"An't he beautiful, John?"
Charles Edmund Brock
whole page: 11 x 7.5 cm. vignetted
Dickens's The Cricket on the Hearth, facing page 169.
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It was pleasant to see Dot, with her little figure, and her baby in her arms: a very doll of a baby: glancing with a coquettish thoughtfulness at the fire, and inclining her delicate little head just enough on one side to let it rest in an odd, half-natural, half-affected, wholly nestling and agreeable manner, on the great rugged figure of the Carrier. It was pleasant to see him, with his tender awkwardness, endeavouring to adapt his rude support to her slight need, and make his burly middle-age a leaning-staff not inappropriate to her blooming youth. It was pleasant to observe how Tilly Slowboy, waiting in the background for the baby, took special cognizance (though in her earliest teens) of this grouping; and stood with her mouth and eyes wide open, and her head thrust forward, taking it in as if it were air. Nor was it less agreeable to observe how John the Carrier, reference being made by Dot to the aforesaid baby, checked his hand when on the point of touching the infant, as if he thought he might crack it; and bending down, surveyed it from a safe distance, with a kind of puzzled pride, such as an amiable mastiff might be supposed to show, if he found himself, one day, the father of a young canary.
"An't he beautiful, John? Don't he look precious in his sleep?"
"Very precious," said John. 'Very much so. He generally is asleep, an't he?"
"Lor, John! Good gracious no!"
"Oh," said John, pondering. "I thought his eyes was generally shut. Halloa!"
"Goodness, John, how you startle one!"
"It an't right for him to turn 'em up in that way!" said the astonished Carrier, "is it? See how he's winking with both of 'em at once! And look at his mouth! Why he's gasping like a gold and silver fish!" — Chapter One, "Chirp the First," p. 112.
C. E. Brock, working in 1905, had a number of possible models from which to produce this colored lithograph for The Cricket on the Hearth because the Peerybingles as a modern, lower-middle-class version of the Holy Family was a notion highly agreeable to the sentimental Victorians on both sides of the Atlantic. For example, in the 1845 fourteen-image sequence Dickens's original illustrators depicted the couple and their infant before the sacred hearth three times. In the anthology of The Christmas Books in the Diamond Edition, Sol Eytinge, Junior set the keynote with a scene depicting John's joyful homecoming, The Peerybingles. And in the British and American Household Editions in the 1870s both E. A. Abbey and Fred Barnard added their versions to the pool of visual precedents that C. E. Brock, A. A. Dixon (1906), and Harry Furniss could consult for their turn-of-the-century editions.
Whereas in the original of this scene, Clarkson Stanfield's John and Dot, the couple are seated by the fire, in a composition which implies the enthoned John is the king of his domestic castle and Dot, by his knee, seated on a stool, is his obedient vassal, the other 1845 illustrators depict the couple equally, as in Daniel Maclise's Ornamental Title-page (in which Dot, despite her seat being a mere stool, dominates the left-hand register) and Richard Doyle's Chirp the First, which juxtaposes the working John in his carrier's van (above, only his legs showing) and the domestic John, taking his ease by the fire, smoking a pipe. The two, then, command different spheres in the 1845 plates, with the maternal Dot in charge of the cottage and John's power emanating from his role as provider. In contrast, in the British Household Edition of 1878, Fred Barnard achieves a synthesis of the husband and wife, mutually focussed on their baby, in John Peerybingle's Fireside, whose jovial husband (with thinning hair and round face) appears to have served as Brock's model. As John's head forms the apex of a pyramid, with the cat at the base to the left and the dog at the base to the right, the couple and their infant are as much an institution — the middle-class Victorian family — as they are characters from a particular story.
In Brock's colour lithograph, one of just four in the entire book, encompassing both A Christmas Carol and The Cricket on the Hearth, incorporates some of the same elements (including Tilly Slowboy, now relegated to a post well in the background, and the Dutch clock), but reorganizes the figures so that they are standing, and the large dog, asleep in Barnard's composition after accompanying his master on his rounds, is very much awake and focussed on the baby. Still wearing the signifiers of his work outside the home, his great-coat and boots, John in waistcoat and fustian trousers (as in the Barnard wood-engraving) bends down to Dot's level to admire the infant, now in a plaid blanket rather than elaborate, lengthy nightgown. Again, one receives a sense of the domestic context in the leaded panes, curtains, chair, table spread with food, and carpet partially covering the Dorset cottage's flagstoned floor (recalling for readers in 1905 the cottages of Thomas Hardy's fiction). Despite these differences, the two illustrations communicate the same sentimental picture of domestic harmony, balancing the spheres of work and dome, while avoiding implications that John is the monarch of the little kingdom. Thus, the illustration both conjures up the values of the Victorian past and exemplifies fin de siecle attitudes towards the emancipation of women, albeit in a limited fashion that still defines the female in a domestic context.
The meaning of the illustration is re-adjusted, however, by Brock's inserting the scene of John's homecoming from "Chirp the First" into "Chirp the Second," when John arrives to pick up Tilly, Dot, and the child from the Plummers' pic-nic, after Dot has cleaned up the room and washed up the cups and saucers. The image of the ruddy-faced carrier, fresh from the out-of-doors and the world of work, is congruent with his description on the facing page as having a "brown face ruddy as a winter berry from the keen night air" (169), even though the picture specifically directs the reader to page 112 and his initial arrival.
Relevant Illustrations of John and Dot from various editions, 1845-1906
Left: Clarkson Stanfield's atmospheric treatment of John's homecoming, John and Dot (1845). Centre: Fred Barnard's jolly, middle-aged carrier, and his young wife and child John Peerybingle's Fireside (1878). Right: A. A. Dixon's sentimental treatment of the middle-aged husband, Dot, and their child, John surveyed it from a safe distance (1906). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Above: E. A. Abbey's study of the Peerybingles as the modern Holy Family, "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 20 October 2015