The ploughshare still turned up from time to 
time some rusty bits of metal. . .

The ploughshare still turned up from time to time some rusty bits of metal. . . — Fred Barnard's seventeenth illustration for Dickens's Christmas Books, p. 118. Engraved by one of the Dalziels, and signed "FB" lower left. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

Barnard's initial illustration for The Battle of Life reifies Dickens's general proposition that, years after a battle fought on farmland, military objects turned up in ploughing will look alien to later generations. This strategy — of inventing a likely scene to demonstrate the truth of the observation — is very different from the subject matter chosen for illustration by Maclise, Doyle, Stanfield, and Leech in the 1846 edition of The Battle of Life in that their visual complements are generally of actual scenes and narrative remarks in the story, such as Grace and Marion's dancing together in the frontispiece.

Barnard's illustration compared to plates by Maclise, Doyle, and Stanfield.

Three illustrations from the opening of the novella: Left: Daniel Maclise's "Frontispiece". Centre: Maclise's allegorical "Title". Right: Richard Doyle's "Part the First".

Instead of the sun setting on a corpse-strewn field of battle Fred Barnard imagines an eighteenth-century scene of peaceful commerce and a little archaeological curiosity. In front of the village tavern a ploughman displays for his cronies a portion of a gorget he has just unearthed, while the landlord (right), barmaid (left), labourers, and a middle-aged member of the middle class in respectable coat, breeches, and tricorn hat look on, fascinated. The original artists were, therefore, more literal in the passages they illustrated, although the ornamented "Title", as well as "War" and "Peace" verge on the allegorical. Oddly enough, unlike the remaining illustrations in the novella, these 1846 illustrations do not depict moments in the narrative, but merely scenes suggested by the narrator's comments about the physical setting. In the case of a collaboration, the author and illustrator usually determined the passages in the text selected for illustration, although Dickens appears to have had very specific notions about which moments he wished to have illustrated, so that he necessarily limited his illustrators' choices and treatments of subject. As Paul Goldman points out,

self-evidently when an illustrator was working years after the death of an author, it is of interest to see exactly where in a text the artist decides to place emphasis. It is not always a straightforward matter, either, for the belief that illustrators invariably opt for a moment of high drama is not always borne out. Regularly illustrators are more sensitive and penetrating than this and will, on occasion, choose a moment just after or indeed just before a significant event. [Goldman 27]

In the entirely new (rather than merely "revised") illustrations for the fourth Christmas Book Barnard chose to avoid simply reinterpreting the work of Dickens's original illustrators. In place of their ornate but cartoon-like and irregularly shaped images dropped into the letterpress, Barnard offers realistic scenes with modelled figures. He misses the opportunity to present two related images simultaneously as the original illustrators occasionally do, as in "Part the First" (p. 3) for example, but more than compensates by providing interesting studies of the rather one-dimensional characters. In the case of this initial illustration, the textual passage which Barnard is particularising or elaborating on is this:

The husbandmen who ploughed those places, shrunk from the great worms abounding there; and the sheaves they yielded, were, for many a long year, called the Battle Sheaves, and set apart; and no one ever knew a Battle Sheaf to be among the last load at a Harvest Home. For a long time, every furrow that was turned, revealed some fragments of the fight. For a long time, there were wounded trees upon the battle-ground; and scraps of hacked and broken fence and wall, where deadly struggles had been made; and trampled parts where not a leaf or blade would grow. For a long time, no village girl would dress her hair or bosom with the sweetest flower from that field of death: and after many a year had come and gone, the berries growing there, were still believed to leave too deep a stain upon the hand that plucked them. . . . The ploughshare still turned up from time to time some rusty bits of metal, but it was hard to say what use they had ever served, and those who found them wondered and disputed. An old dinted corselet, and a helmet, had been hanging in the church so long, that the same weak half-blind old man who tried in vain to make them out above the whitewashed arch, had marvelled at them as a baby. ["Part the First," The British Household Edition, p. 119]

In this initial illustration, Barnard is following the adage that "every picture tells a story," a dictum that has governed realists from the Dutch masters of the seventeenth century through the eighteenth century French genre painters such as Chardin. The picture, ironically, tells the story of the discovery of an historical artefact, a piece of armour from a long-distant battle — but none of the figures in Barnard's picture actually appears in the story, although certainly peasant types appear in the opening scenes in Dr. Jeddler's orchard. The lone middle-class representative is not Dr. Jeddler, as one may readily determine by comparing the figure here with that of the father of Grace and Marion in "'By-the-bye,' and he looked into the pretty face, still close to his, 'I suppose it's your birthday'" [124].

In contrast to Barnard's prosaic realism as the village worthies gather to speculate on the use of the unearthed object, Stanfield in his evocation of the seventeenth-century conflict on that very ground, "War", depicts the immediate aftermath of the Civil War battle, with a dead horse, a broken cannon, battle standards, and the corpses of two soldiers in the foreground in "the scene of that day's work and that night's death and suffering" (1846 edition, pp. 4-5). Stanfield does not sensationalise the grisly scene, leaving the mounds of courses but dimly apprehended in the shadowy background, which includes the ironic image of a gothic cathedral on the horizon as the sun sets. The upper register of Doyle's "Part the First" also visually alludes to that battle, the aftermath of which exists at the top of the frame, contrasting the happy scene of Dr. Jeddler and his two daughters a century later (p. 3) in "The Age of Reason."

Maclise's "Title", on the other hand, is not an attempt to evoke an actual, historical event, but an obvious psychomachia or spiritual allegory, with angel archers (right) aiming their weapons at overwhelmed demons (left) as an angelic warrior with butterfly wings skewers a serpent and sets his foot upon a fallen demon as his banner, held aloft on a spear, proclaims "The Battle of Life." Whereas the 1846 edition, therefore, has an ambivalent attitude to the past, with quaint eighteenth-century family and village scenes contrasting the bloody battles of the seventeenth century, Barnard disregards the battle — and its implications in the novella's title — and focuses on the main temporal setting. Thus, although both Doyle's "Title" and Barnard's initial illustration are extensions of the text, Doyle's is metaphorical and Barnard's is realistic in its method and intention. Doyle, in fact, extends the text in a manner that the narrative does not support, since there is no Manichean conflict and no extirpation of evil in The Battle of Life. Neither a villain nor malcontent in the manner of Tackleton in The Cricket on the Hearth, Michael Warden is in need of a change of heart or increased sympathy (like Ebenezer Scrooge), although the young spendthrift aristocrat (mistakenly thought to have eloped with Marion) certainly anticipates the aristocratic seducer in David Copperfield, James Steerforth. Barnard, guided by the tenets realism, extends the text in a more legitimate manner than Doyle, accurately depicting the society of the village, and perhaps even describing a moment when the resident intellectual, Dr. Jeddler, was a much younger man and first saw an artifact from the battle unearthed. Moreover, Barnard's illustration defines the social range of the action and legitimately reifies the characters' failed or incomplete interrogation of the past, of the futile attempts to solve its puzzles, that characterises Dickens's attempt in this Christmas Book to emulate Oliver Goldsmith's novel The Vicar of Wakefield.

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 person who scanned the image, and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]


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Last modified 31 July 2016