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himself. It is always so, more or less, to the end of his work; but here it is most marked. For, as the story opens and proceeds, David Copperfield's personality begins to be built up and to expand. It is the intention of the book that this should be so; it is, in fact, the prime cause and purpose of the book; but such an intention, limited by fact and the circumstance of relation, is clearly the very thing most calculated to extinguish the subtle poetic creation that went to make Pickwick Papers so eternally fresh and rare. But the old instinct asserts itself; with the result that David Copperfield, as a book, grows in interest as it proceeds-and grows in a peculiar way. David, instead of becoming more and more important and personal, becomes less and less so; till at last he becomes no more than was Nicholas Nickleby, a name-centre around which, in varying clusters, the real personages gather. As he declines the others burgeon and swell: Micawber becomes more truly himself, Traddles takes his true proportions; Uriah becomes powerful instead of merely monotonous; Dora comes into being-and punch is drunk, as punch was drunk in Pickwick. It is these things, and these people, that lift the book into evergreen memory; not the mere narration of the life of David Copperfield, who matters little enough, although his history purports to be the dim autobiography of Dickens himself.
But such things and such people demand, clearly, their own adequate atmosphere to move in. It is this that has at all times. been the most stubborn difficulty in the path of poetic creation. Characters that are compilations of ourselves, no more than imitations of that life of ours that we present to the outward view (which passes with the passing of the outward view), can live and move in scenes that are copied from daily habit. But it has always been the problem with the creator to create with his characters, with his people who are ourselves and more than ourselves, being revelations of ourselves, so adequate a scenery for them to move in that there shall be no shock to the contemplation. Among the poets pure and true, Shakespeare, for example, pitched his scenery at some remote distance of time or place in Venice, where Othello could find a freer play for his tremendous personality without striking against some incongruity of scene, or in ancient Britain, where Lear could shake the earth. With Homer and the Greek Dramatists the necessary elevation was given by the thought of War and the ritual of religious ceremony. Among those who wrote in prose, Bunyan created a whole new world; Cervantes transmuted the Spanish landscape into a new strange earth; and in our own day Thomas Hardy has fashioned a new individual province for himself, which
he has named Wessex, and where the very towns have been given new names in order to lift them away from us.
Dickens' answer to this problem is particularly interesting; and nowhere is it better illustrated than in the subtle change that so slowly passes over David Copperfield. The nature of it can be discovered by first turning to one of the earlier novels, such as Oliver Twist, or to such a phantasy as A Christmas Carol. In both of these the scenery are the streets of London; yet though the streets are given their habitual names, by which they can be identified, they are changed and altered; something has so transmuted them that we scarcely think of them as streets of London at all. It is not sufficient to say that the times have changed; and that therefore what seems to us a transmutation might have been but a faithful portrayal. There is no reader of A Christmas Carol or Oliver Twist but must come to the conclusion that there never at any time was such a house as that in which Scrooge lived, or such streets as those through which he walked, or Fagin or Bill Sikes walked. The internal emotion is sufficient to indicate this. But, apart from such internal evidence, there is external evidence; for Thackeray's streets have nothing of that wildness or that remoteness from commonplace reality. Nor is it possible to say that the dream-phantasy of the Carol is responsible for one, as the overdrawn, melodramatic nightmare horror of Oliver Twist is responsible for the other. There is the same strangeness, the same wild and fantastic remoteness, about the scenery of Nicholas Nickleby and The Old Curiosity Shop. And the result is that the London Dickens has drawn has no relevance to the London that now is or ever was, save in an identity of street plan; so that those who talk of seeking out Dickens' London' are, in a manner of speaking, in search for something that can never be found.
In David Copperfield-in, that is to say, the book that brought about the change in his way of work-this peculiar significance of atmosphere is an interesting study. For it has been seen that a change passes over the book as it develops itself. The first decision to write a simple straightforward narrative, compilation rather than creation, never really leaves the book, influencing it to its conclusion; but the older inspiration, that made Pickwick so truly a book by itself, asserts itself as the narrative proceeds, transfiguring it. Now side by side with this change in characterisation the scenic atmosphere begins to change also. It is a thing difficult to define, for it is a thing that one either feels or does not feel. The scenery at first is as sharp and as definite as the green that Betsy Trotwood guarded with such zeal. It becomes dimmer and more fantastic as the book grows older.
Certainly whatever be the result in David Copperfield itself,
VOL. LXXI-No 420
the result in the sequence of Dickens' books, before and after Copperfield, is clear. It has already been illustrated, in another connexion, by comparing the first and last of the books, Pickwick Papers and Edwin Drood. But it may even be illustrated by taking the two books immediately before and after Copperfield: Dombey and Son and Bleak House: in spite of the fact that the latter of these is better than the former, because the change is seen coming in the former, whereas it has already arrived in the latter. Dombey and Son is, admittedly, a failure among Dickens' works; Bleak House is admittedly a success. Yet it is true that in the first we may divine the poetic creation at work, however much it may have failed of success; whereas in the latter we miss its peculiarly transmuting power, and are therefore constrained to admit that the success is of a different order, and of a lower order. The first is a failure, but a high failure; the latter is a success, but a lower success. And David Copperfield stands as a landmark between two periods-not only a landmark, indeed, but actually one of the causes of the change.
This is not to say that that which gave, not only such distinction, but such significance, to Dickens' first period, vanished thereafter, never to reappear. A man may never deny, or abjure, his most distinctive self; and Dickens could never wholly write either such distinguished compilation as that of Thackeray or such strong compilation as that of George Eliot. In the sure, though subtle, matter of scenic atmosphere, taking that for a sign of the hand at work, he is to be discovered to be the same throughout his work. His streets, his houses, and his skies, never become wholly those of actuality; but they become measur ably near actuality in his later work, whereas in his first fervour they remain immeasurably remote. And as his streets are so are his people also, for it is at the demand of his people that his streets are transmuted.
Dombey and Son is, however, interesting for another reason. A man's typical failure is always illustrative of his special weakness; and this is even more than usually true in the case of Dombey and Son, by reason of some of the causes of its failure. As is well known, this was the first novel in which Dickens found his flowing invention failed him. He complained of it, in its early stages, that, as he worked at it, he could not induce it to start itself and move forward. The truth was that his early success had intoxicated him, and his successive tours through America and the Continent had brought restlessness into his blood. That is to say, through one cause and another, his genius had to be compelled to do its work; and genius, when so compelled, may yet display qualities most distinctive of itself, but it will display them in colours that are false and in an emphasis
out of proportion to the occasion. And this is just what happens in Dombey.
Thus, as in Pickwick one may best find what is the peculiar praise of Dickens, so in Dombey one may discover his peculiar blemishes and restrictions. The colours, we see, are garish; and the characters, in attempting to achieve dignity, fail hopelessly. The scene between Carker and Edith Dombey, for instance, is melodrama unmitigated and crude; yet throughout it we can perceive the attempt that was not achievement, by virtue of which it continues to live. The truth is that dignity was outside the compass of Dickens; and that therefore exaltation and the high purging ritual of tragedy was impossible to him. Always about the figure of Don Quixote there is an incomparable dignity; always over his brow there shines the radiance of a high exaltation; with the result that intermixed with our laughter at the sight of him there are always those rare tears that ennoble us. We are not only broadened by reading Cervantes; we are heightened. But there is little of this in Dickens; indeed, there is nothing of it. He not only failed in Dombey and Son to achieve dignity, but he failed in that attempt generally throughout the body of his work. For example, in Oliver Twist he made a clear bid for Terror. Now Terror is ever one with mysticism and exaltation; Terror is only felt by the soul in its moments of awe and dignity; because in Terror it is faced by something that transcends the common round of its experience. But such a mood, such a dignity and awe, is alien to Dickens (or, more truly, Dickens is an alien to such moods), and the result is that where he attempted Terror he achieved only Horror, which is fantastic and crude.
It is this that is meant when it is said that his style is no style at all. When it is said that his language never stiffens itself into structure, it is meant that his characters and scenes never erect themselves into dignity. They are each manifestations of the same inability in the creator. Similarly when it is said that in none of his sentences is there a haunting music or mystical cadence, it is meant that his sentences tell out all they have to say on the page, empty their whole cargo on the wharf, because their author is so little in correspondence with the world beyond worlds that he both can and must say all he has to say. He is never in labour to express the thing just beyond his reach. His difficulty is, rather, to avoid saying the thing well within his reach twice over. Those magic sentences in the world's literature that tell us so much more than they say, are never his, because the Furthermore is for ever beyond hm. Faced by Death, we get the death of Paul Dombey. He attempts Tragedy, and achieves Melodrama; he attempts Terror, and gives us Horror; he attempts Dignity and we have stilts; he attempts
mystery and we receive a detective story; he attempts an historic revolution, and we have a few squalid characters and the trialscene of Charles Darnay. And so he is always thrown back, when attempting to wing high, by the irrevocable concave of his limitations.
It is always necessary to see a man's blemishes clearly before his praise can be truly said. On the other hand, it is always necessary to see a man's cause of praise before his blemishes can be discovered, for it may happen that what appear to be blemishes are but the natural reverse of his virtues. With Dickens it was so. If he could not win his way up to the heights he certainly made the lower depths very wonderful. If when he attempted the mystical he only achieved the fantastic, confining himself to the fantastic he made it so wonderfully fantastic that he raised the whole result into the realm of true creation. If when he attempted dignity he succeeded only in giving us stilts, in giving us people who always went through life on stilts, he makes them so incredibly funny that he fills our minds with laughter. So, too, if in desiring Tragedy he falls into Melodrama, in desiring Melodrama he transmutes it into something that is both rich and strange, something blown upon with the breath of creation till it takes a new and perpetual life.
In his earlier work up to and including David Copperfield, Dickens wrote books that we call Novels, in a poverty of expression, but which are novels no more than the works of Cervantes, Rabelais, and Bunyan. In his later work Dickens took up the same pen (seeing that it was the only one he had), but dipped it in a different ink. He wrote Novels, comparable with those of Thackeray and George Eliot. Whether his novels are better or worse than those of his contemporaries is a matter of opinion. That is to say, the comparison exists. But in Pickwick, and the books following hard upon Pickwick, there is no comparison, because the things are not alike. We treasure Don Quixote as we may treasure The Heart of Midlothian or One of Our Conquerors; but we do not compare them, because they work in different mediums. And it is on these earlier books Dickens will establish his fame, because it is in them that he was most himself. The later books very largely take their excellence from the wind that blows on them from the earlier inspiration. For in them, as always, Dickens created immortals. He always, in some degree, reveals us to ourselves in his characters; and therefore, as they gather round us, and we call each by name, we feel that the fame of their creator is very safe in their keeping.