I was reading Sir Alec Guinness's delightful memoir Blessings in Disguise, and this passage about his younger days caught my eye:
". . . It would never have crossed my mind even to step inside a Roman Catholic Church. Tolerance of Catholics, unless one personally knew them, was limited to the sympathetic, although condescending, pages of Barnaby Rudge."
I thought that was rather remarkable. It's well-known that Dickens was not a big fan of Catholics (Pictures from Italy, in particular, makes this very clear). And yet his voice, speaking through the pages of that novel, was the only voice in this young boy's life to call for fairness towards a group that he (Dickens) didn't even like. The word tolerance is too often used to signify "tolerance of everyone who agrees with me about everything." I wish more of us had a little of Dickens's brand of tolerance.
By the way, Guinness eventually became a Catholic. I wonder how Dickens would have felt about the role he played in that conversion.
In 1837, Edward Caswall, using the same publisher and illustrator as the highly successful young Charles Dickens, had a hit with the satirical essay collection Sketches of Young Ladies, describing varying types of ladies: The Romantic Young Lady, The Mysterious Young Lady, The Matter-of-Fact Young Lady, and so forth. Six months later -- as if he weren't busy enough simultaneously writing The Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist -- Dickens published an anonymous sequel to this volume, titled Sketches of Young Gentlemen. Two years later he followed it up with Sketches of Young Couples. All three volumes are offered here, with "Phiz's" original illustrations. Caswall's contribution is quite funny, but Dickens, as you might expect, digs more deeply into his characters (giving them names, expanding their amount of dialogue, and so forth) and so extracts even more amusement from them. As Paul Schlicke observes in his introduction, "The contrasts between Caswall's work and Dickens's highlight the ability of Boz to evoke the distinctiveness of a character in a few swift strokes."
Dickens makes another best-of list. This time it's Dick Datchery landing on a "Best Disguises" list -- even though we don't know for certain that he was wearing a disguise!
Apparently Dickens was quite sarcastic about the pre-Raphaelites -- and a little paranoid (as was already hinted in Pictures from Italy) about Catholicism. Interesting, coming from the author of Barnaby Rudge.
Over the Christmas holidays, you can get a good deal on a stay at a London hotel that was once Dickens's dwelling.
And while we're at it, how about another one, for the teacher who "said that anyone who voluntarily read Charles Dickens in the eighth grade was going to one day be a college professor"? (Too bad I didn't get to that point till the ninth grade!)
I've finished reading Pictures from Italy, and a pleasant journey it has been.
And let us not remember Italy the less regardfully, because, in every fragment of her fallen Temples, and every stone of her deserted palaces and prisons, she helps to inculcate the lesson that the wheel of Time is rolling for an end, and that the world is, in all great essentials, better, gentler, more forbearing, and more hopeful, as it rolls!
Pictures from Italy, "A Rapid Diorama"
Incidentally, the book also contains an essay from All the Year Round, "The Italian Prisoner," including a lengthy anecdote that I wish I could reprint in full. It's only the story of how Dickens got a bottle of wine from Italy back to England for a friend, but, being Dickens, he has you rolling on the floor by the time he's done telling it. Alas, it's far too long to reprint here -- you'll just have to buy the book!
We haven't had a quote from Pictures from Italy in a while (I'm getting close to finishing, but still have a little way to go). I thought this was a pretty memorable one.
A gaunt Franciscan friar, with a wild bright eye, was our only guide, down into this profound and dreadful place. The narrow ways and openings hither and thither, coupled with the dead and heavy air, soon blotted out, in all of us, any recollection of the track by which we had come: and I could not help thinking "Good Heaven, if, in a sudden fit of madness, he should dash the torches out, or if he should be seized with a fit, what would become of us!" On we wandered, among martyrs' graves: passing great subterranean vaulted roads, diverging in all directions, and choked up with heaps of stones, that thieves and murderers may not take refuge there, and form a population under Rome, even worse than that which lives between it and the sun. [Note: Anyone who read Droodwill be having major flashbacks at this point. --GRD] Graves, graves, graves; Graves of men, of women, of their little children, who ran crying to the persecutors, "We are Christians! We are Christians!" that they might be murdered with their parents; Graves with the palm of martyrdom roughly cut into their stone boundaries, and little niches, made to hold a vessel of the martyrs' blood; Graves of some who lived down here, for years together, ministering to the rest, and preaching truth, and hope, and comfort, from the rude altars, that bear witness to their fortitude at this hour; more roomy graves, but far more terrible, where hundreds, being surprised, were hemmed in and walled up: buried before Death, and killed by slow starvation.
"The Triumphs of the Faith are not above ground in our splendid churches," said the friar, looking round upon us, as we stopped to rest in one of the low passages, with bones and dust surrounding us on every side. "They are here! Among the Martyrs' graves!" He was a gentle, earnest man, and said it from his heart; but when I thought how Christian men have dealt with one another; how, perverting our most merciful religion, they have hunted down and tortured, burnt and beheaded, strangled, slaughtered, and oppressed each other; I pictured to myself an agony surpassing any that this Dust had suffered with the breath of life yet lingering in it, and how these great and constant hearts would have been shaken -- how they would have quailed and drooped -- if a foreknowledge of the deeds that professing Christians would commit in the Great Name for which they died, could have rent them with its own unutterable anguish, on the cruel wheel, and bitter cross, and in the fearful fire.
To see it crumbling there, an inch a year; its walls and arches overgrown with green; its corridors open to the day; the long grass growing in its porches; young trees of yesterday, springing up on its ragged parapet, and bearing fruit: chance produce of the seeds dropped there by the birds who build their nests within its chinks and crannies; to see its Pit of Fight filled up with earth, and the peaceful Cross planted in the centre; to climb into its upper halls, and look down on ruin, ruin, ruin; the triumphal arches of Constantine, Septimus Severus, and Titus; the Roman Forum; the Palace of the Caesars; the temples of the old religion, fallen down and gone; is to see the ghost of old Rome, wicked wonderful old city, haunting the very ground on which its people trod. It is the most impressive, the most stately, the most solemn, grand, majestic, mournful sight, conceivable. Never, in its bloodiest prime, can the sight of the gigantic Coliseum, full and running over with the lustiest life, have moved one heart, as it must move all who look upon it now, a ruin. GOD be thanked, a ruin!
The moon was shining when we approached Pisa, and for a long time we could see, behind the wall, the leaning Tower, all awry in the uncertain light; the shadowy original of the old pictures in school-books, setting forth "The Wonders of the World." Like most things connected in their first associations with school-books and school-times, it was too small. I felt it keenly. It was nothing like so high above the wall as I had hoped. It was another of the many deceptions practiced by Mr. Harris, Bookseller, at the corner of St. Paul's Churchyard, London. His Tower was a fiction, but this was a reality -- and, by comparison, a short reality. Still, it looked very well, and very strange, and was quite as much out of the perpendicular as Harris had represented it to be. The quiet air of Pisa too; the big guard-house at the gate, with only two little soldiers in it; the streets with scarcely any show of people in them; and the Arno, flowing quaintly through the centre of the town; were excellent. So, I bore no malice in my heart against Mr. Harris (remembering his good intentions), but forgave him before dinner, and went out, full of confidence, to see the Tower next morning. . . .
Nothing can exceed the grace and lightness of the structure; nothing can be more remarkable than its general appearance. In the course of the ascent to the top (which is by an easy staircase), the inclination is not very apparent; but, at the summit, it becomes so, and gives one the sensation of being in a ship that has heeled over, through the action of an ebb-tide. The effect upon the low side, so to speak -- looking over from the gallery, and seeing the shaft recede to its base -- is very startling; and I saw a nervous traveller hold on to the Tower involuntarily, after glancing down, as if he had some idea of propping it up.
. . . I went off, with a guide, to an old, old garden, once belonging to an old, old convent, I suppose; and being admitted, at a shattered gate, by a bright-eyed woman who was washing clothes, went down some walks where fresh plants and young flowers were prettily growing among fragments of old wall, and ivy-coloured mounds; and was shown a little tank, or water-trough, which the bright-eyed woman -- drying her arms upon her 'kerchief, called "La tomba di Giulietta la sfortunáta." With the best disposition in the world to believe, I could do no more than believe that the bright-eyed woman believed; so I gave her that much credit, and her customary fee in ready money. It was a pleasure, rather than a disappointment, that Juliet's resting-place was forgotten. However consolatory it may have been to Yorick's Ghost, to hear the feet upon the pavement over head, and, twenty times a day, the repetition of his name, it is better for Juliet to lie out of the track of tourists, and to have no visitors but such as come to graves in spring-rain, and sweet air, and sunshine.
I read Romeo and Juliet in my own room at that inn that night -- of course, no Englishman had ever read it there, before -- and set out for Mantua next day at sunrise, repeating to myself (in the coupé of an omnibus, and next to the conductor, who was reading the Mysteries of Paris),
There is no world without Verona's walls But purgatory, torture, hell itself. Hence-banished is banished from the world, And world's exile is death ----
which reminded me that Romeo was only banished five-and-twenty miles after all, and rather disturbed my confidence in his energy and boldness.
Pictures from Italy, "By Verona, Mantua, and Milan, across the Pass of the Simplon into Switzerland"