George Cruikshank's visual joke in the Second Series' copper-engraving in which Dickens, Cruikshank, Chapman, and Hall conduct "indigent orphans" into a charity banquet. Barnard characteristically presents the public dinner realistically, with a waiter and a voracious, overfed bourgeois at the table. The original illustration for "Public Dinners," the nineteenth chapter in "Scenes" in Sketches by Boz, Second Series, bears the same title as the essay, Public Dinners, in which the smirking writer and illustrator, accompanied by their new publishers, marshall a procession of "indigent orphans" into the great dining chamber, a surrealistic joke requires the reader to have read the piece carefully prior to studying the Cruikshank plate. No such analeptic reading is required to appreciate Barnard's study in excess consumption.(wood-engraving). 1876. 9.3 cm high x 13.7 cm wide, framed. — Fred Barnard's response to
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The applause ceases, grace is said, the clatter of plates and dishes begins; and every one appears highly gratified, either with the presence of the distinguished visitors, or the commencement of the anxiously-expected dinner.
As to the dinner itself— the mere dinner — it goes off much the same everywhere. Tureens of soup are emptied with awful rapidity— waiters take plates of turbot away, to get lobster-sauce, and bring back plates of lobster-sauce without turbot; people who can carve poultry, are great fools if they own it, and people who can’t have no wish to learn. The knives and forks form a pleasing accompaniment to Auber’s music, and Auber’s music would form a pleasing accompaniment to the dinner, if you could hear anything besides the cymbals. The substantials disappear—moulds of jelly vanish like lightning— hearty eaters wipe their foreheads, and appear rather overcome by their recent exertions —people who have looked very cross hitherto, become remarkably bland, and ask you to take wine in the most friendly manner possible —old gentlemen direct your attention to the ladies’ gallery, and take great pains to impress you with the fact that the charity is always peculiarly favoured in this respect—every one appears disposed to become talkative — and the hum of conversation is loud and general. — p. 78.
Barnard's twelfth illustration for Sketches by Boz, "Scenes," concerns the transition from the fish course to the soup in Chapter 19, "Public Dinners" — Tureens of soup are emptied with awful rapidity (p. 80). The illustration is unfortunately positioned in the following chapter ("The First of May"). Ironically, large upper-middle-class diners (including one resembling Samuel Pickwick) are voraciously consuming the multi-course banquet in honour of indigent and (presumably) starving orphans. The spirit of charity seems totally lacking in the speedy consumption of vast quantities of food and drink. The dubious waiter (centre right), who seems to be pondering a request from the diner to the right, has no correspondence with the text, but the large man consuming the soup corresponds to the diner beside "Fitz" — suggesting that Barnard is synthesizing two different moments in the essay:
Near him is a stout man in a white neckerchief and buff waistcoat, with shining dark hair, cut very short in front, and a great, round, healthy-looking face, on which he studiously preserves a half sentimental simper. Next him, again, is a large-headed man, with black hair and bushy whiskers; and opposite them are two or three others, one of whom is a little round-faced person, in a dress-stock and blue under-waistcoat. There is something peculiar in their air and manner, though you could hardly describe what it is; you cannot divest yourself of the idea that they have come for some other purpose than mere eating and drinking. — Chapter 19, p. 77.
Pertinent illustrations in other editions, 1839 and 1910
Left: George Cruikshank's original First Series illustration for the same sketch, with the Dickens, Cruikshank, Chapman, and Hall ushering in the "indigent orphans," Public Dinners (1839). Right: Harry Furniss's "Public Dinners": The Toast-Master, the frontispiece in which the illustrator depicts the vestry debate between the warring factions (1910). [Click on the images to enlarge them.]
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Last modified 12 May 2017