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On Charles Dickens's birthday, his letter about a prospective author's manuscript.

OFFICE OF "HOUSEHOLD WORDS," _Monday, June 1st, 1857._


I know that what I am going to say will not be agreeable; but I rely on
the authoress's good sense; and say it, knowing it to be the truth.
These "Notes" are destroyed by too much smartness. It gives the
appearance of perpetual effort, stabs to the heart the nature that is in
them, and wearies by the manner and not by the matter. It is the
commonest fault in the world (as I have constant occasion to observe
here), but it is a very great one. Just as you couldn't bear to have an
épergne or a candlestick on your table, supported by a light figure
always on tiptoe and evidently in an impossible attitude for the
sustainment of its weight, so all readers would be more or less
oppressed and worried by this presentation of everything in one smart
point of view, when they know it must have other, and weightier, and
more solid properties. Airiness and good spirits are always delightful,
and are inseparable from notes of a cheerful trip; but they should
sympathise with many things as well as see them in a lively way. It is
but a word or a touch that expresses this humanity, but without that
little embellishment of good nature there is no such thing as humour. In
this little MS. everything is too much patronised and condescended to,
whereas the slightest touch of feeling for the rustic who is of the
earth earthy, or of sisterhood with the homely servant who has made her
face shine in her desire to please, would make a difference that the
writer can scarcely imagine without trying it. The only relief in the
twenty-one slips is the little bit about the chimes. It _is_ a relief,
simply because it is an indication of some kind of sentiment. You don't
want any sentiment laboriously made out in such a thing. You don't want
any maudlin show of it. But you do want a pervading suggestion that it
is there. It makes all the difference between being playful and being
cruel. Again I must say, above all things--especially to young people
writing: For the love of God don't condescend! Don't assume the attitude
of saying, "See how clever I am, and what fun everybody else is!" Take
any shape but that.

I observe an excellent quality of observation throughout, and think the
boy at the shop, and all about him, particularly good. I have no doubt
whatever that the rest of the journal will be much better if the writer
chooses to make it so. If she considers for a moment within herself, she
will know that she derived pleasure from everything she saw, because she
saw it with innumerable lights and shades upon it, and bound to humanity
by innumerable fine links; she cannot possibly communicate anything of
that pleasure to another by showing it from one little limited point
only, and that point, observe, the one from which it is impossible to
detach the exponent as the patroness of a whole universe of inferior
souls. This is what everybody would mean in objecting to these notes
(supposing them to be published), that they are too smart and too

As I understand this matter to be altogether between us three, and as I
think your confidence, and hers, imposes a duty of friendship on me, I
discharge it to the best of my ability. Perhaps I make more of it than
you may have meant or expected; if so, it is because I am interested and
wish to express it. If there had been anything in my objection not
perfectly easy of removal, I might, after all, have hesitated to state
it; but that is not the case. A very little indeed would make all this
gaiety as sound and wholesome and good-natured in the reader's mind as
it is in the writer's.
Affectionately always,
Charles Dickens

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