Obrázky stránek
PDF
ePub

Sketches by Boz, in two volumes, 1835-36. To these presently followed The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, which were completed at the close of 1837. As the numbers of this incomparable work appeared, Dickens advanced from comparative obscurity to a place of the highest popularity and fame. Oliver Twist immediately followed, and was completed in 1838 ; before it closed the serial publication of Nicholas Nickleby had commenced, and went on until 1839. He was by this time familiar with the attractions of Broadstairs, which continued to be his favourite holiday retreat for the greater part of his life. His reputation was steadily growing, and at eight-and-twenty he was unquestionably the most popular of living English writers. Master Humphrey's Clock occupied Dickens from early in 1840 to late in 1841 ; this was an illustrated weekly journal, in which appeared Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge. This mode of publication, however, was not approved of, and the Clock stopped. In 1841, still under thirty years of age, Dickens was welcomed with public honours in Edinburgh, and was presented with the freedom of that city. Already, in the autumn of that year, the ceaseless activity and excitement of his

ele life began to tell upon him, and he was lail up with severe illness. This, however, did not prevent him from accepting an invitation to the United States, where and in Canada he spent between four and five months.

Dickens He was received with great enthusiasm as House “the Guest of the Nation,” but he took a very

Paniváls INN strong dislike to America, and determined to express his sense of her shortcomings. His American Notes of 1812, and still more the trans-Atlantic scenes of Martin Chuszlewit, 1844, gave full evidence of his disapproval, and were received in America with pain

It was on his return to England that Dickens gave himself up to that somewhat extravagant cult of Christmas and its traditional jollity, which he actually contrived to impress upon the national manners. The earliest instalment of this section of his writings was A Christmas Carol (1843); this was followed by The Chimes in 1844, and The Cricket on the Hearth, the most successful of the series, in 1845. He excited himself extremely over these compositions, laughing and weeping as he wrote, and the whole conception, to its finish in The Battle of Life (1846), and The Haunted Man (1848), had a touch of hysterical sentiment about it. These Christmas books, however, were amazingly popular, and made their author more than ever the darling of

[graphic]

and anger.

were

the English public. During these years Dickens was much in the south of Europe, from which he sent his Pictures from Italy in 1846. Early in that year he started and was for a fortnight editor of the Daily News ; he very soon found that daily journalism was not the work for him. He left England as soon as he could, and settled at Lausanne ; by February 1847 he was back in London. His history now became the

chronicle of his successive
novels. Dombey and Son
belongs to 1848, David
Copperfield to 1850, and
Bleak House to 1853. These

the
years

when his genius was in its most abundant harvest, and he was not merely producing these long and elaborate romances, but from 1850 onwards he was engaged in editing his weekly periodical, Household Words, and "a-exciting himself dreadful” over the dramatic performances of a company of amateurs, of which he was the manager. The summer he generally spent abroad, after 1853 generally at Boulogne. In 1854 perhaps the earliest flagging of his extraordinary powers was to be observed in the novel of Hard Times, a didactic satire the principles of the Manchester school. He now began to give public readings from his works, and he found this exercise both pleasurably exciting and to a superlative

degree advantageous to his Title-page of “The Cricket on the Hearth" pocket. Little Dorrit, in (First Edition, 1845)

1857, further emphasised the

fact, already beginning to be patent, that Dickens was making an excessive drain upon his vital powers. He felt the necessity of rest and retirement, and in 1860 he settled at Gadshill Place, a house which he had always longed to possess, and which he had bought in 1856. His next novel-after A Tale of Two Cities (1859)—was Great Expectations (1861), a brilliant book, which showed in several respects the beneficial results of comparative repose and change of scene. From this time forth Dickens had frequent warnings, unfortunately too carelessly attended to, of the ravages

[graphic]

on

his extreme activity had made in his strength. In 1858 he took up the system of giving public readings from his books with ruthless severity, positively wearing himself to death by what he acknowledged was "the tremendous strain.” Everywhere he was received with an enthusiasm which became at last essential to his happiness, and in the passage from reading-desk to reading-desk Dickens became the slave of a popularity which affected

[graphic][merged small]

him like dram-drinking. Charles Kent, who followed and studied these remarkable performances, says that they were “singularly ingenious and highly elaborated histrionic performances.” In 1859 Household IVords became All the Year Round, and Dickens still edited it, with the aid of W. H. Wills. In the midst of all his nervous excitement, “ the unsettled, fluctuatirg distress in my mind ”—as he described it-an invitation came to go over to Australia to read. This he was induced to decline, that

to

recover.

he might devote himself to Our Mutual Friend, his latest completed novel, which appeared in 1865. This was followed by a severe illness, which "put a broad mark between his past life and what remained to him of the future”; in this summer, too, he was involved in the terrible railway accident at Staplehurst, which shook him seriously, although he was not one of the injured. It was astonishing that, in spite of so many warnings, he would not moderate his pace of life, and the final excess was the acceptance of an invitation to read in the United States in 1867 and 1868. This he did, and made £20,000 by doing it, but it killed him. After each of his readings he had to be “laid down on a sofa, after he had been washed and dressed, and he would lie there, extremely faint, for a quarter of an hour.” Never was there a more obvious and certain suicide. He suffered distressingly from insomnia, and American friends, such as Longfellow, urged him to desist. A sort of fury, however, carried him on,

and when he returned to England he took rest and seemed

But he resumed the fatal readings, and his strength steadily declined. He was writing his last novel, The Mystery of Edwin D rood, when he died on the 9th of June 1870, prematurely worn out by the excess of his selfinflicted labours. He was buried in West

minster Abbey, in strict Gadshill Place, where Dickens lived, 1856-1870

privacy. Dickens was

fair in youth, with flowing locks, and with an expression of zest in life upon his radiant countenance; later on, but before it was the fashion to do so, he let his beard and moustache grow. He was somewhat ostentatious in dress, and not averse to the extravagance of jewellery and brilliantly coloured waistcoats. Sala compared him with "some prosperous sea-captain home from a sea-voyage.” Several observers, without mutual relation, have recorded their impression that there was something Dutch about the appearance of Dickens in middle life. He was very warm-hearted and impulsive, not a little histrionic, gay and sentimental; he had a genuine love for the poor and interest in their estates. With people of quality he was perhaps not so much at his ease. He was an intensely hard-working, consistent, and honest professional man of letters.

[graphic]

FROM “NICHOLAS NICKLEBY."

There were not wanting matters of conversation when they reached the street, for it turned out that Miss Snevellicci had a small basket to carry home and Miss Ledrook a small band-box, both containing such minor articles of theatrical costume as the lady

« PředchozíPokračovat »