Don’t think much of him.

I’ve just being correcting text in Australian newspapers and came across this. Is it a known piece, where did it originally come from? Anyone know?

Taken from ”The Portland Guardian” 22nd April 1869 via Trove, Australian National Library


What might not Mr Dickens have been if to his many natural gifts he had added culture; if he had spurned popularity, and resolved to aim at nothing short of perfection; he does not overwhelm and fret us with minutiea, after the fashion of Mr. Wilkie Collins, with whom the hero’s making a memorandum with a quill pen instead of his wonted gold nib may be as incident pregnant with the greatest consequence, and most important to bear in mind. But from first to last there is hardly an incident introduced at random, and which does not bear on the plot; hardly a character really superfluous, and contributing nothing towards working out the general result. We may note, too, the care and skill with which the various lines of the story are made to converge and fit together, yet without strain or effort. It is true, of course, that Mr Dickens’s ignorance of, or indifference to, the laws of human action, give him an advantage in weaving his plots similar to that enjoyed by the romance writers of former days, who could always avail themselves of spectres, or trap doors, or secret springs in the wall, or providential bandits á discretion. His little worlds are so completely subject to his that that it is not such a difficult task for him to produce order and harmony. But granting that the dramatis personae are too often impossibilities or (il toilie”, inanities?) we must admit the dexterity with which they are moved about. His fertility of incident is so great that, coupled with that tendency to strong and glaring effect to which we have already adverted, it often leads him astray. One being as easy to him as the other, his taste is not sufficiently healthy to reject the improbable and the extravagant, when the natural and simple would have served just as well. Witness the death of Krook; the old rag-and-bone seller, from spontaneous combustion, in “Bleak House.” It is a vexata quaestio whether what is called “‘spontaneous combustion ” ever happened or is possible, and this constitutes a grave objection against employing it in a novel, unless there were some strong counterbalancing advantage. But beyond an opportunity for a little extra “sensationalism” nothing is gained. The old man had to die, and to die suddenly; but that was all, and that might have been managed in a dozen different ways. It is no more than might be expected that Mr. Dickens, with his quick eye for the use of accessories, should excel in the (seizing?) of his stores. This is by no means an unimportant merit. There are men who might have conceived Mr Pickwick or Sam Weller, for instance, but would have spoiled their creation, or, at any rate greatly weakened its effect, by pointing (painting?) them on an inappropriate background. But the old-fashioned inns, and the Manor Farm, with their good-fellowship, high living, and vulgar comfort, constitute a kind of atmosphere exactly suited to the existence of such creatures. We see them really colored by its (hue?), though without thinking how much the picture owes to its medium. To the question, “is Mr Dickens genius dramatic or not ?” we should answer, ” Not dramatic but melodramatic.”–” Charles Dickens,” in a Contemporary Review.


One thought on “Don’t think much of him.

  1. Thanks so much for posting this wonderful excerpt, Mr Booley, which chimes very closely with our recent discussions about the plot workings of TOTC. The comparison with Wilkie Collins seems particularly apt; Collins’s novels do feel, to me, more tautly and carefully plotted (although he did mix up the dates in the original instalments of ‘The Woman in White’ in AYR and had to correct them for the volume edition). It’s fascinating to see how Dickens was so energetically discussed in every corner of the Empire.

    To be frank, I am utterly confused by who is where and how they got there in TOTC and I really admire the bloggers who have been patiently unpicking everything for us! I wonder if contemporary readers found all these outlandish comings and goings as confusing and (whisper it) silly as I do.

    Also, I’m delighted that you’ve been working on the Australian newspaper project. It was, and is, a great inspiration for DJO and we admire the Australian government for funding a project which preserves the national patrimony and offers a dynamic model of crowd sourcing. Enjoy!

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