Carlyle at His Zenith (1848-53)

By David Alec Wilson | Go to book overview

XI
DICKENS AND THACKERAY (1849)

DUFFY was unable to share the popular admiration of Dickens, and begged Carlyle to speak about him. Admitting that his humour was irresistible, he enquired,-- "Is there a character in his books, except Mrs. Nickleby, whom one met in actual life?"

" Dickens," said Carlyle,1"is a good little fellow, one of the most cheery, innocent natures I have ever encountered, and maintains something of his old reporter independence." But "his theory of life is entirely wrong. He thinks men ought to be buttered up, and the world made soft and accommodating for them, and all sorts of fellows have turkey for their Christmas dinner. Commanding and controlling and punishing them he would give up without any misgivings, in order to coax and soothe and delude them into doing right. But it is not in this manner the eternal laws operate, but quite otherwise. Dickens has not written anything which will be found of much use in solving the problems of life. But he is worth something; worth a penny to read of an evening before going to bed."

Duffy suggested,--"The difference between his men and women and Thackeray's seems to me like the difference between Sinbad the Sailor and Robinson Crusoe."

"Yes," said Carlyle, " Thackeray has more reality in him, and would cut up into a dozen Dickenses. They are altogether different at bottom. Dickens is doing the best in him, and goes on smiling in perennial good humour; but Thackeray despises himself for his work, and on that account cannot always do it even moderately well. He is essentially a man of grim, silent, stern nature, but lately he has circulated among fashionable people, dining out every day, and he covers this native disposition with a varnish of smooth,

____________________
1
Conversations with Carlyle, by Sir C. Gavan Duffy, pp. 74-6.

-126-

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