Prologue spoken by The Spirit of the Chimes (Miss E. Chaplin, whose costume was a "White shirt, trimmed with holly; head dress, and a holly wreath; fleshings."
High up above the City's noise and light
Dwelt the old Chimes of which we tell to-night.
Their iron voices fell upon the ear —
Not speechless were those bells, but loud and clear.
And none e'er listened to their measured sound,
Or in their booming clearer language found,
Than poor old Trotty Veck. For many a year
The Chimes were wont his drooping heart to cheer;
They told of newer hopes and better times,
And poor old Trotty dearly lov'd the Chimes.
But Trotty oft would doubt — when Want hath cried,
And roused sleek Plenty's anger — as it died.
When he hath heard the "putters down" of woe
Taunting Despair and mocking every throe.
Then would he doubt if Poverty had claim
To any goodness — whatso'er its name.
He doubted if the poor man's heart couldÊ own
The sympathies he deem'd were Wealth's alone,
Then grew repining — mourn'd the "good old times" —
— Until he learned a lesson from our Chimes.
Appropriately, Miss Ellen Chaplin earlier in the year had enacted the part of the Ghost of Christmas Past in the Dickens-sanctioned and assisted Stirling adaptation of A Christmas Carol. The next Christmas season she would be the Spirit of the Cricket, and in the last of the Christmas Books on stage, The Haunted Man, she would be the street urchin. According to Arthur W. A'Beckett, she was apparently a niece of the famous Shakespearean actor Charles Kean, played a number of juvenile leads in the Shakespeare revivals at the Royal Princess's Theatre, London.
The manuscript submitted on 12 December 1844 to the office of the Lord Chamberlain, licenser of plays under the new Theatre Regulation Act of 1843, mentions that the play is to "be acted at the Theatre Royal Adelphi on Decem the 19th--" so that the call for the closing country dance (described in the penultimate paragraph of Dickens's novella) must have been added during the final week ofÊ rehearsals. Significantly, the text of the play as submitted to the Lord Chamberlain and as published in the Dicks' Standard Plays series omits Dickens's final line, possibly because of its reference to God, and perhaps because of its implicit criticism of the authorities' treatment of and attitudes towards the working class:
So may each Year be happier than the last, and not the meanest of our brethren or sisterhood debarred their rightful share, in what our Great Creator formed them to enjoy. (First edition, p. 175)
The version of the novella adapted for the stage of the Adelphi is not based on the work as published, moreover, but on the proofs of the book as it existed two weeks or more prior to its publication. Thus provided with an early draft of the work, Gilbert Abbot a Beckett, founder of Figaro in London, and Mark Lemon, first editor of Punch, were able to produce a script well ahead of that indefatigable pirate of Dickens, Edward Stirling. The Adephi's production, according to F. Dubrez Fawcett, opened on 18 December, "only two days after the publication of the book" (282). Neither a Beckett nor Lemon were present at Dickens's readings of The Chimes to an intimate circle of friends at Forster's rooms, 58 Lincolns Inn Fields on 3 and 5 December. Having forestalled the pirates of the stage and having tested his controversial work out on a sympathetic and suitably Liberal congregation, especially Thomas Carlyle (all seen in rapt attention In Maclise's sketch), despite his having just arrived in London on 29 November, Dickens set out for Genoa on the 8th of December. Conspicuous by by their absence at these readings are Lemon and a Beckett, both of whom were probably thoroughly engaged in the rehearsals at the Adelphi. Although, as Arthur Adrian notes in his biography of Mark Lemon, the Adelphi production "omitted nothing essential" (111) and "adhered closely" to Dickens's dialogue, Dickens's last-minute changes to the text (likely made after his first reading) are not reflected in the text of the play. Forster's proofs in the Victoria and Albert Museum contain hand-written "emandations and additions by Dickens" (Slater, "Dickens [And Forster] at Work," 124), probably made at Bradbury and Evans's after the first reading (see Letters 4, 234). If we may account for any divergence from the novella in this manner, the only real innovation would be the Prologue, a theatrically necessary condensing of the first half-dozen expository pages of the novella.
A'Beckett, Arthur W. "A Stage Version of 'The Chimes.'" Dickensian 1 (1905), 315.
Adrian, Arthur. Mark Lemon: First Editor of 'Punch.' London: Oxford U. P., 1966.
Fawcett, F. Dubrez. Dickens the Dramatist. London: Allen, 1952.
Lemon, Mark, and G. A. A'Beckett. The Chimes: or, Some Bells that Rang an Old Year out and a New Year in, A Goblin Drama, in Four Quarters . . . from the Styory by Charles Dickens. No. 819. Dicks' Standard Plays. First Performed at the Adelphi Theatre, on Tuesday, December 19th, 1844.
Slater, Michael. "Dickens (And Forster) at Work on The Chimes." Dickens Studies Annual 2 (1966): 106-140.
Last Modified 4 January 2007