The Cricket on the Hearth: A Fairy Tale of Hearth and Home, Tackleton does not appear until the final illustration, The Dance. However, Charles Edmund Brock would have found two useful models for the sarcastic manufacturer, as the British Household Edition offered him a useful image, Caleb, Bertha, and Tackleton (1878), and his American counterpart, E. A. Abbey, depicted a confrontation between an angry John Peeerybingle and a shocked Tackleton, "Listen to me!" he said. "And take care that you hear me right" (1876). In contrast to these Iago-like images of the Plummers' employer Harry Furniss five years after Brock presented the image of a well-fed, arrogant, pompous bourgeois in Tackleton's Wedding Day! — including silk hat and cape. Brock's well-dressed Tackleton, in contrast, has a lean and hungry look. (1905), a half-page illustration for "Chirp the Second," 9 cm by 11.2 cm, vignetted (p. 160), is Brock's redrafting of the betrothal pic-nic, when the improbable groom (Tackleton) insults by implication the absent fiancée Edward Plummer, the sailor lost at sea. The misanthropic Tackleton is almost gleeful about the loss of the brother, whose place as May Fielding's intended husband he has usurped. The figures around the table from left to right are Caleb Plummer, John Peerybingle, the indignant Dot (centre), May Fielding, Mrs. Fielding (back to the viewer), and the sardonic toy-merchant, Tackleton. In the program of illustration in the original, 1845 edition of
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Tackleton had brought his leg of mutton, and, wonderful to relate, a tart besides — but we don't mind a little dissipation when our brides are in the case. We don't get married every day — and in addition to these dainties, there were the Veal and Ham-Pie, and "things," as Mrs. Peerybingle called them; which were chiefly nuts and oranges, and cakes, and such small deer. When the repast was set forth on the board, flanked by Caleb's contribution, which was a great wooden bowl of smoking potatoes (he was prohibited, by solemn compact, from producing any other viands), Tackleton led his intended mother-in-law to the post of honour. For the better gracing of this place at the high festival, the majestic old soul had adorned herself with a cap, calculated to inspire the thoughtless with sentiments of awe. She also wore her gloves. But let us be genteel, or die!
Caleb sat next his daughter; Dot and her old schoolfellow were side by side; the good Carrier took care of the bottom of the table. Miss Slowboy was isolated, for the time being, from every article of furniture but the chair she sat on, that she might have nothing else to knock the Baby's head against.
As Tilly stared about her at the dolls and toys, they stared at her and at the company. The venerable old gentlemen at the street doors (who were all in full action) showed especial interest in the party, pausing occasionally before leaping, as if they were listening to the conversation, and then plunging wildly over and over, a great many times, without halting for breath — as in a frantic state of delight with the whole proceedings.
Certainly, if these old gentlemen were inclined to have a fiendish joy in the contemplation of Tackleton's discomfiture, they had good reason to be satisfied. Tackleton couldn't get on at all; and the more cheerful his intended bride became in Dot's society, the less he liked it, though he had brought them together for that purpose. For he was a regular dog in the manger, was Tackleton; and when they laughed and he couldn't, he took it into his head, immediately, that they must be laughing at him.
"Ah, May!" said Dot. "Dear dear, what changes! To talk of those merry school-days makes one young again."
"Why, you an't particularly old, at any time; are you?" said Tackleton.
"Look at my sober plodding husband there," returned Dot. "He adds twenty years to my age at least. Don't you, John?"
"Forty," John replied.
"How many you'll add to May's, I am sure I don't know," said Dot, laughing. "But she can't be much less than a hundred years of age on her next birthday."
"Ha ha!" laughed Tackleton. Hollow as a drum, that laugh though. And he looked as if he could have twisted Dot's neck, comfortably.
"Dear dear!" said Dot. "Only to remember how we used to talk, at school, about the husbands we would choose. I don't know how young, and how handsome, and how gay, and how lively, mine was not to be! And as to May's! — Ah dear! I don't know whether to laugh or cry, when I think what silly girls we were."
May seemed to know which to do; for the colour flushed into her face, and tears stood in her eyes.
"Even the very persons themselves — real live young men — were fixed on sometimes," said Dot. "We little thought how things would come about. I never fixed on John I'm sure; I never so much as thought of him. And if I had told you, you were ever to be married to Mr. Tackleton, why you'd have slapped me. Wouldn't you, May?"
Though May didn't say yes, she certainly didn't say no, or express no, by any means.
Tackleton laughed — quite shouted, he laughed so loud. John Peerybingle laughed too, in his ordinary good-natured and contented manner; but his was a mere whisper of a laugh, to Tackleton's.
"You couldn't help yourselves, for all that. You couldn't resist us, you see," said Tackleton. "Here we are! Here we are!"
"Where are your gay young bridegrooms now!"
"Some of them are dead," said Dot; "and some of them forgotten. Some of them, if they could stand among us at this moment, would not believe we were the same creatures; would not believe that what they saw and heard was real, and we could forget them so. No! they would not believe one word of it!" — Chapter Two, "Chirp the Second," p. 158-160.
C. E. Brock, working in 1905, had several possible models from which to work for the scene of Tackleton's visiting the Plummers and the Fieldings in the second chirp of The Cricket on the Hearth. Although the British Household Edition illustrator, Fred Barnard, had provided him with an image of Tackleton's visiting the workroom, Brock's realisation of this "pic-nic" scene is a thorough innovation utterly without precedent. Although Brock does not reveal all of the characters' faces, he is clear about Dot's facial expression, which conveys her attitude towards the sarcastic employer's allusion to absent youth given up for dead. She is shocked and indignant that Tackleton should take so superior an attitude towards May's fiancée; Caleb seems aghast, while Tackleton, oblivious to the others' feelings, appears to be thoroughly enjoying himself (which the text reveals is not precisely the case). The chair upon which Mrs. Fielding sits is convincing in its stout ornateness, but is perhaps too noble a piece of furniture for the Plummers' hovel.
Incidental to the main plot issue — Dot's supposed adultery with the old stranger who is in fact a handsome youth in disguise — is the matter of Tackleton's forcing an engagement upon May Fielding, who has been pining for her sailor-lover lost at sea, Edward Plummer. With Edward's sister and father, the toy-makers Bertha and Caleb Plummer, he reveals himself to be a somewhat callous employer who disregards the welfare of his employees in order to turn a profit. However, Dickens's portrait of an exploitative capitalist falls short of his detailing the vices of the miser of the 'Change, Ebenezer Scrooge. That Tackleton's gruffness is but superficial is implied in the ease with which (without much motivation) he experiences a change of heart in the final scene and is welcomed back into the community at festival — much to the disgust of such social critics as Vladimir Lenin, who, upset with the excess of bourgeois sentiment of the story, walked out of a Russian-language stage adaptation of the novella before the final curtain, probably that by Nikolai Efros, an incident in the Communist leader's life alluded to by George Orwell early in his 1939 essay on Dickens.
Undercutting such "middle-class sentimentality" (Orwell, 7) is this scene in which Tackleton ridicules the notion of youthful romance. Here, however, Brock has chosen to realise a textual moment that shows Tackleton at his most insensitive as he tries to manipulate May into believing that a mismatched marriage such as John and Dot's is perfectly conducive to domestic bliss. Appropriately, John Leech in The Dance depicts him well in the background, dancing with the elderly Mrs. Fielding, perhaps to underscore the unsuitability of his putative match with her young daughter. However, both Household Edition illustrators, E. A. Abbey and Fred Barnard, have, like E. A. Brock, taken a greater degree of interest in the enigmatic would-be villain of the piece; whereas Barnard treats Tackleton with detached humour in the scene in which Bertha extols him as a kind and caring employer, Abbey interprets him as a slender, fashionably-dressed gentleman who suavely serves in his malice as John's alter-ego.
Relevant Illustrations from various editions, 1845-1910
Representations of Caleb and Bertha Plummer, Tackleton, and John Peerybingle: Left: John Leech's "The Dance". Centre: E. A. Abbey's "Listen to me!" he said. "And take care that you hear me right.". Right: Fred Barnard's Caleb, Bertha, and Tackleton (1878). [Click on the images to enlarge them.]
Above: Harry Furniss's 1910 pen-and-ink drawing transferred to lithograph, Tackleton's Wedding Day!" [Click on the image to enlarge it.]
Bolton, H. Philip. Dickens Dramatized. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1987.
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.
Orwell, George. "Charles Dickens." (1939) Critical Essays. London: Secker and Warburg, 1946 (first published in 1940 in "Inside the Whale" and Other Essays.]
Last modified 20 October 2015