There would hardly have been a doubt, if the fable had been confined to the other side of the Atlantic; but it has been reproduced and widely circulated on this side also; and the distinguished artist whom it calumniates by fathering its invention upon him, either not conscious of it or not caring to defend himself, has been left undefended from' the slander.
Forster discovered when he read the following letter in the column, of the "' London Times. John Forster's' Life of Charles Dickens,' in your paper of the 26th inst. Sheldon Mackenzie respecting the origin of'Oliver Twist,' I shall be obliged if you will allow me to give some explanation upon this subject.
For some time past I have been preparing a work for publication, in which I intend to give an account of the origin of' Oliver Twist,' and I now not only deeply regret the sudden and unexpected decease of Mr. Charles Dickens, but regret also that. I should not now have brought this matter forward, but as Dr. Mackenzie states that he got the information from me, and as Mr. Forster declares his statement to be a falsehood, to which, in fact, he could apply a word of three letters, I feel called upon, not only to defend the doctor, but myself also from such a gross imputation.
Mackenzie has confused some circumstances with respect to Mr. Dickens looking over some drawings and sketches in my studio, but there is no doubt whatever that I did tell this gentleman that I was the originator of the story of' Oliver Twist,' as I have told very many others who may have spoken to me on the subject, and which facts I now beg permission to repeat in the columns of' The Times' for the information of Mr. Forster and the public generally. Charles Dickens should write a serial in it.
Dickens that he should write the life of a London boy, and strongly advised him to do this, assuring hilm that I would furnish him with the subject and supply him with all the characters, which my large experience of London life Would enable me to do. My idea was to raise a boy from a most humble position up to a high and respectable one -in fact, to illustrate one of those cases of common occurrence, where men of humble origin by natural ability, industry, honest and honorable conduct, raise themselves to first-class positions in society.
And as I wished particularly to bring the habits and manners of the thieves of London before the public and this for a most important purpose, which I shall explain one of these days , I suggested that the poor boy should fall among thieves, but that his honesty and natural good disposition should enable him to pass through this ordeal without contamination, and after I had fully described the full-grown thieves the'Bill Sykes' and their female companions, also the young thieves the' Artful Dodgers' and the receivers of.
Dickens agreed to act upon my suggestion, and the work was commenced, but we differed as to what sort of boy the hero should be. Dickens wanted rather a queer kind of chap, and although this was contrary to my original idea, I complied with his request, feeling that it would not be right to dictate too much to the writer of the story, and then appeared'Oliver asking for more;' but it so happened, just about this time, that an inquiry was being made in the parish of St. James, Westminster, as to the cause of the death of some of the work-house children who had been'farmed out,' and in which inquiry my late friend Joseph Pettigrew surgeon to the Dukes of Kent and Sussex came forward on the part of the poor children, and by his interference was mainly the cause of saving the lives of many of these poor little creatures.
I called the attention of Mr. Dickens to this inquiry, and said if he took up this matter his doing so might help to save many a poor child from injury and death, and I earnestly begged of him to let me make Oliver a nice pretty little boy, and if we so represented him, the public - and particularly the ladies - would be sure to take a greater interest in him, and the work would then be a certain success.
Dickens agreed to that request, and I need not add here that my prophecy was fulfilled; and if any one will take the trouble to look at my representations of' Oliver' they will see that the appearance of the boy is altered after the two first illustrations, and by a reference to the records of St.
James's parish, and to the date of the publication of the'Miscellany,' they will see that both the dates tally, and therefore support my statement. I had a long time previously to this directed Mr. Dickens's attention to' Field Lane,' Holborn Hill, wherein resided many thieves and receivers of stolen goods, and it was suggested that one of these receivers, a Jew, should be introduced into the story; and upon one occasion Mr. Dickens and Mr. Harrison Ainsworth called upon me at my house in Myddleton Terrace, Pentonville, and in course of conversation I then and there described and performed the character of one of these Jew receivers, who I had long had my eye upon; and.
Ainsworth said to me one day,'I was so much struck with your description of that Jew to Mr. Dickens, that I think you and I could do something together,' which notion of Mr. Ainsworth's, as most people are aware, was afterwards carried out in various works. Long before'Oliver Twist' was ever thought of, I had, by permission of the city authorities, made a sketch of one of the condemned cells in Newgate prison; and as I had a great object in letting the public see what sort of places these cells were, and how they were furnished, and also to show'a wretched condemned criminal therein, I thought it desirable to introduce such a subject into this work; but I had the greatest difficulty to get Mr.
Dickens to allow me to carry out my wishes in this respect, but I said I must have either what is called a Christian, or what is called a Jew in a condemned cell, and therefore it must be' Bill Sykes' or'Fagan;' at length he allowed me to exhibit the latter. Dickens not fully carrying out my first suggestion.
Dickens until the work was nearly finished, and the letter of Mr. Dickens, which Mr. Forster mentions, only refers to the last etching - done in great haste - no proper time being allowed, and of a subject without any interest; in fact, there was not anything in the latter part of the manuscript that would suggest an illustration; -but to oblige Mr. Dickens I did my best to produce another etching, working hard day and night, but when done, what is it? Why, merely a lady and a boy standing inside of a church looking at a stone wall!
Dickens named all the characters in this work himself, but before he had commenced writing the story he told me that he had heard an omnibus conductor mention some one. Xxiii as Oliver Twist, which name, he said, he would give the boy, as he thought it would answer his purpose.
Forster refers to this letter in the corrections to the first volume of his "' Life of Dickens," and says in regard to "the foregoing fable " that " Mr. Cruikshank is to be congratulated on the prudence of his rigid silence respecting it so long as Mr. Dickens lived. Forster had seen, while he was writing his first volume, the "Life of Dickens" by Dr.
Shelton Mackenzie, in which it is stated that Mr. Cruikshank laid claim to " Oliver Twist" as far back as , twenty-three years before the death of Dickens, Mr. Forster is to be congratulated for - what? But Mr. Cruikshank made other claims than the one in regard to "Oliver Twist," for in a published letter written, over a year earlier than the letter ta the "Times," he wrote, "I was the first artist to illustrate any of Mr. Dickens's writings, and the earliest of them was the first volume of' Sketches by Boz' January, I , and the next was the second volume under this title, the greater part of which was written from my hints and suggestions.
Dickens's writings, and this explanation will not at all redound to his credit. Cruikshank believed then, and believes now, that Dickens was largely indebted to him, is evident from a speech delivered by him on the 20oth of April of the present year. T'he following. George Cruik-shank delivered an address yesterday on intemperance, at Manchester.
In supporting a vote of thanks to the veteran artist the Mayor referred to Mr. Cruikshank's illustration of Charles Dickens's works. Cruikshank, in responding, said the only work of Dickens which he had illustrated was'The Sketches by Boz.
The Mayor: You forget'01iver Twist. Cruikshank: That came out of my own brain. I wanted Dickens to write me a work, but he did not do it in the way I wanted. I assure you I went and made a sketch of the condemned cell many years before that work was published. I wanted a scene a few hours before the strangulation, and Dickens said he did not like it, and I said he must have a Jew or a Christian in the cell. Dickens said,' Do as you like,' and I put Fagan, the Jew, into the cell-.
Dickens behaved in an extraordinary way to me, and I believe it had a little effect on his mind. He was a most powerful opponent to teetotalism, and he described us as' old hogs. Cruikshank is evident from his language, which must be characterized as rather intemperate in the mouth of a veteran teetotaler. Joseph Addison, and Mr. Congreve, and Mr.
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Fielding, and Mr. Atterbury; who that has read " Henry Esmond," or "The Virginians,"- will find fault with me for so describing him? My impression is that he brought very few letters of personal introduction, and was rather careless of what may be called " social success," though anxious about the work he had in hand, — his course of lectures on the English Humorists, -and, as he used to say, "the dollars he wished to make, not for himself, but for his little girls at home. As one of them, I venture to jot down a few memories of him who is gone.
The lectures were very successful. There are two classes of people in every American microcosm — those who run after celebrities, and those, resolute not to be pleased, who run as it were against them. All were won or conquered by his simple naturalness; and, as I have said, the lectures were a great success.
My personal relations to him happened to become very in. He seemed to take a fancy to me and mine, and I naturally loved him dearly. He used to come to my house, not the abode of wealth or luxury, almost every day, and often more than once a day. He talked with my little children, and told them odd fairy tales; and I now see him this was on his second visit one day in Walnut Street walking slowly along with my little girl by the hand - the tall, gray-haired, spectacled man with an effort accommodating himself to the toddling child by his side; and then he would bring her home: and one day when we were to have a great dinner at the club given to him, and my wife was ill, and my household disarranged, and the bell rang, and I said to him, "I must go and carve the boiled mutton for the children, and take for granted you do not care to come;" and he got up, and with a cheery voice, said, " I love boiled mutton, and children too, and I will dine with them," and we did; and he was happy, and the children were happy, and our appetite for the club dinner was damaged.
Such was Thackeray in my home. I met him once at the house of a friend, and there happened to be an odd collocation at the table.
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There was a guest, a man of brilliant talent, of mature age, and high education, measured at least by our American standard, who was marked by two peculiarities - his remarkable physical resemblance te Thackeray, and the fact that, although upwards of fifty years of age, born and bred in Kentucky, he had never before crossed the Alleghanies, and never until that very day seen i ship, or any square-rigged vessel.
They - the bright backwoodsman, who had never looked upon the ocean, and the veteran Londoner, who had made a voyage from India before the days of steam, and had seen a fat man in white clothes and a big straw hat at St. Helena called " Buonaparte " were a charming contrast. The year I carried both to their graves -one in Kensal Green, and the other on the banks of the Ohio. It was a bright moonlight night on which we Thackeray and I walked home from that dinner: and I remember well. Tell me candidly, for I shall not be at all angry or hurt if it be unfavorable, or much elated if it be not.
We think we have got it all to ourselves. Now that which most impresses me here is, that I find homes as pure as ours, firesides like ours, domestic virtues as gentle; the English language, though the accent be a little different, with its home-like melody; and the Common Prayer Book in your families. I am more struck by pleasant resemblances than by anything else.