The title-page vignette
vignette 8.0 cm x 6.2 cm. on a page measuring 24.3 cm x 18.5 cm.
The Cricket on the Hearth
Second Illustration for the Household Edition of Dickens's Christmas Books.
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Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham
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Writing twenty-five years ago, Philip Bolton reported 180 separate stage and radio adaptations of the December 1845 Christmas Book, the greatest number being those staged between 20 December 1845 and 1860 — 43 in total. Dickens himself was intimately involved in the very first stage adaptation, that scripted by Albert Smith of London's Lyceum Theatre and starring the theatre's actor-managers, the Keeleys. Barnard's choice of subject for the Household Edition's title-page vignette, a fairy and a cricket, for a modern reader may be problematic since few readers after the nineteenth century would even have heard of the third Christmas Book, The Cricket on the Hearth, despite its phenomenal sales at five shillings (3,541 between December 1845 and December 1846, according to Patten, 376) and impressive initial sales in the 1858 cheap edition (3,759). As Michael Slater concludes in his Penguin "Introduction" (1971):
The Cricket seems to have been the most popular of Dickens's Christmas Books — 'its sale at the outset doubled that of both its predecessors', Forster tells us. Some reviewers muttered about its puerility and theatricality but many more eulogised its 'lovely portraiture throughout of the domestic hearth' (The Era, 21 December 1845), its sweetness, simple charm and wholesome Englishness. There was widespread relief that Dickens had abandoned the polemics of The Chimes, 'the virus which would estrange rich and poor, though it affects to aim at bringing them more closely together', as the Illustrated London News put it (27 December 1845). 
The original illustrations were produced by the same team that had delivered the visual program for The Chimes a year previous — John Leech leading (seven engravings), supported by Richard Doyle (three engravings), Daniel Maclise (the ornate frontispiece and title-page vignette), and Clarkson Stanfield (the architectural piece, "The Carrier's Cart") — and the addition of English painter Edwin Landseer, R. A., (noted particularly for his life-like renderings of animals). These fourteen illustrations, most of which are wood-engravings dropped into the letterpress, reflect a comparison frequently made by early reviewers, including William Makepeace Thackeray in The Morning Chronicle for 24 December 1845, namely that between the novella in three "Chirps" and the seasonal family theatrical entertainment characterised by spectacle, humour, melodrama, disguise, and transformation: the pantomime.
Alerting readers in the late 1870s to the appearance of this highly popular Christmastide novella in the slender Household Edition volume, the cricket (looking rather like a grasshopper) appears simultaneously with the fairy spirit who waves a magic wand (signifying her powers of transformation) in Barnard's title-page vignette. Here, Fred Barnard is alluding to no specific "moment," but rather to the domestic spirit that presides over John Peerybingle's home, and which spectacularly appears in the theatrical-pictorial tradition of pantomime as the hearth opens open a fairy world the pantomimic transformation scene in the "Third Chirp." This effect is preceded by Peerybingle's trying to decide how best to address what he mistakenly believes is his wife's infidelity with a handsome youth (in fact, her long-lost sailor-brother, Philip).
He reversed the gun to beat the stock up the door; he already held it lifted in the air; some indistinct design was in his thoughts of calling out to him to fly, for God's sake, by the window —
When, suddenly, the struggling fire illumined the whole chimney with a glow of light; and the Cricket on the Hearth began to Chirp!
No sound he could have heard, no human voice, not even hers, could so have moved and softened him. The artless words in which she had told him of her love for this same Cricket, were once more freshly spoken; her trembling, earnest manner at the moment, was again before him; her pleasant voice — O what a voice it was, for making household music at the fireside of an honest man! — thrilled through and through his better nature, and awoke it into life and action.
He recoiled from the door, like a man walking in his sleep, awakened from a frightful dream; and put the gun aside. Clasping his hands before his face, he then sat down again beside the fire, and found relief in tears.
The Cricket on the Hearth came out into the room, and stood in Fairy shape before him. ["Third Chirp"; Household Edition, p. 103-104]
At this point in the innumerable dramatic adaptations (notably Dion Boucicault's Dot of the Christmas Book, first staged at New York City's Winter Garden Theatre in 1859) the fireplace in the carrier's cottage opens on a fairy extravaganza.:
And while the Carrier, with his head upon his hands, continued to sit meditating in his chair, the Presence stood beside him, suggesting his reflections by its power, and presenting them before him, as in a glass or picture. It was not a solitary Presence. From the hearthstone, from the chimney, from the clock, the pipe, the kettle, and the cradle; from the floor, the walls, the ceiling, and the stairs; from the cart without, and the cupboard within, and the household implements; from every thing and every place with which she had ever been familiar, and with which she had ever entwined one recollection of herself in her unhappy husband's mind; Fairies came trooping forth. Not to stand beside him as the Cricket did, but to busy and bestir themselves. To do all honour to her image. To pull him by the skirts, and point to it when it appeared. To cluster round it, and embrace it, and strew flowers for it to tread on. To try to crown its fair head with their tiny hands. To show that they were fond of it and loved it; and that there was not one ugly, wicked or accusatory creature to claim knowledge of it — none but their playful and approving selves. ["Third Chirp"; Household Edition, p. 105
As a symbol of Perrybingle's frustration with the whole question of his young wife's putative adultery, Barnard has included a broken pipe, in the smoke from which cricket and fairy appear in the Dalziel engraving.
Bolton, H. Philip. Dickens Dramatized. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1987.
Cohen, Jane Rabb. Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus: Ohio State U. P., 1980.
Cook, James. Bibliography of the Writings of Dickens. London: Frank Kerslake, 1879. As given in the Publishers' Circular The English Catalogue of Books.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Books. Il. Fred Barnard. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1878.
Dickens, Charles. The Cricket on the Hearth: A Fairy Tale of Home. Il. John Leech, Richard Doyle, Daniel Maclise, Clarkson Stanfield, and Edwin Landseer.Charles Dickens: The Christmas Books. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1971. Rpt., 1978. Vol. 2: 1-120.
Hammerton, J. A. The Dickens Picture-Book. London: Educational Book, 1912.
Kitton, Frederic G. Dickens and His Illustrators. 1899. Rpt. Honolulu: U. Press of the Pacific, 2004.
Parker, David. "Christmas Books and Stories, 1844 to 1854." Christmas and Charles Dickens. New York: AMS Press, 2005. Pp. 221-282.
Patten, Robert L. Charles Dickens and His Publishers. University of California at Santa Cruz.: The Dickens Project, 1991. Rpt. from Oxford U. p., 1978.
Slater, Michael. "Introduction" to The Cricket on the Hearth." Dickens's Christmas Books. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1971. Rpt., 1978. Vol. 2: 9-12.
Solberg, Sarah A. "'Text Dropped into the Woodcuts': Dickens' Christmas Books." Dickens Studies Annual 8 (1980): 103-118.
Thomas, Deborah A. Dickens and The Short Story. Philadelphia: U. Pennsylvania Press, 1982.
Last modified 26 June 2012