Bertha, the Blind Girl, May Fielding, and Caleb Plummer
Felix O. C. Darley
11.7 by 9.5 cm vignetted
Dickens's The Cricket on the Hearth, as realised in No. 12 of Character Sketches from Dickens (1888).
[Click on image to enlarge it.]
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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"To be — to be blind, Bertha, my poor dear," he faltered, "is a great affliction; but —"
I have never felt it!" cried the Blind Girl. "I have never felt it, in its fulness. Never! I have sometimes wished that I could see you, or could see him — only once, dear father, only for one little minute — that I might know what it is I treasure up," she laid her hands upon her breast, "and hold here! That I might be sure and have it right! And sometimes (but then I was a child) I have wept in my prayers at night, to think that when your images ascended from my heart to Heaven, they might not be the true resemblance of yourselves. But I have never had these feelings long. They have passed away and left me tranquil and contented."
"And they will again,' said Caleb.
"But, father! Oh my good, gentle father, bear with me, if I am wicked!" said the Blind Girl. "This is not the sorrow that so weighs me down!"
Her father could not choose but let his moist eyes overflow; she was so earnest and pathetic, but he did not understand her, yet.
"Bring her to me," said Bertha. "I cannot hold it closed and shut within myself. Bring her to me, father!"
She knew he hesitated, and said, "May. Bring May!"
May heard the mention of her name, and coming quietly towards her, touched her on the arm. The Blind Girl turned immediately, and held her by both hands.
"Look into my face, Dear heart, Sweet heart!" said Bertha. "Read it with your beautiful eyes, and tell me if the truth is written on it."
"Dear Bertha, Yes!"
The Blind Girl still, upturning the blank sightless face, down which the tears were coursing fast, addressed her in these words. . . . —The Cricket on the Hearth, "Chirp the Second," 1845 edition, pp. 98-100; Christmas Stories, Household Edition, vol. 1, p. 290-291.
It is not unlikely that Darley had the benefit of seeing the work of the consortium of illustrators whom Dickens commissioned to create the narrative-pictorial sequence for the third Christmas Book, which veers away from the social realism of The Chimes (1844), and amplifies the good cheer represented by the Cratchits. Stripping away the fanciful and fantastic touches of Doyle and Leech to study "situated characters," Darley has rendered the toy-maker and his blind daughter more realistically than John Leech and Richard Doyle, whose Chirp the Second contains fairytale elements and figures that are far less modelled than Darley's. Darley's interest in the story here, however, as in his 1861 frontispiece for the so-called "Household Edition" of Sheldon and Company, is intensely sentimental. In his earlier study of the toymaker and his daughter, Darley's Caleb looks out of the frame, towards the viewer, as if inviting the reader to examine his workroom and products. He welcomes the reader, too, to the experience of the first three Christmas Books in the little volume, which contains only the first half of The Cricket on the Hearth.
Although the original and subsequent illustrators of The Cricket on the Hearth (1845) have depicted the blind toy-maker, Bertha Plummer, and her father, Caleb, in their workshop, Darley alone focuses on Bertha's envy of May Fielding in that she is shortly to become Mrs. Tackleton. In this second study, Darley examines the emotionally overwrought moment when Bertha embraces May Fielding as Tackleton's bride-to-be, even though she is secretly in love herself with her father's employer. Indeed, in neither illustration for The Cricket on the Hearth: A Fairy Tale of Home (1845) has Darley exhibited any interest in the story's principal characters, the carrier John Peerybingle and his wife, Dot; rather, he has focused on Caleb and his daughter, Bertha, from the story's subplot.
The textual context of the illustration is represented by the domestic implements and simple fireplace, as well as by the postures of the three characters: May Fielding in the background (not indicated as present in Darley's advertised title, "Caleb Plummer and His Blind Daughter, from The Cricket on the Hearth), rather than Dot, the diminutive wife of the middle-aged carrier; the sympathetically presented Bertha (centre); and the doting parent, Caleb, to the right. Darley situated the highly sentimentalized interaction through the humble furniture, the flagstone floor of the Plummers' cottage, and the vessels on the mantelpiece and shelf. At Dot's "little Pic-Nic" (79) intended to break the foggy journey her husband regularly makes, these details merely suggest a lower-middle class or working class dwelling, and Darley has included no toy-making paraphernalia to stipulate the background as belonging to the suburban cottage of the Plummers, at which May Fielding has arrived in advance of the Peerybingles. Indeed, to focus on the emotional moment Darley has excluded the other characters present: John, Dot, Tilly the nurse, Mrs. Fielding, and the sardonic Tackleton — and the elderly traveller, actually Edward, Caleb's long-lost sailor son.
Related Illustrations in Other Editions, 1845 through 1910
Left: John Leech's "Caleb at Work" (1845); centre: Darley's earlier "Household" Edition illustration, "Father," said the Blind Girl, drawing close to his side, and stealing one arm round his neck, "tell me something about May. She is very fair?" (1861). right: Sol Eytinge, Jr.'s "Caleb Plummer and Bertha" (1867). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Left: E. A. Abbey's "Halloo! Halloo!" said Caleb. "I shall be vain, presently" (1876). Centre: Fred Barnard's "Caleb, Bertha, and Tackleton" (1878). Right: Harry Furniss's "Caleb Plummer — The Toy Maker" (1910). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
In 1888, when Felix Octavius Carr Darley posthumously published with Porter and Coates thirteen elegant character studies in a collector's folder rather than a book, his selection of Bertha's emotional acceptance of May's becoming Tackleton's wife as representative of the melodramatic 1845 Christmas Book reveals the artist's as well as the fin-de-siècle reading public's taste in Dickens's works. In the American Bookseller for Christmas 1888 the publishers advertised two "folios" amounting to just thirteen photogravures by the late F. O. C. Darley:
No. One (6 illustrations)
I. Sam Weller. II. Tony Weller. III. Fagan [sic] and Oliver Twist. IV. Nancy, Oliver, and Bill Sykes. V. Mrs. Joe. VI. Pip and Joe.
No. Two (7 illustrations)
VII. Little Nell and her Grandfather in the churchyard. VIII. Dick Swiveller and Quilp. IX. Barnaby Rudge and Grip the raven. X. Hugh and Dolly Varden. XI. Old Rudge and John Willet. XII. Caleb Plummer and His Blind Daughter. XIII. Mine host of "The Nutmeg Grater" [i. e., Benjamin Britain].
Although the prints as published contain only Darley's name and the publishers and are otherwise uncaptioned, the advertisement gives the names of the characters and the books from which they come:
Porter and Coates' New Books. Character Sketches from the Works of Charles Dickens. By F. O. C. Darley. Folio No. 1, Size 19x23 $6.00 Containing six magnificent illustrations carefully reproduced from the original drawings.
Old Weller, from Pickwick Papers. Barnaby Rudge, from Barnaby Rudge. Oliver Twist and Fagan [sic], from Oliver Twist. Joe Gargery and Pip, from Great Expectations. Mine Host of "The Nutmeg Grater," from The Battle of Life. Little Nell and her Grandfather, from The Old Curiosity Shop.
Folio No. 2, Size 19x23 $6.00 Containing seven magnificent illustrations carefully reproduced from the original drawings. Sam Weller, from The Pickwick Papers. Hugh and Dolly Varden, from Barnaby Rudge. Bill Sykes, Nancy, and Oliver, from Oliver Twist. Mrs. Gargery on the rampage, from Great Expectations. Caleb Plummer and his blind daughter, from Cricket on the Hearth. Dick Swiveller and Quilp, from Old Curiosity Shop. Old Rudge and John Willet.
But a few months before his death, Mr. F. O. C. Darley, the greatest American book illustrator, commenced what he intended should be the crowning monument of his artistic career — a series of drawings of some of the characters which Dickens has made immortal. Each novel was to be taken up in turn, and two or three of the most p rominent characters selected which should faithfully represent the great series of familiar characters who owe their existence to the master mind of English literature. Mr. Darley's heart was in the work, and every detail was thought out, and drawn with a loving hand; and when the first sketches were shown to the critics all acknowledged that Mr. Darley had surpassed his previous efforts, and had thoroughly caught the spirit of Dickens himself. Sam Weller and his father were speaking likenesses, and Barnaby Rudge was never better drawn by any artist living or dead. In their way The Pickwick Papers, Barnaby Rudge, the Old Curiosity Shop, Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, and Christmas Stories had each furnished their quota to the great picture gallery, and the companion of the great work was eagerly anticipated, when Mr. Darley's sudden and unexpected death cut short his life's work, and almost the last thought of the dying man was his regret that he did not live to complete the Dickens illustrations, a regret which will be shared by all who see the brilliant work which he had already done on them. 
As the advertisements would suggest, XII. Caleb Plummer and His Blind Daughter should contain just two figures, leaving the viewer in a quandary as to whether the third figure is Dot Peerybingle or May Fielding (Tilly Slowboy being a sufficiently idiosyncratic figure that this cannot the Perrybingles' gangly nurse) and precisely where and when in the novella this scene occurs.
Bentley, Nicolas, Michael Slater, and Nina Burgis. The Dickens Index. New York and Oxford: Oxford U. P., 1990.
Bolton, Theodore. The Book Illustrations of Felix Octavius Carr Darley (1951). Worcester, Mass: American Antiquarian Society, 1952.
Darley, Felix Octavius Carr. Character Sketches from Dickens. Philadelphia: Porter and Coates, 1888.p class="bibl">Davis, Paul. . Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, 1998.
Dickens, Charles. The Cricket on the Hearth. A Fairy Tale of Home. Illustrated by John Leech, Daniel Maclise, Richard Doyle, Edwin Landseer, and Clarson Stanfield. London: Bradbury and Evans, 1845 [dated 1846].
Dickens, Charles. The Cricket on the Hearth. A Fairy Tale of Home. Christmas Stories. Illustrated by F. O. C. Darley. Household Edition. 55 vols. New York: James G. Gregory, 1861. Vol. 1, 227-300; vol. 2, 7-45.
Dickens, Charles. The Christmas Books. Illustrated by Sol Eytinge, Jr. The Diamond Edition. 16 vols. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Books. Illustrated by Fred Barnard. The Household Edition. 55 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, 1878. Vol. 17.
Dickens, Charles. The Christmas Books. Illustrated by Harry Furniss. Charles Dickens Library Edition. 18 vols. London: Educational Book Company, 1910. Vol. 8.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories. Illustrated by E. A. Abbey. The Household Edition. 16 vols. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1876.
F. O. C.
Last modified 19 August 2014