J. Clayton Clarke ("Kyd")
Watercolour reproduced on John Player cigarette card no. 41
Character from Dickens's David Copperfield
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham
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In Kyd's sequence of fifty cards, fully 13 or over 25% concern a single novel, The Pickwick Papers, attesting to the enduring popularity of the picaresque comic novel and also suggesting that the later, darker novels such as Our Mutual Friend (two characters) and The Mystery of Edwin Drood (no characters depicted) offered little for the caricaturist, the only late characters in the series being the singularly unpleasantand physically odd Silas Wegg and the rough waterman Rogue Riderhood from Our Mutual Friend, and Turveydrop, Jo, Bucket, and Chadband from Bleak House. The popular taste was clearly still towards the earlier farce and character comedy of Dickens. The series, however, includes a total of six character cards from the cast of David Copperfield (May 1849 through November 1850), or 12% of the total: the affable master of English rhetoric Wilkens Micawber, no. 41; the oppressed child who becomes a novelist, David Copperfield, no. 39; the rigid and mean-spirited Mr. Murdstone, no. 37; the crotchety but warm-hearted Betsey Trotwood, no. 36; the devious, unctuous Uriah Heep, no. 38; and the stalwart pater familias Dan' Peggotty, no. 40 — characterisations based on the original serial illustrations of Dickens's regular visual interpreter in the 1840s, Phiz, who produced forty steel-engravings and the wrapper design for the Bradbury and Evans nineteen-month serial, as well as a wood-engraved frontispiece of Little Em'ly and David as children on the Yarmouth sands for the first cheap edition (1858) and two vignettes for the two-volume Library Edition: Little Em'ly and David by the Sea and Mr. Peggotty's Dream Comes True.
Although Kyd's representations are largely based on the original illustrations by Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz), the modelling of the figures is suggestive of those of celebrated Dickensian illustrator Fred Barnard for the Household Edition volume 3 (1871). The anomaly, of course, is that Kyd should elect to depict minor figures from the first Dickens novel such as the Dingley Dell cricketers Dumkins and Luffey and the minor antagonist Major Bagstock in Dombey and Son, but omit significant characters from such later, still-much-read novels as A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations. Five of the fifty cards or 10% of the series come from the cast of The Adventures of Oliver Twist; or, The Parish Boy's Progress (1837-39): Oliver himself, asking for more; Fagin with his toasting fork, from the scene in which he prepares dinner for his crew; Sikes holding a beer-mug, and the Artful Dodger in an oversized adult topcoat and crushed top-hat, as he appeared at his trial. Surprisingly, some of the other significant characters, including Nancy and Rose Maylie, are not among the first set of fifty characters, in which Kyd exhibits a strong male bias, as he realizes only seven female characters: only the beloved Nell, the abrasive Sally Brass, and the quirky Marchioness from The Old Curiosity Shop, Sairey Gamp from Martin Chuzzlewit, Aunt Betsey Trotwood from David Copperfield, the burly Mrs. McStinger from Dombey and Son, and the awkward Fanny Squeers from Nicholas Nickleby appear in the essentially comic cavalcade.
Kyd's model for the bon vivant and perpetual sponger who makes good in Australia was likely Phiz's study of the nattily dressed Wilkins Micawber in Mr. Micawber delivers some valedictory remarks (April 1850: Chapter 36). However, Kyd had no shortage of models since genial indigent wearing gloves, spats, top hat, and the sort of ostentatious, floral "D'Orsay" waistcoat favoured by young adult David Copperfield and young novelist Charles Dickens, for Micawber occurs in a total six Phiz's original serial plates, most significantly perhaps as the loving husband restored to the bosom of his doting family after he has denounced Uriah Heep in Restoration of mutual confidence between Mr. and Mrs. Micawber (September 1850: Chapter 52). The illustrator actually affected the sartorial style of Micawber with spats, gloves, and top-hat, so that he likely had studied the Micawber illustrations of Fred Barnard for the Household Edition volume 3 (1872), particularly the full-page wood engraving depicting Micawber and David passing Finsbury Park, Mr. Micawber, impressing the names of streets and shapes of corner houses upon me as we went along, that I might find my way back easily in the morning" (Chapter XI, "I Begin Life on my Own Account, and Don't Like It"). In all likelihood, Kyd never saw an 1867 Diamond Edition volume of the novel, and therefore was not influenced by Sol Eytinge, Junior's Mr. Micawber and His Family, whose image in that family grouping is in any event quite consistent with Phiz's original.
In addressing the visual features and appurtenances of the irrepressible Wilkins Micawber, including the jaunty cane with rusty tassels, Kyd, like Barnard in the previous decade, could not depart radically from the notions of that character imparted to an earlier generation of readers by Phiz. In the 1849-50 serialisation, the initial illustrator had given Dickens's readers an indelible image: a nattily albeit shabbily dressed middle-aged bourgeois of above average height with a cane, monocle or "quizzing glass" suggestive of the fashions and manners of the Regency, high starched collar, tail-coat, bald head and beaver, a genial expression and a slightly protuberant stomach, beak-like nose, and spindly legs, their thinness accentuated by his close-fitting tights. Barnard produced a total of four images congruent with these Phiz-established features. Another image that perhaps influenced Kyd is that of the fashionably attired urbanite in a London street in the early business hours in one of Fred Barnard's 1885 Character Sketches from Dickens, Mr. Micawber in the third series, widely reproduced, especially in America, where British authors and illustrators did not enjoy full copyright protection at the time.
Inept though he may be in financial matters, the ever-optimistic Wilkins Micawber is David friend and mentor, an idealized version of the author's own father, the mercurial and perpetually debt-ridden John Dickens. Although he does not appear early in the serial, Micawber is an abiding presence as soon as David is consigned to the wine-bottling warehouse of Murdstone and Grinby that stands in for Dickens's own childhood horror, the blacking warehouse at Hungerford Stairs. With the classic ticks ("Something is bound to turn up") and verbal mannerisms of a secondary Dickens character, Micawber becomes a comic voice of epic proportions, one of Dickens's greatest comic achievements. Kyd's character study and cigarette card both capture Micawber's spriteliness, synthesizing the original caricature and the more realistic modelling of the Barnard images.
Created 13 January 2015