I can see using this in the classroom as a tool to work on oral reading. Maybe paired with some Dickens Readers’ Theatre?
DICKENS AS A READER.
–Of Mr. Dickens as an author we need not speak. His position is settled, for high or low, for good, bad or indfferent in the minds of all reading men and women. The people who idolize Dickens the author cannot be shaken from their hero-worship; and those who don’t like him cannot be made to see what it is that other folks find so wonderful in his writings. But of Mr. Dickens as a reader, as a histrionic artist, we do not think there can be two opinions. Here his power is supreme, and beyond cavil. Here he shows a side of the shield which everbody can see to be gold, unalloyed. Even those who do not enjoy Dickens as they read him, cannot fail to revel in him as read by himself. Why is this? What is the secret of this man, commanding as he does, at will, the tears and laughter of large audiences, or keeping them hushed and spell bound — the latter condition of his hearers being no less a proof of his skill than the eliciting of their active emotions? To put the answer into one word, we should say — Art — his elaborate, consummate Art. Dickens the author is a genius beyond doubt; but Dickens the reader is a most finished artist. There is no need of supposing that the divine faculty to the one species of work extends into the other; for there was Shakespeare, the greatest of all geniuses, who was a very common sort of an actor in his own plays, if we may credit tradition. Plenty of genius has existed, notably that of our own Irving, which never attained unto the mystery of thinking on one’s legs, or standing up in public, in a less graceful attitude than that of the town pump.
We say that Mr. Dickens is a great artist. In the preface to one of his books, he has acknowledged his indebtedness to hard work, and even his freshest literary achievements bear the marks of patient toil. He is known to have carried into his readings the same method of study, care and precision, and to have regarded the whole business in its minutest details, as a matter of deliberate design. He neglects nothing that can contribute to effect. Take the version of his writings which he reads. They differ from the published form in being trimmed, compressed, all the by-play and padding left out, and all the points and hits retained. We were particularly impressed with this in the neat reduction of the Christmas Carol to the smallest compass consistent with telling the story clearly; and also with the self-denying resolution manifested in omitting many of the ludicrous incidents, description and dialogue, in the Pickwick Trial. Mr. Dickens takes great care not to bore his audiences, but bows his retirement to them, while they still have a good appetite for more; an excellent rule for feasts of reason and flows of soul, as well as for more palpable banquets.
Look, too, at the mis en scene. A purple screen behind him (a pleasant color to look at, though it imparts an unpleasant complimentary green to other objects, ladies’ faces included) against which his figure stands in bold relief; powerful gas lights at each side shedding their glare upon him alone; a mere skeleton of a lectern which does not conceal the form of the speaker; even the inevitable English bottle of water (English water?) and tumbler standing upon the side of the desk, from the which he rewards himself with a sip after each stave of his carol, as Addison was reported to have done with a stronger beverage, at the termination of an uncommonly fine paragraph — and there are a great many such stopping places — in the Spectator. This is all Art, and so are the little bouquet in the left buttonhole of his coat, second from top, and the other details of his dress, into which Sartorian particulars we do not propose to enter. So much for what many persons would consider only trifles.
But when Dickens begins to read we see that all this preparation is a type of what follows, that it is the perfect prelude of a perfect work. For here, at every step we discern the most patient study, the most conscientious care. His voice, though not very strong (and a trifle husky the first night,) quite fills the large house. His accent is of a well-bred Englishman, but his pronunciation is clearer, more distinct and every way more agreeable to American ears than that of most of his countrymen, even the cultivated ones. It is very flexible, and managed with great skill, so as to give the growl of old Scrooge, the baby chirp of Tiny Tim, the bluster of Sergeant Buzzfuz and teh inanity of Mr. Justice Stareleigh to perfection. From one character to another, among the dozen or so which figure in the Carol, he passes with perfect ease, never for a moment confounding the tones which are a part of their individuality. No less appropriate are the gestures and the changing facial expressions — all finished studies, delicate touches like those of a cameo cutter. When he describes the mashing of the potatoes for the Cratchit feast, he mashes invisible Murphies with his hand. He sniffs audibly to express sage and onions, and the audience can almost smell that corollary of the Christmas goose. The crackle of chestnuts on the fire, he somehow brings home to us by a nervous lighning-like motion of his hands. When he wishes to bring before our mind that contradance, of which old Feezwig was the bright particular star, he mimics the woven paces all about his reading desk. This gesticulation and facial change is humor or pathos at pleasure. In Bob Cratchit’s lament over poor Tiny Tim, it touches the fountain of tears, in reader and listener alike; and in old Weller’s observations from the gallery, it puts hearers into convulsions of laughter, from which Dickens himself can hardly refrain.
And so on. we might quote a hundred instances, if we cared to, from his readings, to illustrate the thorough, pains-taking art of Dickens, the reader, with which its genius as an author has nothing to do. If his coming here shall elevate the standard of public readings and recitations, it will have had one very beneficial effect.
Galveston Daily News (Galveston, Texas) 22 Dec 1867