THACKERAY ON DICKENS
[From “A Box of Novels,” Fraser’s Magazine, February, 1844]
MR. TITMARSH, in Switzerland, to MR. YORKE
...This introduction, then, will have prepared you for an exceedingly humane and laudatory notice of the packet of works which you were good enough to send me, and which, though they doubtless contain a great deal that the critic would not write (from the extreme delicacy of his taste and the vast range of his learning) also contain, between ourselves, a great deal that the critic could not write if he would ever so; and this is a truth which critics are sometimes apt to forget in their judgments of works of fiction. As a rustical boy, hired at twopence a week, may fling stones at the blackbirds and drive them off and possibly hit one or two, yet if he get into the hedge and begin to sing, he will make a wretched business of the music, and Labin and Colin and the dullest swains of the village will laugh egregiously at his folly; so the critic employed to assault the poet.... But the rest of the simile is obvious, and will be apprehended at once by a person of your experience.
The fact is, that the blackbirds of letters—the harmless, kind singing creatures who line the hedge-sides and chirp and twitter as nature bade them (they can no more help singing, these poets, than a flower can help smelling sweet), have been treated much too ruthlessly by the watch-boys of the press, who have a love for flinging stones at the little innocents, and pretend that it is their duty, and that every wren or sparrow is likely to destroy a whole field of wheat, or to turn out a monstrous bird of prey. Leave we these vain sports and savage pastimes of youth, and turn we to the benevolent philosophy of maturer age.
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And now there is but one book left in the box, the smallest one, but oh! how much the best of all. It is the work of the master of all the English humourists now alive; the young man who came and took his place calmly at the head of the whole tribe, and who has kept it. Think of all we owe Mr. Dickens since these half-dozen years, the store of happy hours that he has made us pass, the kindly and pleasant companions whom he has introduced to us, the harmless laughter, the generous wit, the frank, manly, human love which he has taught us to feel! Every month of these years has brought us some kind token from this delightful genius. His books may have lost in art, perhaps, but could we afford to wait? Since the days when the Spectator was produced by a man of kindred mind and temper, what books have appeared that have taken so affectionate a hold of the English public as these? They have made millions of rich and poor happy; they might have been locked up for nine years, doubtless, and pruned here and there, and improved (which I doubt) but where would have been the reader’s