The third full-page illustration for "Additional Christmas Stories" by Sol Eytinge, Jr. 7.5 cm high by 9.9 cm wide, framed. The Diamond Edition of Dickens's The Uncommercial Traveller and Additional Christmas Stories (Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867; Lee and Shepard & Charles T. Dillingham, n. d.). Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL.]

Passage Illustrated

He had been so still, that the moment he moved I knew of it, and I pulled off my spectacles and laid down my book and rose and looked at him. From moving one hand he began to move both, and then his action was the action of a person groping in the dark. Long after his eyes had opened, there was a film over them and he still felt for his way out into light. But by slow degrees his sight cleared and his hands stopped. He saw the ceiling, he saw the wall, he saw me. As his sight cleared, mine cleared too, and when at last we looked in one another’s faces, I started back, and I cries passionately:

"O you wicked wicked man! Your sin has found you out!"

For I knew him, the moment life looked out of his eyes, to be Mr. Edson, Jemmy's father who had so cruelly deserted Jemmy's young unmarried mother who had died in my arms, poor tender creetur, and left Jemmy to me.

"You cruel wicked man! You bad black traitor!"

With the little strength he had, he made an attempt to turn over on his wretched face to hide it. His arm dropped out of the bed and his head with it, and there he lay before me crushed in body and in mind. Surely the miserablest sight under the summer sun!

"O blessed Heaven," I says a crying, "teach me what to say to this broken mortal! I am a poor sinful creetur, and the Judgment is not mine."

As I lifted my eyes up to the clear bright sky, I saw the high tower where Jemmy had stood above the birds, seeing that very window; and the last look of that poor pretty young mother when her soul brightened and got free, seemed to shine down from it.

"O man, man, man!" I says, and I went on my knees beside the bed; "if your heart is rent asunder and you are truly penitent for what you did, Our Saviour will have mercy on you yet!"

As I leaned my face against the bed, his feeble hand could just move itself enough to touch me. I hope the touch was penitent. It tried to hold my dress and keep hold, but the fingers were too weak to close.

I lifted him back upon the pillows and I says to him:

"Can you hear me?"

He looked yes.

"Do you know me?"

He looked yes, even yet more plainly.

"I am not here alone. The Major is with me. You recollect the Major?"

Yes. That is to say he made out yes, in the same way as before.

"And even the Major and I are not alone. My grandson — his godson — is with us. Do you hear? My grandson.

The fingers made another trial to catch my sleeve, but could only creep near it and fall.

"Do you know who my grandson is?"

Yes.

"I pitied and loved his lonely mother. When his mother lay a dying I said to her, 'My dear, this baby is sent to a childless old woman.' He has been my pride and joy ever since. I love him as dearly as if he had drunk from my breast. Do you ask to see my grandson before you die?"

Yes.

"Show me, when I leave off speaking, if you correctly understand what I say. He has been kept unacquainted with the story of his birth. He has no knowledge of it. No suspicion of it. If I bring him here to the side of this bed, he will suppose you to be a perfect stranger. It is more than I can do to keep from him the knowledge that there is such wrong and misery in the world; but that it was ever so near him in his innocent cradle I have kept from him, and I do keep from him, and I ever will keep from him, for his mother's sake, and for his own."

He showed me that he distinctly understood, and the tears fell from his eyes.

"Now rest, and you shall see him."

So I got him a little wine and some brandy, and I put things straight about his bed. But I began to be troubled in my mind lest Jemmy and the Major might be too long of coming back. What with this occupation for my thoughts and hands, I didn't hear a foot upon the stairs, and was startled when I saw the Major stopped short in the middle of the room by the eyes of the man upon the bed, and knowing him then, as I had known him a little while ago.

There was anger in the Major's face, and there was horror and repugnance and I don’t know what. So I went up to him and I led him to the bedside, and when I clasped my hands and lifted of them up, the Major did the like.

"O Lord" I says "Thou knowest what we two saw together of the sufferings and sorrows of that young creetur now with Thee. If this dying man is truly penitent, we two together humbly pray Thee to have mercy on him!"

The Major says "Amen!" and then after a little stop I whispers him, "Dear old friend fetch our beloved boy." And the Major, so clever as to have got to understand it all without being told a word, went away and brought him.

Never never never shall I forget the fair bright face of our boy when he stood at the foot of the bed, looking at his unknown father. And O so like his dear young mother then!

"Jemmy" I says, "I have found out all about this poor gentleman who is so ill, and he did lodge in the old house once. And as he wants to see all belonging to it, now that he is passing away, I sent for you."

"Ah poor man!" says Jemmy stepping forward and touching one of his hands with great gentleness. "My heart melts for him. Poor, poor man!"

The eyes that were so soon to close for ever turned to me, and I was not that strong in the pride of my strength that I could resist them. [Chapter One: "Mrs. Lirriper Relates How She Went on, and Went over," pages 265-267]

Commentary

In the 1864 Christmas story Mrs. Lirriper's Legacy, a sequel to to highly popular 1863 framed tale Mrs. Lirriper's Lodgings, Edson, who abandoned his pregnant wife in Mrs. Lirriper's Norfolk Street lodging house in the first sequence, dies in France, leaving the kindly landlady a legacy. In Mrs. Lirriper's Lodgings, the pathetic Mrs. Edson, abandoned by her husband, had attempted suicide and later dies under the her landlady's care, leaving an infant son to be adopted as "Jemmy" by "Gran" and the indefatigible Major Jackman, who appeared in Eytinge's other "Lirriper" wood-engraving, Mrs. Lirriper and the Major, facing page 238. We see their figures again here, augmented by the presence of "Jemmy Lirriper," at the death-bed of the profligate Edson, who is too ill to do more than respond by hand grip to what Mrs. Lirriper tells him.

The illustration is yet another example of a Victorian death-bed scene, which Dickens and other writers of the period often used to great sentimental effect. In Dalziel's parallel illustration, Mrs. Lirriper for the 1864 sequel to the 1863 Christmas Story, the dying profligate, Edson, is in exactly the same position. However, Eytinge has melodramatically stationed the boy at the patient's ear, unaware that this wretch is his father, and the man who abandoned his pregant mother in the Norfolk Street rooming-house ten years earlier. The scene of contrition and Christian foregiveness in which Mrs. Lirriper lapses into the language of The New Testament is otherwise not much different in composition and effect from the scene that Dalziel in 1868 was to furnish for Mrs. Lirriper's Legacy, which in turn complements his earlier illustration which realises the death of the infant Jemmy's mother. Thus, Dalziel and Eytinge in selecting this moment in the Christmas Story emphasise the operation of poetic justice or Providence in the fate of the wastrel who abandoned the suicidal Mrs. Edson in 12 December 1863 story.

Such death-bed scenes were a commonplace in Victorian fiction, perhaps the locus classicus in Dickens being Little Nell at Rest, the engraving accompanying the death of the child-heroine in the 30 January 1841 instalment of The Old Curiosity Shop (chapter 71). This sentimental moment in the 1864 Extra Christmas Number is a contrast in that in that earlier sentimental scene an essentially saintly child dies in surroundings with sacred overtones. Yet another pertinent contrast from the Dickens canon is I find Mr. Barkis "going out with the tide", in which the taciturn carrier passes away gently, surrounded by friends and family, rather than, as is the case with the decrepit Edson of Eytinge's 1867 and Dalziel's 1868 illustration, expires in pain among (albeit charitable) strangers, who sadly include his own son (centre in both illustrations, to underscore the irony). Eytinge subtly controls the lighting by having the left-hand leaded pane transmit sunlight, whereas the right-hand parallel pane, entirely dasrkened, implies the passage from life to death. Edson looks pathetically at the Major as he grasps Mrs. Lirriper's hand to acknowledge that he understands who the boy "Jemmy" really is. Significantly, the Major's expression here is one of gentle foregiveness rather than stern judgment at Edson's behaviour.

Library, Household, and Charles Dickens Library Edition (1868, 1876-77, and 1910) Illustrations Relevant to "Mrs. Lirriper's Legacy" (1863)

Left, upper row: E. A. Abbey's "She prayed a good good prayer and I joined in it poor me" and "Come Sir! Remove me to my vile dungeon. Where is my mouldy straw?" (1876). Upper right: Edward Dalziel's 1868 illustration "Mrs. Lirriper [The Death of Edson]" and (lower left) "Come Sir! Remove me to my vile dungeon. Where is my mouldy straw?" Lower right: Harry Furniss's delightful moment of adults engaging in imaginative play with Jemmy in "Jemmy and the Major". [Click on images to enlarge them.]

References

Bentley, Nicolas, Michael Slater, and Nina Burgis. The Dickens Index. Oxford and New York: Oxford U. P., 1988.

Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Checkmark and Facts On File, 1998.

Dickens, Charles. Christmas Books and The Uncommercial Traveller. Illustrated by Harry Furniss. Charles Dickens Library Edition. 18 vols. London: Educational Book Company, 1910. Vol. 10.

Dickens, Charles. The Uncommercial Traveller and Additional Christmas Stories. Illustrated by Sol Eytinge, Junior. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867.

Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories from "Household Words" and "All The Year Round". Illustrated by Townley Green, Charles Green, Fred Walker, F. A. Fraser, Harry French, E. G. Dalziel, and J. Mahony. The Illustrated Library Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1868, rpt. in the Centenary Edition of Chapman & Hall and Charles Scribner's Sons (1911). 2 vols.

Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories. Illustrated by E. A. Abbey. The Household Edition. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1876.

Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories from "Household Words" and "All the Year Round". Illustrated by E. G. Dalziel. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1877.

Parker, David. "Christmas Books and Stories, 1844 to 1854." Christmas and Charles Dickens. New York: AMS Press, 2005. Pp. 221-282.

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; Gorgon 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.

Thomas, Deborah A. Dickens and The Short Story. Philadelphia: U. Pennsylvania Press, 1982.


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Last modified 15 April 2014