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The Dickensian
by [?]

“Do you see that angel over there? I think it must be meant for the angel at the sepulchre.”

He saw that I was somewhat singularly moved, and he raised his eyebrows.

“I daresay,” he said. “What is there odd about that?”

After a pause I said, “Do you remember what the angel at the sepulchre said?”

“Not particularly,” he answered; “but where are you off to in such a hurry?”

I walked him rapidly out of the still square, past the fishermen’s almshouses, towards the coast, he still inquiring indignantly where I was going.

“I am going,” I said, “to put pennies in automatic machines on the beach. I am going to listen to the niggers. I am going to have my photograph taken. I am going to drink ginger-beer out of its original bottle. I will buy some picture postcards. I do want a boat. I am ready to listen to a concertina, and but for the defects of my education should be ready to play it. I am willing to ride on a donkey; that is, if the donkey is willing. I am willing to be a donkey; for all this was commanded me by the angel in the stained-glass window.”

“I really think,” said the Dickensian, “that I had better put you in charge of your relations.”

“Sir,” I answered, “there are certain writers to whom humanity owes much, whose talent is yet of so shy or delicate or retrospective a type that we do well to link it with certain quaint places or certain perishing associations. It would not be unnatural to look for the spirit of Horace Walpole at Strawberry Hill, or even for the shade of Thackeray in Old Kensington. But let us have no antiquarianism about Dickens, for Dickens is not an antiquity. Dickens looks not backward, but forward; he might look at our modern mobs with satire, or with fury, but he would love to look at them. He might lash our democracy, but it would be because, like a democrat, he asked much from it. We will not have all his books bound up under the title of ‘The Old Curiosity Shop.’ Rather we will have them all bound up under the title of ‘Great Expectations.’ Wherever humanity is he would have us face it and make something of it, swallow it with a holy cannibalism, and assimilate it with the digestion of a giant. We must take these trippers as he would have taken them, and tear out of them their tragedy and their farce. Do you remember now what the angel said at the sepulchre? ‘Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here; he is risen.'”

With that we came out suddenly on the wide stretch of the sands, which were black with the knobs and masses of our laughing and quite desperate democracy. And the sunset, which was now in its final glory, flung far over all of them a red flush and glitter like the gigantic firelight of Dickens. In that strange evening light every figure looked at once grotesque and attractive, as if he had a story to tell. I heard a little girl (who was being throttled by another little girl) say by way of self-vindication, “My sister-in-law ‘as got four rings aside her weddin’ ring!”

I stood and listened for more, but my friend went away.