And was straightway let down stairs
Felix O. C. Darley
9.5 x 8.3 cm vignetted
Dickens's Martin Chuzzlewit, Household Edition, vol. 1 frontispiece.
[Click on image to enlarge it.]
Full caption: And was straightway led down stairs into the bar from which he had lately come, where he found himself standing opposite to, and in the grasp of, a perfectly strange gentleman of still stranger appearance.
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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It happened on the fourth evening, that Mr. Pecksniff walking, as usual, into the bar of the Dragon and finding no Mrs. Lupin there, went straight up-stairs; purposing, in the fervour of his affectionate zeal, to apply his ear once more to the keyhole, and quiet his mind by assuring himself that the hard-hearted patient was going on well. It happened that Mr. Pecksniff, coming softly upon the dark passage into which a spiral ray of light usually darted through the same keyhole, was astonished to find no such ray visible; and it happened that Mr. Pecksniff, when he had felt his way to the chamber-door, stooping hurriedly down to ascertain by personal inspection whether the jealousy of the old man had caused this key-hole to be stopped on the inside, brought his head into such violent contact with another head that he could not help uttering in an audible voice the monosyllable "Oh!" which was, as it were, sharply unscrewed and jerked out of him by very anguish. It happened then, and lastly, that Mr. Pecksniff found himself immediately collared by something which smelt like several damp umbrellas, a barrel of beer, a cask of warm brandy-and-water, and a small parlor-full of stale tobacco smoke, mixed; and was straightway led down-stairs into the bar from which he had lately come, where he found himself standing opposite to, and in the grasp of, a perfectly strange gentleman of still stranger appearance who, with his disengaged hand, rubbed his own head very hard, and looked at him, Pecksniff, with an evil countenance.
The gentleman was of that order of appearance which is currently termed shabby-genteel, though in respect of his dress he can hardly be said to have been in any extremities, as his fingers were a long way out of his gloves, and the soles of his feet were at an inconvenient distance from the upper leather of his boots. His nether garments were of a bluish gray — violent in its colors once, but sobered now by age and dinginess — and were so stretched and strained in a tough conflict between his braces and his straps, that they appeared every moment in danger of flying asunder at the knees. His coat, in color blue and of a military cut, was buttoned and frogged up to his chin. His cravat was, in hue and pattern, like one of those mantles which hairdressers are accustomed to wrap about their clients, during the progress of the professional mysteries. His hat had arrived at such a pass that it would have been hard to determine whether it was originally white or black. But he wore a mustache — a shaggy mustache too: nothing in the meek and merciful way, but quite in the fierce and scornful style: the regular Satanic sort of thing — and he wore, besides, a vast quantity of unbrushed hair. He was very dirty and very jaunty; very bold and very mean; very swaggering and very slinking; very much like a man who might have been something better, and unspeakably like a man who deserved to be something worse. [Chapter Four, "From which it will appear that if union be strength, and family affection be pleasant to contemplate, the Chuzzlewits were the strongest and most agreeable Family in the World," vol. 1, 75-77]
In selecting his subjects for the four frontispieces for the four volumes in the American "Household Edition" of the early 1860s, Felix Darley had merely to consider the original forty monthly illustrations by Dickens's graphic collaborator, Phiz, Hablot Knight Browne. Among the incidents which occur within the scope of volume one (chapters 1 through 12), the meeting of the novel's two greatest humbugs, the hypocritical provincial architect, Seth Pecksniff, and the Chuzzlewit hanger-on and disgraced military officer, Montague Tigg, is the most useful in establishing the keynote: the exposure of fraud, duplicity, and egocentricity. Focussing on the book's arch-hypocrite in chapter four, Phiz's third illustration (for the second monthly instalment), Pleasant little family party at Mr. Pecksniff's depicts the admirable Pecksniff as pre-eminent among the exploitative, egocentric Chuzzlewit clan that has just descended upon the little Wiltshire village in pursuit of the patriarchal Martin, Senior's favour. In the next decade, in the Household Edition (1871-79) illustration entitled (not entirely correctly) Mr. Pecksniff is introduced to a relative, the great Dickens interpreter for the latter part of the nineteenth century, Fred Barnard, Pecksniff again appears in his initial meeting with the scapegrace but beguiling Tigg (who, of course, is not a Chuzzlewit, but has merely attached himself to one), but without the physical humour evident in Darley's initial illustration.
Whereas Eytinge, following the visual conventions established by the original Phiz illustrations, describes Tigg as a slender man of middle age wearing a quasi-military, frogged but threadbare surtout and sporting a long moustache, Furniss reduces the size of the moustache and focuses on the confrontation between Spottletoe and Pecksniff over the leadership of the Chuzzlewit clan. Whereas the family gathering is dramatic and offered Phiz plenty of scope for visual satire and caricature, Darley elected to describe the meeting of two of the book's most significant antagonists in the Blue Dragon, one of the novel's chief locations, and lay the groundwork for introducing the plot involving the Anglo-Bengalee confidence scheme.
Although The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit was a nineteen-month serialisation, and remains a sprawling narrative that encompasses a great range of characters, most of them humorous distortions and caricatures, and spans two continents and two societies, one has little sense of the comic richness and diversity in Darley's illustrations of Pecksniff and Tigg, Young Martin and Mark Tapley, Mary Graham, and the indefatible Sairey Gamp. One notices right away that Darley has omitted images of Dickens's "aristocrats of Nature," those horn-swoggling, dynamic, rhetorically gifted Yankees whom Young Martin encounters on his journey to Eden. Darley's first set of subjects, Pecksniff and Tigg, are too tidy, too self-contained, and lack the spark of life that Dickens's indignation gives them. In this rollicking picaresque, Darley's images of Pecksniff and Tigg simply do not do justice to Dickens's powers of comedic invention.
Relevant Serial Edition (1843), Diamond Edition (1867), Household Edition (1873), and Charles Dickens Library Edition (1910) Illustrations
Left: Hablot Knight Browne's "Pleasant little family party at Mr. Pecksniff's" (February 1843). Right: Harry Furniss's "Mr. Spottletoe Stands up to Mr. Pecksniff" (1910). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Later Editions. Left: Fred Barnard's Mr. Pecksniff is introduced to a relative (1872). Right: Sol Eytinge, Jr.'s Montague Tigg and Chevy Slyme (1867). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Bentley, Nicolas, Michael Slater, and Nina Burgis. The Dickens Index. New York and Oxford: Oxford U. P., 1990.
Dickens, Charles. The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit. Il. Hablot Knight Browne. London: Chapman and Hall, 1844.
Dickens, Charles. Martin Chuzzlewit. Works of Charles Dickens. Household Edition. 55 vols. Il. F. O. C. Darley and John Gilbert. New York: Sheldon and Co., 1863. Vol. 1 of 4.
Dickens, Charles. The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit. Il. Sol Eytinge, Junior. The Diamond Edition. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867.
Dickens, Charles. The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit. Illustrated by Fred Barnard. The Household Edition. 22 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, 1872. Vol. 2.
Dickens, Charles. Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit. Il. Harry Furniss. The Charles Dickens Library Edition. 18 vols. London: Educational Book, 1910. Vol. 7.
F. O. C.
Last modified 23 January 2016