Page:Works of Charles Dickens, ed. Lang - Volume 4.djvu/19

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the Regency scarcely produced parallels in ruffianism to Sir Mulberry.

As to Newman Noggs, Dickens again criticises himself. Noggs is precisely the comic countryman who always overhears everything, in Mr. Crummles's melodrama. Like Edie Ochiltree or Flibbertigibbet, he is always round the corner. He is the lurking man, waiting for his revenge through the years—a being who began to haunt Dickens's novels. Finally, Mr. Mantalini justly censures Ralph's manner, as "a demd uncomfortable and private madhouse kind of manner." His suicide, on hearing that he is the author of Smike's being, is hardly worthy of Ralph. The especial feebleness of the conclusion is due to the conventional need of a "love interest," which is not interesting. Nicholas is only about twenty, and some modern novelists would have dispensed with Miss Bray altogether, "as pitying his youth." Gride, and the affair of concealed wills, are purely "business," and do not add exhilaration; while the Cheerybles are twin Dei ex machina, the helpful Dioscuri of modern myth, though real characters, manufacturers in Manchester. The main plot must have been steadily before Dickens's mind, from the introduction of Smike onward, but this great genius failed in the almost mechanical tasks of charpentage and denouement—a fault which he shared with Shakespeare, Moliere, Scott, and, we may say, when we think of the conclusion of the admirably constructed Odyssey, even with Homer. Here Fielding and Sophocles, in Tom Jones and the Œdipus Tyrannus, set a constructive example which Dickens and Scott could seldom or never follow. But nobody reads Nickleby, any more than Clarissa Harlowe, only "for the story;" that is, here, for the love-story of Nicholas and Madeline Bray. Next to David Copperfield, Nlckleby is perhaps the very best of Dickens's novels, and when we