"Feeding the Birds": Rigaud and John Baptist Imprisoned at Marseilles
14.2 x 9.4 cm framed
Dickens's Little Dorrit, Vol. 12 of Charles Dickens Library Edition, Book the First, "Poverty"; Chapter 1, "Sun and Shadow," facing p. 8.
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Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham from his own collection.
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"How goes the world this forenoon, gentlemen? My little one, you see, going round with me to have a peep at her father's birds. Fie, then! Look at the birds, my pretty, look at the birds."
He looked sharply at the birds himself, as he held the child up at the grate, especially at the little bird, whose activity he seemed to mistrust. "I have brought your bread, Signor John Baptist," said he (they all spoke in French, but the little man was an Italian); "and if I might recommend you not to game —"
"You don't recommend the master!" said John Baptist, showing his teeth as he smiled.
"Oh! but the master wins," returned the jailer, with a passing look of no particular liking at the other man, "and you lose. It's quite another thing. You get husky bread and sour drink by it; and he gets sausage of Lyons, veal in savoury jelly, white bread, strachino cheese, and good wine by it. Look at the birds, my pretty!"
"Poor birds!" said the child.
The fair little face, touched with divine compassion, as it peeped shrinkingly through the grate, was like an angel's in the prison. John Baptist rose and moved towards it, as if it had a good attraction for him. The other bird remained as before, except for an impatient glance at the basket.
"Stay!" said the jailer, putting his little daughter on the outer ledge of the grate, "she shall feed the birds. This big loaf is for Signor John Baptist. We must break it to get it through into the cage. So, there's a tame bird to kiss the little hand! This sausage in a vine leaf is for Monsieur Rigaud. Again — this veal in savoury jelly is for Monsieur Rigaud. Again — these three white little loaves are for Monsieur Rigaud. Again, this cheese — again, this wine — again, this tobacco — all for Monsieur Rigaud. Lucky bird!"
The child put all these things between the bars into the soft, smooth, well-shaped hand, with evident dread — more than once drawing back her own and looking at the man with her fair brow roughened into an expression half of fright and half of anger. Whereas she had put the lump of coarse bread into the swart, scaled, knotted hands of John Baptist (who had scarcely as much nail on his eight fingers and two thumbs as would have made out one for Monsieur Rigaud), with ready confidence; and, when he kissed her hand, had herself passed it caressingly over his face. Monsieur Rigaud, indifferent to this distinction, propitiated the father by laughing and nodding at the daughter as often as she gave him anything; and, so soon as he had all his viands about him in convenient nooks of the ledge on which he rested, began to eat with an appetite. — Ch. 1, "Sun and Shadow," pages 5-6.
Furniss's re-interpretation of the opening scene in Marseilles is the reverse of Phiz's The Birds in the Cage (Book One, Chapter 1), in that, whereas the faces of the jailor and his young daughter are barely discernible in the original, they are the central figures in this 1910 pen-and-ink drawing, and the prisoners are mere faces at the bars. Rather than emphasize the darkness and darkness of the cell, Furniss shows two sets of bars and a very substantial stone staircase to imply the stoutness of the walls. He subordinates his ill-kempt prisoners to the figure of the jailor and his daughter, in complete contrast to their being the focal point in Felix Octavius Carr Darley's frontispiece entitled Feeding the Birds. Whereas Darley emphasizes the villainous Rigaud, a satanically-bearded, gentlemanly accused murderer who in England adopts the pseudonym "Blandois," and becomes an associate of Mrs. Clenham and Henry Gowan, Harry Furniss has the reader experience the scene from the perspective of the uniformed jailor. Although Hablot Knight Browne in the monthly parts, December 1855 through June 1857, has not provided Furniss with a useful model for this scene, Phiz does show Rigaud in Gowan's studio (Book Two, Chapter 6), Instinct Stronger than Training and with the Clenhams' crusty servant in Mr. Flintwich Receives the Embrace of Friendship (Book Two, Chapter 10), and both Rigaud and "Mr. Baptist" in In the Old Room (Book Two, Chapter 28). Thus, Furniss does not initially introduce Blandois Rigaud as a an "other" (a bearded foreigner) to the novel's smooth-faced Englishmen, but as a caged beast with a snout who will do damage if he is released or escapes the confines of his cage.
A rather different interpretation of the ill-sorted pair of prisoners occurs in the 1867 Diamond Edition by Sol Eytinge, Jr. illustration Rigaud and Cavaletto (Chapter One, "Sun and Shadow"). Although Phiz's images of Rigaud are acceptable for establishing the novel's dominant tone, Eytinge's character study captures more of Rigaud's robustness and deviousness, qualities which render him a foil to the good-hearted peasant, Cavaletto, who will become an associate of Arthur Clenham. The American editions of the 1860s appear not to have influenced such later British interpretations as James Mahoney's in the 1870s Household Edition, the full title for the wood-engraving being In Marseilles that day there was a villainous prison. In one of its chambers, so repulsive a place, that even the obtrusive stare blinked at it, and left it to such refuse of reflected light as it could find for itself, were two men. — Book I, chap. 1. Like Harry Furniss in his 1910 narrative-pictorial sequence for the novel, Darley floods the scene with light. However, in the Furniss composition, the illustrator shows the same scene from outside the prison bars, as if Rigaud and Giovanni Battista are animals in a cage, and the jailor and his daughter visitors at a zoo. To aid the reader in comparing the textual description and illustration, Furniss has provided an extensive quotation beneath the lengthy title, changing the wording so that the passage can stand alone:
The jailor's daughter put the dainties between the bars into the soft, smooth, well-shaped hand of Monsieur Rigaud . . . and a lump of coarse bread into the swart, scaled, knotted hands of John Baptist. — Little Dorrit, p. 6.
The modification of the passage emphasizes the class differences between the two prisoners, differences all too evident in the food each receives. Furniss, however, shows them as equals in their captivity.
Rigaud and Cavaletto in various editions, 1855-1910
Left: F. O. C. Darley's frontispiece for the first of four 1863 volumes, Feeding the Birds (Household Edition, New York). Centre: Phiz's original serial illustration of the Marseilles prisoners, a dark plate communicating little other than atmosphere, The Birds in the Cage (December 1855). Right: Sol Eytinge, Junior's interpretation of the Marseilles prisoners as a dual portrait, Rigaud and Cavaletto (1867). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Above: Mahoney's reinterpretation Phiz's original serial illustration of the Marseilles prisoners, In Marseilles that day there was a villainous prison. In one of its chambers, so repulsive a place, that even the obtrusive stare blinked at it, and left it to such refuse of reflected light as it could find for itself, were two men. — Book I, chap. 1 (1873). [Click on the image to enlarge it.]
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Last modified 2 January 2016