The Works of Charles Dickens/Volume 31


GADSHILL EDITION.


The Works of Charles Dickens

In Thirty-two Volumes.

With Introductions, General Essay, and Notes

by Andrew Lang.

 

VOL. XXXI.

 

CHRISTMAS STORIES.

VOL I.

 

 

Printed from the Edition that was carefully corrected by the Author in 1867 and 1868.

 

 
The Works of Charles Dickens, Volume 31 - The Seven Poor Travellers.png
 

 

CHRISTMAS STORIES

FROM

"HOUSEHOLD WORDS" AND "ALL THE YEAR ROUND"

 

By CHARLES DICKENS

 

WITH INTRODUCTION AND NOTES

BY

ANDREW LANG

 

Two Vols. Vol. I.

WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY A. JULES GOODMAN

 

LONDON: CHAPMAN & HALL, LD.

NEW YORK : CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS

1898

 

 

INTRODUCTION.

The "Christmas Stories" of Dickens are entirely distinct from his "Christmas Books." In these earlier fantasies he worked single-handed. The sketches are merely his contributions to the Christmas numbers of his two periodicals, Household Words (1850-1859) and All the Year Round (1859-1871). These journals fulfilled Dickens's old desire to have a miscellany of his own, whose popularity should be helped by that of his name, while the labour would be shared by other writers. These were many and excellent. Some, like Mr. Sala of genial memory, imitated the master; some, like Mrs. Gaskell, worked on their own lines. Dickens devoted to his editorial work much time, and all of his unsparing energy and capacity for business. The great public probably never had better cheap literary papers; the taste for interviews, and photographs of the Queen's dolls, if it existed, was not then "catered for," as people say. The Christmas numbers had a "framework," a very ancient device, and familiar to the Hindoos of remote ages. That framework Dickens himself devised and supplied, while his allies contributed many of the stories which it enclosed. In the first, the old Christmas sentiment prevails. "The Seven Poor Travellers" were wound up and set a-going, in an environment very appropriate. Wassail was introduced, and Dickens freely confessed his own delight, familiar from his letters, in his skill as a brewer of punch. To him punch was rather a symbol than a beverage, and he regretted that Mr. Forster had no taste for this modern Graal-cup. It meant Christmas—meant the whole of "Carol philosophy." His only other contribution was the pleasing sentimental history of Richard Doubledick, with its fine admiration of true soldier-like qualities, and the character of "The Happy Warrior," This sympathy again finds expression in the "Perils of Certain English Prisoners." The events are of a kind which Dickens rarely handled. "The moving incident"" was his "trade," though disclaimed by Wordsworth. But military incident, the fighting with pirates in a Treasure Island, was more congenial to Mr. Stevenson. The plot is cunningly laid, and Christian George King is a pleasant kind of villain, and an opportune invention. But Dickens left other hands to get his prisoners out of their quandary: in real life they would not so easily have escaped destruction. It is perhaps an error to show us so little of the tyranny of Sergeant Drooce. The same loyal sympathy, with seamen in place of soldiers, declares itself in the " Wreck of the Golden Mary."

The Holly-Tree Inn, not to dwell on the delightful fancy of the eloping children, connects itself with several of the other Christmas sketches in illustrating what we may call "the night-side" of Dickens—his strong interest in exceptional psychical experiences. Thus he alludes to his many repeated, indeed nightly, dreams of his wife's dead sister, Miss Mary Hogarth, to whom he was tenderly attached. He tells how the visions ceased, when he recorded them in a letter, and speaks of a dream of her in Italy, apparently uncertain whether it was a sleeping or a waking vision. It occurred in September, 1844, at Genoa, and is described as a vision of painful sleep, in a letter to Mr. Forster. Dickens, in that letter, enumerates the ordinary reminiscences out of which he thinks that the dream was built. In the sketch he speaks more mystically. We may refer to the first of his two "Ghost Stories" here (vol. ii. p. 106):"I have always noticed a prevalent want of courage, even among persons of superior intelligence and culture, as to imparting their own psychological experiences when those have been of a strange sort. . . To this reticence I attribute much of the obscurity in which such subjects are involved."

This is a sagacious remark. We are in a world "not realised," and common sense has long bullied us out of any serious attempt to realise some of its phenomena. Dickens was always much interested in stories which seem to suggest the existence of supernormal human faculties, but he also lived in an age when "spiritualistic" quackeries were leading even distinguished men through a wilderness of nightmares' nests. He therefore very judiciously kept a stern watch over his own "mystical" tendencies, and we often observe the contest between his sentiments and his common sense. Even to Forster, after all, he expresses his doubt as to whether he should regard his experience at Genoa as "a dream, or an actual Vision."

He probably never made up his own mind. In "The Haunted House" he laughs naturally, nay inevitably, at the messages d'outre tombe revealed to the sect of "Rappers." These, certainly, do not suggest to any sane mind the idea of the presence of incarnate intelligences. But they are not always explicable as mere impostures, any more than was the hallucinatory presence of Dickens's father, then "alive and well," beside his bed. "Nothing ever came of it;" it might be an after-image of a forgotten dream, or perhaps a telepathic reflection of a dream then entertained by the prototype of Mr. Micawber. The anecdote does not occur, I think, in Mr. Forster's Life of Dickens, but it may have been among the "ghost-stories" which Dickens liked to tell.

Here it is told as a prelude to the story of the occupation of a haunted house of the usual noisy type. Having once taken part in a similar quest, I can recognise the accuracy of most of Dickens's remarks. "You can fill any house with noises, if you will," he says, "until you have a noise for every nerve in your nervous system." Doubtless Dickens could do this if he liked, but my humble experience was that ne faict ce tour qui veult, and that the noisy house was rather unusually quiet. On the other hand, the "real terror" of the Odd Girl, who, for all that, "made many of the noises we heard," is an authentic touch of nature. Indeed, even to persons not on the level of the Odd Girl in education, the temptation to produce "phenomena" for fun is all but overwhelming. That people communicate hallucinations to each other "in some diseased way without words," is a modem theory perhaps first formulated here by Dickens. But, having set his allied story-tellers in motion, he deserts his psychological researches, and, dropping into autobiography, tells us how, in Copperfield days, his bed was "thrown into a lot" with "a brass coal scuttle, a roasting-jack, and a birdcage." Thus the certainly unprogressive study of haunted houses makes no advance in Dickens's hands. His two ghost-stories are based on such flashes of intuition, or second sight, or whatever we should call it, as are pretty well attested in most ages and countries. But his ghost in a court of justice is of an "outdacious" description, and worthy of his nurse, ill named Mercy, to whom he again refers in this volume, as in The Uncommercial Traveller. Decently well-attested spectres never reach the solidity and activity of the agent in the banker's narrative. It opens well, but the supernatural is distinctly overdone, and the terrible yields place to the absurd. The tale of the signal-man(vol. ii. p. 189) makes less overwhelming demands on the judicial faculties of the reader. It is probably based on some real story of the kind, some anecdote of premonitions. There are scores in the records of the Society for Psychical Research.

These interests, and this element in Dickens's character, connect him with many persons of genius, but, of course, are not preponderant factors in his intellect. Away from such dark corners are Mrs. Lirriper, that jewel of a landlady, and the waiter in "Somebody's Luggage," and Doctor Marigold. All these are the result of Dickens's intense powers of observation, and unwearied interest both in the commonplace and the odd aspects of humanity. Mrs. Lirriper, whose inclusive and Thucydidean style is a masterpiece, must be pronounced the most sympathetic, while only Dickens could have collected, as it were, such queer specimens as her Wandering Christians, and motley array of servant-girls. The waiter illustrates that vein of intellectual high spirits which had been almost worked out, as far as the long novels were concerned. Indeed, a critic might have something to say for himself who argued that there is more of the genuine, fresh, early Dickens in these papers, than in the more laboured novels of his closing years. He writes with more freedom and less responsibility: he "lets himself go" joyously, whereas joyousness is remote indeed from Little Dorrit and Our Mutual Friend, with their ambitious aims and social satire. Dickens is more at home with a plump Head Waiter at the Cock or elsewhere, with a sentimental Cheap Jack on a common, with a garrulous good landlady in the gritty calm of a June evening in Norfolk Street. In "Doctor Marigold" he introduces one of the many shrews whom he discriminated so finely. Mr. Gissing, in his excellent work on Dickens, has noticed his variety of shrews—Mrs. Snagsby, Mrs. Gargery, Mrs. Varden, Doctor Marigold's wife, and many others. Not one of the women named is a termagant by reason of drink; all are born to be so, and their case defies diagnosis—defies any treatment save that which Old Orlick applied with a hammer. There is a dipsomaniac shrew in Hard Times, but she is an exception, and comparatively intelligible. What is the quarrel of these women, with their husbands, their children, and the world? Dickens occasionally converts them. He converts Mrs. Gummidge and Mrs. Varden; but they are really beyond hope, short of a miracle. They are far from being unknown in any rank of life, but, in the less comfortable ranks, where there is no escape from them, they drive more men to drink than all the temperance lecturers and Local Options in the world can reclaim. Their husbands, in Dickens, do not adopt Petruchio's method; it is they, not the shrews, who are tamed. The mind broods hopelessly on this vast world-problem of the termagant, from Sarah Maryborough to Mrs. Doctor Marigold. That philosopher married on the briefest possible acquaintance. Prevention is better than cure. By careful observation the young might discover, not too late, whether attractive girls "have a temper;" and, by scientific study of woman in the kitten stage, man might leave the worse species of cats to perpetual maidenhood. But love is blind, or, at least, nascent passion is incapable of calm psychological study of the fair. Probably Dolly Varden grew up, like the wife of Mr. Boswell of Auchinleck, to be "a cat, and cross, like other wives." But Mrs. Boswell had provocations, while Mrs. Gargery and the rest had none. In the young women described by "The Boy at Mugby," we observe characters in training for the career of termagant. They "come into the business mild," as the boy remarks; they come in like lambs, but go out, into married life, like lionesses. "Refreshmenting" is, indeed, "a constitutional check upon the public." The essence of the Circumlocution Office is thin and weak, compared to the scorn of the Railway barmaiden," the eighth wonder of monarchical creation." Mrs. Sniff holds a lofty place among Dickens's amateur Queen Elizabeths of private life. Their empire has waned, to a certain extent, in the general bouleversement of our institutions. "An assorted cold lunch," in a basket, can be procured, on certain lines. Of the luncheons at York, for example, a Briton must think with fondness; and you can even dine, it is said, in some railway carnages. Dickens, so far, has really effected a reform, but our sandwiches and butterscotch are on the old feudal level. The present philosopher, like all who get their living out of the Public (as Dickens himself observes), has not the very loftiest opinion of that aggregate, "this great stupid Public," as Thackeray styles it. Coleridge was not more favourably disposed, and we know the opinion of Mr. Henry Fielding, with his" D——————n, then, so they have found it out!" Thus many authors can partially understand Mrs. Sniff's and Miss Piff's relations to the Public with whom they are brought into such close and stereotyped relations, of a nature necessarily hurried and hostile. We understand, but tout comprendre is not always tout pardonner. On this topic one is reminded that, among all his waiters, Dickens never drew a German waiter in England. The topic is full of matter, not agreeable matter, and is respectfully suggested for the consideration of Mr. Anstey.

The purpose of "Tom Tiddler's Ground" seems to have been that of discouraging a tendency to commence Hermit. This is not a very widespread inclination, but the topic allows Dickens to fire his broadside, as usual, at the good old times. He denounces eremites in general, without regard to religious and social conditions. It is scarcely worth while to defend the early Scottish and Irish hermits here, or to say a word in favour of the dwellers in the Thebaid, or the Forest sages of India. They did not at all resemble Dickens's dirty Mr. Mopes, who, in truth, is a mere peg whereon to hang Christmas stories. The actual hermit lived near Stevenage, and was visited by Dickens, Mr. Helps, and Lord Orford, in 1861.

In the melodramatic piece, "No Thoroughfare," Dickens's share, as far as composition goes, was slight. He wrote the Overture (in which the dialogue is decidedly of the stage) and the Third Act. The rest was by Mr. Wilkie Collins, who turned the whole into a play for Fechter, while Dickens was on his second visit to America. Mr. Collins was a friend of Dickens's for about twenty years, and his method in fiction had a good deal of influence upon the elaborate plots of the later novels.

"The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices" commemorates a real expedition made by Dickens (Goodchild) and Wilkie Collins (Idle) to the north of England, at the end of August, 1857. It was "a little tour in search of an article, and in avoidance of railroads." The "article" was found, fiction being freely intermingled with descriptions of real adventures, such as the ascent of Carrock Fell (1500 feet) in the rain and mist. Though Carrock Fell is only, in Dr. Johnson's words, "a considerable protuberance," mist makes all climbing dangerous, and the tourists might be thankful that they were not caught by the darkness a little further north, at Loch Skene, with the Grey Mare's Tail in front of them. Collins actually sprained his ankle, the compass was really broken, and the descent was achieved (as is easiest in such cases) by finding a burn and following it. The little romance on the man who shared a double-bedded room with a corpse may be founded on a similar incident in the early life of Sir Walter Scott. But Scott slept nearly as soundly as the occupant of the other bed, who did not waken.

The incident of the " half-dozen noiseless old men" in the Lancaster Inn has this odd peculiarity, that precisely the same experience occurred to a lady, well known to the editor, on her arrival one night at the same hotel. Six men, like waiters, stood in a row before her, and, when she looked about for one of them to remove her luggage, they were not, nor could she find any trace of them. Next morning, on leaving, she was presented with a copy of Dickens's chapter, and read with amazement about his similar experience. Mr. Forster throws no light on any real vision, or dream, which Dickens may have had in the hotel, and philosophers may argue, either that his mind produced the effect on the lady's, by unconscious thought transference, or that six ghosts were about; or that the lady unconsciously read back into her memory what she had only gathered from Dickens's chapter. She is a person of meticulous veracity, and has herself no theory about the occurrence, now remote in time. The lady's old men did not speak; all that part of the tale is obvious embroidery. But did Dickens see the six old men?

The chapter on Doncaster and the Leger expresses Dickens's own theory of "that gigantic engine of national demoralisation," as Lord Beaconsfield called it, the Turf. He was haunted by memories of Palmer, the sporting poisoner. The man who "took the horrors" was said to have lost £1500 or £2000 at the races. Dickens thought that a boy with a turn for betting might be cured by "being brought to Doncaster races soon enough;" but this is a perilous homoeopathy. The "Lazy Tour" is full of his old high spirits, and attests his extraordinary physical energy. Mr. Wilkie Collins can scarcely have enjoyed himself much on the expedition.

 

 

CONTENTS OF VOL. I.

PAGE
A Christmas Tree
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1
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23
The Poor Relation's Story
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31
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47
The Schoolboy's Story
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55
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69
The Seven Poor Travellers
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79
The Holly-Tree
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113
The Wreck of the Golden Mary
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156
The Perils of Certain English Prisoners
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191
Going into Society
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249
The Haunted House
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267
A Message from the Sea
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303
Tom Tiddler's Ground
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
345
Somebody's Luggage
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
379
 

 

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.

VOL I.

PAGE
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Frontispiece
The Wreck of the Golden Mary
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
170
Tom Tiddler's Ground
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
374
Somebody's Luggage
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
394
 

 

NOTES ON CHRISTMAS STORIES.

 
 

THE SEVEN POOR TRAVELLERS.

"The shrieking of horses, which, newly taken from the peaceful pursuits of life, could not endure the sight of the stragglers lying by the wayside."

In the tenth book of the Iliad, Homer describes the terror of the horses of Rhesus, newly come to the war, at the sight of dead bodies. But Homer does not say that the horses shrieked—a thing very unusual on their part, and caused only, it is believed, by sudden and extreme pain.

 

THE HOLLY-TREE.

"Stage-coaches . . . which I occasionally find myself . . . affecting to lament."

This can scarcely have been affectation in Dickens. His best and mast congenial work is of the old coaching days; the romance and humour of the road.

"A secret door behind the head of the bed."

An antiquarian friend informs me that he found such a secret door, in the panelling behind the bed, in an old house, at one time used as a kind of inn for poor travellers. This was in St. Andrew's, and a kind of passage down to the door from a room above, left little doubt as to the purpose of the arrangement. The ringing of a mysterious nocturnal bell every night lent confirmation to the most extreme theory!

"Bravo and lovely servant-maid."

This was Mercy, who had none on him Dickens's nurse of the fearsome tales, described in The Uncommercial Traveller. "Every night since . . . I had dreamed of that friend."

This was Dickens's sister-in-law, Miss Mary Hogarth. If Mr. Forster is right, the dream of her never entirely ceased to occur, as in the text. That it should pass away with the communication of the secret is in accordance with the Highland superstition of the second sight. A seer will lose the faculty if he reveals his first vision.

Cornwall.

Dickens visited Cornwall, with Forster, Maclise, and Stanfield, and in festive circumstances, in 1843. The anecdote here is probably autobiographical, but it does not seem possible to trace the Swiss experiences, and the story of the Welsh haunting, or "strange influence." There are many such anecdotes, vaguely suggesting that the stress of passion in the past "photographs itself, we know not how, on we know not what," and occasionally becomes sensible to sensitive minds.

"Athol brose."

This is a mixture of cream, honey, and whiskey. "This is the true balm of Gilead, John," said a sportsman to a Highlander. "I rather think, sir," answered the Gael, "that that is a figure of sanctifying grace."

THE HAUNTED HOUSE.

A school "where everybody, large and small, was cruel." Not much is known of Dickens's school-days, but nobody suggests that cruelty prevailed at Wellington House Academy, in Mornington Place, where he was only a day-boy. Yet, except at David Copperfield's last school, cruelty pervades Dickens's descriptions of school-life. It seems as if certain early experiences of flogging masters and of bullies, as well as of Chadbands and Stigginses, had slipped out of his biography.

 

END OF VOL. I.

 

PRINTED BY WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, LIMITED, LONDON AND BECCLES.