"After dinner, Caleb sang the song about the Sparkling Bowl"
13.8 x 10.6 cm framed
The British Household Edition ends — at least, visually — on a more sombre note than the 1845 novella. Whereas the characters of all conditions and degrees come to together in "The Dance", Barnard has a melancholy Caleb sing his "bacchanalian" song once again at the conclusion of the celebratory dinner that honours the wedding of May Fielding and the long-lost Edward Plummer.
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham
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This passage is realised in Barnard's picture of Caleb and his blind daughter:
I wouldn't have missed Dot, doing the honours in her wedding-gown, my benison on her bright face! for any money. No! nor the good Carrier, so jovial and so ruddy, at the bottom of the table. Nor the brown, fresh sailor-fellow, and his handsome wife. Nor any one among them. To have missed the dinner would have been to miss as jolly and as stout a meal as man need eat; and to have missed the overflowing cups in which they drank The Wedding-Day, would have been the greatest miss of all.
After dinner, Caleb sang the song about the Sparkling Bowl. As I'm a living man, hoping to keep so, for a year or two, he sang it through.
And, by-the-by, a most unlooked-for incident occurred, just as he finished the last verse.
There was a tap at the door; and a man came staggering in, without saying with your leave, or by your leave, with something heavy on his head. Setting this down in the middle of the table, symmetrically in the centre of the nuts and apples, he said:
"Mr. Tackleton's compliments, and as he hasn't got no use for the cake himself, p'raps you'll eat it/"
And with those words, he walked off.
There was some surprise among the company, as you may imagine. ["Chirp the Third," British Household Edition, p. 104]
Barnard's concluding illustration of compared to that by John Leech (1845)
John Leech's more positive and exuberant conclusion of the story: "The Dance" (1845 edition, p. 173).
Although Barnard's program for the 1878 British Household Edition is effective as a series of character studies, the "Dickens of Illustrators" sometimes fails to match the spirit of the original illustrations of The Christmas Books; such an instance is his somewhat melancholy study of the toymaker Caleb Plummer, ironically singing a traditional drinking song at the wedding dinner of May and Edward. In the 1845 edition of The Cricket on the Hearth, the final John Leech woodcut, integrated into the letterpress, conveys the reader's and narrator's joyful reception of the providential closure far better than Barnard's "After dinner, Caleb sang the song about the Sparkling Bowl."
The Leech cartoon of the dance (on the penultimate page in the original publication) utilizes the structural principle of balance, as is suggested most forcibly by the dog Boxer dancing with the unnamed cat (right). As in the text, Tilly (centre) dances with Caleb, a diminutive Dot with a large-headed John (in linen smock frock, as is appropriate to his rural occupation and social status), and (in the background) Mrs. Fielding is dancing with a figure that must be Tackleton (his only appearance in the 1845 edition). Presumably, the elderly woman dancing just behind Dot is her mother, and (not paired off) the harpist, Bertha, appears to the right, the size of her figure suggesting neither her importance to the multiple plots nor realistic perspective. May and Edward, who initiated the dance, are surprisingly absent — perhaps Leech was reluctant to caricature the romantic leads, who are, after all, relatively pallid characters.
The composition is crowded enough, as it is, the upper register full of toys and seasonal greenery. The presence of fairies above the dancers reinforces the fanciful nature of the story. The two worlds of the novella — the mortal and the fairy dimensions — are not merely represent in Leech's final illustration; they are presented as balanced and complementary. At another level, full of toys and diminutive beings, the upper register is fancy, the lower register reality. In this "Dance," the two worlds are aligned. The fairies' absence from Barnard's illustrations reduces the imaginative appeal and even the charm of the story, which suffers from the later artist's realistic approach. The difference in the treatments of the 1845 and 1878 illustrators is evident in these concluding plates, highly animated and humorous in the case of Leech, realistic portraiture devoid of even melancholy sentiment in the case of Barnard.
As Michael Slater notes in his introduction to the Penguin edition, in his review of the book for 23 December 1845 in The Morning Chronicle, novelist, artist, and critic William Makepeace Thackeray had compared it to seasonal candies ("bonbons"), but the Household Edition's final illustration creates no such impression of "French plums and sweetness" as Thackeray suggested it should. The Mirror of Literature for 27 December 1845 justly compared the novella to that other Victorian seasonal favourites, the pantomime, and the sublime comedy of Joseph Grimaldi; Barnard's final picture of Caleb and Bertha engenders no such joy, and reflects no such conventions of miraculous transformation.
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Last modified 31 July 2012