Want and Ignorance
12.6 high x 9.5 cm
Fifteenth Illustration for Dickens's A Christmas Carol in Prose: being a Ghost Story of Christmas in the Ticknor and Fields (Boston), 1868 edition.
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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Like the illustrators of the Household Edition, Sol Eytinge, Jr., was composing within a pictorial tradition established by Dickens and his original graphic artists, so that, for example, in drawing "Want and Ignorance" in A Christmas Carol in Prose: being a Ghost Story of Christmas he did not have an entirely free hand since even many of his American readers in the Christmas season of 1868 would have been thoroughly aware of Leech's 1843 small but radical woodcut "Ignorance and Want". Since Dickens's prophetic Christmas Present warns mankind about the graver dangers represented by the shivering, ragged, diminutive, pock-marked male figure, Ignorance in Leech's illustration —
Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. [Stave 3]
— Eytinge has chosen to reverse the order of their names in the title and render them squatting rather than standing, for their power drives humanity to the condition of animals. Leech's figures, though ill-clad, are markedly human, and the girl even seems to turn towards her ill-clothed brother in concern; in contrast, Eytinge's quasi-naked, dark figures, who have qualities of "The Boy" in Dickens's last Christmas Book, The Haunted Man (1848), more closely realize Dickens's description of these factory children as cowed animals rather than embryonic adult human beings: "meager, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility." Whereas Leech's Spirit of Christmas Present reprovingly points a chastising finger at Scrooge for assisting in the creation of such social ills, Eytinge's melancholy figure points downward as the text describes, with the small slum children kneeling at his feet as the spirit cries, "Oh, Man! look here. Look, look, down here!"
In neither illustration, curiously, do the allegorical children cling to the spirit's garments; however, at least in Eytinge's there is an urban as opposed to the factory backdrop that Leech substituted. In place of Leech's blighted tree, emblematic of the consequences of the callous capitalistic and factory systems, Eytinge has a bird of ill-omen haloed by the setting moon. In keeping with the serious subject of the illustration, Eytinge has given us a sombre Druid rather than "a jolly Giant, glorious to see." The implied movement of the 1868 "dark" plate is entirely upward and downward, with the pillar-like tenement blocks in the background complementing the pillar-like figures of Scrooge and his spirit-guide. Finally, as the chimes strike midnight, Leech's Spirit of Christmas Present is fading, even though the text does not so specify; rather, he vanishes utterly at the moment the bell strikes twelve, presumably on the night of the last of twelve days of Christmas. In contrast, Eytinge's leaden spirit clasps his collar with his left hand against the chill; his holly and berry head-dress, however, seems to have wilted if we compare it to its rendering in Eytinge's "The Spirit of Christmas Present" five plates earlier, and in the frontispiece, in which the crown is more luxuriant and the figure both more nimble, youthful, jolly, vigorous, and benign.
Related Illustrations in The Christmas Books (1843-48)
John Leech's "Ignorance and Want" (1843) and "The Boy Before the Fire" (1848). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Cohen, Jane Rabb. "John Leech." Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio U. P., 1980. Pp. 141-151.
Dickens, Charles. A Christmas Carol in Prose being a Ghost Story of Christmas. Il. John Leech. London: Chapman and Hall, 1843.
Dickens, Charles. A Christmas Carol in Prose: being a ghost story of Christmas. Il. Sol Eytinge, Jr. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1868 (dated 1869).
Last modified 11 July 2013