Charles Dickens, Fiction’s Shakespeare

Centenary of Dickens, Fiction’s Shakespeare

He Was Easily the Greatest Novelist in the English Speaking World.
His Family in Poor Circumstances — Celebrations in England and America.

By JAMES A. EDGERTON. [excerpt]

CHARLES DICKENS ranks easily as the greatest novelist of the English speaking world. Some of his admirers regard him as the foremost of any time or clime. This is undue praise, and he does not need it. The masters are secure in the world’s regard without our superlatives and puny attempts to bolster up their fame. Dickens is in the same class with Cervantes, Hugo and Balzac, Tolstoy and Turgenev. “One star differeth from another in glory.” It is enough that they are stars and that, being stars, they sine and are eternal.

Eulogy is no more needed by Dickens than by a mountain peak or a great river. He has become a permanent part of our language and civilization. His characters are as indelible as old Charlemagne and Cromwell. The way to judge a man’s importance is by the impress he leaves on his own and later times. So judged, Dickens appears a truly prodigious figure, for his expressions have become common-places, he reformed many abuses in the England of his day, he practically founded the modern Christmas, he started a new school in fiction, and his people are such that we would know them across the street.


An Unhappy Youth.

Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth, Feb. 7, 1812. His youth was most unhappy. It is said that his own father was the original of Mr. Micawber and Mr. Turveydrop. What through sickness and poverty the boy became intimate with the seamy side which he later portrayed in his books. He speaks of himself as a “very queer small boy.” He had but little more schooling than Abraham Lincoln and saw nearly as many hardships. Not until he had become a reporter and had begun writing little skits for the magazines did his skies brighten. There is an entertaining story of the origin of his pen name of “Boz.” He had called his younger brother “Moses,” which, with a cold in his head, became “Boses,” and this in turn was shortened to “Boz.”

At the age of nineteen Dickens was writing paragraphs on one of the London papers, and from this time to the end of his life his pen was busy. The “Sketches by Boz” appeared when he was twenty-three and achieved immediate popularity. He was married the next year and about the same time began the appearance of the “Pickwick Papers.” For the next quarter of a century, or until his death in 1870, the world was literally at his feet.

Some one has said of Dickens that there is no evidence in his works that he had ever read a book. Perhaps the only other great writer of whom this could be said was Shakespeare. While superficially the two are dissimilar, examined more closely there is much in common between England’s premier dramatist and her greatest novelist. Dickens had a strong turn for the stage, was himself a good actor, and, while his early plays amounted to little, his stories have been dramatized with immense success. The power to portray character, the humor, the universal sympathy, the charm of character and the faculty to grip men’s hearts was possess in a supreme degree by both writers and was never found in the same combination in any other. Dickens even wrote verse, although little of it has lived except “The Ive Green.” In my own view Dickens was the Shakespeare of English fiction.

Elaborate preparations have been made to celebrate his centenary throughout the world. The novelist’s son, Alfred Tennyson Dickens, was in America to attend this celebration at the time of his sad death only a short month previous to the event. Others of the family are said to be in poverty, and a recent theatrical benefit wherein most of the Dickens characters were represented on the stage was given in London, the proceeds of which went to the descendants.

Coshocton Daily Times (Coshocton, Ohio) Jan 29, 1912

The Figure Dickens Cut.

Satirists are not able to perceive their own absurdities. That is a well known failing and as old as the hills. The first great English writer to come over here and create a furor was Charles Dickens, and certainly no man ever lived who had a sharper eye for the grotesque in personal appearance, especially in dress. According to all accounts, his make up was something appalling. My old uncle saw him in New Orleans and used to swear he looked more like a caricature than a human being. He curled his beard, used corsets, sported red waistcoats with lavender pantaloons, carried two watches with gold chains around his neck and wore rings outside his gloves!

Just think of it!

Cambridge City Tribune (Cambridge City, Indiana) Dec 21, 1899

Dickens’ School Pets.

When Charles Dickens was a boy at Wellington House academy it was the secret pride of the students there that they owned more white mice, red polls and linnets than any other set of boys within their ken. These were kept in batboxes, drawers and even in the school desks. A small but very accomplished mouse, which lived in the corner of a Latin dictionary in Dickens’ desk and could draw Roman chariots, fire paper muskets and scale pasteboard ladders, fell at last into an overfull inkpot and lost both its white coat and its life. Dickens nevertheless won a prize for his Latin, and a well thumbed and blotted Horace which he once presented to his coach recently fetched a high price at an exhibition in England.

Altoona Mirror (Altoona, Pennsylvania) Sep 30, 1903

Dickens’ Tribute to the Cow

If civilized peoples were to lapse into the worship of animals, the cow would certainly be their chosen goddess. What a foundation of blessing is the cow! She is the mother of beef, the source of butter, the original cause of cheese, to say nothing of shoehorns, haircombs and upper leathers. A gentle, amiable, ever-yielding creature, who has no joy in her family affairs that she does not share with man. We rob her of her children, that we may rob her thereafter of her milk; and we only care for her when the robbery may be perpetrated. — Charles Dickens.

Appleton Post Crescent (Appleton, Wisconsin) Mar 30, 1920

Dickens’ Cold.

Charles Dickens had a cold and thus described it in a letter to a friend: “I am at this moment deaf in the ears, hoarse in the throat, red in the nose, green in the gills, damp in the eyes, twitchy in the joints and fractious in the temper.”

Adams County Free Press (Corning, Iowa) Jul 21, 1920

Arcadia Tribune (Arcadia, California) Feb 7, 1936

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