The Original Illustrations for Dickens's "A Holiday Romance"

[The Plates]

Charles Dickens's four-part novella for children, A Holiday Romance (1868), is unique among that author's prodigious literary output in four respects:

1. It is narrated by a succession of children who do not, as David Copperfield and Pip do, grow up to acquire adult voices that contain their childhood personas.

2. Although written at roughly the same time as "George Silverman's Explanation" and like it produced for initial American magazine publication, it was intended primarily for a child audience, to whom in many cases (and as Dickens likely anticipated) it was read aloud.

3. It was first published neither in Dickens's own journal nor in one of the many recently-founded British illustrated literary magazines of the 1860s, but rather in a new illustrated American children's magazine, issued monthly.

4. It was illustrated without (apparently) the control or contrivance of Dickens himself by three artists, one a well-known British illustrator who commanded large sums for his work, the other two being younger and (at that time, unknown) Americans.

The illustration of A Holiday Romance was not instigated by its author, who suggested to publisher James T. Fields in a letter of 12 July 1867 "that it might be expedient to illustrate it very slightly, or not at all, there [in Our Young Folks]; and to republish [it] in a little book with as much illustration as you please, if you can find (I can't) a fanciful man" (Fields of The Atlantic Monthly 381-2). Fields, however, was at that time sparing no expense in trying to make Our Young Folks, which he had founded in 1865, a serious rival to The Youth's Companion (founded in 1827 and having a circulation of half-a-million). Consequently, he engaged noted British periodical illustrator John Gilbert to produce four full-page plates, to be accompanied by the four elaborate initial-letter vignettes (reminiscent of Thackeray's for Vanity Fair) of Fields' house artists G. C. White and Sol Eytinge. As was the practise elsewhere in Our Young Folks, the initial vignettes are dropped right into the text, in playful imitation of the style of mediaeval manuscripts.

This series of nine illustrations has escaped the attention of such critics of Dickensian illustration as Michael Steig and Nicholas Bentley because it was not reproduced when Dickens ran A Holiday Romance in All the Year Round, and, indeed, had not been reproduced since its initial appearance in Fields' magazine until the Everyman Dickens edition of Holiday Romance and Other Writings for Children (1995). The Everyman edition finally makes it possible for twentieth-century British readers to move through the four-part novella almost as Dickens' American readers would first have experienced it (although the ornamental initial letters now appear on a separate page as opposed to the original's 'dropped-into-text' technique), taking into account the mediating influence of the plates upon Dickens's text.

The American (Sol Eytinge) and British (Sir John Gilbert) illustrations for A Holiday Romance in Our Young Folks have likely not been seen by British readers of Dickens's works. Although such editions as the Oxford Illustrated Dickens have attempted to preserve the original nineteenth-century plates that accompanied Dickens's part-published novels, this series of nine (five being full-page, 8" x 5", and the remaining four miniatures of 1.5" x 3.5" dropped into the text) executed for Fields and Osgood's juvenile magazine appears neither in The Uncommercial Traveller and Reprinted Pieces Etc. (first published in 1958, and reprinted six times afterward), nor in any other twentieth-century edition. The neglecting of the original illustrations may be the consequence of modern editions being derived, not from the American serial version, but from the unadorned version that ran in All the Year Round on 25 January, 8 February, 14 March, and 4 April, 1868. J. A. Hammerton in The Dickens Picture-Book (1910) mentions Gilbert's "extra illustrations" as "parasitic publications" that "were specially produced for inserting into the bound volumes of monthly parts" (Hammerton 39), and does not hint at there ever having been a collaborative arrangement between the head illustrator of The Illustrated London News and Charles Dickens. However, Gilbert must have been contracted by the Boston publisher prior to Dickens's departure from England for his second American reading tour (9 November 1867), and Gilbert must have had access to the story, either in a manuscript copy or (more likely) in proofs sent from America, prior to December, 1867, when the following preview appeared in Our Young Folks:

. . . we have given authors and artists the highest prices to work, not for us, but for you [the child-reader], that you might have only the best; and the magazines which the grown-up people read have not been prepared for them at a cost nearly so great in proportion as this little monthly of yours. But we have not yet done our utmost, as we shall briefly hint to you, and as the volume for 1868 will amply show.

In the first place, Charles Dickens has written a story for you alone. Although he has written so beautifully about children and in their service, he has very seldom written for them,--the principal exception being his "Child's History of England,"--and although he has been for many years writing stories which all the world has read and remembered, he has never but once given anything to be printed in America, unless it was printed in England too. But this story of yours and ours is not even to be printed in England,--we have bought it all for you. Then, John Gilbert, who is called the greatest designer in all England, has made the pictures for Mr. Dickens's story. He determined, some time ago, that he would draw on wood no more, and would only paint pictures: but when he was told that Mr. Dickens had written a story for "OUR YOUNG FOLKS," he said that he would take as much interest in American boys and girls as Mr. Dickens, and that he would draw for each chapter the very prettiest picture he possibly could. (Larcom 765)

(The magazine's editorial staff are incorrect in several particulars besides the involvement of two American artists in the story's illustration. Dickens gave Our Young Folksonly American publication rights; he ran A Holiday Romancein his own weekly journal in order to reach his British and Continental readers, who would not likely have had access to an American juvenile magazine. Secondly, although John Gilbert had reached the age of fifty in 1867, and within four years had been elected President of the Royal Society of Painters in Water Colours, his involvement with periodical illustration continued unabated until 1882, according to Simon Houfe.)

Significantly, there is no mention of the involvement of house artists G. C. White and Sol Eytinge, the latter of whom Fields had entrusted with the illustration of the Diamond Edition of Dickens' works and to whom he introduced the visiting reader at the outset of Dickens' second American tour.

Forster, perhaps embarrassed by the slightness of the story, merely notes the high price paid for it (II: 212). Like "George Silverman's Explanation," says Forster, A Holiday Romance "occupied [Dickens] not many days in the writing, and he received a thousand pounds for [it]." Sir John Gilbert, R. A., as one of the leading British magazine illustrators of his age, must have commanded a hefty fee for services, making A Holiday Romance a very expensive project for James T. Fields' "Little Atlantic." Edgar Johnson in Charles Dickens: His Tragedy and Triumph (1952) makes no comment on the story's merits (or lack thereof). The Kaplan and Ackroyd biographies (1988, 1990) are silent concerning A Holiday Romance. Although she speaks slightingly of the stories as she offers an evaluation of Dickens's handling of point-of-view in the four parts, Deborah A. Thomas in Dickens and the Short Story (1982) overlooks the illustrated aspect of the work entirely. Philip Collins reflects the attitude of most Dickensian critics to the piece: “Was it need, or cupidity, or a sense of duty, or sincere, if ill-judged, artistic adventurousness that induced Dickens in his maturity to write ‘Tom Tiddler's Ground’ and ‘A Holiday Romance’?” (109)

Apart from the facts that Dickens was commissioned in the spring of 1867 by his American publisher, James T. Fields, to produce the story and that George Dolby, the manager of the forthcoming reading tour, delivered the manuscript and a set of proofs into the hands of Messrs. Osgood and Fields in the dining room of Boston's Parker House Hotel early on the evening of August 15th, 1867 (see Dolby 107), little information is available about the publication history of A Holiday Romance. Consequently, until all the correspondence surrounding the publication arrangements comes to light, one can only speculate as to whether it falls under the heading of what Michael Steig calls the sub-genre of the illustrated novel:

the illustrations must have been published with the novel in its original form--whether monthly numbers, magazine installments [as is the case with A Holiday Romance], or bound volumes--and there must have been some degree of collaboration between novelist and illustrator. (Steig 119)

In other words, if the illustrations represent authorial intention, then the author must have had the opportunity to inspect and even reject pictures intended to accompany his text.

Even though it is not possible to establish that Dickens had such control over the artists' nine plates for A Holiday Romance, Gilbert's large illustrations through allegory and symbol as well as through realisation of a narrated moment augment and comment upon the original text; consequently, they should not be omitted from a consideration of how this four-part serial by Dickens would have been interpreted by his orginal readers. This principle is reinforced by the fact that, in this case, the chief illustrator was so eminent an artist as John Gilbert.

Prior to the outbreak of the American Civil War, several children's magazines had achieved the kind of mass circulation that so excited Boston publisher James T. Fields--"the Youth's Penny Gazette of New York, [for example,] had 100,00" (Mott 10) in 1850, and over the following decade the total circulation of American periodicals jumped by over 117%. While some of this increase was owing to an expansion in the number of newspapers, a number of illustrated juvenile magazines made their debut in the 1850s, including the American Tract Society's Child's Paper (1852), Erastus Beadle's the Youth's Casket, the Lippincotts' Little Pilgrim (1854), and the Student and Schoolmate (1855), this last famous as the vehicle which introduced the character of the Reverend Horatio Alger, Jr., in 1865. Both their lengths and annual subscriptions were modest compared to those of adult journals--while the "standard magazine price was $3.00 in 1850" (Mott 13) and each issue of Fields' Atlantic Monthly ran to 96 pages, some children's magazines went for as little as fifty cents per annum and were as short as eight pages. However, for a publishing house such as Fields, Osgood advertising (including the subtle mention of works by house authors) could render a juvenile magazine a lucrative proposition. Furthermore, the youth market was burgeoning: for example, from 1857, when Nathaniel Wills sold the Youth's Companion to Olmstead and Company, circulation for that modest, eight quarto-page monthly rose from 4,800 to almost 50,000 within a decade, its annual subscription being $1.50.

With the sudden death of Fields' senior partner, William Ticknor, in 1864, Fields reorganized the firm, jettisoning the book-selling end of the business, moving the firm into a remodeled building at 125 Tremont Street, and swiftly buying up a number of magazines, including the North American Review and the prestigious Atlantic Monthly, to be edited by Fields himself, with the assistance of "a promising young westerner, William Dean Howells" (Marchalonis 154). With an annual subscription of two dollars and a length of sixty-four pages, Fields' new children's magazine Our Young Folks (1865-1873), was truly, as James's wife (Dickens's friend and confidante, Annie) had dubbed it, "the Little Atlantic." To superintend what Fields hoped would be the preeminent American juvenile periodical, he enlisted three well-known children's authors as co-editors: Gail Hamilton (Mary Abigail Dodge, dropped from the editorial staff prior to Dickens' second American tour), Lucy Larcom, and John T. Trowbridge. Even though each was to contribute articles, appraise manuscript submissions, and head a department (Larcom, for example, did the puzzle pages), Fields reserved the right to determine which outside sub-missions would be published.

By contemporary standards, Fields' conception of Our Young Folks was grandiose, for in the January, 1865, number of the Atlantic Monthly he advertised his new juvenile in hyperbolic terms: it would feature "capital pictures, drawn and engraved by our best artists," and poems and fiction by "many of the most popular writers of Juvenile Works in America and England." As Harper Brothers had inflated their circulation of their New Illustrated Monthly to 118,000 with the serial publication of Dickens's Bleak House (for which they had paid the author £20 per part for advance sheets), so Fields undoubtedly expected that Dickens' A Holiday Romance would be a circulation builder, and so seems not to have worried about the unprece-dented costs involved in securing either the text or its illustration.

The new juvenile journal's hallmarks were to be quality writing and pictures, liberal attitudes, and Anglophilia. To set the tone, "A finely engraved steel portrait of some popular author [would] be given in the first number of each volume," his advertisement announced. In fact, there were only six such portraits: Thomas Hughes, author of the Tom Brown at Rugby books (1865); Harriet Beecher Stowe of Uncle Tom's Cabin fame (1866); Mayne Reid, "the Walter Scott of the juveniles" (1867); Charles Dickens, "Author of Little Nell. Paul Dombey, and Poor Jo" (1868); polar explorer Dr. Isaac T. Hayes (1869); and Professor Louis Agassiz (1870). Perhaps because of the cost of printing these steel plates at the American Bank Note Company, then binding them in separately, the practise of providing such portraits was abandoned when Fields, Osgood began to experience financial setbacks. Furthermore, the plates sometimes constituted false advertising since a number of these headliners did not in fact publish anything in the January numbers their portraits pre-faced. Although one might reckon Stowe, Hughes, and Reid as popular children's authors, the other three were not; moreover, whereas most of the magazine's contributors were females, the authors depicted in these prefatory plates are, with the exception of Stowe, all males.

The January 1868, plate of Dickens, while presenting him in some-thing of a false light as primarily a children's author, served several purposes, commercial rather than artistic in the main. To begin with, displaying the likeness of Britain's greatest living author marked his having recently agreed to an exlusive contract with Fields, Osgood (to whom he sent a testimonial to that effect on 2 April 1867, and who in turn broadcast their coup in the May, 1867, edition of the Publisher's Circular), much to the chagrin of Lippincotts in Philadelphia and Harpers in New York. Prior to 1867, American publishers had paid flat sums for Dickens' advance proofs, ranging from £5 for The Haunted Man (1848) to £1250 for Great Expectations (1861). T. B. Peterson and Brothers of Philadelphia in particular had regarded themselves as Dickens' authorized American publishers on account of such payments, but Dickens could not resist the possibility of "a royalty of 10 per cent on the retail price of every volume sold" (Tryon 305) which Fields had dangled before him. A fourteen-volume "Diamond" edition of Dickens' works, illustrated by house artist Sol Eytinge (whose wife Margaret was an occasional contributor to Our Young Folks), had already been launched in the spring of 1867. Moreover, by the time that subscribers received the first number for 1868 by mail Dickens would be giving readings throughout New England. Undoubtedly, Fields hoped to serve his friend and himself with the lavishly illustrated first number of A Holiday Romance, which would generate enthusiasm for Dickens as a reader and stimulate sales of the new edition.

The potential market was huge, a large part would gravitate to whatever firm clearly enjoyed Dickens' confidence, and additional advantages in sponsoring and assisting the reading tour might accrue to the authorized firm. (Kappel and Patten 15)

Strangely, especially in light of Fields' coup in securing exclusive American rights to Dickens's works, there is not the customary biographical sketch of the featured author in Vol. IV, No. 1. Perhaps, especially given the storm of controversy in publishing circles that Dickens's signing had recently raised, Fields felt that displaying the icon of the writer was sufficient advertisement in itself, for "By 1867, through authorized and unauthorized efforts, Dickens was as widely known in the United States as any living writer, English or American" (Kappel and Patten 33).

Introducing the Four Plates and Four Initial-letter Vignettes

Both the American and British illustrators had the difficult task of translating British humour to an American readership. Dickens himself expressed concern about how his whimsical romances would go over with the Yankees: "I do not know how they may humour the delicate little joke, on your side [of the Atlantic]," wrote Dickens to Fields on 12 July 1867, "but I am convinced that it would be a great success here. It is full of subjects for illustration" (quoted in Austin 381). On July 25, he wrote again to Fields: "I hope the Americans will see the joke of 'Holiday Romance'. The writing seems to me so like children's, that dull folks (on any side of any water) might perhaps rate it accordingly!" (Austin 382). To Percy Fitzgerald just four days earlier he had described A Holiday Romance as "a queer combination of a child's mind with a grown-up joke" (The Letters of Charles Dickens, ed. Hogarth, 294). Even though Dickens undoubtedly knew from Fields that his text in Our Young Folks would be interpreted by adult readers for their children, the British author seems uncertain in all three letters as to whether the joke will fall flat outside his own cultural milieu. In America, then, the illustrations of Eytinge might prove more effective than those of Gilbert, despite the latter's much greater experience.

Consistently, the effect of both Gilbert's full-page plates and Eytinge's vignettes is proleptic. That is, the reader is shown a scene in anticipation of its being narrated and its importance being explained somewhere later in the text. The difference is that for Gilbert's illustrations the magazine's editors have scrupulously identified the precise textual source, while for Eytinge's vignettes they have not. This situation is complicated by what appears to have been a mispacing of the illustration intended to accompany the first episode. While Gilbert's remaining three plates each appear facing the first page of the March, April, and May instalments respectively, "Redforth and the Pirate-Colonel" (intended to represent the boys' reading of the beloved's note in the dancing school cloakroom, at the bottom of the second page of the text) does not appear until page 16 in the January number, opposite the sixth part of Isaac Hayes' Cast Away in the Wild, at a point when the "half-famished, shipwrecked boys" (16) manage to build a fire and cook a duck. Presumably, rather than trying in vain to rationalize the left-hand picture with the right-hand text, the reader would have noted the caption "See A Holiday Romance, page 2" and would have turned back to Dickens's story. No such confusion ever arises with the American artist's miniatures dropped right into each opening page of an instalment, although the reader is provided with no captions to suggest the textual location of incidents illustrated.

Related Materials


Austin, James C. Fields of The Atlantic Monthly. San Marino: Huntington Library, 1953.

Collins, Philip. "Charles Dickens--Minor Writings," Victorian Fiction: A Second Guide to Research, ed. George H. Ford. New York: MLA, 1978.

Cunnington, Phillis, and Anne Buck. Children's Costume in England From the Fourteenth to the end of the Nineteenth Century. London: Adam and Charles Black, 1965.

Dolby, George. Charles Dickens as I Knew Him: The Story of the Reading Tours in Great Britain and America (1866- 1870). London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1887.

Forster, John. The Life of Charles Dickens. London: Chapman and Hall, n. d.

Hammerton, J. A. The Dickens Picture-Book. London: Educational Book Co., 1910.

Houfe, Simon. The Dictionary of British Book Illustrators and Caricaturists 1800-1914. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Baron Publishing and the Antique Collectors' Club, 1978.

Kappel, Andrew J., and Robert L. Patten. "Dickens' Second American Reading Tour and His 'Utterly Worthless and Profitless' American 'Rights'." Dickens Studies Annual 7 (1978).

Larcom, Lucy, et al."Round the Evening Lamp," Our Young Folks3, 12 (December 1867): 765.

The Letters of Charles Dickens, ed. Georgina Hogarth and Mamie Dickens, Vol. 2 (1857-70). London: Chapman and Hall, 1880.

Marchalonis, Shirley. The World of Lucy Larcom, 1824-1893. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1989.

Mott, Frank Luther. A History of American Magazines, 1850-1865. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1938.

Nadel, Ira Bruce. "Wilkie Collins and his Illustrators." Unpublished paper given at the Wilkie Collins Centennial Conference. University of Victoria, B. C.: 30 September 1989.

Reid, Forrest. Illustrators of The Sixties (London: Faber and Gwyer, 1928), rpt. as Illustrators of the Eighteen Sixties: An Illustrated Survey of the Work of 58 British Artists. New York: Dover, 1975.

Steig, Michael. "Martin Chuzzlewit's Progress by Dickens and Phiz," Dickens Studies Annual 2 (1972).

Tryon, W. S.Parnassus Corner: A Life of James T. Fields, Publisher to the Victorians. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1963.

Last modified 24 April 2002