do it well and unaffectedly, I may." Dickens had stedfastness, endurance, thoroughness, in all he undertook. If he invited a friend to his house, and it was at a distance, he would write the most minute directions—a way-bill, and enliven every mile-stone with a point of humour or a happy suggestion of
pleasure to come out of the excursion.*"Think it over." (This from Switzerland to a dear friend in London.) "I could send you the minutest particulars of the journey. It's nearly all railroad and steamboat, and the easiest in the world." I have another letter of invitation to Paris, written some three-and-twenty years ago. Amid exquisite touches of humour, and in the glow of his friendship, lie details of the precisest kind, beginning :-"The fifteenth of March is on a Monday. Now you can't cross to Boulogne on a Sunday, unless in summer time. The railroad from Abbeville hither, finished some time, is announced to open on the 1st of March." There are directions, in the event of the railroad being open, and in the event of its remaining closed, and an offer to secure the proper seat in the malle poste at Boulogne. The coming, the visit, the return, the hour of arrival in London, are all mapped out, winding up with, "in London on Saturday night, the 27th. Voilà tout as we say."
In more serious matters, he was a man of order and of righteous doing indeed. Cant is so well aired about the world, and people have come to take a spice of it so much for granted in every public man who holds the cause of his brethren to heart, that they can hardly conceive of the noblest servant that he had not the most infinitesimal particle of it. Writing from the South, when he was about to travel to London with the MS. of the Christmas Carol-more than a quarter of a century ago-to read it to a few friends in Mr. John Forster's chambers in Lincoln's Inn Fields, he observed of the book, "I have tried to strike a blow upon that part of the brass countenance of wicked Cant, where such compliment is sorely needed at this time; and I trust that the result of my training is at least the exhibition of a strong desire to make it a staggerer. If you should think at the end of the four rounds (there are no more) that the said Cant, in the language of Bell's Life, ' comes up piping,' I shall be very much the better for it." Dickens abhorred a sham with his whole soul. When he published his "Child's History of England,” the mass took it for granted that the chapters which were appearing in the columns of Household Words were so much copy, and that the writing of it for his own children was only a common, and, to the world, warrantable artistic fiction. Such fiction was not possible to the greatest fiction writer of our century. I have his words before me on this history, and the ink is yellowing fast.
"I am writing a little history of England for my boy, which I will send you when it is printed for him, though your boys are too old to profit by it. It is curious that I have tried to impress upon him (writing, I dare say, at the same moment with you) the exact spirit of your paper,† for I don't know what I should do if he were to get hold of any Conservative or High Church notions; and the best way of guarding against such horrible result is, I take it, to wring the parrot's neck in his very cradle. Oh, heaven! if you could have been with me at the hospital dinner last
His letters, published in Mr. James T. Field's delightful "Yesterdays with Authors," are evidence of his thoroughness and downright determination to make every detail of any plan of his perfect.
The Preacher Parrot.
Monday! There were men there-your city aristocracy-who made such speeches, and expressed such sentiments, as any moderately intelligent dustman would have blushed through his cindery bloom to have thought of. Sleek, slobbering, bow-paunched, over-fed, apoplectic, snorting cattle-and the auditory leaping up in their delight! I never saw such an illustration of the power of purse, or felt so degraded and debased by its contemplation, since I have had eyes and ears. The absurdity of the thing was too horrible to laugh at. It was perfectly overwhelming. But if I could have partaken it with anybody who would have felt it as you would have done, it would have had quite another aspect, or would at least, like a 'classical' mask, have had one funny side to relieve its dismal features.
'Supposing fifty families were to emigrate into the wilds of North America―yours, mine, and forty-eight others—picked for their concurrence of opinion on all important subjects, and for their resolution to found a colony of common sense— -how soon would that devil, Cant, present itself among them in one shape or other? The day they landed, do you say, or the day after ?"
"That is a great mistake, almost the only one I know, in the Arabian Nights, where the Princess restores people to their original beauty by sprinkling them with the Golden Water. It is quite clear that she must have made monsters of them by such a christening as that."
There is a manuscript the world knows nothing about this day, and yet which has been for many years in existence, and in circulation among those who were native to the author's hearth. The Life of our Saviour was written by Charles Dickens to guide the hearts of his children; and if ever a labour of love was done by that most affectionate nature, this was pre-eminently it. "I wish it were in my power," writes his dear friend, Mr. James T. Fields, " to bring to the knowledge of all who doubt the Christian character of Charles Dickens certain other memorable words of his, written years ago, with reference to Christmas. They are not as familiar as many beautiful things from the same pen on the same subject, for the paper which enshrines them has not as yet been collected among his authorised works. Listen to these loving words, in which the Christian writer has embodied the life of his Saviour: 'Hark! the waits are playing and they break my childish sleep. What images do I associate with the Christmas music, as I see them set forth on the Christmas tree! known before all others, keeping far apart from all the others, they gather round my little bed. An angel speaking to a group of shepherds in a field; some travellers, with eyes uplifted, following a star; a baby in a manger; a child in a spacious temple talking with grave men; a solemn figure, with a mild and beautiful face, raising a dead girl by the hand; again, near a city gate, calling back the son of a widow, on his bier, to life; a crowd of people looking through the opened roof of a chamber where he sits, and letting down a sick person on a bed, with ropes; the same in a tempest, walking on the water to a ship; again, on a sea-shore, teaching a great multitude; again, with a child upon his knee, and other children round;
again, restoring sight to the blind, speech to the dumb, hearing to the deaf, health to the sick, strength to the lame, knowledge to the ignorant ; again, dying upon a cross, watched by armed soldiers, a thick darkness coming on, the earth beginning to shake, and only one voice heard, "Forgive them, for they know not what they do!""" By the eloquent pages that now will shortly be put within reach of every English and American household, the children of Charles Dickens were taught their first lessons of Christian love and Christian chivalry. With what patience and thoroughness he wrought out his creed in his home can be known only to the happy few who were privileged to live his life, and to study the splendid and unbroken harmonies which dwelt in the life within, as well as in the life without. How far the ripples of his home-spirit rounded into the outer world will, I hope for the sake of the world, be drawn by the hand to which the solemn duties of biographer shall be presently confided. The circles broadened into far-off places from that vehement central vibration of love, and strangers stretched out their arms to Dickens, and weary men unknown, sought his cheery and valiant temperament as balm and comfort.
When Ada, Lady Lovelace, was dying, and suffering the tortures of a slow, internal disease, she expressed a craving to see Charles Dickens, and talk with him. He went to her, and found a mourning house. The lady was stretched upon a couch, heroically enduring her agony. The appearance of Dickens' earnest, sympathetic face was immediate relief. She asked him whether the attendant had left a basin of ice, and a spoon' She had. "Then give me some now and then, and don't notice me when I crush it between my teeth: it soothes my pain, and—we can talk."
The womanly tenderness-the wholeness-with which Dickens would enter into the delicacies of such a situation-will rise instantly to the mind of all who knew him. That he was at the same moment the most careful of nurses, and the most sympathetic and sustaining of comforters, who can doubt?
"Do you ever pray?" the poor lady asked.
"Every morning and every evening," was Dickens' answer, in that rich, sonorous voice which crowds happily can remember: but of which they can best understand all the eloquence, who knew how simple and devout he was when he spoke of sacred things: of suffering, of wrong, or of misfortune. "He taught the world," said his friend, Dean Stanley, over his new-made grave in Westminster Abbey, "great lessons of the eternal value of generosity, of purity, of kindness, and of unselfishness; and by his fruits shall he be known of all men." His engaging manner when he came suddenly in contact with a sick friend, defies description; but from his own narrative of his walk with my father, which he told me made his heart heavy, and was a gloomy task, it is easy for friends to understand the patience, solicitude, and kindly counsel, and designed humour with which he went through with it. My father was very ill; but under Dickens' thoughtful care he had rallied before they reached the Temple. "We strolled through the Temple," Dickens wrote me, "on our way to a boat, and I have a lively recollection of him stamping about Elm Tree