After a three- year hiatus, I’ve happily resumed my annual ritual of reading a Charles Dickens’ novel every Fall. I chose Barnaby Rudge, one of his lesser-known stories and one that I had only read once. Only 100 pages in, but it holds up. Dickens simply is a great writer with a breathtaking ability to turn a phrase, a master storyteller and inventor of memorable characters and a keen observer of human nature.
Re-reading him in these “best of times, worst of times” life we’re living, I have been astounded by some of the passages. Like this one:
ˆ…John Willet was a burly, large-headed man with a fat face, which betokened profound obstinacy and slowness of apprehension, combined with a very strong reliance upon his own merits. It was John Willet’s ordinary boast that if he was slow, he was sure…always sure that what he thought or said or did was right, and holding it as a thing quite settled and ordained by the laws of nature and Providence, that anybody who said or did or thought otherwise must be inevitably and of necessity wrong.”
Sound like anyone we know?
Then there’s this long passage describing a meeting of disgruntled apprentices joining to complain about and try to usurp their masters. Picture the apprentices as white supremacists and Tea Party people, their “Tyrant Masters” as the Obama administration, the Lord Mayor Obama himself, and substitute “American customs” for “English customs” and you have a pretty accurate analysis of what’s been going down in the U.S. these past years to lead us to our present disaster. And keep in mind that this was written across the seas in 1841!
“The Captain told them how under the Constitution, the apprentices had in times gone by, had frequent holidays of right, broken people’s heads by scores, defied their masters, nay, even achieved some glorious murders in the streets, which privileges had gradually been wrested from them, and in all which noble aspirations they were not restrained; how the degrading checks imposed upon them were unquestionably attributable to the innovating spirit of the times, and how they united therefore to resist all change, except such changes as would restore those good old English customs, by which they would stand or fall.
After illustrating the wisdom of going backward, by reference to the crab and the not unfrequented practice of the mule and donkey, he described their general objects: vengeance on their Tyrant Masters (of whose grievous and insupportable oppression no apprentice could entertain a moment’s doubt) and the restoration of their ancient rights and holidays.… Then he described the oath to resist and obstruct the Lord Mayor…”
And then this inspired passage. As the Captain and his motley crew leave the meeting, a blind man holds the door as they exit. The Captain passes through the door last and the blind man whispers out of his hearing:
“Good night, noble captain. Farewell, brave general. Bye, bye, illustrious commander. Good luck go with you for a –conceited, bragging, empty-headed, duck-legged idiot.”
These the words I long to say when our own small-handed, small-hearted, self-obsessed idiot is finally impeached and walks out of the Oval Office. And though Dickens’ reminder that such fools we have had always had amongst us and there is nothing new under the sun, I keep returning to “Every time history repeats itself, the price goes up.” The stakes are so much higher and the numbers so much larger and the power to do harm so much greater and the things under the sun with less and less a protective ozone layer. We need to get this conceited, bragging tweeter out now. Before it’s too late.
May it be so!