The ploughshare still turned up . . .  some rusty bits of 

The ploughshare still turned up . . . some rusty bits of metal by Fred Barnard. Household Edition (1878) of "Part the First of Dickens's The Battle of Life: A Love StoryChristmas Books, p. 118. Engraved by one of the Dalziels, and signed "FB" lower left. The full caption reads “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.” [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

Barnard's initial illustration reifies Dickens's general proposition that, long 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 in the story, such as Grace and Marion's dancing together in the frontispiece. Fred Barnard instead imagines an explicitly eighteenth-century scene (as established by the costumes of the landlord and the bourgeois) set before the village tavern in which a ploughman shows off a portion of a gorget he has just unearthed, while the publican (right), barmaid (left), labourers, and a middle-aged member of the middle class (a parson, physician, or lawyer) in respectable coat, breeches, and tricorn hat look on, variously fascinated and puzzled. The original artists were, therefore, more literal in the passages they (and Dickens) chose to illustrate, although the ornamented "Title", as well as the picturesque "War" and "Peace" verge on the allegorical. Curiously, these 1846 illustrations are not moments in the narrative, but merely scenes suggested by the narrator's comments about the physical setting. The "moments" selected for illustration were usually determined by an author and illustrator jointly (in the case of a collaboration), 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.

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]

As is the case in Barnard's initial illustration for The Battle of Life, Goldman notes that "illustrators sometimes provide a scene or episode merely suggested by the text and not in truth present in the text at all." Such is also the case in the 1846 edition with Doyle's and Stanfield's realisations of the aftermath of the Civil War battle fought in the vicinity of Dr. Jeddler's village — except, of course, that Dickens undoubtedly approved of these historic scenes, even though he merely alluded in the opening to the battle, and gave his illustrators no specific descriptions to work with. Studying the original illustrations, Fred Barnard must have felt that his single wood engraving dealing with the long-term consequences of that century-old contest should deal with villagers' responses to objects deposited on the field of battle rather than with the historical battle scene iself. Whereas Stanfield in particular chose subjects that were picturesque and emphasised setting, Barnard chose moments of interaction between characters.

Barnard's pleasant illustration of curious villagers signals a shift that occurred in the 1860s in practitioners' attitudes towards book illustration. Prior to the close of the 1850s, publishers and authors alike regarded the business of the illustrator as being the decoration of a text, realising specific moments in the letterpress as faithfully as possible, with telling detail and even with elaboration of symbolic objects and poses, but complementing rather challenging the printed word. In this regard, the artist was sometimes — as was the case with Phiz and Dickens — co-producer and joint innovator, as well as gifted visual commentator. However, as a result of the Moxon Tennyson (1857) and the innovations of Fred Walker and Millais, among others, the business of the illustrator became the production of works of art that could stand alone on their merit and did not necessarily rely for their meaning on a strict adherence to the author's words. Such was the case for Barnard, illustrating the Household Edition of Dickens's works in the decade following Dickens's death, and therefore not restricted by the kind of supervision that Dickens had exercised over his original Christmas Book illustrators.

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".

Barnard's illustration of the discovery of an artefact long after the Civil War battle, in relation to plates by Maclise, Doyle, and Stanfield.

In the new illustrations for the fourth Christmas Book Fred 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. The textual passage which Barnard is particularising here 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 particular 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. 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 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 The Vicar of Wakefield.

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Last modified 7 August 2012