Death of Major Taunton
13.8 x 9 cm vignetted
Second illustration for The Seven Poor Travellers in Christmas Stories, Charles Dickens Library Edition (1910), vol. 16, facing p. 48.
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We read the illustration analeptically, having encountered the dramatic textual moment five pages earlier. Invariably, since J. A. Hammerton has inserted a brief quotation and the relevant page number beneath the illustration, the Edwardian reader may well have momentarily returned to the earlier passage to compare text and illustration of the death of the protagonist's friend and mentor on the field of Badajos in the Peninsular campaign of the Napoleonic Wars. Both young men wear equally elaborate uniforms of the period, although Doubledick (above) is an ensign. The second hat lying on the ground (foreground) suggests that another officer in the same regiment has just been felled by rifle-fire, by the illustrator maintains his focus on the faithful friend and his fallen comrade by merely suggesting that there are other casualties as a result of the French officer's (upper right) rallying his men to direct "a hot sally" (43) at the British ranks. THe illustrator has included him in thumbnail as he will become significant in Dickens's developing the theme of the necessity for forgiveness replacing the desire for vengeance.
The prolific Edwardian illustrator Harry Furniss has chosen a much more poignant and compelling moment than did E. A. Abbey in the American Household Edition. Compare, Furniss's dynamic and highly touching treatment of the death of Taunton with the relatively subdued and understated treatment of Edwin Austin Abbey for the Harper and Brothers version of the Household Edition (1876), "She came to the door quickly, and fell upon his neck", in which the protagonist, now a Lieutenant as a result of his battlefield courage, arrives at the Widow Taunton's cottage at Frome, Somerset, to recount the circumstances of her son's death. F. A. Fraser in his contemporary treatment of the friendship of Taunton and Doubledick, "The Seven Poor Travellers" has realised an earlier moment in the story, when Captain Taunton reproaches then-Private Doubledick of squandering his "educational and superior advantages" (41) by engaging in conduct unbecoming.
Right: E. A. Abbey's She came to the door quickly, and fell upon his neck. Left: F. A. Fraser's The Seven Poor Travellers [Click on images to enlarge them.]
It was over in ten minutes more, and Doubledick returned to the spot where he had laid the best friend man ever had on a coat spread upon the wet clay. Major Taunton's uniform was opened at the breast, and on his shirt were three little spots of blood.
"Dear Doubledick," said he, "I am dying."
"For the love of Heaven, no!" exclaimed the other, kneeling down beside him, and passing his arm round his neck to raise his head."
The bright, dark eyes — so very, very dark now, in the pale face — smiled upon him; and the hand he had kissed thirteen years ago laid itself fondly on his breast. [p. 43-44]
Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, 1998.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories. Il. Harry Furniss. Charles Dickens Library Edition. 18 vols. London: Educational Book Company, 1910. Vol. 16.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories. Il. Edward Dalziel, Harry French, F. A. Fraser, James Mahoney, Townley Green, and Charles Green. The Oxford Illustrated Dickens. Oxford, New York, and Toronto: Oxford U.P., 1956, rpt. 1989.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories. Il. E. A. Abbey. The Household Edition. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1876.
Thomas, Deborah A. Dickens and The Short Story. Philadelphia: U. Pennsylvania Press, 1982.
Last modified 22 January 2013