DOE'S OLIVER TWIST. THE greater part of this production has
already appeared in the monthly numbers of Bentley's Miscellany ; and the enterprising publisher has made the " coming out" of his Oliver an sera, from which to turn over a new leaf in matters of business. In a cir- cular, he tells those whom it may concern, that he is going to reduce the price of his novels, so as to accommodate all the cir- culating libraries at first hand; he dues not intend to take Sir EDWARD BULWER " to Teggy," so soon as heretofore—or, in other words, he will not dispose of his unsold copies (" remainders'') until three years after publication ; and, in common with others of his fellows, he intends to exercise more discrimination in the works to be published,—which is very joyful hearing. At the same time, with a curious inconsistency, while Mr. BENTLEY makes Oliver Twist the pattern book of the new style of business, he charges (for CRUIKSHANK'S etchings, and a superior binding, be it admitted) a shilling more than the pattern price. Had this bibliopolic resolution, and the appearance of Oliver Twist in a collected shape, been the only points in the volumes before us, they would not have called for a very long notice. But the publication enables us to consider two questions that have been mooted with respect to Boz. 1. Has the author capacity to construct a story, or, to speak in the language of art, a fable ?— which point has been raised by the Edinburgh Review. 2. Has he the power of sustaining a continuous interest, or in other words, does he tell as effectively in volumes as in numbers ?— which, not having spoiled our relish by reading the work in the course of its periodical appearance, we are in a condition to speak of. And on both points our opinion leans to the negative. The story of Oliver Twist is altogether improbable. The events are unlike the general course of human affairs either now or at any other period ; and the actor who sets the whole in motion is an unnatural character—his motives are insufficient, his conduct is inconsistent. A parish foundling, such as Oliver Twist appears at the opening, running away from his master and falling among thieves, is nothing very extraordinary. It is not very extraordi- nary, perhaps, for a benevolent old gentleman to patronizi an in- nocent child, whom he was the cause of wrongfully bringing be- fore a police magistrate ; nor for a Jew receiver of stolen goods to be anxious to get back an unwilling pupil, lest he should inform against him. Even Oliver's second escape from the gang, in the burglarious expedition, might be granted to the necessities of fic- tion. But all beyond this in the tale is a violation of nature and probability. Mr. Monks pursuing his illegitimate brother Oliver without motive or object—hunting after a portrait and wedding- ring of no use to anybody—making an extravagant bargain for them in a dismal room over a roaring river by the solitary dip in a lantern, and then theatrically dropping them through a trap- door into the stream—together with all his wanderings in town and out of town in mysterious masquerade, looking the hero of a Minor melodrama—are a bad imitation of bad romances. Whilst the connexion of the benevolent old gentleman and the benevolent young lady with Oliver Twist, one by blood and the other by a family friendship, if in less bad taste, is equally improbable and clumsy.
The defects here indicated are not only faults in themselves, but lead to one of a deeper kind, and injurious to the permanent standing of the work. The want of truth in the story, leaves all the crime and rascality of the book without a general moral lesson. True, indeed, all the guilty die : the wretched girl, attached to the ruffian Sikes, is murdered by him for holding a commu- nication with the benevolent old gentleman, touching Monks and Oliver ; Sikes, after being tormented by his fears, acci- dentally hangs himself whilst endeavouring to escape from the officers ; and the Jew, being taken, is left to the law, as an acces- sory before the fact. But their punishment is not the direct and necessary consequence of their life of crime : it flows from the fortunes of Oliver and the intrigues of' Mr. Monk ; both of which are so extraordinary that no general lesson can be deduced from them.
So much for the structure and conduct of the story. As a
whole, it is exceedingly readable, though not enchaining. Sec- tions once begun, we wish to finish ; but this desire does not extend to the whole story. Part of the want of continuous at- traction is, no doubt, attributable to the structural defect, that vitiates, even when its operation is unseen ; some of it to the necessities of periodical publication, where a certain effect was to be produced in a given space, without regard to the coming or the past. But there are other drawbacks. Boz is not happy in pure narrative ; he is magazinishly diffuse, as if spinning paragraphs : instead of shortening by concentration, he endeavours to make the road pleasant by reflections which are sometimes feeble, and by witticisms often flat. His knowledge of life seems mostly limited to the middling and lower class of Cocknies : hence, except his Londoners. and persons with pecu- liarities and oddities that are sui generis, his characters are either imitations of other authors, or the fictions of his fancy. Such, in the work before us, are Mrs. Maylie the benevolent old lady, Miss Maylie the benevolent young lady, and her lover young Maylie; each of them merely agreeable figures. without substance or individuality. The benevolent old gentleman has more of strength and elaboration than these, but not much more of general nature ; and his friend Mr. Grimwig is a useless bore. A portion of the something which at certain stages of the book almost reaches an indifference to go on, may also arise from the nature of the subject. We are not of those who would banish all that is vulgar and low from the materials of fiction; for wherever action, passion, and character exist, there are elements of interest —unless physical suffering and gross crimes sink every other feeling in disgust. At the same time, such materials should never be made the staple of a long story ; because our sympathies can only occasionally be excited tar the actors, and because, though the higher will always yield mural instruction to the lower, the lower will more rarely yield it to the higher : the ambition of Macbeth, the jealousy of Othello, the solitary fidelity of Abdiel, conveys a lesson which the humblest may apply ; but no one can profit much from the fate of a thief save thieves themselves. In short, the remark of MILTON on satire may have a qualified application to fiction—that it should "not creep into every blind tap-house, that fears a constable more than a satire."
The numerous readers who have been moved to laughter or to sadness, led to grave reflection, or excited to horror, by some of the passages in Oliver Twist, may naturally ask why they and criti- cism so differ? The answer will be, that they have been moved by parts : we are speaking of the work considered as a whole, and testing it by a reference to time, and those models of enduring art with which certain over-zealous claqueurs have challenged comparison. Quitting these larger views, we will go a long way with Boz's admiring readers, and endeavour to point out the sources of their admiration, and the reasons of their idol's success. The Quarterly Review, about a year ago, resolved the popularity of Mr. DICKENS into his " being the first to turn to account the rich and varied stores of wit and humour discoverable amongst the lower classes of the Metropolis, whose language has been hitherto condemned as a poor, bald, dispirited, unadorned,and nearly unintelligible slang, utterly destitute of' feeling, fancy, or force. That this author exhibits genius in embodying London character, and very remarkable skill in making use of peculiarities of expres- sion, even to the current phrases of the day, is undoubtedly true; but he has higher merits, and other elements of success. His powers of pathos, sadly touching rather than tearful, are great ; he has a hearty sympathy with humanity, however de- graded by vice or disguised by circumstances, and a quick percep- tion to detect the existence of the good, however overlaid ; his truth and nature in dialogue are conspicuous to all; he has the great art of bringing his actors and incidents before the reader by a few effective strokes • though deficient in narrative, his descrip- tion is sometimes nicely true, and often powerful ; and his com- mand of language considerable, without his sty le ever appearing forced. In addition to these qualities, he has a manly self-reliance —above all pretence, and all conventional servilities of classes and coteries • nor does he ever, with a sickly vanity, obtrude himself upon the reader's attention. Above all, lie has genius to vivify his observation. Three novelists of the present day have, more or less, chosen somewhat similar subjects; and it is only necessary to compare Boz with his competitors to see at once his preemi- nence. The personages of Hooe are ill-natured and farcical exaggerations of some prevalent weakness, often mere general ab- stractions without marks of individuality : the robbers of AINS- WORTH are dashing, roystering, highspirited blades, with suffi- cient coarseness, but are drawn rather from imagination and the poetry of the " road " than actual life—they are the romance of thievery : Btmwee's "family men" in Pelham and Paul Clifford are only disguised dandies, a ith sentiments drawn from fancy and words from the flash dictionary. But the thieves, their comates, and the Londoners of Boz, are flesh and blood—living creatures. Besides the extrinsic circumstances which we pointed out for- merly* as contributing to the immediate success of this writer, a few others may be named. Appearing in parts, each of which contained something striking and readable for all ranks, his works were the very thing for " the press" to fasten upon, as furnishing a ready means of filling up blank space, without any trouble on the part of the journalist, beyond a hearty panegyric on the writer who had occupied the " abhorred vacuum ;" so that his production really gets a score of " notices," where others, however taking, only.receive one. Boz also very skilfully avails himself of any temporary interest to give piquancy to his pages. When his mat- ter is not sufficiently attractive in itself, he has no objection to paint up to the flaring tastes of the vulgar great and small ; nor does he scruple to avail himself of any current prejudice, whether popular orfeelosophical, without much regard to critical exactness. Thus, Mr. Fang, the Police Magistrate, was a hit at LAING of Hat- ton Garden, whilst that functionary's pranks were full in the public * Spectator, .No. :54:19; 31st March 183S. mind. The earlier workhouse scenes in Oliver Twist, with the hard-hearted indifference of the parochial authorities, the scanty allowance of the paupers, and the brutal insolence of office in the beadle, were intended to chime in with the popular clamour against the New Poor-law : but Boz has combined the severity of the new system with the individual tyranny of the old,—for- getting that responsibility amongst subordinate parish-officers and regularity of management carne in with the Commission- ers. The scenes of pauper misery, whilst Oliver is on liking with the parish undertaker, appear to have been suggested by some in- quests: and there are points thrown out by the Jew to flatter the opponents of capital punishment,—although the tendency of the work is to show that nature and habit cannot be eradicated by a sentimentality which contents itself with substituting a peni- tentiary for a gallows. These things tell with many readers, but they must detract from the permanence of the writer who freely uses them.
To describe at length the story of Oliver Twist would be tedious, and unnecessary : the work, in reality, is a series of sketches of life amongst paupers and thieves,—the former done with point and art; the latter very often with wonderful truth, and always with vigorous power.
The chief characters are, a parish beadle—clever, but slightly caricatured, and depending for his effect upon externals, and the arti- fices of a vicious pronunciation ; Sikes, the housebreaker—the per- fect lose and brutal London ruffian, with scarcely a touch of hu- manity in him, save a sense of fidelity to the gang, and at times some lurking feeling towards his " woman ;" Nancy, the girl herself, is the lowest of the low, but kept short of indelicacy with very nice art, and a true woman in her passions, impulses, and transient touches of compassion ; Fagin, the Jew receiver, and trainer of youth to robbery and prostitution, is " an unredeemed scoundrel," and the most prominent person, laboured with great pains, and powerfully brought out, but, if true to reality, not impressing the reader with his truth.
The following picture of Fagin and Sikes, from the new matter of the last volume, will give a specimen of the graver powers of Boz, where the tnelodraniatist trenches upon the novelist. The scene is a den by Rosemary Lane : Fagin hasjust before discovered that Nancy is in communication with the benevolent yid gentle- man" who patronizes Oliver, It was nearly two hours before daybreak—that time, which in the autumn of the year may be truly called the dead of night, when the streets are silent and deserted, when even sound appears to slumber, and profligacy and riot have staggered home to dream—it was at this still and silent hour that the Jew sat watching in his old lair, with face so distorted and pale, and eyes so red and bloodshot, that he looked less like a man than like some hideous phantom, moist from the grave, and worried by some evil spirit. He sat crouching over a cold hearth, wrapped in an old torn coverlet, with his face turned towards a wasting candle that stood upon a table by his side. His right hand was raised to his lips, and, as absorbed in thought, he bit his long black nails, he disclosed among his toothless gums a few such fangs as should have been a dog's or rat's. Stretched upon a mattress on the floor lay Noah Claypole, fast asleep. Towards him the old man sometimes directed his eyes for an instant, then brought them back again to the candle, which, with long-burnt wick drooping almost double, and hot grease falling down in clots upon the table, plainly showed that his thoughts were busy elsewhere.
Indeed they were. Mortification at the overthrow of his notable scheme, hatred of the girl who bad dared to palter with strangers, an utter distrust of the sincerity of her refusal to yield him up, bitter disappointment at the loss of his revenge on Sikes, the fear of detection and ruin and death, and a fierce and deadly rage kindled by all,—these were the passionate considerations that fol- lowing close upon each other with rapid and ceaseless whirl shot through the brain of Fagin, as every evil thought and blackest purpose lay working at his heart.
Ile sat without changing his attitude in the least, or appearing to take the smallest heed of time, until his quick ear seemed to be attracted by a footstep in the street.
" At last," muttered the Jew, wiping his dry and fevered mouth, " at last."
The bell rang gently as he spoke. He crept up stairs to the door, and pre- sently returned, accompanied by a man muffled to the chin, who carried a bundle under one arm. Sitting down and throwing back his outer coat, the man dis- played the burly frame of Sikes.
" There," he said, laying the bundle on the table. "Take care of that, and do the most you can with it. It's been trouble enough to get; I thought I should have been here duce hours ago."
Fagin laid his hand upon the bundle, and locking it in the cupboard, sat down again without speaking. But he did not take his eyes off the robber for an instant during this action, and now that they sat over against each other, face to face, he looked fixedly at him, with his lips quivering so violently, and his face so altered by the emotions which had mastered turn, that the house- breaker involuntarily drew back his chair, and surveyed him with a look of real affright. Wot now ?" cried Sikes. " Wot do you look at a man so for? Speak, will you ? " The Jew raised his right hand, and shook his trembling forefinger in the air, but his passiuu was so great that the power of speech was for the moment gone. " Damme! " said sikes, feeling in his breast with a look of alarm. "He's gone mad. I must look to myself here." "No, no," rejoined Fagin, finding his voice. "It's not—you're not the person, Bill. I've no--no fault to flora with you." " Oh ! you haven't, haven't you ? " said Sikes, looking sternly' at him, and ostentatiously passing a pistol into a more convenient pocket. " That's lucky— fur one of us. Which one that is, don't matter."
" I've get that to tell you, Bill," said the Jew, drawing his chair nearer, "will make you worse than me." " Ay?" returned the robber, with an incredulous air. " Tell away. Look sharp, or Nance will think I'm lost." " Lost ! " cried Fagin. " She has pretty well settled that in her own mind already."
Sikes looked with an aspect of great perplexity into the Jew's face, and.reaa- ing no satisfactory explanation of the riddle there, clenched his coat collar to his huge hand, and shook him soundly. " Speak, will you! " he said ; "or if you don't, it shall be for want of breath.
Open your mouth and say wot you've got to say in plain words. Out with it, you thundering old cur, out with it." " Suppose that lad that'll lying there—" Fagin began.
Sikes turned round to where Noah was sleeping, as if he had not previously -observed him. " Well," he said, resuming his former position. "Suppose that lad." pursued the Jew, " was to peach—blow upon us all—first seeking out tire right folks for the purpose, and then having a meeting with 'em in the street to paint our likenesses, describe every mark that they might know us by, and the crib where we might be most easily taken. Suppose he was to do all this, and Insides to blow upon a plant we've all been in, more or less, of his own fancy; tort grabbed, trapped, tried, earwigged by the parson and brought to it OD bread and water, but of his own fancy—to please his own taste; stealing Out at night.. to tind those most interested against us, and peaching to them. Do vou hear me?" cried the Jew, his eyes flashing with rage. "Suppose he did all this, what then?"
" What then !" replied Siko, with a tremendous oath. " If he was left alive till I came, I'd grind his skull under the iron heel of my boot into as many grains as there are hairs upon his bead." " What if I did it !" cried the Jew, almost in a yell. " I, that know so much, and could hang so many besides myself! "
"I don't know," replied Sikes, clenching his teeth and turning white at the roue suggestion. " I'd do something in the gaol that 'utl get me put in irons; and if I was tried along with you, l't1 fall upon you with them in the open court, and heat your brain" out afore the people. I should have such strength," muttered the robber, poising his brawny atm, "that 1 could smash your head as if a loaded waggon had gone over it."
" You would."
4, Would I," said the housebreaker. " Try me." "if it was Charley, or the Dodger, or Bet, or—"
" I don't care who," replied Sikes impatiently. " Whoever it was, I'd serve them the same."
Fagin again 1040 hard at the robber, and motioning him to be silent, stooped over the bed upon the floor, and shook the sleeper to rouse him. Sikes leant forward in his chair, looking on with his hands upon his knees as if wondering much what all this questioning and preparation was to end iu. "Bolter, Bolter. Poor lad !" said Fagin, looking up with an expression of devilish anticipation, and speaking slowly and with marked emphasis. " He's tired—tired with watching for her so long—watching for her, Bill."
Wot d'ye mean? " asked Sikes, drawing back. The Jew made no answer, but bending over the sleeper again, hauled him into a sitting posture. When his assumed name had been repeated several time:, Noah rubbed hie eyes, and giving a heavy yawn looked sleepily about him.
" Tell me that again—once again, just for him to hear," said the Jew, pointing to Sikes as he spoke. "Tell yer what ?" asked the sleepy Noah, shaking himself pettishly." "That about---NANCY," said the Jew, clutching Sikes by the wrist, as if to prevent his leaving the house Were be had heard enough." " You followed her"' " Yes."
" To London Bridge?" " Yes."
" Where she met two people?" " So she did."
"A gentleman and a lady that she had gone to of her own accord before, who asked her to give up all her pals, and Monks first, which she did—and to describe him, which she did—and to tell her what house it was that we meet at and go to, which she did—and where it could be best watched from, which sire did—and what time the people went there, which ehedid. She did all this, She told it all, every word without a threat, without a murmur—she did—didn't she?" cried the Jew, half mad with fury.
"All right," replied Noah, scratching his head ; " that's just what it was !" "What did they say about last Sunday? " demanded the Jew.
" About last Sunday !.' replied Noah, considering. " Why, I told yer that before."
" Again. Tell it again !" cried Fagin, tightening his grasp on Sikes, and brandishing his other hand aloft as the foam flew from his lips.
" They asked her," said Noah, who, as he grew more wakeful, seemed to have a dawning perception who Sikes wale, "they asked her why she didn't conic last Sunday as she promised. She said she couldn't—"
" Why—a hy ? " interrupted the Jew triurnpirantly. "Tell him that." "Because she was forcibly kept at borne by Bill, the man she had told them cf before," replied Noah. ‘' What more of him ?" cried the Jew. " What more of the man she had tell them of before? Tell him that, tell him that."
"Why, that she couldn't very easily get out of doors unless he knew where ells wasgoing to," said Noah ; "and so the first time she went to see the lady, she—ha f ha! ha! it made me laugh when she said it, that it did—she gave him a drink of laudanum."
" Hell's fire !" cried Sikes, breaking fiercely from the Jew. " Let me go." "Flinging the old man from hint, he rushed from the room, and darted wildly and furiously up the stairs. " Bill, Bill !" cried the Jew, following him hastily, "a word ; only a word."
The word would not have been exchanged, but that the housebreaker was tunable to open the door, on which he was expending fruitless oaths and vio- lence when the Jew came panting tip. "Let me out," said Sikes; "don't speak to me—it's not safe. Let me out, I say. " Hear me speak a word," rejoined the Jew, laying iris hand upon the lock, "you wont be—" Well," replied the other.
"You won't be—too--violeet, Dill?" whined the Jew.
The they was breaking, and there was light enough for the men to see each ctkez's faces. They exchanged one brief glance; theme was a fire iu the eyes of bah which could not be mistaken.
The murder follows—verging towards the horrible ; and then scenes of Sikes's terror-stricken wandering, his purspit, and death ; and the trial of the Jew,—all powerful, but somewhat literal, and resembling VICTOR Hvoo's school of physical horrors. These, however, we will leave, and take shorter specimens. One faculty cf the writer is, by a selection of seemingly slight, though im- portant circumstances, to suggest a history of foregone conclusions. Such is this passage- lt was Smithfield that they were crossing, although it might have been Gros- venor Square, for any thing Oliver knew to the contrary. The night was dark and foggy. The lights in the shops could scarcely struggle though the heavy mist, which thickened every moment and shrouded the streets and houses in gloom, rendering the strange place still stranger in Oliver's eyes, anti making his uncertainty the more dismal and depressing.
They bad hurried on a few paces, when a deep church hell struck the hour. With its first stroke his two conductors stopped, and turned their heads in the direction whence the sound proceeded. " Eight o'clock, Bill," said Nancy, when the bell ceased. it What's the good of telling me that; I can hear it, can't I?" replied Sikes. " I wonder whether they can hear it," said Nancy.
" Of course they can," replied Sikes. " It was Bartlemy time when I was shopped, and there warn't a penny-trumpet in the fair as I couldn't bear the squeaking on. Arter I was locked up for the night, the row and din outside made the thundering old gaol co silent, that I could almost have beat my head out against the iron plates of the door." " Poor fellows!" said Nancy, who had still her face turned towards the quarter in which the bell haul sounded. " Oh, Bill, such fine young chaps as them !"
" Yes; that's all you women think of," answered Sikes. " Fine young chaps ! Well, they're as good as dead, so it don't much matter." With this consolation Mr. Sikes appeared to repress a rising tendency to jealousy, and, clasping Oliver's wrist more firmly, told hint to step out again. " Wait a minute," said the girl : " I wouldn't hurry by, if it was you that was coming out to be hung the next rime eight o'clock struck, Bill. I'd walk round and round the place till I dropped, if the snow was on the ground and I hadn't a shawl to cover me."
" And what good would that do?" inquired the unsentimental Mr. Sikes. " Unless you could pitch over a file and twenty yards of good stout rope, you might as well be walking fifty mile off, or not walking at all, for all the good it would do me. Come on, will you, and don't stand preaching there." The girl burst into a laugh, drew her shawl more closely round her, and they walked away. But Oliver felt her hand tremble; and, looking up in her face as they passed a gas-lamp, saw that it had turned a deadly white."
A BITTER NIGHT.
The night was bitter cold. The snow lay uponthe ground. frozen into a hard thick crust ; so that only the heaps that had drifted into byways and corners were affected by the sharp wired that howled abroad, which, as if expending in. creased fury on such prey as it found, caught it savagely up in clouds, and, whirling it into a thousand misty eddies, scattered it in air. Bleak, dark, and piercing cold, it was a night for the well-housed and fell to draw round the bright fire and thank God they were at home, and fur the homeless starving wretch to lay him down and die. Many hunger-worn outcasts close their eyes in our bare streets at such times, who, let their crimes have been what they may, can hardly open them in a more bitter world.
EXPRESSION OF DEATH.
Alas! how few of Nature's faces there are to gladden us with their beauty! The cares and sorrows and hungerings of the world change than as they change hearts; and it is only when those passions sleep, and have lost their hold for ever, that the troubled clouds pass off, and leave heaven's surface clear. It is a common thing for the countenances of the dead, even in that fixed and rigid state, to subside into the long•forgotten expression of sleeping infancy, and settle into the very look of early life; so calm, so peaceful do they grow again, that those who knew them in their happy childhood kneel by the cottin's side io awe, and see the angel even upon earth.
SONS OF HARMONY.
The room was illuminated by two gaslights, the glare of which was pre- vented by the barred shutters and closely•drawn curtains of faded red, from being visible outside. The ceiling was blackened to prevent its colour being injured by the flaring of the lamps ; and the place was so full of dense tobacco. smoke, that at first it was scarcely possible to discern any thing further. By degrees, however, as some of it cleared away through the open door, an assem- blage of heads, as confused as the noises that greeted the ear, might be made out ; and, as the eye grew more accustomed to the scene, the spectator gradu- ally became aware of the presence of a numerous company, male and female, crowded round a long table, at the upper end of which sat a chairman with a hammer of office in his hand, while a professional gentleman, with a bluish nose and his face tied up for the benefit of a toothache, presided at a jingling piano in a remote corner.
As Fagin stepped softly in, the professional gentleman, running over the keys by way of prelude, occasioned a general cry of order for a song ; which having subsided, a young lady proceeded to entertain the company with is ballad in four verses, between each of which the accompanyist played the melody all through as loud as he could. When this was over, the chairman gave a senti- ment; after which, the professional gentlemen on the chairman's right and left volunteered a duet, and sang it with great applause. It was curious to observe some faces which stood out prominently from among the group. There was the chairman himself, the landlord of the house; a coarse, rough, heavy-built fellow, who, while the songs were proceeding, rolled his eyes hither and thither, anti, seeming to give himself up to joviality, had an eye for every thing that was done, and an ear for every thing that was said—and sharp ones, too. Near him were the singers, receiving with professional indif- ference the compliments of the company, and applying themselves in turn to a dozen proffered glasses of spirits and water tendered by their more boisterous admirers, whose countenances, expressive of almost every vice in almost every grade, irresistibly attracted the attention by their very repulsiveness. Cunning, ferocity, and drunkenness in all its stages were there in their strongest aspects; and women, some with the last lingering tinge of their early freshness almost fading as you looked, and others with every mark and stamp of their sex utterly beaten out, and presenting but ono loathsome blank of profligacy and crime, some mere girls, others but young women, and mine past the prime of life, formed the darkest and saddest portion of this dreary picture.