[A London Sidewalk Artist]
Edward G. Dalziel
8.5 cm high by 6.5 cm wide, framed.
This image is an uncaptioned title-page vignette for Dickens's "His Brown-Paper Parcel," Christmas Stories (1877).
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Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham
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Passage Illustrated without caption in the Title-page Vignette
Our conversation had brought us to a crowd of people, the greater part struggling for a front place from which to see something on the pavement, which proved to be various designs executed in coloured chalks on the pavement stones, lighted by two candles stuck in mud sconces. The subjects consisted of a fine fresh salmon's head and shoulders, supposed to have been recently sent home from the fishmonger's; a moonlight night at sea (in a circle); dead game; scroll-work; the head of a hoary hermit engaged in devout contemplation; the head of a pointer smoking a pipe; and a cherubim, his flesh creased as in infancy, going on a horizontal errand against the wind. All these subjects appeared to me to be exquisitely done.
On his knees on one side of this gallery, a shabby person of modest appearance who shivered dreadfully (though it wasn't at all cold), was engaged in blowing the chalk-dust off the moon, toning the outline of the back of the hermit's head with a bit of leather, and fattening the down-stroke of a letter or two in the writing. I have forgotten to mention that writing formed a part of the composition, and that it also — as it appeared to me — was exquisitely done. It ran as follows, in fine round characters: "An honest man is the noblest work of God. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0. Pounds s. d. Employment in an office is humbly requested. Honour the Queen. Hunger is a 0 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 sharp thorn. Chip chop, cherry chop, fol de rol de ri do. Astronomy and mathematics. I do this to support my family."
Murmurs of admiration at the exceeding beauty of this performance went about among the crowd. The artist, having finished his touching (and having spoilt those places), took his seat on the pavement, with his knees crouched up very nigh his chin; and halfpence began to rattle in. [Chapter 3: "His Brown-Paper Parcel," p. 130-131]
Dickens's later illustrators in anthologized versions of Somebody's Luggage (1862's Extra Christmas Number for All the Year Round) have tended to gravitate towards "His Boots," the second chapter, as the source of their material for visual elaboration because, the original ten chapters having been reduced to the mere four by Dickens himself, it was the selection with the greatest pictorial potential among the limited group which includes "His Leaving It 'til Called for" (Part One), "His Brown-Paper Parcel" (Part Seven), and the concluding "His Wonderful End." Although "His Boots" has been illustrated for a number of editions, beginning with the 1867 Diamond Edition, the first-person narrative about the phantom sidewalk artist who lets his work out for others to present has not been illustrated by artists other than Dalziel.
Dickens's story makes use of a narrator who is a sort of "closet" sidewalk artist ("in the Fine-Art line") in that he rents out his exhibits to young men more likely by their indigent appearance to elicit generous contributions from passersby. Dalziel's "front man" is especially lugubrious. Although the narrator mentions "Crammers" and "Coaches," Dickens is demonstrating the operations of a Night Screever — a pavement artist who has taken advantage of the short days and long nights leading up to Christmas day and beyond. "screever". The term "Screever," Elizabethan slang from approximately 1560, is derived from the writing style, often Copperplate, that typically accompanied the works of London pavement artists, which included such objects as Dickens describes, as well as proverbs and displays of penmanship. The scene as described by "Tom," the real artist, is the Waterloo Road, after dark. The narrator's allusions to "copyright" were perhaps Dalziel's cue to make this public persona of the starving artist the subject of the frontispiece, thereby suggesting that all these first-person narrators in the Christmas Stories are but "front men" for the real author.
Bentley, Nicolas, Michael Slater, and Nina Burgis. The Dickens Index. Oxford and New York: Oxford U. P., 1988.
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 8 May 2014