Here’s a bit of Thackeray’s review of A Christmas Carol from Fraser’s Magazine (1844):
Who can listen to objections regarding such a book as this? It seems to me a national benefit, and to every man or woman who reads it a personal kindness. The last two people I heard speak of it were women; neither knew the other, or the author, and both said, by way of criticism, ‘God bless him!’ . . . As for Tiny Tim, there is a certain passage in the book regarding that young gentleman, about which a man should hardly venture to speak in print or in public, any more than he would of any other affections of his private heart. There is not a reader in England but that little creature will be a bond of union between the author and him; and he will say of Charles Dickens, as the woman just now, ‘GOD BLESS HIM!’ What a feeling is this for a writer to be able to inspire, and what a reward to reap!
Considering that Thackeray and Dickens were widely viewed as rivals for the public’s affection and admiration (“Dickens and Thackeray, Thackeray and Dickens!” David Masson begins a comparative essay on the two novelists in 1851), and that they wrote (as Masson details) in completely different styles, these comments strike me as marvellously warm and generous. Would any ‘leading’ contemporary novelist rise to the occasion in this way if a rival, and one with wholly different aesthetic principles, wrote a smash hit, I wonder? (Is it possible, also, to conceive of any book being received today as a “national benefit”?)