This book may not be, Chesterton says, important as a contribution to history, but it is important as a contribution to biography; as a contribution to the character and the career of the man who wrote it, a typical man of his time. That Dickens made no personal historical researches, that he had no special historical learning, that he had not had, in truth, even anything that could be called a good education, all this accentuates not the merit but at least the importance of the book. For here, thinks Mr. Chesterton, may be read in plain popular language, written by a man whose genius for popular exposition has never been surpassed among men, a brief account of the origin and meaning of England as it seemed to the average Englishman of that age. This book will always remain as a bright and brisk summary of the cock-sure, healthy-minded, essentially manly and essentially ungentlemanly view of history which characterises the Radicals of that particular Radical era.
English journalist and author, who came of a family of estate-agents, was born in London on the 29th of May 1874. He was educated at St Paul's school, which he left in 1891 with the idea of studying art. But his natural bent was literary, and he devoted himself mainly to cultivating that means of expression, both in prose and verse; he did occasional reviewing, and had some experience in a publisher's office. In 1900, having already produced a volume of clever poems, The Wild Knight, he definitely took to journalism as a career, and became a regular contributor of signed articles to the Liberal journals, the Speaker and Daily News. He established himself from the first as a writer with a distinct personality, combative to a swashbuckling degree, unconventional and dogmatic; and the republication of much of his work in a series of volumes (e.g. Twelve Types, Heretics, Orthodoxy), characterized by much acuteness of criticism, a pungent style, and the capacity of laying down the law with unflagging impetuosity and humour, enhanced his reputation. His powers as a writer are best shown in his studies of Browning (in the "English Men of Letters " series) and of Dickens; but these were only rather more ambitious essays among a medley of characteristic utterances, ranging from fiction (including The Napoleon of Notting Hill) to fugitive verse, and from artistic criticism to discussions of ethics and religion.
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