He ‘Always Made Me Feel Rather Afraid’
When I first settled in London, England was under the sway of a great literary triumvirate: Dickens, Thackeray, and Tennyson. At that time, and for long after, Browning was but the leader of a select few. Even Tennyson’s popularity did not equal that of Thackeray and did not come anywhere near that of Dickens. I am not now entering into any comparison or criticism of the men as intellectual forces; I am speaking only of the hold they had on the public mind. Dickens, of course, was by far the most popular of the three; no one since his time has had anything like the same degree of popularity. No one born in the younger generation can easily understand, from any illustration that later years can give him, the immensity of the popular homage which Dickens then enjoyed. I had many opportunities of meeting Dickens, and of course I heard all of his readings and heard him deliver several after-dinner speeches. Let me say at once that he was the very best after-dinner speaker I ever heard; I do not quite know whom I should put second to him… But, so far as my judgment can go, there is no difficulty about awarding the first place to Dickens.
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