You know that feeling that comes over you when you read words so perfectly, exquisitely arranged, into sentiments that ring so familiar, with insight into the human condition that cuts so deep? And you ascend into such a deep state of bliss that you feel it’s entirely possible wings will burst out of your should blades and carry you up, up, up?
Or maybe you’ll just levitate, like Uncle Albert in Mary Poppins, no wings required?
This is how I’ve been feeling lately about Charles Dickens. I have been reading large quantities* of Dickens, for reasons that will be explained in a future post (stay tuned!). At the moment, I’m preoccupied with sharing some of those lines that made me wring my hands in awe. Mostly because my family has grown weary of hearing me say, “No, really, let me read you just one more.”
Because they know it’s never going to be “just one more.” So here are five. Enjoy!
From David Copperfield:
“The streets look small, of course. The streets that we have only seen as children always do, I believe, when we go back to them.”
From Hard Times:
“Thomas Gradgrind, sir. A man of realities. A man of facts and calculations. A man who proceeds upon the principle that two and two are four, and nothing over, and who is not to be talked into allowing for anything over. Thomas Gradgrind, sir – peremptorily Thomas – Thomas Gradgrind. With a rule and a pair of scales, and the multiplication tables always in his pocket, sir, ready to weigh and measure any parcel of human nature, and tell you exactly what it comes to. It is a mere question of figures, a case of simple arithmetic. You might hope to get some other nonsensical belief into the head of George Gradgrind, or Augustus Gradgrind, or John Gradgrind, or Joseph Gradgrind (all suppositious, non-existent persons), but into the head of Thomas Gradgrind – no, sir!”
“Why, Mr. Bounderby was as near being Mr. Gradgrind’s bosom friend, as a man perfectly devoid of sentiment can approach that spiritual relationship towards another man perfectly devoid of sentiment.”
“It is known, to the force of a single pound weight, what the engine will do; but, not all the calculators of the National Debt can tell me the capacity for good or evil, for love or hatred, for patriotism or discontent, for the decomposition of virtue into vice, or the reverse, at any single moment in the soul of one of these its quiet servants, with the composed faces and the regulated action.”
From The Pickwick Papers:
“That punctual servant of all work, the sun, had just risen, and begun to strike a light on the morning of the thirteenth of May, one thousand eight hundred and twenty-seven, when Mr. Samuel Pickwick burst like another sun from his slumbers, threw open his chamber window, and looked out upon the world beneath.”
*I paused for a moment after typing “large quantities,” thinking, does that even make sense? But it sort of works, doesn’t it? Dickens’s books are voluminous. So.