What Trotty saw in the Belfry.

"What Trotty saw in the Belfry." by E. A. Abbey. American Household Edition (1876), second illustration for The Chimes: A Goblin Story, "Third Quarter," in Dickens's Christmas Stories, 10 x 13.5 framed, p. 58. [Click on the image to enlarge it.] See commentary below.

Details of Abbey's illustration — Left to right: (a) Awake or asleep? Entranced Trotty Veck. (b) The Goblins. (c) The Goblins and nude not mentioned in the text. [Click on these images for larger pictures.]

Passage realised by E. A. Abbey:

But, awake and standing on his feet upon the boards where he had lately lain, he saw this Goblin Sight.

He saw the tower, whither his charmed footsteps had brought him, swarming with dwarf phantoms, spirits, elfin creatures of the Bells. He saw them leaping, flying, dropping, pouring from the Bells without a pause. He saw them, round him on the ground; above him, in the air; clambering from him, by the ropes below; looking down upon him, from the massive iron-girded beams; peeping in upon him, through the chinks and loopholes in the walls; spreading away and away from him in enlarging circles, as the water ripples give way to a huge stone that suddenly comes plashing in among them. He saw them, of all aspects and all shapes. He saw them ugly, handsome, crippled, exquisitely formed. He saw them young, he saw them old, he saw them kind, he saw them cruel, he saw them merry, he saw them grim; he saw them dance, and heard them sing; he saw them tear their hair, and heard them howl. He saw the air thick with them. He saw them come and go, incessantly. He saw them riding downward, soaring upward, sailing off afar, perching near at hand, all restless and all violently active. Stone, and brick, and slate, and tile, became transparent to him as to them. He saw them IN the houses, busy at the sleepers' beds. He saw them soothing people in their dreams; he saw them beating them with knotted whips; he saw them yelling in their ears; he saw them playing softest music on their pillows; he saw them cheering some with the songs of birds and the perfume of flowers; he saw them flashing awful faces on the troubled rest of others, from enchanted mirrors which they carried in their hands.

He saw these creatures, not only among sleeping men but waking also, active in pursuits irreconcilable with one another, and possessing or assuming natures the most opposite. He saw one buckling on innumerable wings to increase his speed; another loading himself with chains and weights, to retard his. He saw some putting the hands of clocks forward, some putting the hands of clocks backward, some endeavouring to stop the clock entirely. He saw them representing, here a marriage ceremony, there a funeral; in this chamber an election, in that a ball he saw, everywhere, restless and untiring motion.

Bewildered by the host of shifting and extraordinary figures, as well as by the uproar of the Bells, which all this while were ringing, Trotty clung to a wooden pillar for support, and turned his white face here and there, in mute and stunned astonishment. ["Third Quarter," 59]

Dickens makes no mention of nude, female goblins, so that Abbey must have derived the bare-backed, long-haired female figure (with its back toward the viewer for the sake of propriety) directly to the left of Trotty from illustrations of such figures by Leech, Doyle, and Maclise in the original 1844 volume — but Abbey's nude is modelled and anatomically much more realistic, and therefore somewhat out of place.

Comparisons with earlier illustrations

In illustrating this cautionary tale for the Hungry Forties, Richard Doyle had depicted Trotty's encounter with the goblins in their myriads, cavorting in the church tower, in "Trotty Veck among the Bells". Although Doyle has rendered the supernatural agents of Trotty's moral reclamation as essentially benign and even cartoon-like, his Trotty (left) is moved to tears by the scenes of the alternate future that they show him. Whereas Doyle's illustration exists in two moments in the narrative — Trotty's initial encounter with the bizarre little spirits in the tower and his subsequent response to the envisioned sufferings of Richard, Will Fern, Lilian Fern, and his daughter, Meg — Abbey limits himself to the passage that opens the "Third Quarter." Moreover, he renders his subjects in contrasting modes: whereas his Trotty is realistically drawn and psychologically transfixed by the unearthly vision, the goblins themselves are Punch-like cartoon figures, both in the equivalent scene in the 1844 novella, and again in "Margaret and Her Child". Abbey makes his goblins, swirling about Trotty, as creatures with large heads and eyes in order to emphasize their status as observers of human suffering — the text conveys this sense through such participles as "looking down," and "peeping in." Abbey conveys effectively the dreamer's "stunned astonishment" at their antics. In contrast, these supernatural figures held little interest for the British Household Edition illustrator, Fred Barnard, for he elected not to represent these peculiar agents of the beneficial effects of human sympathy in any one of his five wood engravings for the novella in 1878.

Doyle's interpretations of Trotty's supernatural interveners. Left: Trotty breaks down after the vision of future events in "Trotty Veck among the Bells". Right: Trotty is a mere wraith, unable to interfere for good, as he helplessly watches Meg about drown herself and Lilian's infant in "Margaret and Her Child".

Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. Formatting, color correction, and linking by George P. Landow. [You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]


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

Dickens, Charles. Christmas Books. Il. Fred Barnard. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1878.

---. Christmas Stories. Il. E. A. Abbey. The Household Edition. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1876.

---. The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Il. Luke Fildes. London: Chapman and Hall, 1880.

Parker, David. Christmas and Charles Dickens. New York: AMS Press, 2005.

Last modified 3 December 2012