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Comments on Charles Dickens (S692b: 1912)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: Wallace's reply to a query posed by The Bookman; his response (along with those of many other notables) appeared in the February 1912 issue of the magazine under the title "Charles Dickens: Some Personal Recollections and Opinions." Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S692b.htm

[[p. 247]] Dr. ALFRED RUSSEL WALLACE gives some early recollections:

    Although a life-long admirer of Dickens, and a reader of almost the whole of his works, many of them several times over, I have little to say of him, as I never had the opportunity of making his acquaintance. I first heard his name during the last year of my school-life at Hertford (1836) when the four masters in the school were in a state of excitement about a story which was appearing in monthly parts, and was handed about from one to another. It was spoken of by them as something quite new, and exhibiting marvellous humour and talent. The title, however "The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club," was not very attractive to a schoolboy of thirteen, and I do not think I read it till some years afterwards. A little later, however, I heard my brother William speaking of it to a friend, and saying that the style of humour was above less-educated readers. As an example he referred to the description of the scene in the club meeting, when Mr. Winkle "threw himself upon the chair" to stop the quarrel between Mr. Pickwick and the "haberdasher."

    I only saw Dickens once, when I heard him give a reading in St. James' Hall, one of the passages read being the account of the young doctor's supper party, and strange to say, I thought it was not well-read and did not bring [[p. 248]] out the humour of the scene as many other public readers would have done.

    My opinion of his novels is a very high one. I have recently ranked him with Sir Walter Scott as the two most remarkable novelists the world has produced. His greatest story is, I think, "A Tale of Two Cities," followed very closely by "Barnaby Rudge." I owe most to his teaching as to the unity of human nature, showing, as did Herbert Spencer, that virtue and vice, wisdom and folly all pervade all classes in an approximately equal degree; while he has confirmed my deep-seated conviction of the inherent injustice and cruelty of our whole system of law, criminal and civil, which another great man, Jeremy Bentham, has pierced with scathing ridicule.

    Notwithstanding all that can be said against his mannerisms and exaggerations, I believe that the myriad characters Dickens has given us constitute a portrait gallery of English life and manners during the mid-nineteenth century that will be read with delight so long as the English language continues to be spoken.

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