Brown Hat and Straw Hat,
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 Diamond Edition encounters the non-fiction account of Dickens's travels France and Italy, and of his earlier American reading tour.
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Whenever the coach stops, and you can hear the voices of the inside passengers, or whenever any by-stander addresses them, or any one among them, or they address each other, you will hear one phrase repeated over and over and over again to the most extraordinary extent. It is an ordinary and unpromising phrase enough, being neither more nor less than "Yes, sir"; but it is adapted to every variety of circumstance, and fills up every pause in the conversation. Thus:—
The time is one o'clock at noon. The scene, a place where we are to stay and dine, on this journey. The coach drives up to the door of an inn. The day is warm, and there are several idlers lingering about the tavern, and waiting for the public dinner. Among them, is a stout gentleman in a brown hat, swinging himself to and fro in a rocking-chair on the pavement.
As the coach stops, a gentleman in a straw hat looks out of the window.
Straw Hat. (To the stout gentleman in the rocking-chair.) I reckon that’s Judge Jefferson, ain't it?
Brown Hat. (Still swinging; speaking very slowly; and without any emotion whatever.) Yes, sir.
Straw Hat. Warm weather, Judge.
Brown Hat. Yes, sir.
Straw Hat. There was a snap of cold, last week.
Brown Hat. Yes, sir.
Straw Hat. Yes, sir.
A pause. They look at each other, very seriously.
Straw Hat. I calculate you'll have got through that case of the corporation, Judge, by this time, now?
Brown Hat. Yes, sir.
Straw Hat. How did the verdict go, sir?
Brown Hat. For the defendant, sir.
Straw Hat. (Interrogatively.) Yes, sir?
Brown Hat. (Affirmatively.) Yes, sir.
Both. (Musingly, as each gazes down the street.) Yes, sir.
Another pause. They look at each other again, still more seriously than before.
Brown Hat. This coach is rather behind its time to-day, I guess.
Straw Hat. (Doubtingly.) Yes, sir.
Brown Hat. (Looking at his watch.) Yes, sir; nigh upon two hours.
Straw Hat. (Raising his eyebrows in very great surprise.) Yes, sir!
Brown Hat. (Decisively, as he puts up his watch.) Yes, sir.
All the other inside Passengers. (Among themselves.) Yes, sir.
Coachman. (In a very surly tone.) No, it ain't.
Straw Hat. (To the coachman.) Well, I don't know, sir. We were a pretty tall time coming that last fifteen mile. That's a fact.
The coachman making no reply, and plainly declining to enter into any controversy on a subject so far removed from his sympathies and feelings, another passenger says, "Yes, sir;" and the gentleman in the straw hat in acknowledgment of his courtesy, says "Yes, sir," to him, in return. The straw hat then inquires of the brown hat, whether that coach in which he (the straw hat) then sits, is not a new one? To which the brown hat again makes answer, "Yes, sir."
Straw Hat. I thought so. Pretty loud smell of varnish, sir?
Brown Hat. Yes, sir. [Chapter 14, "Return to Cincinatti. A Stage-Coach Ride from that City to Columbus, and Thence to Sandusky. So, by Lake Erie, to the Falls of Niagara," p. 452]
Travelling by canal-boat, paddler-steamer, stage-coach, and railroad in the eastern United States, Dickens met some of those "aristocrats of Nature" who people the pages of the American episodes of The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit (1843). In the only series of illustrations for the American travelogue upon which Dickens is likely to have had a hand (albeit from the grave), the Illustrated Library Edition, one of Dickens's last major illustrators, Marcus Stone, like Sol Eytinge, focussed on characters rather than settings, in "The Emigrants" (frontispiece), "The Solitary Prisoner" (p. 90), "Black and White" (p. 112), and "The Little Wife" (p. 144). Although other Library Editions from Chapman and Hall date from the 1860s, this text was not published until 1874. These four wood-engravings in the manner of the new Sixties style are far less caricature, however, and far more social realism. He provided four further illustrations for the second Dickens travelogue, Pictures from Italy.
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 illustration involving the two "hats" conversing between the coach (the traveller in the straw hat) and the ground (the denizen of the coach stop wearing a more conventional brown felt hat), Eytinge has not distinguished the two Americans as much different in physical characteristics since Dickens indicates that all that distinguishes the speakers in the prototype of Theatre of the Absurd, Pinteresque dialogue is the type of hat that each is wearing. Once again, Dickens sets up his American characters as one-dimensional "paste-boards" lacking depth in either sentiment or intellect. Eytinge, on the other hand, distinguishes the pair in the context of the scene, with one speaking from the coach, the other from the rocking-chair.
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. Illustrated by A. B. Frost and Gordon Thomson. Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1878.
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. 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