Charles John Huffam Dickens rivals Shakespeare as one of the most frequently quoted authors in the English language.
The characters he fashioned in Victorian London, from Ebenezer Scrooge and Miss Havisham to David Copperfield and Little Nell, are instantly recognizable even to those who've never read one of his novels, or even seen one of the countless TV and film adaptations his works have inspired.
But it is Dickens' words, and the way he twisted them to poke fun at, uphold or deplore all humanity's most basic tendencies, that elevates him to such an iconic status on his 200th birthday.
Below, relive some of Charles Dickens' best quotes, and read a letter by his biographer, Claire Tomalin, about his impact on English literature and culture.
Oliver Twist (1838):
Dignity, and even holiness too, sometimes, are more questions of coat and waistcoat than some people imagine.
Although Oliver had been brought up by philosophers, he was not theoretically acquainted with the beautiful axiom that self-preservation is the first law of nature.
There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.
A Christmas Carol (1843):
Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail. Mind! I don't mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country's done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.
External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty.
If they would rather die, said Scrooge, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.
Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them... His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.
A Tale of Two Cities (1859):
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way--in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.
Tell the Wind and the Fire where to stop; not me!
Bleak House (1852-53)
I only ask to be free. The butterflies are free. Mankind will surely not deny to Harold Skimpole what it concedes to the butterflies!
The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (1838-39)
For nature gives to every time and season some beauties of its own; and from morning to night, as from the cradle to the grave, is but a succession of changes so gentle and easy, that we can scarcely mark their progress.
Hard Times (1854):
Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!
David Copperfield (1849-50)
A loving heart was better and stronger than wisdom.
Great Expectations (1860-1):
Pip, dear old chap, life is made of ever so many partings welded together.
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