Charles Dickens

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The tragedy of life is not so much what men suffer, but rather what they miss.
Thomas Carlyle
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No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of it to anyone else.

Charles John Huffam Dickens, FRSA (1812-02-07 - 1870-06-09) was the foremost English novelist of the Victorian era, as well as a vigorous social campaigner.

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Sourced

  • If any one were to ask me what in my opinion was the dullest and most stupid spot on the face of the Earth, I should decidedly say Chelmsford.
    • Letter to Thomas Beard (January 11, 1835), in Madeline House, et al., The Letters of Charles Dickens (1965), p. 53.
  • To conceal anything from those to whom I am attached, is not in my nature. I can never close my lips where I have opened my heart.
  • The bright old day now dawns again; the cry runs through the the land,
    In England there shall be dear bread—in Ireland, sword and brand;
    And poverty, and ignorance, shall swell the rich and grand,
    So, rally round the rulers with the gentle iron hand,
    Of the fine old English Tory days;
    Hail to the coming time!
    • The Fine Old English Gentleman (1841)
  • Wherever religion is resorted to as a strong drink, and as an escape from the dull, monotonous round of home, those of its ministers who pepper the highest will be the surest to please. They who strew the Eternal Path with the greatest amount of brimstone, and who most ruthlessly tread down the flowers and leaves that grow by the wayside, will be voted the most righteous; and they who enlarge with the greatest pertinacity on the difficulty of getting into heaven will be considered, by all true believers, certain of going there: though it would be hard to say by what process of reasoning this conclusion is arrived at.
    • American Notes (1842), ch. 3
  • I am quite serious when I say that I do not believe there are, on the whole earth besides, so many intensified bores as in these United States. No man can form an adequate idea of the real meaning of the word, without coming here.
    • Comment, March 1842, while on an American tour. Quoted in Hesketh Pearson's Dickens, ch. 8 (1949)
  • O let us love our occupations,
    Bless the squire and his relations,
    Live upon our daily rations,
    And always know our proper stations.
  • La difficulté d'écrire l'anglais m'est extrêmement ennuyeuse. Ah, mon Dieu ! si l'on pouvait toujours écrire cette belle langue de France!
    • Translation: The difficulty of writing English is most tiresome to me. My God! If only we could write this beautiful language of France at all times!
    • Letter to John Foster (1850-07-07)
  • It was a good thing to have a couple of thousand people all rigid and frozen together, in the palm of one's hand.
    • About having a book
    • Letter to Mrs. Richard Watson (1857-12-07)
  • I have known a vast quantity of nonsense talked about bad men not looking you in the face. Don't trust that conventional idea. Dishonesty will stare honesty out of countenance, any day in the week, if there is anything to be got by it.
  • Resisting the slow touch of a frozen finger tracing out my spine.

Sketches by Boz (1836-1837)

  • The dignity of his office is never impaired by the absence of efforts on his part to maintain it.
    • Our Parish, ch. 1
  • He is not, as he forcibly remarks, ‘one of those fortunate men who, if they were to dive under one side of a barge stark–naked, would come up on the other with a new suit of clothes on, and a ticket for soup in the waistcoat–pocket:’ neither is he one of those, whose spirit has been broken beyond redemption by misfortune and want. He is just one of the careless, good–for–nothing, happy fellows, who float, cork–like, on the surface, for the world to play at hockey with: knocked here, and there, and everywhere: now to the right, then to the left, again up in the air, and anon to the bottom, but always reappearing and bounding with the stream buoyantly and merrily along.
    • Our Parish, ch. 5
  • The civility which money will purchase, is rarely extended to those who have none.
    • Our Parish, ch. 5
  • I used to sit, think, think, thinking, till I felt as lonesome as a kitten in a wash–house copper with the lid on.
    • Our Parish, ch. 5
  • Reflect upon your present blessings — of which every man has many — not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.
    • Characters, ch. 2
  • Minerva House ... was "a finishing establishment for young ladies," where some twenty girls of the ages from thirteen to nineteen inclusive, acquired a smattering of everything and a knowledge of nothing.
    • Tales, ch. 3

The Old Curiosity Shop (1841)

  • What is the odds so long as the fire of soul is kindled at the taper of conwiviality, and the wing of friendship never moults a feather! What is the odds so long as the spirit is expanded by means of rosy wine, and the present moment is the least happiest of our existence!
    • Ch. 2
  • She's the ornament of her sex.
    • Ch. 5
  • Fan the sinking flame of hilarity with the wing of friendship; and pass the rosy wine.
    • Ch. 7
  • Send forth the child and childish man together, and blush for the pride that libels our own old happy state, and gives its title to an ugly and distorted image.
    • Ch. 12
  • The very dogs were all asleep, and the flies, drunk with moist sugar in the grocer’s shop, forgot their wings and briskness, and baked to death in dusty corners of the window.
    • Ch. 27
  • In mind, she was of a strong and vigorous turn, having from her earliest youth devoted herself with uncommon ardour to the study of the law; not wasting her speculations upon its eagle flights, which are rare, but tracing it attentively through all the slippery and eel-like crawlings in which it commonly pursues its way.
    • Ch. 33
  • Under an accumulation of staggerers, no man can be considered a free agent. No man knocks himself down; if his destiny knocks him down, his destiny must pick him up again.
    • Ch. 34
  • It was a maxim with Mr. Brass that the habit of paying compliments kept a man’s tongue oiled without any expense; and that, as that useful member ought never to grow rusty or creak in turning on its hinges in the case of a practitioner of the law, in whom it should be always glib and easy, he lost few opportunities of improving himself by the utterance of handsome speeches and eulogistic expressions.
    • Ch. 35
  • In love of home, the love of country has its rise.
    • Ch. 38
  • That vague kind of penitence which holidays awaken next morning.
    • Ch. 40
  • If there were no bad people, there would be no good lawyers.
    • Ch. 56
  • "Did you ever taste beer?" "I had a sip of it once," said the small servant. "Here's a state of things!" cried Mr Swiveller, raising his eyes to the ceiling. "She never tasted it — it can't be tasted in a sip!"
    • Ch. 57
  • You will not have forgotten that it was a maxim with Foxey — our revered father, gentlemen — "Always suspect everybody." That's the maxim to go through life with!
    • Ch. 66

Barnaby Rudge (1841)

  • And you'd find your father rather a tough customer in argeyment, Joe, if anybody was to try and tackle him.
    • Ch. 1
  • Mrs Varden was a lady of what is commonly called an uncertain temper — a phrase which being interpreted signifies a temper tolerably certain to make everybody more or less uncomfortable.
    • Ch. 7
  • Whether they were right or wrong in this conjecture, certain it is that minds, like bodies, will often fall into a pimpled ill-conditioned state from mere excess of comfort, and like them, are often successfully cured by remedies in themselves very nauseous and unpalatable.
    • Ch. 7
  • To be shelterless and alone in the open country, hearing the wind moan and watching for day through the whole long weary night; to listen to the falling rain, and crouch for warmth beneath the lee of some old barn or rick, or in the hollow of a tree; are dismal things—but not so dismal as the wandering up and down where shelter is, and beds and sleepers are by thousands; a houseless rejected creature.
    • Ch. 18
  • "There are strings," said Mr Tappertit, flourishing his bread-and- cheese knife in the air, "in the human heart that had better not be wibrated. That's what's the matter."
    • Ch. 22
  • The serjeant was describing a military life. It was all drinking, he said, except that there were frequent intervals of eating and love-making.
    • Ch. 31
  • Oh gracious, why wasn't I born old and ugly?
    • Ch. 70
  • The men who learn endurance, are they who call the whole world brother.
    • Ch. 79

Dombey and Son (1846-1848)

  • He’s tough, ma’am,—tough is J. B.; tough and devilish sly.
    • Ch. 7
  • "I want to know what it says," he answered, looking steadily in her face. "The sea Floy, what is it that it keeps on saying?"
    • Ch. 8
  • "Wal'r, my boy," replied the Captain, "in the Proverbs of Solomon you will find the following words, 'May we never want a friend in need, nor a bottle to give him!' When found, make a note of."
    • Ch. 15
  • Cows are my passion.
    • Ch. 21
  • The bearings of this observation lays in the application on it.
    • Ch. 23
  • If you could see my legs when I take my boots off, you'd form some idea of what unrequited affection is.
    • Ch. 48
  • …vices are sometimes only virtues carried to excess!
    • Ch. 48


Bleak House (1852-1853)

  • Jarndyce and Jarndyce drones on. This scarecrow of a suit, has, in course of time, become so complicated that no man alive knows what it means. The parties to it understand it least; but it has been observed that no two Chancery lawyers can talk about it for five minutes, without coming to total disagreement as to all the premises.
    • Ch. 1
  • He is a gentleman of strict conscience, disdainful of all littleness and meanness and ready on the shortest notice to die any death you may please to mention rather than give occasion for the least impeachment of his integrity. He is an honourable, obstinate, truthful, high-spirited, intensely prejudiced, perfectly unreasonable man.
    • Ch. 2
  • "Oh, dear no, miss," he said. "This is a London particular." I had never heard of such a thing. "A fog, miss," said the young gentleman. "Oh, indeed!" said I.
    • Ch. 3
  • I only ask to be free. The butterflies are free. Mankind will surely not deny to Harold Skimpole what it concedes to the butterflies!
    • Ch. 6
  • Not to put too fine a point on it.
    • Ch. 11
  • He had a cane, he had an eye-glass, he had a snuff-box, he had rings, he had wristbands, he had everything but any touch of nature; he was not like youth, he was not like age, he was not like anything in the world but a model of deportment.
    • Ch. 14
  • Mr. Chadband is a large yellow man, with a fat smile, and a general appearance of having a good deal of train oil in his system.
    • Ch. 19
  • It’s my old girl that advises. She has the head. But I never own to it before her. Discipline must be maintained.
    • Ch. 27
  • It is a melancholy truth that even great men have their poor relations.
    • Ch. 28
  • Not to put too fine a point upon it.
    • Chapter 32.
  • Take care, while you are young, that you can think in those days, 'I never whitened a hair of her dear head, I never marked a sorrowful line in her face!' For of all the many things that you can think when you are a man, you had better have that by you, Woolwich!
    • Ch.34
  • Dead, your Majesty. Dead, my lords and gentlemen. Dead, Right Reverends and Wrong Reverends of every order. Dead, men and women, born with Heavenly compassion in your hearts. And dying thus around us every day.
    • Ch. 47

Hard Times (1854)

  • Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!
    • Bk. I, Ch. 1
  • Oh my friends, the down-trodden operatives of Coketown! Oh my friends and fellow-countrymen, the slaves of an ironhanded and a grinding despotism! Oh my friends and fellow-sufferers, and fellow-workmen, and fellow-men! I tell you that the hour is come, when we must rally round one another as One united power, and crumble into dust the oppressors that too long have battened upon the plunder of our families, upon the sweat of our brows, upon the labour of our hands, upon the strength of our sinews, upon the God-created glorious rights of Humanity, and upon the holy and eternal privileges of Brotherhood!
    • Bk. II, Ch. 4
  • There is a wisdom of the Head, and ... there is a wisdom of the Heart.
    • Bk. III, Ch. 1

Little Dorrit (1855-1857)

  • A prison taint was on everything there. The imprisoned air, the imprisoned light, the imprisoned damps, the imprisoned men, were all deteriorated by confinement. As the captive men were faded and haggard, so the iron was rusty, the stone was slimy, the wood was rotten, the air was faint, the light was dim. Like a well, like a vault, like a tomb, the prison had no knowledge of the brightness outside; and would have kept its polluted atmosphere intact, in one of the spice islands of the Indian Ocean.
    • Bk. I, Ch. 1
  • I am the only child of parents who weighed, measured, and priced everything; for whom what could not be weighed, measured, and priced, had no existence.
    • Bk. I, Ch. 2
  • The Circumlocution Office was (as everybody knows without being told) the most important Department under Government. No public business of any kind could possibly be done at any time without the acquiescence of the Circumlocution Office. Its finger was in the largest public pie, and in the smallest public tart. It was equally impossible to do the plainest right and to undo the plainest wrong without the express authority of the Circumlocution Office.
    • Bk. I, Ch. 10
  • Whatever was required to be done, the Circumlocution Office was beforehand with all the public departments in the art of perceiving — HOW NOT TO DO IT.
    • Bk. I, Ch. 10
  • The Barnacles were a very high family, and a very large family. They were dispersed all over the public offices, and held all sorts of public places. Either the nation was under a load of obligation to the Barnacles, or the Barnacles were under a load of obligation to the nation. It was not quite unanimously settled which; the Barnacles having their opinion, the nation theirs.
    • Bk. I, Ch. 10
  • A person who can't pay, gets another person who can't pay, to guarantee that he can pay. Like a person with two wooden legs getting another person with two wooden legs, to guarantee that he has got two natural legs. It don't make either of them able to do a walking match.
    • Bk. I, Ch. 23
  • I revere the memory of Mr. F. as an estimable man and most indulgent husband, only necessary to mention Asparagus and it appeared or to hint at any little delicate thing to drink and it came like magic in a pint bottle; it was not ecstasy but it was comfort.
    • Bk. I, Ch. 24
  • "Papa is a preferable mode of address," observed Mrs General. "Father is rather vulgar, my dear. The word Papa, besides, gives a pretty form to the lips. Papa, potatoes, poultry, prunes, and prism are all very good words for the lips: especially prunes and prism. You will find it serviceable, in the formation of a demeanour, if you sometimes say to yourself in company — on entering a room, for instance — Papa, potatoes, poultry, prunes and prism, prunes and prism.
    • Bk. II, Ch. 5
  • Whatever was required to be done, the Circumlocution Office was beforehand with all the public departments in the art of perceiving HOW NOT TO DO IT.
    • Bk. II, Ch. 10
  • Once a gentleman, and always a gentleman.
    • Bk. II, Ch. 28

Great Expectations (1860-1861)

  • Mrs. Joe was a very clean housekeeper, but had an exquisite art of making her cleanliness more uncomfortable and unacceptable than the dirt itself. Cleanliness is next to Godliness, and some people do the same by religion.
    • Ch. 4
  • In the little world in which children have their existence whosoever brings them up, there is nothing so finely perceived and so finely felt, as injustice. It may be only small injustice that the child can be exposed to; but the child is small, and its world is small, and its rocking-horse stands as many hands high, according to scale, as a big-boned Irish hunter.
    • Ch. 9
  • That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But, it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different it's course would have been. Pause you who read this, and think for the moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.
    • Ch. 9
  • My guiding star always is, Get hold of portable property.
    • Ch. 24
  • Throughout life, our worst weaknesses and meannesses are usually committed for the sake of the people we most despise.
    • Ch. 27
  • Pip, dear old chap, life is made of ever so many partings welded together...
    • Ch. 27
  • All the truth of my position came flashing on me; and its disappointments, dangers, disgraces, consequences of all kinds, rushed in in such a multitude that I was borne down by them and had to struggle for every breath I drew.
    • Ch. 39
  • Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence. There's no better rule.
  • Ch. 40
  • Compeyson's business was the swindling, hand writing forging, stolen bank-note passing, and such-like. All sorts of traps as Compeyson could set with his head, and keep his own legs out of and get the profits from and let another man in for, was Compeyson's business. He'd no more heart than a iron file he was as cold as death, and he had the head of the Devil afore mentioned.
    • Ch. 42

Our Mutual Friend (1864-1865)

  • 'And if it's proud to have a heart that never hardens, and a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts,' Miss Jenny struck in, flushed, 'she is proud. And if it's not, she is NOT.'
    • Bk. I, Ch. 2
  • Money and goods are certainly the best of references.
    • Bk. I, Ch. 4
  • Professionally he declines and falls, and as a friend he drops into poetry.
    • Bk. I, Ch. 5
  • I want to be something so much worthier than the doll in the doll's house.
    • Bk. I, Ch. 55
  • I don't care whether I am a Minx or a Sphinx.
    • Bk. II, Ch. 8
  • "And if it's proud to have a heart that never hardens, and a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts," Miss Jenny struck in, flushed, "she is proud."
    • Bk. III, Ch. 2
  • That's the state to live and die in!...R-r-rich!
    • Bk. III, Ch. 5
  • We must scrunch or be scrunched.
    • Bk. III, Ch. 5
  • 'No one is useless in this world,' retorted the Secretary, 'who lightens the burden of it for any one else.'
    • Bk. III, Ch. 9

Unsourced

  • A day wasted on others is not wasted on one's self.
  • Electric communication will never be a substitute for the face of someone who with their soul encourages another person to be brave and true.
  • The Northern onslaught upon slavery was no more than a piece of specious humbug designed to conceal its desire for economic control of the Southern states.

Misattributed

  • "Well, every one for himself, and Providence for us all--as the elephant said when he danced among the chickens."

About Charles Dickens

  • The soul of Hogarth has migrated into the body of Dickens.
  • There is no contemporary English writer whose works are read so generally through the whole house, who can give pleasure to the servants as well as to the mistress, to the children as well as to the master.
  • He describes London like a special correspondent for posterity.
  • The greatest of superficial novelists... It were, in our opinion, an offense against humanity to place Mr Dickens among the greatest novelists.
  • He had a large loving mind and the strongest sympathy with the poorer classes. He felt sure a better feeling, and much greater union of classes, would take place in time. And I pray earnestly it may.
  • Dickens was a pure modernist — a leader of the steam-whistle party par excellence — and he had no understanding of any power of antiquity except a sort of jackdaw sentiment for cathedral towers. He knew nothing of the nobler power of superstition — was essentially a stage manager, and used everything for effect on the pit. His Christmas meant mistletoe and pudding — neither resurrection from dead, nor rising of new stars, nor teaching of wise men, nor shepherds. His hero is essentially the ironmaster.
  • The art of Dickens was the most exquisite of arts: it was the art of enjoying everybody. Dickens, being a very human writer, had to be a very human being; he had his faults and sensibilities in a strong degree; and I do not for a moment maintain that he enjoyed everybody in his daily life. But he enjoyed everybody in his books: and everybody has enjoyed everybody in his books even till to-day. His books are full of baffled villains stalking out or cowardly bullies kicked downstairs. But the villains and cowards are such delightful people that the reader always hopes the villain will put his head through a side window and make a last remark; or that the bully will say one more thing, even from the bottom of the stairs. The reader really hopes this; and he cannot get rid of the fancy that the author hopes so too.
    • G. K. Chesterton, The Victorian Age in Literature (1913) [University of Notre Dame Press, 1963], Ch. II: The Great Victorian Novelists (p. 60)
  • Dickens did not merely believe in the brotherhood of man in the weak modern way; he was the brotherhood of man, and knew it was a brotherhood in sin as well as in aspiration.
    • G.K. Chesterton, The Victorian Age in Literature (1913), Ch. II: The Great Victorian Novelists (p. 62)
  • There is a heartlessness behind his sentimentally overflowing style.
  • When people say Dickens exaggerates, it seems to me they can have no eyes and no ears. They probably have only notions of what things and people are: they accept them conventionally at their diplomatic value. Their minds run on in the region of discourse, where there are masks only, and no faces; ideas and no facts; they have little sense for those living grimaces that play from moment to moment on the countenance of the world.
    • George Santayana, "Dickens," Soliloquies in England and Later Soliloquies (1922)
  • His eye brings in almost too rich a harvest for him to deal with, and gives him an aloofness and a hardness which freeze his sentimentalism and make it seem a concession to the public, a veil thrown over the penetrating glance which left to itself pierced to the bone. With such a power at his command Dickens made his books blaze up, not by tightening the plot or sharpening the wit, but by throwing another handful of people on the fire.
    • Virginia Woolf, "David Copperfield" (1925), The Moment and Other Essays (1947)
  • It does not matter that Dicken's world is not lifelike; it is alive.
  • Dickens attacked English institutions with a ferocity that has never since been approached. Yet he managed to do it without making himself hated, and, more than this, the very people he attacked have swallowed him so completely that he has become a national institution himself.
  • Of all the Victorian novelists, he was probably the most antagonistic to the Victorian age itself.
  • My own experience in reading Dickens...is to be bounced between violent admiration and violent distaste almost every couple of paragraphs, and this is too uncomfortable a condition to be much alleviated by an inward recital of one's duty not to be fastidious, to gulp the stuff down in gobbets like a man.

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