“There were pieces of wave that danced all day as if Perdita were looking on to learn; there were little streams that skipped like lambs and leaped like chamois; there were pools that shook the sunshine all through them, and were rippled in layers of overlaid ripples, like crystal sand; here were currents that twisted the light into golden braids, and inlaid the threads with turquoise enamel; there were strips of stream that had certainly above the lake been mill streams, and were busily looking for mills to turn again."
CHARLES DICKENS, 1812-1870
[Illustration: CHARLES DICKENS. From a photograph taken in America, 1868.]
Life.—The first of the great Victorian novelists to make his mark was Charles Dickens. This great portrayer of child life had a sad painful childhood. He was born in 1812 at Landport, a district of the city of Portsmouth, Hampshire, where his father was a clerk in the Navy Pay Office. John Dickens, the prototype of Mr. Micawber, was a kind, well-intentioned man, who knew far better how to harangue his large household of children than how to supply it with the necessities of life. He moved from place to place, sinking deeper into poverty and landing finally in a debtors’ prison.
The dreams of a fine education and a brilliant career, which the future novelist had fondly cherished in his precocious little brain, had to be abandoned. At the age of eleven the delicate child was called upon to do his part toward maintaining the family. He was engaged, at six-pence a week, to paste labels on blacking bottles. He was poorly clothed, ill fed, forced to live in the cheapest place to be found, and to associate with the roughest kind of companions. This experience was so bitter and galling to the sensitive boy that years after, when he was a successful, happy man, he could not look back upon it without tears in his eyes. Owing to a rupture between his employer and the elder Mr. Dickens, Charles was removed from this place and sent to school. At fifteen, however, he had to seek work again. This time he was employed in an attorney’s office at Gray’s Inn.
It was impossible, of course, for this ambitious boy to realize that he was receiving an education in the dirty streets, the warehouses, the tenements, and the prisons. Yet, for his peculiar bent of mind, these furnished far richer stores of learning than either school or college could have given. He had marvelous powers of observation. He noted everything, from the saucy street waif to the sorrowful prison child, from the poor little drudge to the brutal schoolmaster, and he transplanted them from life to fiction, in such characters as Sam Weller, Little Dorrit, the Marchioness, Mr. Squeers, and a hundred others.