The Friar and The Frenchman
Sol Eytinge, Jr.
Dickens's The Adventures of Oliver Twist, also, Pictures from Italy, American Notes for General Circulation (Diamond Edition)
After Oliver's descent into and return from the familiar-but-foreign cityscape of London's criminal underworld, the reader of the eleventh Diamond Edition volume encounters the non-fiction account of Dickens's travels France and Italy.
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The whole party on board were made merry by these unexpected supplies; but none more so than a loquacious little Frenchman, who got drunk in five minutes, and a sturdy Cappuccino Friar, who had taken everybody's fancy mightily, and was one of the best friars in the world, I verily believe.
He had a free, open countenance; and a rich brown, flowing beard; and was a remarkably handsome man, of about fifty. He had come up to us, early in the morning, and inquired whether we were sure to be at Nice by eleven; saying that he particularly wanted to know, because if we reached it by that time he would have to perform Mass, and must deal with the consecrated wafer, fasting; whereas, if there were no chance of his being in time, he would immediately breakfast. He made this communication, under the idea that the brave Courier was the captain; and indeed he looked much more like it than anybody else on board. Being assured that we should arrive in good time, he fasted, and talked, fasting, to everybody, with the most charming good-humor; answering jokes at the expense of friars, with other jokes at the expense of laymen, and saying that, friar as he was, he would engage to take up the two strongest men on board, one after the other, with his teeth, and carry them along the deck. Nobody gave him the opportunity, but I dare say he could have done it; for he was a gallant, noble figure of a man, even in the Cappuccino dress, which is the ugliest and most ungainly that can well be.
All this had given great delight to the loquacious Frenchman, who gradually patronized the Friar very much, and seemed to commiserate him as one who might have been born a Frenchman himself, but for an unfortunate destiny. Although his patronage was such as a mouse might bestow upon a lion, he had a vast opinion of its condescension; and in the warmth of that sentiment, occasionally rose on tiptoe, to slap the Friar on the back.
When the baskets arrived: it being then too late for Mass: the Friar went to work bravely: eating prodigiously of the cold meat and bread, drinking deep draughts of the wine, smoking cigars, taking snuff, sustaining an uninterrupted conversation with all hands, and occasionally running to the boat's side and hailing somebody on shore with the intelligence that we em>must be got out of this quarantine somehow or other, as he had to take part in a great religious procession in the afternoon. After this, he would come back, laughing lustily from pure good-humor, while the Frenchman wrinkled his small face into ten thousand creases, and said how droll it was, and what a brave boy was that Friar! At length the heat of the sun without, and the wine within, made the Frenchman sleepy. So, in the noontide of his patronage of his gigantic protégé, he lay down among the wool, and began to snore.
It was four o'clock before we were released; and the Frenchman, dirty and woolly, and snuffy, was still sleeping when the Friar went ashore. As soon as we were free, we all hurried away, to wash and dress, that we might make a decent appearance at the procession; and I saw no more of the Frenchman until we took up our station in the main street to see it pass, when he squeezed himself into a front place, elaborately renovated; threw back his little coat, to show a broad-barred velvet waistcoat, sprinkled all over with stars; then adjusted himself and his cane so as utterly to bewilder and transfix the Friar, when he should appear.
The procession was a very long one, and included an immense number of people divided into small parties; each party chanting nasally, on its own account, without reference to any other, and producing a most dismal result. There were angels, crosses, Virgins carried on flat boards surrounded by Cupids, crowns, saints, missals, infantry, tapers, monks, nuns, relics, dignitaries of the church in green hats, walking under crimson parasols: and, here and there, a species of sacred street-lamp hoisted on a pole. We looked out anxiously for the Cappuccíni, and presently their brown robes and corded girdles were seen coming on in a body.
I observed the little Frenchman chuckle over the idea that when the Friar saw him in the broad-barred waistcoat, he would mentally exclaim, "Is that my Patron! That distinguished man!" and would be covered with confusion. Ah! never was the Frenchman so deceived. As our friend the Cappuccíno advanced, with folded arms, he looked straight into the visage of the little Frenchman, with a bland, serene, composed abstraction, not to be described. There was not the faintest trace of recognition or amusement on his features; not the smallest consciousness of bread and meat, wine, snuff, or cigars. [Chapter 3, "Genoa and Its Neighbourhood," pp. 269-71]
Early in the autumn of 1844, having removed his family from the "Pink Jail" at Albaro in the suburbs to the Palazzo Peschiere in the heart of Genoa, Dickens made a run by steamboat to Nice, where he encountered the magnificent friar and the amusing little Frenchman. Ticknor-Fields' intention in placing Pictures from Italy in the eleventh volume was undoubtedly to complement a high-interest text with several lesser pieces, although even in 1867 the controversy on that side of the Atlantic regarding American Notes had probably not entirely died down, with accusations in the Northern press that Dickens was "pro-Confederacy." Whereas in the original 1846 Bradbury and Evans volume edition of the Italian travelogue illustrator Samuel Palmer had emphasized the atmospheric landscapes and cityscapes of the Italian peninsula, Sol Eytinge, Jr., in the Diamond Edition focuses upon such singular characters in the opening section as the Dickenses' travel guide, "The Brave Courier," the wizened harpy who conducts them through the former headquarters of the Inquisition at Papal Palace in Avignon, and the genial friar whom Dickens fetes on the deck of the steamer when it arrives at Nice, France, in the autumn of 1844, once the three-month lease on the Villa Bagnerello at Albaro was up and the Dickenses were free to take up residence in the much grander Palazzo Pescchieri in the heart of Genoa, and to begin to travel throughout the region.
The illustrations of the 1867 volume focus on Dickens as an observant traveller rather than a social commentator or expatriate living abroad n— he does not even digress into anti-Catholic sentiments in his description of the friar, although he cannot resist the opportunity to satirise the religious procession that the friar joins later that morning. The choice of the tall, athletic, noble friar and the jolly, stout, short Frenchman as the subject of his third and final illustration for the travelogue suggests that Eytinge as a caricaturist could not resist the opportunity to depict so incongruous and comical a pairing as the tall, dignified Italian cleric, a veritable "lion," and the French "mouse," the active and amicable little Frenchman inclined to drink too much of the good red wine that Dickens's Courier has arranged to complement Dickens's breakfast on the deck of the steamer.
The dual portrait is effective because the illustrator captures the contrasting attitudes of the friar, not a very spiritual type (as the cigar-smoking suggests), but a magnificent physical specimen nonetheless, and the adoring little Frenchman, toasting him. That Eytinge's little Frenchman looks a good deal like his other Frenchmen, the hotel proprietor and the Dickens's Brave Courier suggests that he thought of the French as a type,rather than as individuals. Eytinge's friar is, however, very much individualised; he is, indeed, "placid" as he puffs at his cigar and contemplates his animated and convivial travelling companion. Surprisingly, Eytinge has not depicted the latter's star-spangled, "broad-barred" waistcoast, but has clearly suggested the setting by the bulwarks and ropes (left). Although Dickens asserts that the friar's "bland, serene, composed abstraction, [is] not to be described" (271), Eytinge has admirably suggested these qualities in the tranquil, bearded giant's face — and has even made his religious garb look attractive.
Bentley, Nicolas, Michael Slater, and Nina Burgis. The Dickens Index. New York and Oxford: Oxford U. P., 1990.
Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, 1998.
Dickens, Charles. American Notes for General Circulation and Pictures from Italy. With eight illustrations by Marcus Stone. Illustrated Library edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1874.
Dickens, Charles. American Notes for General Circulation and Pictures from Italy. Illustrated by A. B. Frost and Gordon Thomson. Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1878.
Dickens, Charles. Pictures from Italy and American Notes for General Circulation. Works of Charles Dickens. Diamond Edition. 14 vols. Illustrated by Sol Eytinge, Jr. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867. Vol. 11.
Last modified 21 November 2014