Forster was a long time friend and the first biographer of Dickens, close enough to be named as recipient of his manuscripts, copyrights, and some personal effects in Dickens's will printed here as an appendix.
This quote from p. 211-212 is indicative of much of Forster's biography
"Ah," he said to me, "when I saw those places, how I thought that to leave one's hand upon the time, lastingly upon the time, with one tender touch for the mass of toiling people that nothing could obliterate, would be to lift oneself above the dust of all the Doges in their graves, and stand upon a giant's staircase that Sampson couldn't overthrow!"
These are both strengths and weaknesses, the weaknesses leaving especially this edition (with its quotes from contemporaries, quotes from Dickens's writings, pictures of people and scenes from his life, and sidebars on people, places, and literary criticism) to be read more as history than as biography.
While Dickens had surely started life as one of the "toiling people" he so pities here, he had since risen far above and was writing these words from a year long sojourn in Italy with stays in fabulous villas and terrace homes far from the dark streets and dank hovels of London he had known and would always write about. He would also remember that impoverished beginning, perhaps subconsciously, certainly to his detriment, for it was at least (but only) partially his fear of financial ruin that drove him to his physically exhausting reading tours that weakened his healthy and pointed him to an early death.
All these things make Dickens endlessly fascinating, and Forster a worthy addition, especially in this edition, to the Dickens fan's library. Quoting yet again from a letter from Dickens: "I think it is my infirmity to fancy or perceive relations in things which are not apparent generally."--which Forster defines as "one of those exquisite properties of humor by which are discovered . . . the level of a common humanity.". It is also a very near paraphrase of the purpose of The catholic reader, the collection of my book reviews you are reading now.
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