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 My father at his work.—Rooms in which he wrote.—Love for his child characters.—Genius for character drawing.—Nicholas Nickleby.—His writing hours.—His only amanuensis.—“Pickwick” and “Boz.”—Death of Mr. Thackeray.  
When at work my father was almost always alone, so that, with rare exceptions, save as we could see the effect of the adventures of his characters upon him in his daily moods, we knew but little of his manner of work.  Absolute quiet under these circumstances was essential, the slightest sound making an interruption fatal to the success of his labors1, although, oddly enough, in his leisure hours the bustle3 and noise of a great city seemed necessary to him.  He writes, after an enforced idleness of two years, spent in a quiet place; “The difficulty of going at what I call a rapid pace is p. 47prodigious; indeed, it is almost an impossibility.  I suppose this is partly the effect of two years’ ease, and partly the absence of streets, and numbers of figures.  I cannot express how much I want these.  It seems as if they supplied something to my brain which, when busy, it cannot bear to lose.  For a week or fortnight I can write prodigiously4 in a retired5 place, a day in London setting and starting me up again.  But the toil6 and labor2 of writing day after day without that magic lantern is immense!”
As I have said, he was usually alone when at work, though there were, of course, some occasional exceptions, and I myself constituted such an exception.  During our life at Tavistock House, I had a long and serious illness, with an almost equally long convalescence7.  During the latter, my father suggested that I should be carried every day into his study to remain with him, and, although I was fearful of disturbing him, he assured me that he desired to have me p. 48with him.  On one of these mornings, I was lying on the sofa endeavouring to keep perfectly8 quiet, while my father wrote busily and rapidly at his desk, when he suddenly jumped from his chair and rushed to a mirror which hung near, and in which I could see the reflection of some extraordinary facial contortions9 which he was making.  He returned rapidly to his desk, wrote furiously for a few moments, and then went again to the mirror.  The facial pantomime was resumed, and then turning toward, but evidently not seeing, me, he began talking rapidly in a low voice.  Ceasing this soon, however, he returned once more to his desk, where he remained silently writing until luncheon10 time.  It was a most curious experience for me, and one of which, I did not until later years, fully11 appreciate the purport12.  Then I knew that with his natural intensity13 he had thrown himself completely into the character that he was creating, and that for the time being he had not only lost p. 49sight of his surroundings, but had actually become in action, as in imagination, the creature of his pen.
His “studies” were always cheery, pleasant rooms, and always, like himself, the personification of neatness and tidiness.  On the shelf of his writing table were many dainty and useful ornaments14, gifts from his friends or members of his family, and always, a vase of bright and fresh flowers.  The first study that I remember is the one in our Devonshire Terrace home, a pretty room, with steps leading directly into the garden from it, and with an extra baize door to keep out all sounds and noise.  The study at Tavistock House was more elaborate; a fine large room, opening into the drawing-room by means of sliding doors.  When the rooms were thrown together they gave my father a promenade15 of considerable length for the constant indoor walking which formed a favorite recreation for him after a hard day’s writing.
p. 50At “Gad’s Hill” he first made a study from one of the large spare sleeping rooms of the house, as the windows there overlooked a beautiful and favorite view of his.  His writing table was always placed near a window looking out into the open world which he loved so keenly.  Afterwards he occupied for years a smaller room overlooking the back garden and a pretty meadow, but this he eventually turned into a miniature billiard room, and then established himself, finally, in the room on the right side of the entrance hall facing the front garden.  It is this room which Mr. Luke Fildes, the great artist and our own esteemed16 friend, made famous in his picture “The Empty Chair,” which he sketched17 for “The Graphic” after my father’s death.  The writing table, the ornaments, the huge waste paper basket, which “the master” had made for his own use, are all there, and, alas18, the empty chair!
That he was always in earnest, that he p. 51lived with his creations, that their joys and sorrows were his joys and sorrows, that at times his anguish19, both of body and spirit, was poignant20 and heart-breaking, I know.  His interest in and love for his characters were intense as his nature, and is shown nowhere more strongly than in his sufferings during his portrayal22 of the short life of “Little Nell,” like a father he mourned for his little girl—the child of his brain—and he writes: “I am, for the time, nearly dead with work and grief for the loss of my child.”  Again he writes of her: “You can’t imagine (gravely I write and speak) how exhausted23 I am to-day with yesterday’s labors.  I went to bed last night utterly24 dispirited and done up.  All night I have been pursued by the child; and this morning I am unrefreshed and miserable25.  I do not know what to do with myself.”
His love and care for this little one are p. 52shown most pathetically in the suggestions which he gave to Mr. George Cattermole for his illustrations of the “Old Curiosity Shop.”  “Kit26, the single gentleman, and Mr. Garland go down to the place where the child is and arrive there at night.  There has been a fall of snow.  Kit, leaving them behind, runs to the old house, and with a lantern in one hand, and the bird in its cage in the other, stops for a moment at a little distance, with a natural hesitation27, before he goes up to make his presence known.  In a window—supposed to be that of the child’s little room—a light is burning, and in that room the child (unknown, of course, to her visitors, who are full of hope), lies dead.”
Again: “The child lying dead in the little sleeping room, behind the open screen.  It is winter time, so there are no flowers, but upon her breast and pillow there may be strips of holly28 and berries and such green things.  A window, overgrown with ivy29.  The little boy who had that talk with her p. 53about the angels may be by the bedside, if you like it so; but I think it will be quieter and more peaceful if she is quite alone.  I want the scene to express the most beautiful repose30 and tranquillity31, and to have something of a happy look, if death can do this.”
Another: “The child has been buried within the church, and the old man, who cannot be made to understand that she is dead repairs to the grave and sits there all day long, waiting for her arrival to begin another journey.  His staff and knapsack, her little bonnet33 and basket, lie beside him.  ‘She’ll come to-morrow,’ he says, when it gets dark, and then goes sorrowfully home.  I think an hour glass running out would keep up the notion; perhaps her little things upon his knee or in his hand.  I am breaking my heart over this story, and cannot bear to finish it.”
In acknowledging the receipt of a letter concerning this book from Mr. John Tomlin, an American, he wrote: “I thank you p. 54cordially and heartily34 for your letter, and for its kind and courteous35 terms.  To think that I have awakened36 among the vast solitudes37 in which you dwell a fellow feeling and sympathy with the creatures of many thoughtful hours, is the source of the purest delight and pride to me; and believe me that your expressions of affectionate remembrance and approval, sounding from the green forests of the Mississippi, sink deeper into my heart and gratify it more than all the honorary distinctions that all the courts of Europe could confer.  It is such things as these that make one hope one does not live in vain, and that are the highest rewards of an author’s life.”
His genius for character sketching38 needs no proof—his characters live to vouch39 for themselves, for their reality.  It is ever amazing to me that the hand which drew the pathetic and beautiful creations, the kindly40 humored men, the lovely women, the unfortunate little ones, could portray21 also p. 55with such marvellous accuracy the villainy and craftiness41 of such characters as Bumble, Bill Sykes, Pecksniff, Uriah Heep and Squeers.  Undoubtedly42 from his earliest childhood he had possessed43 the quick perception, the instinct, which could read in people’s characters their tendencies toward good and evil, and throughout his life he valued this ability above literary skill and finish.  Mr. Forster makes a point of this in his biography, speaking of the noticeable traits in him: “What I had most, indeed, to notice in him at the very outset of his career, was his indifference44 to any praise of his performances on their merely literary merit, compared with the higher recognition of them as bits of actual life, with the meaning and purpose on their part, and the responsibility on his, of realities rather than creatures of fancy.”
But he was always pleased with praise, and always modest and grateful in returning it.  “How can I thank you?” he writes to p. 56a friend who was expressing his pleasure at “Oliver Twist.”  “Can I do better than by saying that the sense of poor Oliver’s reality, which I know you have had from the first, has been the highest of all praise to me?  None that has been lavished45 upon me have I felt half so much as that appreciation46 of my intent and meaning.  Your notices make me very grateful, but very proud, so have a care.”
The impressions which were later converted into motives47 and plots for his stories he imbibed48 often in his earliest childhood.  The crusade against the Yorkshire schools which is waged in “Nicholas Nickleby,” is the working out of some of these childish impressions.  He writes himself of them: “I cannot call to mind how I came to hear about Yorkshire schools, when I was not a very robust49 child, sitting in by-places near Rochester Castle with a head full of Partridge, Strap50, Tom Pipes and Sancho Panza, but I know my first impressions of p. 57the schools were picked up at this time.”  We can imagine how deeply the wrongs must have sunk into the sensitive heart of the child, rankling51 there through many years, to bear fruit in the
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