"I am only a common soldier," said he. "It signifies very little what such a poor brute comes to."
Edward G. Dalziel
17.2 cm high by 12.5 cm wide, framed.
Dickens's "Tale of Richard Doubledick," facing the ornamental title-page, in Christmas Stories (1877).
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Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham
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"Doubledick," said the Captain, "do you know where you are going to?"
"To the Devil, sir?" faltered Doubledick.
"Yes,” returned the Captain. "And very fast."
Private Richard Doubledick turned the straw of the Black hole in his month, and made a miserable salute of acquiescence.
"Doubledick," said the Captain, "since I entered His Majesty's service, a boy of seventeen, I have been pained to see many men of promise going that road; but I have never been so pained to see a man determined to make the shameful journey as I have been, ever since you joined the regiment, to see you."
Private Richard Doubledick began to find a film stealing over the floor at which he looked; also to find the legs of the Captain’s breakfast-table turning crooked, as if he saw them through water.
"I am only a common soldier, sir," said he. "It signifies very little what such a poor brute comes to."
"You are a man," returned the Captain, with grave indignation, "of education and superior advantages; and if you say that, meaning what you say, you have sunk lower than I had believed. How low that must be, I leave you to consider, knowing what I know of your disgrace, and seeing what I see."
"I hope to get shot soon, sir," said Private Richard Doubledick; "and then the regiment and the world together will be rid of me."
The legs of the table were becoming very crooked. Doubledick, looking up to steady his vision, met the eyes that had so strong an influence over him. He put his hand before his own eyes, and the breast of his disgrace-jacket swelled as if it would fly asunder.
"I would rather," said the young Captain, "see this in you, Doubledick, than I would see five thousand guineas counted out upon this table for a gift to my good mother. Have you a mother?"
"I am thankful to say she is dead, sir." [The Seven Poor Travellers, "The Story of Richard Doubledick," 7]
Prolific Edwardian illustrator Harry Furniss would choose a much more poignant and compelling moment than either E. A. Abbey in the American Household Edition or Edward Dalziel in the Chapman and Hall volume. In the 1867 Diamond Edition, Sol Eytinge, on the other hand, realised far less effectively the same moment selected by F. A. Fraser for the Illustrated Library Edition and E. G. Dalziel for the British Household Edition. Compare Furniss's dynamic and highly touching treatment of the death of Taunton with the relatively subdued and understated treatments of Edwin Austin Abbey and Spl Eytinge, Junior for the Household Edition (1876) and Diamond Edition (1867) volumes, She came to the door quickly, and fell upon his neck, and Captain Taunton and Private Doubledick. The former depicts another emotional trial for the protagonist, when a wounded Doubedick, now a war hero and an officer himself, returns to England and visits the mother of his dead friend at Frome in Somerset; the latter is a simpler realization of the same scene selected by Dalziel. Despite the singular lack of emotion in his Household Edition illustration, Dalziel carefully establishes the context as Colonel Taunton's breakfast table, signified by the clock on the mantle and the meal laid out before him. What he misses is the extreme contrition of the depressed Private.
The Household Edition illustrator realizes the highly charged dialogue between the erring Private Richard Doubledick and the concerned senior officer in this rather static full-page composite woodblock. Illustrated Library Edition illustrator F. A. Fraser chose the same moment as Eytinge in the Diamond Edition of 1867 and E. G. Dalziel for this illustration, namely when an almost brotherly Captain Taunton, reviewing the young private's record of misdemeanours, upbraids him and Doubledick breaks down in his office at hearing a voice that echoes that of his own conscience. In his melodramatic rendering of this scene of confession and forgiveness, F. A. Fraser is careful in his delineation of the officer's and private's uniforms ("period-appropriate," if one is thinking of the action of the story as contemporary rather than historical) in The Seven Poor Travellers, although Eytinge is certainly correct in the particulars of contemporary British uniform (i. e., the period of the Crimean War) in which he has dressed them. The costuming is hardly a minor detail since it signifies the artist's reading of the story as Dickens's enthusiastic public support of the recent Anglo-French cooperation in the Crimean War Coalition to counteract Prussian-Austrian neutrality. which in turn compelled the coordination of naval as well as of land-based military operations on the part of the former adversaries. Public sentiment being mixed about the advisability of aligning French and British interests, Dickens's story emphasized the necessity for forgiveness and "moving forward," although he does not directly allude to the common enemy (imperial Russia) or the common cause (the defence of the Sick Man of Europe). Modern readers can be forgiven for missing the story's mid-Victorian political context: war was declared in March 1854, and the ineffectiveness of the allied naval bombardment of Sevastopol in the fall of 1854 had underscored serious problems in the politically-dictated and utterly cumbersome shared command structure. At the time that Dickens published the story which seems to urge greater cooperation between the superpowers, Lord Aberdeen's ministry was about to fall as a result of the failure of a land-based operation against Sevastopol. In this ill-fated and utterly mismanaged conflict, 23,000 British soldiers died — and the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava on 25 October 1854 under Lord Cardigan had undermined both the honour and credibility of Britain's much-vaunted military might.
In contrast to the approaches of Abbey (1876) and Fraser, (1868) E. G. Dalziel in his frontispiece to the Chapman and Hall Household Edition of 1877 has both the Captain (sitting, clutching a sword as a sign of his martial authority) and the Private, standing before his unit commander at the breakfast table, in uniforms of the mid-eighteenth century, exactly as Dalziel has depicted the Royal Marines in The Perils of Certain English Prisoners (1857) in "O Christian George King sar berry sorry!". In this respect only, Eytinge's illustration is superior since it more accurately reflects the kinds of uniforms worn by infantry regiments during the Napoleonic wars. Clearly Dalziel wishes to utilize the more formal uniforms of late eighteenth century cavalry, which were more form-fitting and thereby emphasise the soldiers' physical attractiveness and youthful forms.
Right: E. A. Abbey's "She came to the door quickly, and fell upon his neck" (187). Centre: F. A. Fraser's "The Seven Poor Travellers" (1868) [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Left: Sol Eytinge, Jr.'s "Captain Taunton and Private Doubledick" (1867). Right: Harry Furniss's "The Death of Major Taunton" (1910). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
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Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Checkmark and Facts On File, 1998.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Books and The Uncommercial Traveller. Illustrated by Harry Furniss. Charles Dickens Library Edition. 18 vols. London: Educational Book Company, 1910. Vol. 10.
Dickens, Charles. The Uncommercial Traveller and Additional Christmas Stories. Illustrated by Sol Eytinge, Junior. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories from "Household Words" and "All The Year Round". Illustrated by Townley Green, Charles Green, Fred Walker, F. A. Fraser, Harry French, E. G. Dalziel, and J. Mahony. The Illustrated Library Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1868, rpt. in the Centenary Edition of Chapman & Hall and Charles Scribner's Sons (1911). 2 vols.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories. Illustrated by E. A. Abbey. The Household Edition. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1876.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories from "Household Words" and "All the Year Round". Illustrated by E. G. Dalziel. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1877.
Scenes and characters from the works of Charles Dickens; being eight hundred and sixty-six drawings, by Fred Barnard, Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz); J. Mahoney; Charles Green; A. B. Frost; Gordon Thomson; J. McL. Ralston; H. French; E. G. Dalziel; F. A. Fraser, and Sir Luke Fildes; printed from the original woodblocks engraved for "The Household Edition.". New York: Chapman and Hall, 1908. Copy in the Robarts Library, University of Toronto.
Thomas, Deborah A. Dickens and The Short Story. Philadelphia: U. Pennsylvania Press, 1982.
Last modified 29 April 2014