The half-pay Captain completely effaced the old lady's name from the brass door-plate, in his attempts to polish it with aqua-fortis.
13.8 cm x 10.6 cm. framed
Sketches by Boz
Three-quarter-page illustration for "Our Parish," Ch. 2, in Dickens's Sketches by Boz, the thirteenth volume of the Household Edition (1871-1879).
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Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham
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A very different personage, but one who has rendered himself very conspicuous in our parish, is one of the old lady's next-door neighbours. He is an old naval officer on half-pay, and his bluff and unceremonious behaviour disturbs the old lady's domestic economy, not a little. In the first place, he will smoke cigars in the front court, and when he wants something to drink with them — which is by no means an uncommon circumstance — he lifts up the old lady's knocker with his walking-stick, and demands to have a glass of table ale, handed over the rails. In addition to this cool proceeding, he is a bit of a Jack of all trades, or to use his own words, "a regular Robinson Crusoe;" and nothing delights him better than to experimentalise on the old lady's property. One morning he got up early, and planted three or four roots of full-grown marigolds in every bed of her front garden, to the inconceivable astonishment of the old lady, who actually thought when she got up and looked out of the window, that it was some strange eruption which had come out in the night. Another time he took to pieces the eight-day clock on the front landing, under pretence of cleaning the works, which he put together again, by some undiscovered process, in so wonderful a manner, that the large hand has done nothing but trip up the little one ever since. hen he took to breeding silk-worms, which he would bring in two or three times a day, in little paper boxes, to show the old lady, generally dropping a worm or two at every visit. The consequence was, that one morning a very stout silk-worm was discovered in the act of walking up-stairs — probably with the view of inquiring after his friends, for, on further inspection, it appeared that some of his companions had already found their way to every room in the house. The old lady went to the seaside in despair, and during her absence he completely effaced the name from her brass door-plate, in his attempts to polish it with aqua-fortis. — "Our Parish," Ch. 2, "The Curate, The Old Lady, and The Half-pay Captain," p. 6.
By his death in 1870, Dickens was the quintessential novelist in the minds of the reading public, a popular journalist, a platform speaker, a histrionic reader of text, and the "Conductor" of two weeklies, Household Words and All the Year Round. Consequently, when late in 1870 his chief publishers, Chapman and Hall, in conjunction with Dickens's chief American publishers, Harper and Brothers, determined to issue a new uniform, illustrated edition that would supersede the Library Edition, the firm began in a more or less chronological manner with Dickens's chief and still highly popular novels: Oliver Twist (1871), Martin Chuzzlewit (1872), and David Copperfield (1873), followed the next year by two of the great novels of his later period, Bleak House and Little Dorrit; in fact, Sketches by Boz, his first work published in volume form — but manifestly a work of his youth and not a novel, did not appear until 1876, the thirteenth of the twenty-two volume set published over the course of a decade. For his subjects, the series' chief illustrator, Fred Barnard, had the work of George Cruikshank upon which to draw, but he seems to have rejected the visual models provided by Cruikshank in the 1830s to provide more realistic, modelled, and less caricatural figures such as the bumbling half-pay captain in The half-pay Captain completely effaced the old lady's name from the brass door-plate, in his attempts to polish it with aqua-fortis, the first in a line of Dickensian old salts that includes Captain Cuttle, Jack Bunsby, and Solomon Gillis in Dombey and Son; Dan'l and Ham Peggotty in David Copperfield; Bill Barley in Great Expectations; the shadowy George Radfoot in Our Mutual Friend; and Tartar in The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
Pertinent illustrations of Captain Purday in other editions, 1836 and 1910
Left: George Cruikshank's original serial illustration of the same scene, with the supporters of the contestants, Spruggins and Bung, demonstrating outside the parish vestry, Election for Beadle (1835). Centre: Harry Furniss's Election of Beadle, the frontispiece in which the illustrator depicts the vestry debate between the warring factions (1910). Right: George Cruikshank's 1837 Chapman and Hall wrapper featuring inset texts referencing Election for Beadle. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]
Bentley, Nicolas, Michael Slater, and Nina Burgis. The Dickens Index. New York and Oxford: Oxford U. P., 1990.
Dickens, Charles. "Our Parish," Ch. 2, "The Curate. The Old Lady. The Half-Pay Captain." Sketches by Boz. Illustrated by George Cruikshank. London: Chapman and Hall, 1839; rpt. 1890. Pp. 5-9.
Dickens, Charles. "Our Parish," Ch. 2, "The Curate. The Old Lady. The Half-Pay Captain." Sketches by Boz. Illustrated by Fred Barnard. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1876. Vol. 13. Pp. 4-6.
Dickens, Charles, and Fred Barnard. The Dickens Souvenir Book. London: Chapman & Hall, 1912.
Dickens, Charles. "Our Parish," Ch. 2, "The Curate. The Old Lady. The Half-Pay Captain." Sketches by Boz. Illustrated by Harry Furniss. The Charles Dickens Library Edition. 18 vols. London: Educational Book, 1910. Vol. 1. Pp. 6-11.
Last modified 28 March 2017