"​. . . an obtrusive interest in the Baby" (1905), a half-page illustration for "Chirp the First," 7.9​ cm by 8.7 cm, vignetted (p. 114), is Brock's realisation of the ​supporting characters in the domestic melodrama, the comic woman, Tilly Slowboy, and the protective family dog, Boxer, at the opening of The Cricket on the Hearth: A Fairy Tale of Hearth and Home, first published for Christmas, 1845. Significantly, Brock has omitted the subtitle and focussed on the story's domestic realia rather than its attendant fairies. Numerous illustrators have dealt with this family grouping that is the third in the succession of lower-middle class families in The Christmas Books, the previous heart-warming groups being the Cratchits in A Christmas Carol (1843) and Trotty Veck, the widower, and his comely daughter, Meg, in The Chimes (1844). However, this is the first​ family grouping in the​ Christmas Books involving a dog, a baby, and a nurse; and whereas John Perrybingle is approaching the age of both Bob Cratchit in A Christmas Carol and Trotty Veck in The Chimes, he is much older than his wife, and is not a member of the urban middle-class that Dickens and his illustrators understood so well; rather, he is an independent small-business owner​in a rural district of the type whom we shall meet again in Barkis of David Copperfield. Here, however, the artist emphasizes the contribution to the sentimental character comedy of the peripheral members of the Peerybingle family. Although the original illustrators presented Tilly as wooden and eccentric, Brock has humanized her considerably, and his sketches of Boxer are equal to the work of illustrator Edwin Landseer, R. A. (1802-73), in the 1845 volume, specifically the snarling mastiff Boxer in the second chirp. Whereas Landseer identifies the formidable dog as the guardian of John's packages in the carrier's van, Brock introduces him as a family member of far less ferocious aspect, the Irish Terrier, a breed noted for loyalty — E. A., Abbey's version of Boxer in this respect is utterly foreign to the text as the American illustrator introduces Boxer as a member of a troy breed. Since Tilly is not entirely normative, however, Fred Barnard's Household Edition illustration of 1878 more accurately reflects Dickens's original​ characterisation.

Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]

Passage Illustrated

Not at all disputing this position, John went out to see that the boy with the lantern, which had been dancing to and fro before the door and window, like a Will of the Wisp, took due care of the horse; who was fatter than you would quite believe, if I gave you his measure, and so old that his birthday was lost in the mists of antiquity. Boxer, feeling that his attentions were due to the family in general, and must be impartially distributed, dashed in and out with bewildering inconstancy; now, describing a circle of short barks round the horse, where he was being rubbed down at the stable-door; now feigning to make savage rushes at his mistress, and facetiously bringing himself to sudden stops; now, eliciting a shriek from Tilly Slowboy, in the low nursing-chair near the fire, by the unexpected application of his moist nose to her countenance; now, exhibiting an obtrusive interest in the baby; now, going round and round upon the hearth, and lying down as if he had established himself for the night; now, getting up again, and taking that nothing of a fag-end of a tail of his, out into the weather, as if he had just remembered an appointment, and was off, at a round trot, to keep it. — Chapter One, "Chirp the First," p. 114-115.


C. E. Brock, working in 1905, had few possible models from which to work for his program of illustration for The Cricket on the Hearth here because the story lacks the illustration history enjoyed by the first of The Christmas Books, A Christmas Carol (1843). Although Dickens's American illustrator, Sol Eytinge, Junior had provided a study of the gangly adolescent nurse and the ​family ​dog, Boxer, John's working companion, ​in The Peerybingles, the equivalent of the Brock illustration in the Diamond Edition's anthology Christmas Books (1867) was not likely available to him. Thus, Brock's chief source for visual antecedents​for The Cricket on the Hearth was the 1845 edition,​illustrated by a team of contemporary artists: the Punch cartoonist and caricaturist John​Leech,​the marine painter​ Clarkson Stanfield, and trained artists Richard Doyle, and Edwin Landseer, R. A. In the Household Edition volumes published by Chapman and Hall and Harper and Brothers in the 1870s, Brock would have found a useful model in the ​character study by Fred Barnard, John Peerybingle's Fireside (1878). Although Brock may not have seen it, the E. A. Abbey illustration of Tilly and the baby, Tilly Slowboy and the 'Precious Darling' (1878), is useful as a vehicle for comparison since it reveals how Brock's realism prevents him from infusing the figure with the whimsical charm of previous illustrators' studies of the foundling, although his dog is far more convincing than Abbey's.

In contrast to Brock's more serious and artistic interpretation of his subject, Fred Barnard's realistic three-quarter-page woodcut assimilates all of the information Dickens provides about Tilly Slowboy, as well as the images of the juvenile nurse in the 1845 Bradbury and Evans edition, and something of the tone of Dickens's descriptive passages. The gawky adolescent is as Dickens describes her: full of "gaping admiration," "in her earliest teens," and possessing "a spare and straight shape" (80-81) — a devoted and well-meaning "natural" in the tradition of the Comic Woman of Victorian melodrama. Although Leech focusses on the carrier's comfortable parlour, his seven contributions to the sequence of fourteen illustrations include three instances in which the comic nurse is present; indeed, in "Tilly Slowboy" (p. 89), he focuses on the girl's awkwardness in handling the infant — but he fails to distinguish her as an individual or study her psychology, aspects of Barnard's and Abbey's illustrations that strike the modern reader immediately.

Brock's sketch possesses both impressionistic energy and a believable naturalism that the original, somewhat cartoonish versions of Tilly lacked. Suggesting her motivation, Brock captures the nurse turned in the midst of an action, as she tries to prevent the well-meaning dog from interfering with her nursing of the infant in the so-called "nursing chair." Brock has borrowed the large cradle and the footstool from earlier editions, but has made the dog his own by making Boxer a member of a domestic breed, extending his height. As he leans in, Tilly leans away on a diagonal, propelling the reader forward to the end of the passage realised on the next page. Extending the text, Brock has the nurse remonstrating with the curious Boxer, whose frantic energy has been temporarily terminated by his concern for the baby, whom he has not seen all day as he has been accompanying John Peerybingle on his round of deliveries. The dog, therefore, transcends the traditional boundaries of workplace and home, as does his master, the carrier, himself.

Relevant Illustrations from various editions, 1845-1912

Left: John Leech's fanciful version of the same scene in the Peerybingles' parlour, John's Arrival (1845), including both Dot and the domestic fairies who guard the sacred hearth.​Centre: Fred Barnard's interpretation of the same fireside scene, ​Tilly Slowboy, in the 1878 illustration in the​Household Edition. Right: Harry Furniss's portrait of quirky nurse, the foundling Tilly Slowboy, in the 1910​illustration in the Charles Dickens​Library Edition. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

Above: E. A. Abbey's introduction of the Peerybingles' gangly nurse, "Ain't he beautiful, John?" (1876). [Click on image to enlarge it.]


Dickens, Charles. Christmas Books. Illustrated by Fred Barnard. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1878.

___. Christmas Stories. Illustrated by E. A. Abbey. The Household Edition. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1876.

Dickens, Charles. Christmas Books, illustrated by Sol Eytinge, Jr. The Diamond Edition. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867.

___. Christmas Books, illustrated by Fred Barnard. Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1878.

___. Christmas Books, illustrated by A. A. Dixon. London & Glasgow: Collins' Clear-Type Press, 1906.

___. Christmas Books, illustrated by Harry Furniss. The Charles Dickens Library Edition. London: Educational Book, 1910.

___. A Christmas Carol and The Cricket on the Hearth, illustrated by C. E. [Charles Edmund] Brock. London: J. M. Dent, 1905; New York: Dutton, rpt., 1963.

___. Christmas Stories, illustrated by E. A. Abbey. The Household Edition. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1876.

Dickens, Charles. The Cricket on the Hearth: A Fairy Tale of Home. Illustrated by John Leech, Daniel Maclise, Richard Doyle, Clarkson Stanfield, and Edwin Landseer. London: Bradbury and Evans, 1845.

Last modified 22 October 2015