Christmas Stories, p. 122. Dickens's The Battle of Life: A Love Story was first published for Christmas 1846. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]by E. A. Abbey. 9.8 x 13.1 cm framed. From the Household Edition (1876) of Dickens's
"I didn’t live six weeks, some few months ago, in the Doctor's house for nothing; and I doubted that soon," observed the client. "She would have doted on him, if her sister could have brought it about; but I watched them. Marion avoided his name, avoided the subject: shrunk from the least allusion to it, with evident distress."
"Why should she, Mr. Craggs, you know? Why should she, sir?" inquired Snitchey.
"I don’t know why she should, though there are many likely reasons," said the client, smiling at the attention and perplexity expressed in Mr. Snitchey's shining eye, and at his cautious way of carrying on the conversation, and making himself informed upon the subject; "but I know she does. She was very young when she made the engagement — if it may be called one, I am not even sure of that — and has repented of it, perhaps. Perhaps — it seems a foppish thing to say, but upon my soul I don't mean it in that light — she may have fallen in love with me, as I have fallen in love with her."
"He, he! Mr. Alfred, her old playfellow too, you remember, Mr. Craggs," said Snitchey, with a disconcerted laugh; "knew her almost from a baby!"
"Which makes it the more probable that she may be tired of his idea," calmly pursued the client, "and not indisposed to exchange it for the newer one of another lover, who presents himself (or is presented by his horse) under romantic circumstances; has the not unfavourable reputation — with a country girl — of having lived thoughtlessly and gayly, without doing much harm to any body; and who, for his youth and figure, and so forth — this may seem foppish again, but upon my soul I don't mean it in that light — might perhaps pass muster in a crowd with Mr. Alfred himself."
There was no gainsaying the last clause, certainly; and Mr. Snitchey, glancing at him, thought so. There was something naturally graceful and pleasant in the very carelessness of his air. It seemed to suggest, of his comely face and well-knit figure, that they might be greatly better if he chose: and that, once roused and made earnest (but he never had been earnest yet), he could be full of fire and purpose. "A dangerous sort of libertine," thought the shrewd lawyer, "to seem to catch the spark he wants, from a young lady's eyes."
"Now, observe, Snitchey," he continued, rising and taking him by the button, "and Craggs," taking him by the button also, and placing one partner on either side of him, so that neither might evade him. "I don’t ask you for any advice. You are right to keep quite aloof from all parties in such a matter, which is not one in which grave men like you could interfere, on any side. I am briefly going to review in half-a-dozen words, my position and intention, and then I shall leave it to you to do the best for me, in money matters, that you can: seeing, that, if I run away with the Doctor’s beautiful daughter (as I hope to do, and to become another man under her bright influence), it will be, for the moment, more chargeable than running away alone. But I shall soon make all that up in an altered life."
"I think it will be better not to hear this, Mr. Craggs?" said Snitchey, looking at him across the client.
"I think not," said Craggs. — Both listened attentively. [121-122]
Of Punch cartoonist John Leech's three wood engravings for the 1846 edition of The Battle of Life: A Love Story, the only one of which Dickens approved was "Snitchey and Craggs", which brilliantly integrates text and image, and combines a realistic interior with a visual symbol: a cornucopia surmounted by a stack of bills, its mouth stopped by a large padlock, suggesting that the Warden estate will eventually produce abundance if the spendthrift heir heeds the advice of his financial advisers.
In contrast to the despondent Michael Warden of Leech's equivalent illustration (left, his tricorn hat thrown on the floor) and below a padlocked box bearing the letter "W," the Wardens of Abbey's and Barnard's illustrations seem much more animated. All three illustrations show a fashionably dressed young man of perhaps thirty, his youth and vigour emphasized by the older men who frame him. Whereas Snitchey and Craggs seem to be in doubt, their expressions glum and their gazes downward, Warden's stance and expression suggestive that he is more optimistic and certain of his course of action — which at this point involves eloping with Marion Jedder to save her from an unhappy marriage to Alfred Heathfield. Barnard depicts his Michael Warden as dressed to travel, with a heavy topcoat and riding boots, whereas Abbey's youth wears an embroidered silk vest and walking shoes. The Household Edition illustrators have chosen a moment with considerably more narrative interest than Leech's scene, but they have not made as much of it, perhaps because their realism prevents them from using the kinds of visual symbols that were Leech's stock and trade.
In "Part the Second," aristocratic spendthrift Michael Warden discusses his fiscal plight with his financial planners, the village lawyers, Thomas Craggs and Jonathan Snitchey in the chambers late one night, about three years after Alfred Heathfield's departure for medical studies abroad, a moment signified in the narrative-pictorial sequence by the previous illustration, "'Meat?' said Britain, approaching Mr. Snitchey, with the carving knife and fork in his hands, and throwing the question at him like a missile" (p. 115). In Leech's illustration, Warden is feeling sorry for himself for being "Ruined at thirty" (American Household Edition, p. 120), but in the illustrations by Abbey and Barnard (both of which realise a later moment in the interview) Warden seems more dynamic and positive, perhaps because he has accepted the attorneys' judgment that, if he leaves the country and lives frugally abroad for six or seven years, Snitchey and his partner will be able to "nurse" the estate back to health.
According to the logic of Abbey's illustration, Snitchey is to the left (since this figure closely resembles Snitchey in the previous illustration), and Craggs is to the right. An added complication for the legal partners is that Michael Warden has just confessed himself to be in love Marion, the younger of Dr. Jeddler's daughters, Marion, Alfred Heathfield's fiancée. The pair feel that Warden's confession has placed them in a conflict of interest, since they also represent the doctor and his future son-in-law. Warden is convinced of his succeeding in his suit in spite of the engagement because, as a guest in the Jeddler household while recovering from a riding accident, he has detected in Marion an aversion to going through with the marriage. In Leech's "Snitchey and Craggs", Warden, "pondering moodily" (1846 edition, p. 59) occupies the client's "armchair of state" (left) as his attorneys pour over legal documents at their substantial desk (right). Abbey revitalizes this scene by choosing for illustration a more dramatic moment in Warden's dialogue with his advisers. Leech has fully contextualized the financial discussion by depicting the lawyers' chambers in some detail, including above the mantelpiece a clock whose hands indicating 11:20 P. M. may imply how close the client is to his fiscal midnight. In contrast, Abbey has merely offered the viewer a few salient details, and no symbols such as the padlocked cornucopia at the bottom of Leech's wood engraving. A table laden with documents suggests the lawyers' old-fashioned system of filing; a nondescript painting (left), a tricorn hat on the wall, several chairs, a small bookcase, and a candle burning on a writing desk (right) complete the scene. Abbey distinguishes between the two old lawyers by their period clothing and the style of their wigs, both undoubtedly depicted with archaeological accuracy. Snitchey (left) wears breeches and hose, buckled shoes, and exhibits an embroidered silk waistcoat and chin-lace; Craggs (right) wears a long coat with brocaded cuffs that permits the reader to see nothing of the costume beneath.
Left: Fred Barnard's version of the scene, "I think it will be better not to hear this, Mr. Craggs?" with Michael Warden (confessing his love for Marion) dressed for the road (1878); right, John Leech's "Snitchey and Craggs," with a more despondent Warden prior to the confession (1846).
On the whole, Abbey's handling of the late-night interview is both more vigorous than Leech's and more satisfactory in its detailing than Barnard's (which, of course, Abbey could not have seen). Recognising the importance of this scene in the plot (in that it misleads the reader into believing that Warden has run off with Marion Jeddler), the other Household Edition illustrator has convincingly portrayed the old attorneys and their thirty-year-old client economically, as is the fashion of Sixties illustration, through the characters' poses, expressions, and costumes — without much regard for background elements. Abbey's detailism is something of a throw-back to the earlier illustrators of the nineteenth century, despite his modelling of the figures in the manner of the Sixties. In Picture and Text (1893), Henry James provides a pertinent assessment of Abbey's penchant for eighteenth-century costume and character, although he does not allude to Abbey's handling of setting:
The domicile of Mr. Abbey's genius is the England of the eighteenth century; I should add that the palace of art which he has erected there commands — from the rear, as it were — various charming glimpses of the preceding age. The finest work he has yet done is in his admirable illustrations, in Harper's Magazine, to "She Stoops to Conquer," but the promise that he would one day do it was given some years ago in his delightful volume of designs to accompany Herrick's poems; to which we may add, as supplementary evidence, his drawings for Mr. William Black's novel of Judith Shakespeare [a romance published by Macmillan in 1884-85].
Despite their eighteenth-century garb, Barnard's Snitchey, Craggs, and Warden strike us as more ardent Victorian types, substantial and active. The lawyers would be as comfortable and convincing in the black trousers and mourning coats of the late nineteenth-century professional classes. Abbey's figures are more tranquil and reflective, and their chambers are consistent with the stage sets of Oliver Goldsmith's 1776 domestic comedy of manners She Stoops to Conquer, which he illustrated for Harper's Weekly between 1882 and 1887 (and subsequently issued in book form). Abbey does merely sketch his characters in eighteenth-century costume — he shows them as suited by virtue of their poses, carriages, and gestures to such costumes.
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.]
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Last modified 20 December 2012