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leading part in all public movements in which he took an interest. Few have excelled him in his genius for organisation, and his skill in the management of men. He was an earnest social reformer, took a keen interest in political economy and kindred subjects, and was indefatigable in forming plans for the relief of the poor. A born orator, wherever he preached he was attended by admiring crowds, who hung eagerly upon every word that fell from his lips. In spite of his constant exertions in other fields, he found time to write a great deal, his works extending to over thirty volumes, of which a considerable proportion consists of lectures, sermons, &c. His literary aptitude was unquestionably great, though he was not free from the common vice of preachersa tendency to diffuseness and repetition. He has few supe. riors as a master of luminous exposition, and not unfrequently we find in his writings bursts of splendid eloquence which enable us to comprehend the wonderful influence which he exerted over his hearers. His “ Astronomical Discourses” may be mentioned as a favourable specimen of his style. Altogether he was the most notable Scotchman of his time (Scott, who died before his fame was at its height, alone excepted), a wonderful example of the union of literary genius, oratorical powers, and practical ability.
OUR OWN TIMES.
Dickens, Thackeray, Lytton, Charlotte Brontë ; George Eliot, Lever, Charles
Kingsley, Lord Beaconsfield, Charles Reade, Anthony Troll"pe, Black-
however briefly, with the literature of one's own
of the comparative height of mountains, which, when we are beside them, seem of about the same size, so before an author can be justly estimated, sufficient time must have elapsed to allow the din of contemporary applause or censure to subside, and to enable us to clear our eyes from the mists of prejudice and personal predilection which always more or less prevent us from forming perfectly impartial judgments on the men of our own era. It requires no very extensive acquaintance with literary history to know that many reputations which once blazed high have in a few short years sunk into nothing and been heard of no more ; that writers of the greatest popularity with their own generation have been pronounced worthless and unreadable in the generations that came after. How, then, we may ask ourselves, as we call to mind some great literary celebrity of the present day, can we be sure that the case will prove otherwise with him ? have we any solid ground for thinking that his fame too, great as it now appears, is not founded upon some shiiting rock of popular caprice or bad taste which the remorseless tide of time will wash away?
Moreover, when one begins to reflect upon the literature of one's own time, so many eminent names crowd in upon one's recollection, that the task of selecting the greatest of them appears full of almost insuperable difficulties. It is a case of not being able to see the wood for trees; we need, but cannot find, some vantage-ground from which we may survey the surrounding landscape. The limits of this book require that only a few of many names deserving notice shall be mentioned here ; but we shall endeavour to make the selection as representative as possible.
As the drama was the favourite vehicle of Elizabethan genius, so the novel has been the most richly cultivated field of literature during the reign of Queen Victoria. More pens have been employed in this department, and greater successes have been gained, than in any other. We may therefore fitly begin our survey with fiction, being farther induced to do so by the consideration that by far the most popular author of recent times was a novelist. It is scarcely necessary to say that we refer to Charles Dickens, whose literary career began earlier, continued longer, and was more brilliant than that of any preceding English writer of fiction. He was born at Landport, Portsea, in 1812. His father, John Dickens, a clerk in the Navy Pay Office, was the good-hearted, shiftless, sanguine, and unfortunate individual afterwards portrayed in immortal colours as Mr. Micawber. In the silken sail of Dickens's infancy the wind of a by no means particularly joyful dawn blew free. His youth was a hard one, and the dark reflection of what he then endured coloured more or less distinctly the whole of his subsequent life. While he was yet little more than an infant his father was brought up by his duties from London to Portsmouth; soon after he was placed upon duty at Chatham Dockyard ; and at Chatham Charles lived from his fourth or fifth year till he was nine. There he received the elements of education, first from his mother, and afterwards at two schools. He was a small sickly boy, unfitted to join in the rough sports of his companions, and he read incessantly, devouring with intense eagerness such glorious books as the
Dickens's Early Years.
379 'Arabian Nights," the “Vicar of Wakefield,” “Roderick Random," "Robinson Crusoe,” “Gil Blas,” &c., &c. But his love of reading was not the only token of his precocity. He wrote a tragedy called “Misnar, the Sultan of India ;" was an excellent storyteller; and sang comic songs so well that admiring friends used to hoist him on a chair in order that he might delight their guests with an exhibition of his powers. When the boy was nine years old, his father was removed from Chatham to Somerset House, and it was now that Dickens began to have experience of those wretched shists and petty trials brought on by poverty, with which he has filled many pages of his novels. His father fell into the clutches of his creditors, and was lodged in the Marshalsea; and Dickens, never a particularly well-taken-care-of boy, was now employed in such vile offices as running errands and taking messages to the prisoner, and pledging one by one nearly all the household goods at the pawnbroker's shop. The worst, however, was yet to come. A relative, James Lamert, who had started a blacking business, knowing the depressed circumstances of the Dickens family, offered Charles employment in his warehouse at a salary of six or seven shillings a week. The offer was at once thankfully accepted. In the description of the life which David Copperfield led at Murdstone and Grimby's, Dickens has revealed to all the world how infinitely bitter and agonising to him was the time he passed at Lamert's blacking warehouse. A proud, sensitive boy, he shrank both from entering into close companionship with his rough fellow-drudges, and from taking any one into his confidence and revealing the secret misery which was gnawing at his heart. Unconsciously, all through the troubled years of his boyhood, he was receiving a better training for his future work in life than any school or University could have given him. He employed his faculty of observation, which appears from his earliest years to have been almost morbidly keen, in noting in his mind in indelible characters all the odd scenes, and things, and persons that he met with in his diversified existence. What is perhaps even more remarkable than the extraordinary faculty of observation which he possessed while yet a mere child, is the fact that, in spite of all his bitterness of spirit at this time, he seems to have seen quite clearly the humorous side of his father's misfortunes. At last a fortunate mischance released him from the slavery of the blacking business. lis father and James Lamert quarrelled, and although his mother set herself to accommodate the quarrel, his father decided that he should go back no more, but should be sent to school. Fortunately for Dickens and for the world this determination was acted on. "I do not write regretfully or angrily,” he wrote many years afterwards in words whose apparent harshness it is impossible not to condone, “for I know how all these things have worked together to make me what I am; but I never afterwards forgot, I never shall forget, I never can forget, that my mother was warm for my being sent back."
Dickens was now sent to a school called “Wellington House Academy," where he remained for nearly two years, quitting it when a little over fourteen years of age. While here he, according to his own account, " distinguished himself like a brick;” according to the more credible narratives of his school companions, he was remarkable rather for his fondness for fun and practical jokes than for learning. Nevertheless he somehow managed to pick up a good deal of information, including a smattering of Latin. Soon after he left school he became a clerk in a lawyer's office, at the modest salary of ten shillings and sixpence a week. Encouraged by the example of his father, who had become a reporter for the Morning Herald, Dickens determined to follow in his footsteps, and set himself resolutely to the study of shorthand, in order that he too might obtain employment in that fairly remunerated and not unattractive profession, which has afforded a steppingstone towhigher positions to so many young men of literary capacity After much arduous labour Dickens succeeded in obtaining a mastery of the crooked cipher; and there being at that time no opening in the Gallery, he became a reporter for one of the offices in Doctor's Commons. The work there