The Black Driver
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, and of his earlier American reading tour. Travelling by coach to Fredericksburg, where he expects to be able to catch a railway train to Richmond, Virginia, Dickens finds that travelling by stage-coach in America is definitely "roughing it." He is the only "outside" passenger; his wife and her maid are part of the "insides."
[Click on image to enlarge it.]
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
[You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.].
The tickets we have received on board the steamboat are marked No. 1, so we belong to coach No. 1. I throw my coat on the box, and hoist my wife and her maid into the inside. It has only one step, and that being about a yard from the ground, is usually approached by a chair: when there is no chair, ladies trust in Providence. The coach holds nine inside, having a seat across from door to door, where we in England put our legs: so that there is only one feat more difficult in the performance than getting in, and that is, getting out again. There is only one outside passenger, and he sits upon the box. As I am that one, I climb up; and while they are strapping the luggage on the roof, and heaping it into a kind of tray behind, have a good opportunity of looking at the driver.
He is a negro, — very black indeed. He is dressed in a coarse pepper-and-salt suit excessively patched and darned (particularly at the knees), gray stockings, enormous unblacked high-low shoes, and very short trousers. He has two odd gloves, — one of parti-colored worsted, and one of leather. He has a very short whip, broken in the middle and bandaged up with string. And yet he wears a low-crowned, broad-brimmed, black hat, faintly shadowing forth a kind of insane imitation of an English coachman! But somebody in authority cries "Go ahead" as I am making these observations. The mail takes the lead in a four-horse wagon, and all the coaches follow in procession: headed by No. 1.
By the way, whenever an Englishman would cry, "All right" an American cries, "Go ahead!" which is somewhat expressive of the national character of the two countries.
The first half-mile of the road is over bridges made of loose planks laid across two parallel poles, which tilt up as the wheels roll over them; and IN the river. The river has a clayey bottom and is full of holes, so that half a horse is constantly disappearing unexpectedly, and can't be found again for some time. [Chapter 9, "A Night Steamer on the Potomac River. Virginia Road, and a Black Driver. Richmond. Baltimore. The Harrisburg Mail, and a Glimpse of the City. A Canal-boat," p. 419-420]
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 the original 1842 Chapman and Hall volume edition of the American travelogue was not illustrated, in the 1871 Household Edition volume A. B. Frost emulated Sol Eytinge's choice of subject in that he, too, focussed on the coach journey in Chapter 9, in As the coach stops, a gentleman in a straw hat looks out of the window. Once again, in the 1867 Diamond Edition volume Eytinge focuses upon such singular characters rather than incidents and vistas, including landscapes and cityscapes.
Appropriately, there is now a Dickens Road in Richmond, a mute testimonial to Dickens's uncomfortable coach ride between a steamboat and a railroad terminus in what seems to have been a developing transportation system still dependent upon the primitive frontier roads of the previous epoch. On 16 March 1842, Dickens, his wife Catherine, and their maid left Washington, D. C. after dining with Washington Irving, heading by steamboat for Richmond, VA, by way of Fredericksburg. He had originally intended to observe for himself the appalling conditions in which the odious trade housed recently-arrived slaves at the wharfs of Charleston, NC, but, owing to the heat, decided to conduct his journalistic investigation closer to the North. Since the Dickenses arrived on the 17th, we may assume that the writer met the black driver earlier that same day, having spent the previous night aboard the steamboat.
Taken as a program, the six Diamond Edition illustrations for the American travelogue concern the theme of the theatre of life, of the interesting characters whom Dickens met while travelling on the Continent and in America, rather than on the places that Dickens stayed, the readings he gave, or the interesting places he visited. Even the vicissitudes of travel as exemplified by this two-and-a-half hour, ten-mile coach ride do not tempt Eytinge. The European characters in his illustrations for Pictures from Italy are certainly types — the efficient, self-confident courier, the slightly unscrupulous hotel proprietor, the animated tour guide, the aristocratic friar, and the ebullient French traveller — but Dickens and Eytinge both distinguish them by their appearance, physiognomy, clothing, and personality. Curiously, the American characters in the three Eytinge illustrations — The Black Driver, The Brown Forester, and Brown Hat and Straw Hat — are distinguishable by colour. Nor are they as endearing and quirky as their European counterparts.
In the case of The Black Driver, Eytinge is focussed so intently upon the form of the character that he omits such salient contextual details as the coach's spatterboard, and even omits one of the chief features of his clothing upon which Dickens remarks: the odd gloves. Since the driver's firm, sinewy hands grip the reins as he seems to be cheerfully eying the reader, perhaps Eytinge deliberately omitted the gloves in order to convey the coachman's physical strength, certainly needed to extricate the carriage and four horses from the Potomac mud.
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. London: Chapman and Hall, 19 October 1842. 2 vols.
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