Elijah Pogram and Mrs. Hominy
Sol Eytinge, Jr.
Dickens's Martin Chuzzlewit (Diamond Edition)
The presence of such minor American characters as Elijah Pogram and Mrs. Hominy among Eytinge's cast of thirty implies a very different interpretation compared to Phiz's of the novel as a whole. Phiz in his forty 1843-44 illustrations graphed relationships between groups of characters, focussing on such major characters as young Martin, Seth Pecksniff, and Tom Pinch. [Commentary continued below.]
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The presence of such minor American characters as Elijah Pogram and Mrs. Hominy among Eytinge's cast of thirty implies a very different interpretation compared to Phiz's of the novel as a whole. Phiz in his forty 1843-44 illustrations graphed relationships between groups of characters, focussing on such major characters as young Martin, Seth Pecksniff, and Tom Pinch. Dickens's original illustrator, taking close direction from the novelist as surviving correspondence indicates, devoted just four engravings (10% of the entire program) to American scenes, and describes only three actual Americans: the journalists Diver and Brick, and the land agent Scadder (exclusive of the immigrants, Martin, and Mark). In other words, in the original series, American characters are important only insofar as they are related to Martin and Mark, and one sees little of the United States itself (other than the wilderness around Chuzzlewit & Co.'s cabin), because Phiz has employed such nondescript interiors as a newspaper office, a realty office, and a settlers' log cabin. To Phiz, then, Martin Chuzzlewit is an English novel that happens to incorporate a few American scenes and characters among its nineteen monthly instalments and fifty-four chapters (only six of which directly involve America). In contrast, Eytinge depicts five American scenes as the backdrops for his sixteen illustrations (i. e., 30%) and seven Americans (i. e., 23%). To Eytinge, then, this is an Anglo-American novel that lays bare the prejudices, inequalities, and dubious mores of Ante-Bellum America, particularly the morally bankrupt but economically dynamic Jacksonian period just passed (lasting from Jackson's 1828 election until the slavery issue became dominant after 1850).
Two illustrations of a more significant American character, the ex-slave Cicero. Left: Phiz's "Mr. Tapley succeeds in finding a jolly subject for contemplation", chapter 17 (July 1843). Right: "You're the pleasantest fellow I have seen yet," said Martin, clapping him on the back, "And give me a better appetite than bitters." (Fred Barnard, Chapter 17, the Household Edition).
Within Eytinge's depictions of representative figures of pre-Civil War American culture lie the keys to America's internecine conflict just concluded. Fred Barnard, perhaps not even having studied Eytinge's illustrations, has a view of the story more consistent wth that of his friend Hablot Knight Browne; with a much larger pictorial program to compose, sixty illustrations in total, in the 1870s Barnard devoted just eight scenes to America, and focussed on the connected issues of transportation and immigration — particularly shipping (four of the eight Household Edition woodcuts are set on deck, against a harbour, on a train, or in a settlers' cabin). In the period immediately following the American Civil War, these would have been the issues of greatest concern to English readers, along with the issue that brought America into a protracted internal conflict; Barnard, unlike the American illustrator, devotes one illustration to the slave Cicero, just as Phiz does in "Mr. Tapley succeeds in finding a jolly subject for contemplation" (chapter 17), July 1843. The equivalent illustration in Barnard's much-expanded series, "You're the pleasantest fellow I have seen yet," said Martin, clapping him on the back, "And give me a better appetite than bitters.", describes a different relationship, since the Phiz engraving concerns Mark and Cicero, whereas Barnard's woodcut depicts the protagonist himself interacting socially and upon an equality with the former slave. Neither Barnard nor Phiz expresses any interest in the two figures through whom Dickens satirizes American political, literary, and cultural pretensions, the "languid," "clockwork" Congressman Elijah Pogram and the L.L. ("Literary Lady") Mrs. Hominy, whom Mark and Martin encounter as "American originals" after fleeing Eden in chapter 34:
Among the passengers on board the steamboat, there was a faint gentleman sitting on a low camp-stool, with his legs on a high barrel of flour, as if he were looking at the prospect with his ankles, who attracted their attention speedily.
He had straight black hair, parted up the middle of his head and hanging down upon his coat; a little fringe of hair upon his chin; wore no neckcloth; a white hat; a suit of black, long in the sleeves and short in the legs; soiled brown stockings and laced shoes. His complexion, naturally muddy, was rendered muddier by too strict an economy of soap and water; and the same observation will apply to the washable part of his attire, which he might have changed with comfort to himself and gratification to his friends. He was about five and thirty; was crushed and jammed up in a heap, under the shade of a large green cotton umbrella; and ruminated over his tobacco-plug like a cow.
He was not singular, to be sure, in these respects; for every gentleman on board appeared to have had a difference with his laundress and to have left off washing himself in early youth. Every gentleman, too, was perfectly stopped up with tight plugging, and was dislocated in the greater part of his joints. But about this gentleman there was a peculiar air of sagacity and wisdom, which convinced Martin that he was no common character; and this turned out to be the case.
"How do you do sir?" said a voice in Martin's ear.
"How do you do sir?" said Martin.
It was a tall thin gentleman who spoke to him, with a carpet-cap on, and a long loose coat of green baize, ornamented about the pockets with black velvet.
"You air from Europe, sir?"
"I am," said Martin.'
"You air fortunate, sir."
Martin thought so too; but he soon discovered that the gentleman and he attached different meanings to this remark.
"You air fortunate, sir, in having an opportunity of beholding our Elijah Pogram, sir."
"Your Elijahpogram!" said Martin, thinking it was all one word, and a building of some sort.
Martin tried to look as if he understood him, but he couldn't make it out.
"Yes, sir," repeated the gentleman, "our Elijah Pogram, sir, is, at this minute, identically settin' by the en-gine biler."
The gentleman under the umbrella put his right forefinger to his eyebrow, as if he were revolving schemes of state.
"That is Elijah Pogram, is it?" said Martin.
"Yes, sir," replied the other. "That is Elijah Pogram."
Dear me!' said Martin. 'I am astonished.' But he had not the least idea who this Elijah Pogram was; having never heard the name in all his life.
"If the biler of this vessel was Toe bust, sir," said his new acquaintance, "and Toe bust now, this would be a festival day in the calendar of despotism; pretty nigh equallin', sir, in its effects upon the human race, our Fourth of glorious July. Yes, sir, that is the Honourable Elijah Pogram, Member of Congress; one of the master- minds of our country, sir. There is a brow, sir, there!"'
"Quite remarkable," said Martin. [Diamond Edition, p. 306-307]
The remarkable Pogram, originator of the oratorical performance celebrated as "The Pogram Defiance," represents American politics, particularly the foreign-policy posturing of the Congress; Mrs. Hominy, on the other hand, represents what Americans think of as high culture:
"Sir, Mrs Hominy!"
"Lord bless that woman, Mark. She has turned up again!"
"Here she comes, sir," answered Mr Tapley. "Pogram knows her. A public character! Always got her eye upon her country, sir! If that there lady's husband is of my opinion, what a jolly old gentleman he must be!"
A lane was made; and Mrs Hominy, with the aristocratic stalk, the pocket handkerchief, the clasped hands, and the classical cap, came slowly up it, in a procession of one. Mr Pogram testified emotions of delight on seeing her, and a general hush prevailed. For it was known that when a woman like Mrs. Hominy encountered a man like Pogram, something interesting must be said.
Their first salutations were exchanged in a voice too low to reach the impatient ears of the throng; but they soon became audible, for Mrs. Hominy felt her position, and knew what was expected of her.
Mrs H. was hard upon him at first; and put him through a rigid catechism in reference to a certain vote he had given, which she had found it necessary, as the mother of the modern Gracchi, to deprecate in a line by itself, set up expressly for the purpose in German text. But Mr Pogram evading it by a well-timed allusion to the star-spangled banner, which, it appeared, had the remarkable peculiarity of flouting the breeze whenever it was hoisted where the wind blew, she forgave him. They now enlarged on certain questions of tariff, commercial treaty, boundary, importation and exportation with great effect. And Mrs Hominy not only talked, as the saying is, like a book, but actually did talk her own books, word for word.
"My! what is this!" cried Mrs Hominy, opening a little note which was handed her by her excited gentleman-usher. "Do tell! oh, well, now! on'y think!'"
And then she read aloud, as follows:
"Two literary ladies present their compliments to the mother of the modern Gracchi, and claim her kind introduction, as their talented countrywoman, to the honourable (and distinguished) Elijah Pogram, whom the two L. L.'s have often contemplated in the speaking marble of the soul-subduing Chiggle. On a verbal intimation from the mother of the M. G., that she will comply with the request of the two L. L.'s, they will have the immediate pleasure of joining the galaxy assembled to do honour to the patriotic conduct of a Pogram. It may be another bond of union between the two L. L.'s and the mother of the M. G. to observe, that the two L. L.'s are Transcendental."
Mrs. Hominy promptly rose, and proceeded to the door, whence she returned, after a minute's interval, with the two L. L.'s, whom she led, through the lane in the crowd, with all that stateliness of deportment which was so remarkably her own, up to the great Elijah Pogram. It was (as the shrill boy cried out in an ecstasy) quite the Last Scene from Coriolanus. One of the L. L.'s wore a brown wig of uncommon size. Sticking on the forehead of the other, by invisible means, was a massive cameo, in size and shape like the raspberry tart which is ordinarily sold for a penny, representing on its front the Capitol at Washington. '
"Miss Toppit, and Miss Codger!" said Mrs. Hominy. [Diamond Edition, p. 312-313]
In Eytinge's illustration, the only distinguishing feature of the pair is Pogram's Napoleonic pose. First seen in Chapter 22 at the National Hotel, where the "le-vee" for Pogram occurs in Chapter 34, Mrs. Major Hominy is described as Eytinge portrays her, tall, thin, and both physically and mentally "inflexible" :
. . . the door was thrown open in a great hurry, and an elderly gentleman entered: bringing with him a lady who certainly could not be considered young — that was matter of fact; and probably could not be considered handsome — but that was matter of opinion. She was very straight, very tall, and not at all flexible in face or figure. On her head she wore a great straw bonnet, with trimmings of the same, in which she looked as if she had been thatched by an unskilful labourer; and in her hand she held a most enormous fan. [Diamond Edition, p. 213]
Eytinge's illustration captures nothing of her pretentiousness, but implies that she is the literary equivalent of Congressman Pogram: a poser. From the 1867 woodcut, it would appear that there is nothing "remarkable" about either the originator of the Pogram Defiance or the Mother of the Modern Gracchi; their greatness is pure self-conceit:
Mrs. Hominy stalked in again; very erect, in proof of her aristocratic blood; and holding in her clasped hands a red cotton pocket-handkerchief, perhaps a parting gift from that choice spirit, the Major. She had laid aside her bonnet, and now appeared in a highly aristocratic and classical cap, meeting beneath her chin: a style of head-dress so admirably adapted to, her countenance, that if the late Mr. Grimaldi had appeared in the lappets of Mrs. Siddons, a more complete effect could not have been produced. [Diamond Edition, p. 214]
As humbugs, they are not a patch on the English character with the portrait bust, Seth Pecksniff, who may delude others but is never as self-deceived as Mrs. Hominy and Congressman Elijah Pogram. There may, however, be an indended resemblance between Eytinge's dignified legislator and the Great Emancipator, President Abraham Lincoln, who shares with Dickens's fatuous Congressman relatively humble origins in the American backwoods.
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Last modified 16 May 2012