A grizzled personage in velveteen with a face so cut by varieties of weather
E. G. Dalziel
13.9 x 10.6 cm framed
Dickens's Christmas Stories, the Chapman and Hall Household Edition, page 68 [See commentary below].
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Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham
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At one period of its reverses, the House fell into the occupation of a Showman. He was found registered as its occupier, on the parish books of the time when he rented the House, and there was therefore no need of any clue to his name. But, he himself was less easy to be found; for, he had led a wandering life, and settled people had lost sight of him, and people who plumed themselves on being respectable were shy of admitting that they had ever known anything of him. At last, among the marsh lands near the river’s level, that lie about Deptford and the neighbouring market-gardens, a Grizzled Personage in velveteen, with a face so cut up by varieties of weather that he looked as if he had been tattooed, was found smoking a pipe at the door of a wooden house on wheels. The wooden house was laid up in ordinary for the winter, near the mouth of a muddy creek; and everything near it, the foggy river, the misty marshes, and the steaming market-gardens, smoked in company with the grizzled man. In the midst of this smoking party, the funnel-chimney of the wooden house on wheels was not remiss, but took its pipe with the rest in a companionable manner. ["Going into Society," p. 65, emphasis to indicate full title of illustration]
Originally Dickens had hoped to make what would prove to be his last Christmas story for Household Words a collaborative effort between himself and his protegé, Wilkie Collins. However, the pressure of having to provide half of the inset narratives for the frame tale must have been so great for Dickens that he eventually invited two staffers, the novelist and short-story writer Elizabeth Gaskell and the poet Adelaide Anne Procter, to contribute. Writing to Collins on 6 September 1858, the Editor and Conductor of Household Words sketched out his plan for A House to Let as a series of stories for the Extra Christmas number. Dickens and Collins jointly contributed as an introduction to the abandoned house "Over the Way," and also the epilogue, "Let at Last." Between these collaborative opening and closing components appeared Gaskell's "The Manchester Marriage," Dickens's character sketch of a social-climbing circus entertainer "Going into Society," Procter's "Three Evenings in the House," and Collins's "Trottle's Report" (a total of six rather than the seven to ten pieces found in Dickens's other frame tale sequences for the season).
Dalziel, having already described the hapless dwarf "Mr. Chops" in the Illustrated Library Edition (1868), now focuses on the figure of the circus showman who is the owner of Magsman's Amusements, in which the melancholy dwarf is employed. Certainly, the story's protagonist — a rank outsider in Victorian society by virtue of his labour as a circus performer as well as by his proportions — would have been the logical choice for the British Household Edition, too. Whereas E. A. Abbey illustrated the story with a realization of the same dramatic moment as the Illustrated Library Edition — the return of the dwarf, Chops, to his proper place in the sceme of things, Magsman's Amusements, E. G. Dalziel has here elected to provide a character study of the secondary narrator, Toby Magsman. Although Dalziel cannot convey the distinctive voice of the showman, he renders him both curious and enigmatic, as befits the opening of the story — even if he gives us no sense of the story's protagonist. Dalziel's Toby Magsman is far less animated than Abbey's, and far more reflective. Smoking his pipe, he considers the implications of Chops's entering a social sphere in which he was regarded as alien, other, and therefore not accepted. The wagon, like the pipe-smoker, is perfectly believable by virtue of its details; moreover, and the presence of the cat and dog imply that this circus caravan has indeed become Magsman's home on wheels, leaving the reader to speculate as to why he gave up the house.
Relevant Illustrated Library (1868) and American Household Edition (1876), and Charles Dickens Library Edition (1910) Illustrations
Left : E. A. Abbey's "Magsman," he says, '"take me on the hold terms, and you've got me; if it's done, say done!'". Centre: E. G. Dalziel's "Going into Society". Right: Harry Furniss's 1910 illustration "Major Tpschoffkli" [Click on images to enlarge them.]
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Scenes and characters from the works of Charles Dickens; being eight hundred and sixty-six drawings, by Fred Barnard, Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz); J. Mahoney; Charles Green; A. B. Frost; Gordon Thomson; J. McL. Ralston; H. French; E. G. Dalziel; F. A. Fraser, and Sir Luke Fildes; printed from the original woodblocks engraved for "The Household Edition.". New York: Chapman and Hall, 1908. Copy in the Robarts Library, University of Toronto.
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Last modified 25 April 2014