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the days when our feelings lay nearer the surface, and when we lived with our favorite characters in fiction in a way that somehow seems to have become a lost art in our maturer years.
The other, and probably very much larger class of Dickens's lovers, are those who read him for his humor alone. I wish to call the attention of my courteous reader of this class to one phase, I might almost say one example, of that humor, namely, Dickens's use of the word "gentleman." It is peculiar to himself. It is the very embodiment and of the very essence of the spirit of his humor. Definition is very difficult, and never more difficult than in such a case as the present. I frankly confess that to set down in bald print and in definite language wherein consists the essentially Dickensian humor in the use of the word "gentleman" baffles me. The thing is too subtle and elusive. It evades grasp. One can only say, "Read him in his whimsical moods, and you cannot fail to feel what I mean." It is difficult to explain the ever-fresh joke in his use of the word, but the joke is none the less there, all the same, almost every time the word "gentleman" crops up. Perhaps the humor of it lies in contrast, the implied contrast between the nobleness of the word itself and the ignobleness of many who, with no shadow of right, lay claim to the title. It is on this contrast between pretension and reality, so often seen in real life, that Dickens almost unconsciously seizes, and holds up the poor sham to eternal ridicule. For instance, in one of the early chapters of Martin Chuzzlewit we have almost a dictionary definition of the Dickensian gentleman. The "gentleman" in this particular case is Mr. Montague Tigg, and he is introduced to the reader as follows:-"It happened then, and lastly, that Mr. Pecksniff found himself immediately
collared by something which smelt like several damp umbrellas, a barrel of beer, a cask of warm brandy and water, and a small parlor full of stale tobacco smoke, mixed: and . . . found himself standing opposite to, and in the grasp of, a perfectly strange gentleman of still stranger appearance, who with his disengaged hand rubbed his own head very hard, and looked at him, Pecksniff, with an evil countenance." Then follows the definition by the author himself of the typical Dickensian "gentleman":-"The gentleman was of that order of appearance which is currently termed shabby genteel... He was very dirty and very jaunty; very bold and very mean; very swaggering and very slinking; very much like a man who might have been something better, and unspeakably like a man who deserved to be something worse." "Pulling up one's shirt collar" seems to have been the approved mode of swaggering and looking big in the early years of the nineteenth century, though the operation is one of the mysteries which I have never been able to fathom. Very rich is the description of the impotent efforts of Mr. Tigg in this direction, in the ensuing interview, in the course of which he finds it to be to his interest to make peace with Mr. Pecksniff. "I am proud to know you, and I beg your pardon,' said the gentleman, touching his hat and subsequently diving behind his cravat for his shirt collar, which, however he did not succeed in bringing to the surface 'Very good,' remarked the gentleman With that he made another dive for his shirt collar, and brought up a string." This gentleman is not, to my thinking at least, nearly such an interesting personage when, later in the story, he reappears in fine clothes, and as one of the ordinary villains of the piece.
As another illustration of the skilfu! and humorous use made of the contrast between pretensions and reality,
take this scene from the Pickwick Papers.
Mr. Pickwick, ever ready to embrace an opportunity of studying human nature, allows himself to be introduced to a select club of gentlemen. "A profound silence, quite contrary to Mr. Pickwick's expectation, succeeded. 'You don't find this sort of thing disagreeable, I hope, sir?' said his righthand neighbor, a gentleman in a checked shirt and mosaic studs, with a cigar in his mouth. 'Not in the least,' replied Mr. Pickwick; 'I like it very much, although I am no smoker myself.' 'I should be very sorry to say I wasn't,' interposed another gentleman on the opposite side of the table. 'It's board and lodgings to me, is smoke.' Mr. Pickwick glanced at the speaker, and thought that if it were washing too, it would be all the better."
In the strange vicissitudes of fortune, Mr. Pickwick and Sam Weller find themselves within the walls of the Fleet Prison, and nothing could more aptly illustrate the Dickensian estimate of the Dickensian gentleman than the following passage of arms between Sam and one of the too numerous "gentlemen" denizens of the prison. "Mr. Smangle himself, who was already partially dressed, was seated on his bedstead, occupied in the desperately hopeless attempt of staring Mr. Weller out of countenance
'Well, will you know me again?' said Mr. Smangle with a frown. 'I'd svear to you anyvere's, sir,' replied Sam cheerfully. 'Don't be impertinent to a gentleman, sir,' said Mr. Smangle. 'Not on no account,' replied Sam. 'If you'll tell me w'en he wakes, I'll be upon the wery best extra-super behaviour!' This observation, having a remote tendency to imply that Mr. Smangle was no gentleman, kindled his ire," &c., &c. The prison in fact is full of "gentlemen," or at least of the sorry pretentious ragamuf
fins to whom Dickens with infinite gusto applies the term, from the gentleman who was leaning out of the window endeavoring, with great perseverance, to spit upon the crown of the hat of a personal friend on the parade below, to the "gentleman who fastened his coat all the way up to his chin by means of a pin and a button alternately, had a very coarse red face and looked like a drunken chaplain, which indeed he was." One feels the hopelessness of attempting in cold blood to say exactly wherein the humor lies... One can only feel it, and chuckle in silence over it.
Let us look now at the "gentleman" where he is spoken of more genially and with less manifest contempt, but in a manner none the less characteristic. Examples so crowd upon one that it is difficult to make a selection. To take one almost at random, when that most real and lovable of all Dickens's female characters, Esther Summerson, is speaking of the pictures in: her room in Bleak House, she describes one which represented "four angels of Queen Anne's reign taking a complacent gentleman to heaven, in festoons, with some difficulty." By the way, we know that gentleman. We haveall met him. We know how complacent he would be in the circumstances; how he would enjoy the angelic escort-and the festoons; how surprised he would be at there being any difficulty about his aerial transit, suggestive perhaps of a doubt (not hitherto in his mind) as to his ultimate destination! Here, again, the introduction of the term "gentleman" is truly Dickepsian.
To refer to the Pickwick Papers once more; in these immortal memoirs, Dickens revels among his own peculiar gentlemen. The Pickwickian gentleman is almost always qualified by some ridiculous peculiarity of dress or general appearance. For instance, in
bringing the Muggletonian cricketers upon the scene ("all Muggleton against an eleven of Dingley Dell"), he introduces us to several of the real sort. " 'You had better step into the marquee, I think, sir,' said one very stout gentleman whose body and legs looked like half a gigantic roll of flannel, elevated on a couple of inflated pillow cases. 'You'll find it much pleasanter, sir,' urged another stout gentleman, who strongly resembled the other half of the roll of flannel aforesaid." And then, when the match actually begins, it is the gentlemen who all unconsciously provide the rollicking humor of the scene. "Did an elderly gentleman essay to stop the progress of the ball, it rolled between his legs or slipped between his fingers. Did a slim gentleman try to catch it, it struck him on the nose, and bounded pleasantly off with redoubled violence, while the slim gentleman's eyes filled with water and his form writhed in anguish." Here let it be said that the Dickensian gentleman is very often nameless-"a shabby gentleman," "a mottled-faced gentleman," "a placid gentleman," "one very lank gentleman," "a red-faced gentleman,"these are a few of the gentlemen over and over again thrust mockingly upon the reader's notice. Not all are nameless, however, as we have already seen. Two of the very richest of them (in the humorous, though assuredly not in the pecuniary sense) are well known to every Dickens lover. These are Mr. Alfred Jingle ("tall gentleman -dress coat-long legs-thin body?"), and Mr. Micawber. The actual terin "gentleman" is hardly ever applied to these two, or indeed to any who figure largely in the plot of any of the stories. Rather it is applied when a personage, a kind of supernumerary on the stage is sketched, ever mockingly, in a few master strokes, as "one silent gentleman with glazed and fishy eyes,
Dickens, indeed, sometimes carries this anonymity of his gentlemen to extraordinary lengths; it almost seems as if he can't bring himself to depart from the joke by condescending on a name. For instance, in Martin Chuzzlewit, we are introduced to a certain set of "gentlemen" residents in a London boarding-house. One of them, "the youngest gentleman," becomes quite prominent, temporarily and feebly, by his hopeless passion for Miss Mercy Pecksniff. But he is always "the youngest gentleman" until the very last of his hopeless love affair, when we are casually informed that his name is Augustus Moddle! Then we have "the single gentleman" in The Old Curiosity Shop. He first comes upon the scene reading a signboard describing a "first floor to let to a single gentleman." He is a single gentleman. He inquires within. And all through the tortuous mazes of the plot of the tale he is spoken of as "the single gentleman"; indeed, one can hardly tell without studying the book afresh whether his name was Trent or what it was. It is a point of no importance. Would the reader have "Mr. Trent" when he can have "the single gentleman"? One could fill a volume with examples of this inexhaustible vein of humor so peculiar to our author, and many instances which cannot be particularized within the limits of a fugitive paper will occur to every one who knows and loves his Dickens.
But we have said enough to direct attention of Dickens's scholars to this phase of the master's humor. Of course, the word "gentleman" is used in its ordinary sense by Dickens at times as by other writers. When Mr. Pickwick is described as "that immortal gentleman" the term is not applied in the peculiarly Dickensian sense, for Mr. Pickwick is a gentleman always. There are old gentlemen, too, very often clergymen, who are spoken of most respectfully by him. But they are a different class from the "old gen'leman" of Sam Weller's story, who was, Sam rather feared, missing after his (Sam's) parent had (for a consideration) tipped over the coachful of Eatanswill voters into a convenient pond. It was a satisfaction to Mr. Weller, however, to be able to tell Mr. Pickwick that he rather thought that
THE PRISONER OF WAR.
That is what she calls herself, rather than is called by her neighbors. But when the kind folk of Behnsleben speak of Mademoiselle Genlis-Ma'amzelle by this name, they do so without the slightest shade of mockery. For they respect their Prisoner of War, and, do or say what she may, they insist on cherishing a great affection for her.
the old gen'leman's hat was found.
No lover of Dickens will need, one would hope, to have the theme of this paper further elaborated. But two other references may perhaps be allowed. One, with the usual mocking qualification following the application of the term "gentleman" to a low fellow, is a burlesque Dickensian description of a fifth-rate music hall artiste at the piano-"a professional gentleman, with a bluish nose, and his face tied up for the benefit of a toothache." The other is a bitingly sarcastic definition of stupidity. Dickens, speaking of Mr. Pocket's pupil in Great Expectations, says: "Bentley Drummle had come to Mr. Pocket when he was a head taller than that gentleman, and half a dozen heads thicker than most gentlemen." R. T. Young.
Ma'amzelle is small and slight and stoops a little. Her hair is quite white and has pretty waves and pale silver gleams in it. Her flush, which once, they tell you, was quick to come and go, has decided to remain in permanence on her cheeks. This, with the bright flashes of her eyes and a touch of grimness in the lines of her mouth, gives her a somewhat fierce appearance; but no one is afraid of Ma'amzelle-not even the babies. And if you are not of those who can go back
from the sear autumn of the tree to its green youth, you must take it on the word of the older Behnslebenites that Ma'amzelle was once very beautiful.
The Prisoner of War is somewhat careless of her appearance. She might be said to clothe, rather than dress, herself. The general effect is picturesque, and no more unpleasing than any other autumnal untidiness. It is highly characteristic, too, of one who has a fixed idea. And Mademoiselle Genlis has a fixed idea, to the effect that the air of Prussia is unbreathable by human beings. The Prisoner of War has been breathing the air of Prussia for some thirty-five years and shows no acute symptoms of asphyxiation. But that does not make any difference to the fixed idea.
Ma'amzelle is at war with her neighbors, and they are at peace with her. She bristles with hostility to her
surroundings. She accepts no kind offices that are in any way avoidable, and the Behnslebenite is not yet born who would dare to offer the insult of a compliment to the Prisoner of War. But she does not do unto her neighbors as she will have it that they shall do unto her, for she is a very fountain of secret benevolence, and is only rich on dividend days. That she has two sides to her character is not extraordinary, for she has two graves in her heart-a French grave and a Prussian grave.
When Behnsleben society speaks of Mademoiselle Genlis, it more than occasionally assumes a pitiful air, gives a knowing wag of its collective head and whispers not unkindly, "Just a little you understand?" But it has no monopoly in this; for when Ma'amzelle speaks of Behnsleben society she frowns, purses up her lips, raps herself upon the forehead with anything that she has in her hand, her wooden darning-ball generally, for she looks after the hosiery of a small regiment of motherless children, and says sharply and firmly, "Mad-all mad!" Such is the gloomy result of that baleful air of Prussia.
In this point Behnsleben society has right upon its side rather than the Prisoner of War. For in the unwholesome shade of that tree of a fixed idea certain small mental oddities, harmless undergrowths, not unpicturesque, have sprung up. Ma'amzelle is undoubtedly "Just a little you understand?" in more ways than one. She owns to fifty-seven, and neither gallantry nor unkindness can take exception to her calculation. But at fifty-seven those undergrowths of oddities are apt to flourish rather vigorously about the main stem of the fixed idea. So Mademoiselle Genlis is in communication with the spirits: she writes poetry that makes you fancy that you yourself must be "Just a little you under
stand?" and she has for several years been on the point of revolutionizing the world with a succession of small inventions.
If you, a stranger to the town, met Ma'amzelle in the Behnsleben drawing-room-for she cannot entirely neglect her social duties-she will most probably flatter you by asking you with which of the monarchs of Europe you are best acquainted personally. This information gained, she will very nicely request you to be good enough to "push" her four-eyed needle-the latest world-upheaver-at your favorite royal or imperial court. It will occur to you, after your ready compliance with this reasonable demand, that you would make yourself highly unpopular by pushing a needle, fourheaded and one-pointed, at court or anywhere else, and you will be more guarded when the next invention is brought under your notice. Such, for instance, as a signpost that is at the same time a weathercock and an appliance for eating bread-and-butter gracefully and greaselessly.
The patriotism of the Prisoner of War is intense, the very sap and vi tality of that fixed idea. On Sedan Day, when bunting flaps the poisonous air of Prussia, and the schools with their bands and flags and escorts of flags very solemn-and ribbons and brand new caps traverse the town in deliberate procession, singing "Ich hatt' einen Kameraden," Ma'amzelle shuts herself up in her house, pulls down the blinds, and prays for her beloved France. It is from Paris that her prayers and her thoughts mount up: for she cannot bring herself to think that any of the bases of God's throne are laid in Prussia.
Ma'amzelle's chief work lies in the prisoners' corner of the Friedhof-the cemetery, the Court of Peace-where she saves the not ungrateful municipality a gardener. The passers-by