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Dickens-Sympathy with the Poor— Vulgarity-Geniality
– Mrs. Gamp--Mixture of Pathos and Humour-Lever and Dickens compared--Dickens' power of Description -General Remarks.
U TE shall be paying Hood no undue
compliment if we couple his name with that of Dickens as betokening the approach of milder and gentler sentiments. They were themselves the chief pioneers of the better way. Hitherto the poor and uneducated håd been regarded with a certain amount of contempt; their language and stupidity had formed fertile subjects for the coarse ridicule of the humorist. But now a change was in progress; broader views were gaining ground, and a time was coming when men, notwithstanding the accidents of birth and fortune, should feel mutual sympathy, and
“brothers be for a' that.” With Dickens the poor man was not a mere clown or blockhead; but beneath his “hodden gray” often carried good feeling, intelligence,
and wit. He was rather humorous than ludicrous, and had some dignity of character. Since his time, consideration for the poor has greatly increased; we see it in the large charitable gifts, which are always increasingin the interest taken in schools and hospitals. Probably the respectable and quiet character of the labouring classes has contributed to raise them in the estimation of the richer part of the commnnity.
A large portion of English humour is now employed upon so-called vulgarity. The modification of feeling with regard to the humbler classes has caused changes in the signification of this word. Originally derived from “vulgus,” the crowd, it meant that roughness of language and manner which is found among the less educated. It did not properly imply anything culpable, but had a bad sense given it by those who considered “gentlemanly” to imply some moral superiority. The worship of wealth so caused the signification of this latter word to exceed its original reference to high birth, that we now hear people say that there are real gentlemen among the poorer classes ; and, conversely, we at times speak of the vulgarity of the rich, as of their pride, impertinence, or affectation-just as Fielding used the word “mob” to signify contemptible people of any class. It is evident
that some moral superiority or deficiency is thus implied. There may be, on the whole, some foundation for such distinctions, but they are not so much recognised as they were, scarcely at all in the cases of individuals, and the provincial accents and false grammar of the poor are more amusing than formerly, because we take a kindlier interest in that class.
M. Taine does not seem to have exercised his usual penetration when he says that English humour “far from agreeable, and bitter in taste, like their own beverages, abounds in Dickens. French sprightliness, joy, and gaiety is a kind of good wine only grown in the lands of the sun. In its insular state it leaves an aftertaste of vinegar. The man who jests here is seldom kindly and never happy; he feels and censures the inequalities of life.” On the contrary, we are inclined to think that French humour is fully as severe as English–they have such sayings as that “a man without money is a body without blood,” and their great wits were not generally free from bitterness.
There is little that is personal or offensive in Dickens. It is said that he was threatened with a prosecution for producing the character of Squeers, but in general his puppets are too artificial to excite any personal resentment.
There are evidently set up merely to be knocked down. Few would identify themselves with Heap or Scrooge, and although the moral taught is appreciated by all, no class is hit, but only men who seem to be preeminent in churlishness or villainy. Dickens is remarkable for his gentleness whenever his humour touches the poor, and while he makes amusement out of their simplicity and ignorance, he throws in some sterling qualities. They often form the principal characters in his books, and there is nearly always in them something good-natured and sympathetic. Sam Weller is a pleasant fellow, so is Boots at the Holly Tree Inn. Mrs. Jarley, who travels about to fairs with wax-works, is a kindly and hospitable old party. She asks Nell and her grandfather to take some refreshment
“The grandfather humbly pulled off his hat and thanked her. The lady of the caravan then bade him come up the stairs, but the drum proving an inconvenient table for two, they descended again and sat upon the grass, where she handed down to them the tea-tray, the bread and butter, the knuckle of bam, and in short everything of which she had partaken herself, except the bottle which she had already embraced an opportunity of slipping into her pocket.
"Set 'em out near the hind wheels, child, that's the best place,' said their friend superintending the arrangements from above. Now band up the tea-pot for a little more hot water, and a pinch of fresh tea, and then both of you eat and drink as much as you can, and don't spare anything; that's all I ask you.'
“ While they were thus engaged the lady of the caravan alighted on the earth, and with her hands clasped behind her, and her large bonnet trembling excessively, walked up and down in a measured tread and very stately manner suveying the caravan from time to time with an air of calm delight and deriving particular gratification from the red panels and brass knocker. When she had taken this gentle exercise for some time, she sat down upon the steps and called 'George,' whereupon a man in a carter's frock, who had been so shrouded in a hedge up to this time as to see everything that passed without being seen himself, parted the twigs that concealed him and appeared in a sitting attitude supporting on his legs a baking dish, and a half gallon stone bottle, and bearing in his right hand a knife, and in his left a fork.
« • Yes, missus,' said George.
“And the beer p' said the lady of the caravan with an appearance of being more interested in this question than the last, is it passable, George ?
“It's more flatterer than it might be, George returned, .but it aʼnt so bad for all that.'
“ To set the mind of his mistress at rest, he took a sip (amounting in quantity to a pint or thereabouts) from the stone bottle, and then smacked his lips, winked his eye, and nodded his head. No doubt with the same amiable desire he immediately resumed his knife and fork as a practical assurance that the beer bad wrought no bad effect upon his appetite.
""The lady of the caravan looked on approvingly for some time and then said,
“Have you nearly finished p “Wery nigh, mum,' and indeed after scraping the dish all round with his knife and carrying the choice brown morsels to his mouth, and after taking such a scientific pull at the stone bottle that, by degrees almost imperceptible to the sight, his head went farther and farther back until he lay nearly at his full length upon the ground, this gentleman declared himself quite disengaged, and came forth from his retreat.
"'I hope I haven't hurried you, George,' said his mistress, who appeared to have a great sympathy with his late pursuit.
wIf you have,' returned the fellow, wisely reserving himself for any favourable contingency, we must make it up next time, that's all.””
Mrs. Gamp has a touch of sympathy in her
exuberance. Contemplating going down to