'In these times of ours, though concerning the exact year there is no need to be precise . . .'
First words of Our Mutual Friend
THE first thing to notice in the popular conception of what 'Dickens' means is that it contains so little that is typical of the years in which most of Charles Dickens's work was done. The England for which he wrote was the country of the early railways, ruled by the Ten-Pound Householders of the first Reform Bill: yet the inns and coaches, and gaiters and brass buttons are now carefully preserved in coloured prints because they represent the world as it was before the railways revolutionized our habits and our landscape. 'The "coaching days" from Waterloo to Pickwick,' says Professor Trevelyan, 'still stand in popular imagination for the last era of "old England", jovial, self-reliant, matter-of-fact, but still as full of romance, colour, character and incident as the world of Chaucer's pilgrims who rode so slowly along the green tracks so many centuries before.'1 And it is with these that 'Dickens' has come to be associated. Charles Dickens fully realized this, and when friends whom he wanted to entertain in a marked, dramatic way (they were often Americans) came to Gad's Hill, he himself became a Dickensian. He used to turn out 'a couple of postilions in the old red jacket of the old red royal Dover road',2 and drive them round to cathedral, castle, old houses, and Kentish orchards in unremitting____________________