In compiling the selection of incidents and stories from the works of Dickens comprised in this volume, my choice has been restricted by the series of pictures from the clever brush of Mr. Harold Copping which adorns its pages. My aim has been to make each excerpt a complete story or cameo in itself, and to allow the story to be told exclusively in Dickens's own words.
Dickens's books are so popular, so well read and known, that it is quite unnecessary to give the details of the story or of the characters which lead up to the incident. Even were this not so, it is believed that the excerpts here given will be found complete enough to follow for those who have never read the book from which they have been extracted; whilst those who know them well will welcome an opportunity of reading them once again, with Mr. Copping's realistic pictures to refresh their visualization of the characters.
Dickens's characters are not mere puppets ticketed with a name. They are real flesh and blood, human beings, who, under the magic spell of his genius, became imbued with a vitality which will outlive the fame of many historic personages.
No English novelist has peopled the world of imaginative literature with such a concourse of real persons as Dickens has, [13/14] each of whom differs and stands apart from the others, possessing a separate and distinct individuality of his or her own—characters we have come to know so well as to claim them as our own personal friends. Indeed, it may be said, with truth that we know the people of Dickens's books more intimately than we do our own friends. Most persons are acquainted with them and their idiosyncracies in a greater or lesser degree, from the inimitable Pickwickians of his first book, through the whole list of the others, to the angular Mr. Grewgious in the last: their characteristics and sayings are familiar to all classes. Those who represent types have their names used as synonyms for the type they stand for, and have become part of the stock of the world's common knowledge, the mere mention of which conveys a whole philosophy in a word.
This is a wonderful tribute to Dickens's genius. It is a tribute that Dickens would have valued more than any other. Indeed, an incident occurred to him on one occasion which indicated this to be the case. On one of his reading tours he was stopped in the street by a lady who had heard him read, and who accosted him with the appeal, "Mr. Dickens, will you let me touch the hand that has filled my house with many friends?" He was greatly touched by this personal greeting, and in a letter to his biographer, telling him of it, assured him that the unknown lady's expression brought him near what he sometimes dreamed might be his fame.
His dream was fulfilled, and to-day his fame rests a good deal on his genius for creating real living characters, personages as familiar to all races of the world as are the most notable names in history, and in many cases even more familiar. They have indeed become a part of history, and are believed in more sincerely than many a warrior or statesman whose name looms large in our annals. So that if Dickens's fame rested upon nothing else than this happy circumstance of having filled many homes with many friends, it would be such a fame as he himself most desired, and would have been sufficient to place him in the forefront as England's national and most popular novelist.
But Dickens's books have other and equally sound and solid foundations upon which they were reared. They are human; they reveal the truth of nature, and appeal to every phase of humanity by a common bond.
Written decades ago, when fashions, foibles, superstitions, politics, were different from those of our days, they are still admired and revered, not on account of antiquity, but in spite of it. In the following pages will be found stories and scenes exhibiting all phases of Dickens's power, and introducing characters as divergent as the po1es, symbolizing all the virtues and some of the vices to which human nature is heir. No modern artist is known to us who is so well equipped with knowledge, sympathy, and perfect understanding of these characters as Mr. Harold Copping for the task of pictorially embellishing these pages.—B. W. Matz
Matz, B. W., and Kate Perugini; illustrated by Harold Copping. Character Sketches from Dickens. London: Raphael Tuck, 1924. Copy in the Paterson Library, Lakehead University.
Last modified 19 February 2009