There is another striking incident in his life w neither I nor anyone present at the time could by any forget. That was the occasion of his Farewell reading in St. James's Hall in January 1870, which has been so graphically described in Forster's Life . His health had been failing for some months past; his readings had been peremptorily stopped by his doctor , but on this occasion he was not to be denied. He read the Christmas Carol and the Trial from Pickwick to a crowded and a brilliant audience, and I remember we all thought at the time that he had surpassed himself. The solemn and pathetic moment came, however, when he shut his book, and, in the dead silence of the hall, said-alluding to the forthcoming publication of Edwin Drood-" In but two short weeks from this time I hope that you may enter in your own homes on a new series at which my assistance will be indispensable ; but from these garish lights I vanish now for evermore with a heartfelt, grateful, respectful, affectionate farewell." When he ceased to speak a kind of sigh seemed to come from the audience, followed almost at once by such a storm of cheering as I have never seen equalled in my life. He was deeply touched that night, but infinitely sad and broken.
On Twelfth Night, 1870, 1 accompanied him to Birmingham, when he went there to deliver his inaugural address as president of the Birmingham and Midland Institute, on which occasion he made a speech of extraordinary interest and power, which possibly some people may still remember. At the time he delivered this address the name of John Bright was a name to conjure with in such an audience of artisans. The hall was packed, and he was greeted with acclamation. It was on this occasion that he told his audience " that they should value self-improvement, not because it led to fortune, but because it was good and right in itself; counselled them in regard to it that genius was not worth half so much as attention or the art of taking an immense deal of pains, which he declared to be, in every study and pursuit, the one sole safe, certain remunerative quality," and he summed up briefly his political belief: " My faith in the people governing is, on the whole, infinitesimal ; my faith in the People governed is, on the whole, illimitable." All this was received with the greatest enthusiasm ; but the applause was as nothing compared with that which broke out when hegave the quotation, ” I would be bright and shine in gold." With the name of Bright ringingin their cars the whole audience were on their feet and simply " rose " at him. It was a wonderful sight, and one it was impossible to forget. Next day I accompanied him over some of the large factories, and as we walked through the crowded rooms, perspiring, smokebegrimed workmen kept stopping me to ask me., Is that Charles Dickens -is that Charles Dickens ?
I do not pause to describe the first reading he gave to an audience to the undergraduates at Cambridge at which I was present, except to say that his reception was such as to astonish even himself; but I cannot pass over the impression which was made upon me on the occasion of my youngest brother leaving England for Australia. I accompanied him to Plymouth, and the leave-taking between my father and him was on the platform at Paddington Station. The scene that followed was tragic in its emotional intensity.My father openly gave way to his intense grief quite regardless of his surroundings, and I do not think I had ever fully realised till then the depth of his affection towards his children.
One last impression, a curious one, was of something that took place at Christmas, 1869, the Christmas before his death. He had been ailing very much and greatly troubled with his leg, which had been giving him much pain ; so he was lying on a sofa one evening after dinner, while the rest of the party were playing games. I should say here, truly enough, that at this time I had not the faintest idea that he had gone through those terrible days when, as quite a child, he tied up bottles of blacking for a small pittance. I knew, in a general sort of way, that David Copperfield to a certain extent portrayed some of his own life ; but it never entered my mind that he had gone through this pitiable struggle until Forster's Life was published, in which was contained my father's fragment of autobiography.
We had been playing a game that evening known as The Memory Game," in which, after a while, my father joined, throwing all his energy into it, as he always did in anything he put his hand to. One of the party started by giving a name, such as, for instance, Napoleon. The next person had to repeat this and add something of his own, such as Napoleon, Blackbeetle, and so on, until the string of names began to get long and difficult to remember. My father, after, many turns, had successfully gone through the long string of words, and finished up with his own contribution, ”Warren's Blacking, 30, Strand." He gave this with an odd twinkle in his eye and a strange inflection in his voice which at once forcibly arrested my attention and left a vivid impression on my mind for some time afterwards. Why, I could not, for the life of me, understand. When, however, his tragic history appeared in Forster's Life, this game at Christmas, 1869, flashed across my mihd with extraordinary force, and the mystery was explained. The words of that bit of autobiography are probably well known to many people ; but to give point to my story I think that an extract from it should be repeated here :
" No words can express the secret agony of my soul as I sunk into this companionship, compared these everyday associates with those of my happier childhood, and felt my early hopes of growing to be a learned and distinguished man crushed in my breast. The deep remembrance of the sense I had of being utterly neglected and hopeless ; of the shame I felt in MY position ; of the misery it was to my young heart to believe that, day by day, what I had learned and thought and delighted in and raised my fancy and my emulation up by, was passing away from me, never to be brought back any more, cannot be written." When I had read this my reverence for his memory increased a thousandfold. This made everything clear to me. His manner, the intonation of his voice when he gave us his cue on that Christmas night, were explained. At that time, when the stroke which killed him was gradually overpowering him, his mind reverted to the struggles and degradation of his childhood, which had caused him such intense agony of mind, and which he had never been able entirely to cast from him.
He was particularly tidy, both in his dress and in his habits ; in dress, always neat and dapper, but with a marked inclina-tion to somewhat bright-not to say startling-colours, especially in the matter of 'waistcoats. In his habits his methods of tidiness were very marked, so pronounced, indeed, as to fail to meet with the entire approval of us small boys. There was a practice among us, which was rigidly adhered to and which went by the name of " Pegs, Parade, and Custos." To each boy was appropriated a particular peg for his hat and coats : a parade was held once a week for overhauling the inevitable fresh stainson our garments ; and one of us was deputed in turn to be the general custodian of the implements of the games, whose duty it was to collect them at the end of the day and put them in their appointed places. Now there was nothing, I suppose, in these simple rules of conduct to which any reasonable person couldhave taken exception ; but then small boys, I appr hend, do not, as a rule, fall within that category. It is not very astonishing, therefore, that they were received by us with mingled feelings of dislike and resentrnent. It is true we gave no open utterance to our feelings of antagonism. That we dare not do. Our resentment took another form, the more insidious form of deeply whispered mut-terings among ourselves on the subjects of " slavery," " degradation," and so forth, which, while being somewhat transpontine in their character and wholly ineffective in their results, still served as a kind of safety-valve and helped to soothe our ruffled feelings.
It is well known that he was a great public speaker and thoroughly understood the art of making himself heard by his audience. Upon the occasion of my making my first speech at the Cambridge University Union in February I870, he wrote me a letter which I reproduce, although it has been published in his Letters, because it so graphically and comprehensively lays down what is required of a speaker when addressing a large audience :
" MY DEAR HARRY, -I am very glad to hear that you have made such a good start at the Union. Take any amount of pains about it ; open your mouth well and roundly ; speak to the last person visible, and give yourself time.”
He taught me to write shorthand, and in the course of his teaching his sense of fun was manifested in delightfully humorous fashion. The system he used was based upon Gurney's, but with many improvements and " arbitrary characters " created by himself. I made good progress under his tuition until the time came when I was sufficiently advanced to take down, in a more or less inaccurate and incomplete form, what he dictated to me. It was then that the trouble began. To take down anything correctly at that period of my training was quite difficult enough in itself. He would insist, however, on adding to my difficulties by the character of the speeches he delivered-speeches of an absurdly ridiculous and bombastic kind, mock travesties of those which in years gone by he had been in the habit of listening to in the Gallery of the House of Commons' Dear me, how well I remember how he made me laugh! But that was not the worst of it, because whilst I was struggling with my laughter his denunciation of his imaginary opponent increased in volume and intensity. So much so, indeed, that between the two I was soon reduced to a state of helpless imbecility ; with the natural conse-quence that when, in the end, I had to transcribe my notes, I found myself confronted with an immature collection of undecipherable hieroglyphics. I doubt whether any student of shorthand was ever exposed to such a trying test as this.
He was intensely human, and I do not suppose it could be said of him that he was freer from the faults and defects ap-pertaining to humanity than most of us are ; but he was " thorough " to the core, absolutely and entirely sincere and earnest in all he did. He had, in fact, if ever man had, an " infinite power of taking pains, which was, in my judgment, oneof his greatest gifts ; while his active sympathy for the poor and struggling people was never-ending.
His political views were, of course, strongly radical he was very intolerant of much that he found in the body politic. Nor did he see much to admire in Parliament or its methods; but he was absolutely loyal, and was never in any sense of the word a revolutionary. In this,I think, Forster rightly appraised him when he wrote of him, " His wish to better what was bad in English institutions carried with it no desire to replace them by new ones. He had a very strong love of his country, though he himself used to say, laughingly, that his sympathies were so. much with the French that he ought to have been born a Frenchman.
His religious convictions, though he never made a parade of them, were very strong and deep, as appears by the letters he wrote to me and my brothers when we started our careers, as well as in the beautiful words of his will, which are most solemn and impressive in their religious devotion. So strong was this feeling, indeed, that he wrote the simple history of Our Lord's life for us when we were children. The manuscript of this I have in my possession, but my father impressed upon us that, as it was not intended as a literary effort, it was never to be published to the world.
If I were asked, when all is said and done, what is my most abiding memory of him, I should say, beyond all question, it was of his lovable and great-hearted nature-a nature which not only appealed strongly to those who were dear to him, but which also won for him the affection and admiration of all those who were brought into direct association with him.
He died on June 9, 1870, and history will tell you how, when the news came as a shock to the world, a wave of sympathetic grief passed over the country.One instance of this is typica lof the whole:A very dear ry friend of mine told me that he happened to be in a tobacconist's shop that day. Whilst there a working man came in for a screw of tobacco, and, as he threw his twopence on the counter, he said : " Charles Dickens is dead. We have lost our best friend." That was undoubtedly true. It is equally true, however, that this sense of " personal loss " was by no means confined to the working class, for, judging from the enormous number of letters of sympathy we received at the time from total strangers, as well as from others published in the papers at the time, it was made perfectly plain that the same feeling was shared alike by people of all creeds and of all stations in life.
Such are some of my impressions of my father as I knew him. You may discount them as much as you will as emanating from a son who was entirely devoted to him, and whose great pride it is to bear his name ; but this at least I can say, in all honesty, that in my estimate of him I have endeavoured not to allow my- self to drift into language of undue or exaggerated laudation. I believe that I have portrayed him aright. Nay, more, I believe that the picture I have painted of him, however inadequately, will be found to be in absolute accord with the views generally entertained of him by those who hold his memory in reverence.
Since these " Memories " were written there has been published by Mr. Ralph Straus a Biography of my father. Against that book I have no complaint to make, written as it is with discretion and judgment ; though, at the same time, I am bound to admit that I cannot agree with all the conclusions which he draws from the facts he describes. As one instance of this, I am quite unable to accept his description of my father's general character and disposition, which he presents in far too exaggerated and gloomy a light. No doubt, at certain periods of his life my father was intensely depressed and most unhappy. But these phases were intermittent and you have only to read the three volumes of his published letters to see that on the whole he got a keen enjoyment out of life. Speaking of my own experience of him, although like most geniuses he was liable to moods, his general disposition was singularly bright and joyous ; it is, therefore, impossible to say that during that time he lived other than a very happy life.