The Character and Class of a Writer

Considering the relationship between writer and their works, and the importance of remembering your origins.

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It has been often observed that you cannot judge of an author’s personal character from his writings. It may be that you cannot; I think it very likely—for many reasons—that you cannot. But, at least, a reader will rise from the perusal of a book with some defined and tangible idea of the writer’s moral creed and broad purposes, if he has any at all; and it is probable enough that he may like to have this idea confirmed from the author’s lips, or dissipated by his explanation. My moral creed—which is a very wide and comprehensive one, and includes all sects and parties—is very easily summed up. I have faith, and I wish to diffuse faith in the existence of beautiful things, even in those conditions of society, which are so degenerate, degraded, and forlorn, that, at first sight, it would seem as though they could not be described but by a strange and terrible reversal of the words of Scripture: God said, “Let there be light,” and there was none.

I take it that we are born, and that we hold our sympathies, hopes, and energies, in trust for the many, and not for the few. That we cannot hold in too strong a light of disgust and contempt, before the view of others, all meanness, falsehood, cruelty, and oppression, of every grade and kind. Above all, that nothing is high, because it is in a high place; and that nothing is low, because it is in a low one. This is the lesson taught us in the great book of nature. This is the lesson which may be read, alike in the bright track of the stars and in the dusty course of the poorest thing that drags its tiny length upon the ground. This is the lesson ever uppermost in the thoughts of that inspired man, who tells us that there are:

Tongues in the trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.

As You Like It by William Shakespeare

Keeping these objects steadily before me, I am at no loss to refer favour and generous hospitality back to the right source. While I know, on the one hand, that if, instead of being what it is, this were a land of tyranny and wrong, I should care very little for smiles or frowns, so I am sure upon the other, that if, instead of being what I am, I were the greatest genius that ever trod the earth, and had diverted myself for the oppression and degradation of mankind, you would despise and reject me. I hope you will, whenever, through such means, I give you the opportunity. Trust me, that, whenever you give me the like occasion, I will return the compliment with interest.

I would rather that my children—coming after me—trudged in the mud and knew by the general feeling of society that their father was beloved and had been of some use, than I would have them ride in their carriages and know by their banker’s books that he was rich. But I do not see, I confess, why one should be obliged to make the choice, or why fame—besides playing that delightful reveille for which it is so justly celebrated—should not blow out of a trumpet a few notes of a different kind.

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) was a writer. He was best known for his novels including David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, and A Christmas Carol.

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