Captain Cuttle . . . took his own [watch] down from the mantel-shelf
Felix O. C. Darley
9.8 x 8 cm vignetted
Dickens's Dombey and Son, Household Edition, vol. 4 frontispiece.
Image from the personal collection of Philip V. Allingham.
[Click on illustration to enlarge it.]
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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"My Heart's Delight!" said the trembling Captain. "For the sake of Wal'r drownded in the briny deep, turn to, and histe up something or another, if able!"
Finding her insensible to this impressive adjuration also, Captain Cuttle snatched from his breakfast-table a basin of cold water, and sprinkled some upon her face. Yielding to the urgency of the case, the Captain then, using his immense hand with extraordinary gentleness, relieved her of her bonnet, moistened her lips and forehead, put back her hair, covered her feet with his own coat which he pulled off for the purpose, patted her hand — so small in his, that he was struck with wonder when he touched it — and seeing that her eyelids quivered, and that her lips began to move, continued these restorative applications with a better heart.
"Cheerily," said the Captain. "Cheerily! Stand by, my pretty one, stand by! There! You're better now. Steady's the word, and steady it is. Keep her so! Drink a little drop o' this here," said the Captain. "There you are! What cheer now, my pretty, what cheer now?"
At this stage of her recovery, Captain Cuttle, with an imperfect association of a Watch with a Physician's treatment of a patient, took his own down from the mantel-shelf, and holding it out on his hook, and taking Florence's hand in his, looked steadily from one to the other, as expecting the dial to do something.
"What cheer, my pretty?" said the Captain. "What cheer now? You've done her some good, my lad, I believe," said the Captain, under his breath, and throwing an approving glance upon his watch. "Put you back half-an-hour every morning, and about another quarter towards the arternoon, and you're a watch as can be ekalled by few and excelled by none. What cheer, my lady lass!"
"Captain Cuttle! Is it you?" exclaimed Florence, raising herself a little. — Part 8, May 1847, Chapter 48, "The Flight of Florence," volume 4, pages 40-41.
At this stage of the novel Dickens deftly merges the Walter Gay subplot and the Dombey main plot as the breakup of the marriage of her father and stepmother leads to Florence's rejection by both. Mr. Dombey, distraught at Edith's departure, strikes Florence, who flees her home and, wandering dazed through the London streets, arrives at The Wooden Midshipman. There, Captain Cuttle takes her under his protection and endeavours to nurse her back to health in Chapter 48. As she recovers, the noble, old sailor recounts the story of the survivors of a shipwreck, which Florence suddenly realizes is the story of Walter's survival. In the next monthly part in the original serial, Walter's shadow cast upon the wall of the parlour signals his return and ultimately leads to the marriage of Florence Dombey and Walter Gay, for which Sol Gills arrives just in time. Needless to say, Darley had his choice of many significant events in the final volume, which covers chapters 47 through 62, which is to say "The Thunderbolt" (in which Edith demands that her husband release her from their loveless marriage) to "Final" (in which a white-haired Mr. Dombey toasts the marriage of his daughter and Walter Gay in the company of Captain Cuttle and Sol Gills at The Wooden Midshipman). Nevertheless, Darley has elected once again to graph that part of the story that pertains to the nautical rather than the corporate characters.
Darley had precedent for an illustration of this group aboard The Cautious Clara in Part 8 of the original serial, with Phiz's picture of the visit to Sol Gils's map-strewn parlour, Solemn Reference is Made to Mr. Bunsby (May 1847) — even though Bunsby is at best a tertiary character, and hardly an oracle to be consulted about the fate of Walter Gay. The Darley scene, set above decks, is far less congested than Phiz's in Sol Gills's parlour, and is visually more engaging because of its giving prominence to the two old salts, the protective Captain Cuttle and the obtuse Captain Bunsby, with Florence and her maid in supporting roles. In place of the crowded Phiz composition whose centre is Sol Gills, a map, and Susan Nipper, Darley has organized the composition so that the emphasis is on the comic characters with the amusing visages and extraordinary costumes, Bunsby and Cuttle.
In contrast to Phiz's January 1848 engraving signalling at the opening of the instalment Walter Gay's sudden return, The Shadow in the Little Parlour, Darley's frontispiece for the fourth and final volume does not reveal much of the plot, other than, after her father's striking her, Florence makes her way to The Wooden Midshipman and Captain Cuttle's protection. The lengthy caption merely confirms that Florence will recover:
At this stage of her recovery, Captain Cuttle, with an imperfect association of a Watch with a Physician's treatment of a patient, took his own down from the mantel-shelf, and holding it out on his hook, and taking Florence's hand in his, looked steadily from one to the other, as expecting the dial to do something. [caption beneath the photogravure]
The reader will certainly have kept in mind the illustration of Captain Cuttle's nursing the distraught girl back to health, a proleptic reading that creates a sense of anticipation without revealing Walter's return. Darley has placed Florence's discarded bonnet on the floor to imply the suddenness of her arrival and the haste with which the good Captain has tended her, and the Captain's gazing at Diogenes to affirm the the improvement of her condition (although he has no idea how to employ the watch to measure her pulse rate). The bric-a-brac evident in the illustration reveals the dual nature of the apartment, with a teapot and china on the sideboard to the left suggesting a parlour and the seascape, telescope, and books above the fireplace underscoring the nautical background and occupation of the owner, who is in fact Sol Gills. Although Darley has used a caricatural treatment for the sailor's face, he has exploited the depth of field in the photogravure for photographic realism, especially effective in the dog's shaggy coat.
Whereas Darley's intention seems to have been to hint at the trajectory of the plot and engender sympathy for Florence, Phiz alerts the reader to a significant plot development. In the Household Edition volume issued by Chapman and Hall, Fred Barnard — who is not likely to have studied Darley's frontispiece — nevertheless illustrated Florence's collapsing, exhausted, before a startled Captain Cuttle, a melodramatic moment realistically realized, but eliciting sympathy only for the girl in Florence made a motion with her hand towards him, reeled, and fell upon the floor (p. 344). A few pages later, Barnard assures the reader of Florence's recovery as she tends to Captain Cuttle's comfort in When he had filled his pipe in an absolute reverie of satisfaction, Florence lighted it for him (p. 352). Nevertheless, Darley's treatment remains more emotionally satisfying as the American illustrator communicates the old salt's genuine tenderness for the rich girl who, at this point, seems to have lost her family through death and divorce.
The relevant illustrations of Capt. Cuttle and Florence from the original serial publication
Left: Phiz's May 1847 introduction of Capt. Bunsby, Solemn Reference Is Made to Mr. Bunsby. Centre: Phiz's January 1848 engraving of Walter Gay's sudden return, The Shadow in the Little Parlour. Right: Phiz's March 1848 finalé of the romantic plot, An Arrival. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]
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F. O. C.
Last modified 3 November 2015