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not afraid of improbabilities, any more than his contemporary Lever was, and owing to this they both now seem somewhat old-fashioned. Lever here exceeded Dickens, and his course was different; his plan was to sow a few seeds of extravagant falsehood, whence he would raise a wonderful efflorescence of ludicrous circumstances. For instance, he makes a General Count de Vanderdelft pay a visit to the Dodd family, and bring them an invitation from the King of Belgium. Great preparations are of course made by the ladies for so grand an occasion. The day arrives, and they have to travel in their full dress in second and third class carriages. They arrive a little late, but make their way to the Royal Pavilion. Here, while in great suspense, they meet the General, who says he was afraid he should have missed them.
“We've not a minute to lose,' cried he, drawing Mary Ann's arm within his own. “If Leopold sits down to table, I can't present you.'
“The General made his way through the crowd until he reached a barrier, where two men were standing taking tickets. He demanded admission, and on being refused, exclaimed, “These scullions don't know me—this canaille never heard my name.' With these words the General kicked up the bar with his foot, and passed in with Mary Ann, flourishing his drawn sword in the air, and crying out, Take them in flank-sabre them- every man-no prisoners-no quarter. At this juncture two big men in grey coats burst through the crowd and laid bands on the General, who, it seems, had escaped a week before from a mad-house in Ghent.”
The basis of all this is far too improbable
but there was a temptation to construct a very good story upon it.
But Dickens builds upon much firmer ground, and is only fantastic in the superstructure. This is certainly an improvement, and we admire his genius most when he controls its Alight, and when his caricatures are less grotesque. I take the following from “ Nicholas Niekleby," Chapter II.
“ Although a few members of the graver professions live about Golden Square, it is not exactly in anybody's way to or from anywhere. ... It is a great resort of foreigners. The dark complexioned men, who wear large rings, and heavy watchguards, and busby whiskers, and who congregate under the opera colonnade, and about the box-office in the season, between four and five in the afternoon, when they give orders-all live in Golden Square, or within a street of it. Two or three violins and a wind instrument from the opera band reside within its precincts. Its boarding-houses are musical, and the notes of pianos and harps float in the evening-time round the head of the mournful statue, the guardian genius of a little wilderness of shrubs, in the centre of the Square. ... Street bands are on their mettle in Golden Square; and itinerant glee-singers quaver involuntarily as they raise their voices within its boundaries. ...
“ Some London houses have a melancholy little plot of ground behind them, usually fenced in by four white-washed walls, and frowned upon by stacks of chimneys, in which there withers on from year to year a crippled tree, that makes a show of putting forth a few leaves late in Autumn, when other trees shed theirs, and drooping in the effort, lingers on all crackled and smoke-dried till the following season, when it repeats the same process; and perhaps, if the weather be particularly genial, even tempts some rheumatic sparrow to chirp in its branches.”
In the next chapter there is a description of the house of a humble votary of the arts.
"A miniature painter lived there, for there was a large
gilt frame screwed upon the street-door, in which were displayed, upon a black velvet ground, two portraits of naval dress, coats with faces looking out of them, and telescopes attached; one of a young gentleman in a very vermilion uniform flourishing a sabre ; and one of a literary character with a high forehead, a pen and ink, six books, and a curtain. There was, moreover, a touching representation of a young lady reading a manuscript in an unfathomable forest, and a charming whole length of a largeheaded little boy, sitting on a stool with his legs fore. shortened to the size of salt-spoons. Besides these works of art, there were a great many heads of old ladies and gentlemen smirking at each other out of blue and brown skies, and an elegantly written card of terms with an em. bossed border."
When Mr. Crummles, the stage-manager, urges his old pony along the road, the following conversation takes place :
“• He's a good pony at bottom,' said Mr. Crummles, turning to Nicholas. He might have been at bottom, but he certainly was not at top, seeing that his coat was of the roughest, and most ill-favoured kind. So Nicholas merely observed that he shouldn't wonder if he was. • Many and many is the circuit this pony has gone,' said Mr. Crummles, flicking him skilfully on the eyelid, for old acquaintance sake. He is quite one of us. His mother was on the stage.
«« Was she på rejoined Nicholas.
“She ate apple-pie at circus for upwards of fourteen years,' said the Manager, ‘fired pistols, and went to bed in a night-cap; and in short, took the low comedy entirely, His father was an actor.'
"Was he at all distinguished ?
« « Not very,' said the Manager. 'He was rather a low sort of pony. The fact is, he had been originally jobbed out by the day, and he never quite got over his old habits. He was clever in melodrama, too, but too broad, too broad. When the mother died he took the port wine business.'
". The port wine business P' cried Nicholas.
"• Drinking port wine with the clown,' said the Manager; ' but he was greedy and one night bit off the bowl of the glass and choked himself, so his vulgarity was the death of him at last.'"
It is greatly to the credit of Dickens that
although he wrote so much and salted so freely, he never approached any kind of impropriety. The only weak point in his humour is that he borrows too mnch from his imagination, and too little from reality.
I trust that those who have accompanied me through the chapters of this work, will have been able to trace a gradual amelioration in humour. We have seen it from age to age running parallel with the history, and varying with the mental development of the times, rising and falling in fables, demonology, wordcoining and coarseness, and I hope we may add in practical joking and coxcombry.
The remaining chapters will draw conclusions from our general survey. There can be little doubt that humour cannot be studied in any country better than in our own. The commercial character of England, and its connection with many nations whose feelings are intermingled in our minds as their blood is in our veins, are favourable for the development of fancy and of the finest kinds of wit, while the moderate Government under which we live, tends in the same direction. Humour may have germinated in the darkness of despotism, among the discontented subjects of Dionysius or under “the tyranny tempered by epigrams,” of Louis XIV., but it failed, under
such conditions to obtain a full expression, and although it has revelled and run riot under republican governments, it has always tended in them to coarse and personal vituperation. The fairest blossoms of pleasantry thrive best where the sun is not strong enough to scorch, nor the soil rank enough to corrupt.