The Brown Forester,
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 canal-boat from Harrisburgh, Pennsylvania, March 25-28, to Pittsburgh, Dickens met some of those "aristocrats of Nature" who people the pages of the American episodes of Martin Chuzzlewit (1843).
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We had another odd specimen on board, of a different kind. This was a thin-faced, spare-figured man of middle age and stature, dressed in a dusty drabbish-colored suit, such as I never saw before. He was perfectly quiet during the first part of the journey, — indeed I don't remember having so much as seen him until he was brought out by circumstances, as great men often are. The conjunction of events which made him famous, happened, briefly, thus.
The canal extends to the foot of the mountain, and there, of course, it stops; the passengers being conveyed across it by land carriage, and taken on afterwards by another canal boat, the counterpart of the first, which awaits them on the other side. There are two canal lines of passage-boats; one is called The Express, and one (a cheaper one) The Pioneer. The Pioneer gets first to the mountain, and waits for the Express people to come up; both sets of passengers being conveyed across it at the same time. We were the Express company; but when we had crossed the mountain, and had come to the second boat, the proprietors took it into their beads to draft all the Pioneers into it likewise, so that we were five-and-forty at least, and the accession of passengers was not at all of that kind which improved the prospect of sleeping at night. Our people grumbled at this, as people do in such cases; but suffered the boat to be towed off with the whole freight aboard nevertheless; and away we went down the canal. At home, I should have protested lustily, but being a foreigner here, I held my peace. Not so this passenger. He cleft a path among the people on deck (we were nearly all on deck), and without addressing anybody whomsoever, soliloquized as follows: —
"This may suit you, this may, but it don't suit me. This may be all very well with Down Easters, and men of Boston raising, but it won't suit my figure nohow; and no two ways about that; and so I tell you. Now! I'm from the brown forests of Mississippi, I am, and when the sun shines on me, it does shine — a little. It don't glimmer where I live, the sun don't. No. I'm a brown forester, I am. I ain't a Johnny Cake. There are no smooth skins where I live. We're rough men there. Rather. If Down Easters and men of Boston raising like this, I'm glad of it, but I'm none of that raising nor of that breed. No. This company wants a little fixing, it does. I'm the wrong sort of man for 'em, I am. They won't like me, they won't. This is piling of it up, a little too mountainous, this is." At the end of every one of these short sentences he turned upon his heel, and walked the other way; checking himself abruptly when he had finished another short sentence, and turning back again.
It is impossible for me to say what terrific meaning was hidden in the words of this brown forester, but I know that the other passengers looked on in a sort of admiring horror, and that presently the boat was put back to the wharf, and as many of the Pioneers as could be coaxed or bullied into going away, were got rid of.
When we started again, some of the boldest spirits on board, made bold to say to the obvious occasion of this improvement in our prospects, "Much obliged to you, sir;" whereunto the brown forester (waving his hand, and still walking up and down as before), replied, ‘No you ain't. You’re none o' my raising. You may act for yourselves, you may. I have pinted out the way. Down Easters and Johnny Cakes can follow if they please. I ain't a Johnny Cake, I ain't. I am from the brown forests of the Mississippi, I am," — and so on, as before. [Chapter 10, "Some Further Account of the Canal-Boat, Its Domestic Economy, and Its Passengers. Journey to Pittsburgh Across the Alleghany Mountains. Pittsburgh," p. 430-431]
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 inland 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. The Brown Forester as envisaged by Eytinge looks rather like that illustrator's conception of the bowie-knife-wielding Hannibal Chollop in the series of surly frontiersmen that appear in the Diamond Edition of The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit, which Dickens began to write shortly after he returned from his initial American reading tour.
Taken as a program, the six Diamond Edition illustrations for the American and Italian travelogues 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 he 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 here 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 Brown Forester, Eytinge has attempted to convey the mental inflexibility and egocentricity of the denizen of Mississippi — and the somewhat menacing nature of this character with his mechanical, repetitive patter about his superiority to those Northerners with complexions as white as Johnny Cakes. Indeed, the curious American and the Brown Forester on the Pennsylvania canal-boat may well have worked on Dickens's imagination to such an extent that they are the real-life originals of Hannibal Chollop, that armed-to-the-teeth "worshipper of Freedom," and Zephaniah Scadder, swindling land agent at the dubiously named "Eden" on the shores of the Mississippi in the 1843 novel. The body and the face of the Brown Forester are highly reminiscent of these other Eytinge creations — the only substantive difference is this character's snuffy suit.
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