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powers of varied invention, of lofty and idealistic sentiments should occasionally encroach upon the domains of Poesy. The genius of the first novelist of the nineteenth century has always been held in solemn reverence. It was genius that was, as we have said, peculiarly his own. Pictures from real life and no mere phantasms constituted its instruments of work, human nature was its stage for operations; with human sufferings were its sympathies, but divine in its very essence were its inspirations. His was a nature truly poetic. But what is poetry? It is the ebullition of the highest forms of the passions, now chiming in our ears through the rhythmic march of verse, now finding an outlet through a rhymeless source. Verse is by no means an essential factor of true poetry. Therefore, it is evident that the manifestations of the poetic spirit may be varied and this variation is directly dependent upon the
message that the poet conveys. The gospel of Dickens was for the poor and hence it generally took the form of prose --the form best suited to the comprehension of his listeners.
In 1842, Dickens wrote a prologue for Westland Marston's tragedy of the “ Patrician's Daughter." The beauty and the truth of the piece not only impressed the audience, as we learn from contemporary evidence with the scope and the moral of the Tragedy, but appealed, by reason of its universal audience, to a vaster audience -the world. We quote a few lines :
"No tale of streaming plumes and harness bright
Awake the Present! What the Past has sown
Learn from the lesson of the present day,
It would argue nothing but stupidity to assert that these could come from the pen of a mere versifier. The impressiveness of the truth, the vividness of the representation, the gracefulness of the all-pervading harmony; all these, in happy and effective concert, point to the true nature of the verses and make it a pardonable fault, in that exultation resulting from the first reading, to confound these lines with some of the stanzas of the “ Moral Essays” of Pope. For in truth, saving that extremely meritorious neatness, that un-Drydenlike polish, one fails to perceive in what respect this little piece can be inferior to the best thought and bestlaboured passages of Pope.
We now come to his lyrics and songs, which for their unequalled tenderness and exquisite melody could have figured among the best of the land had their author cared to reprint them. We refer especially to the beautiful pieces in the Village Coquettes.
" Love is not a feeling to pass away" and "Autumn Leaves"
a are exquisitely fresh and are tinged with a lovely dash of melancholy “ Autumn leaves, autumn leaves lie strewn around me here, Autumn leaves, autumn leaves how cold, how sad, how drear. How like the hopes of childhood's days thick clustering on the bough, How like those hopes in their decay how faded are they now."
Yet another feature, as unique as is beautiful, in
which Dickens characterized himself in his poetic aspect is his interweaving of poetic harmony into his prose, not to mention the poetic spirit. Who has not felt the death of Little Nell as a personal loss? Who has not sat dumb, shedding bitter tears after reading that solemnly sublime passage, depicting with heart-rending pathos and in the measured roll of poetry, the death and burial of the little child ? The passage, in question, is composed in irregular metre and rhythms and much like some pieces of Shelley, written in a similar strain.* Sir Francis Marzial, the
, sanity of whose judgment is worthy of our highest regard, is carried away by a critical rather than any beauty-discerning spirit, when he asks whether the passages referred to possess the real rhythm of poetry. We answer that whatever metre they may be written in, they not only satisfy the demands of poetic harmony but also those that constitute our conception of poetic Imagination. And then when we consider that these without any alteration of language can be arranged in metrical form, what before was rank weed, comparatively speaking, is now turned into a verdant pasture ; out of the leaden casket appears the image of Portia. The metre in these cases must be regarded with a liberal view ; or else much of otherwise good poetry would descend to the level of common place prose. Some of the most glorious exhibitions of the poetic spirit would, under such circumstances, be excluded from the realm of poetry. Let us judge for ourselves.
" And now the bell, the bell
Almost as a living voice
So young, so beautiful, so good.”
The Battle of Hastings is one of the finest pieces of descriptive writing of Dickens. It comes, of course, in the “Child's History." The last few touches, when the battle is done and the soldiers with torches walk among the dead seeking for the body of dead Harold, furnish us with a splendid specimen of Dickens' poetry. A blundering admixture of prose and poetry,
, these have been called But both the nature and the form of these, as before shown, are essentially poetic. We emphasize the fact that in these there is no prose at all, although it is from the midst of prose that they shine. It is psychologically true, so says Bain, that we are unable to adapt ourselves always to the varying exigencies of prose, rhythm and feel accordingly the simplicity of a poetic measure to be a relief. Thus when Dickens imparts to his so-called prose the rhythmic march of verse, he, in accordance with the foregoing view, but satisfies the needs of nature and the demands
Again Sir Francis Marzial remarks that “ Dickens himself knew that he had a tendency to fall into blank verse in moments of excitement and tried to guard against it."
We must, in opposition to the biographer's view, lay another construction on the foregoing fact, namely, that the unconscious lapsing into blank verse, in impassioned moments, is an evidence of the inborn poetic spirit of Dickens. For, with all poets, poetry is not a purpose but a passion and "the passions,” says Poe, “should be held in reverence ; they must not, they cannot at will be excited with an eye to the paltry compensations or the more paltry commendations of mankind."
The keynote to Dickens' poetry is his possession of what Wordsworth calls “the breath and finer spirit
of all knowledge.” And indeed the gospel that he
" preaches is an interpretation of ideal truth, a revelation of the eternal, one that glows with reverent submission to the Divine will, one that is instinct with sympathy for his fellow-sufferers. In fact his text is
• The One remains, the many change and pass,
Heaven's light forever shines, earth's shadows fly." We have shown that at heart he was a true poet, yet, contradictory as it may seem, we assert that he cannot be assigned a place amongst the acknowledged poets of the country.
His wholehearted devotion to another branch of literature and the consequent fewness of his metrical efforts, must account for this. Yet, whether, in the occasional character of a typical poet or in that of a novelist poet, he seldom fails to inspire all with the magic-like charm of his utterances.
DICKENS THE MAN.
We have not spoken of his public reading, so famous in his own day,—these were for his contemporaries and not for posterity. It will not be a difficult task to picture in our minds Charles Dickens, as he lived and moved. In personal appearance he was not an Adonis, yet his features and general bearing bore the stamp of the “aristocracy of intellect " about them. Brightness and a spirit of entering into all kinds of life were his pre-eminent qualities. And he carried his heart with him, not to exhibit its fine, large proportions, but to make use of it, as occasions arose. He has left us his own likeness in the pictures that he painted. If Shakespeare can be said to have lent his likeness to Prospero, one may draw a fairly accurate picture of Dickens by a combination of some of his