On the Death of Dickens

by Edwin Watts Chubb

When Charles Dickens died the English papers and magazines were filled with criticisms and appreciations of the great writer. It may be interesting to glance at a few extracts from these:

From Fraser's Magazine.—On the eighth of June, 1870, the busiest brain and the busiest hand that ever guided pen over paper finished their appointed work, and that pen was laid aside forever. Words of its inditing were sure of immediately reaching and being welcomed by a larger number of men and women than those of any other living writer—perhaps of any writer who has ever lived.

About six o'clock on that summer evening, having done his day's work with habitual assiduity, Charles Dickens sat down to dinner with some members of his family. He had complained of headache, but neither he nor any one felt the least apprehension. The pain increased, the head drooped forward, and he never spoke again. Breathing went on for four-and-twenty hours, and then there was nothing left but ... dismay and sorrow. When the sad news was made public it fell with the shock of a personal loss on the hearts of countless millions, to whom the name of the famous author was like that of an intimate and dear friend....

Anthony Trollope in St. Paul's.—It seems to have been but the other day that, sitting where I now sit, in the same chair, at the same table, with the same familiar things around me, I wrote for the Cornhill Magazine a few lines in remembrance of Thackeray, who had then been taken from us, and when those lines appeared they were preceded by others, very full of feeling, from his much older friend, Charles Dickens. Now I take up my pen again because Charles Dickens has also gone, and because it is not fit that this publication should go forth without a word spoken to his honor.

It is singular that two men in age so nearly equal, in career so nearly allied, friends so old, and rivals so close, should each have left us so suddenly, without any of that notice, first doubting and then assured, which illness gives; so that in the case of the one as of the other, the tidings of death's dealings have struck us a hard and startling blow, inflicting not only sorrow, but for a while that positive, physical pain which comes from evil tidings which are totally unexpected. It was but a week or two since that I was discussing at the club that vexed question of American copyright with Mr. Dickens, and while differing from him somewhat, was wondering at the youthful vitality of the man who seemed to have done his forty years of work without having a trace of it left upon him to lessen his energy, or rob his feelings of their freshness. It was but the other day that he spoke at the Academy dinner, and those who heard him then heard him at his best; and those who did not hear him, but only read his words, felt how fortunate it was that there should be such a man to speak for literature on such an occasion. When he took farewell of the public as a public reader, a few months since, the public wondered that a man in the very prime of his capacity should retire from such a career. But though there was to be an end to his readings, there was not, therefore, to be an end of his labors. He was to resume, and did resume, his old work, and when the first number of Edwin Drood's Mystery was bought up with unprecedented avidity by the lovers of Dickens's stories, it was feared, probably, by none but one that he might not live to finish his chronicle. He was a man, as we all thought, to live to be a hundred. He looked to be full of health, he walked vigorously, he stood, and spoke, and, above all, he laughed like a man in the full vigor of his life....

He would attempt nothing—show no interest in anything—which he could not do, and which he did not understand. But he was not on that account forced to confine himself to literature. Every one knows how he read. Most readers of these lines, though they may never have seen him act,—as I never did,—still know that his acting was excellent. As an actor he would have been at the top of his profession. And he had another gift,—had it so wonderfully, that it may almost be said that he has left no equal behind him. He spoke so well, that a public dinner became a blessing instead of a curse, if he was in the chair,—had its compensating twenty minutes of pleasure, even if he were called upon to propose a toast, or to thank the company for drinking his health. For myself, I never could tell how far his speeches were ordinarily prepared:—but I can declare that I have heard him speak admirably when he has had to do so with no moment of preparation.

A great man has gone from us—such a one that we may surely say of him that we shall not look upon his like again. As years roll on, we shall learn to appreciate his loss. He now rests in the spot consecrated to the memory of our greatest and noblest; and Englishmen would certainly not have been contented had he been laid elsewhere.