13.7 x 9.3 cm vignetted
Dickens's Christmas Stories, Vol. 16 of Charles Dickens Library Edition, facing page 65.
Most of Dickens's seasonal offerings in the weekly journals Household Words (1851-58) and All the Year Round (1859-1867), appeared in substantial "Extra Christmas" numbers, and The Holly-Tree Inn was no exception, being the multi-part or framed tale for Christmas 1855, the principal collaborator of the novella being the novelist and Dickens protegé Wilkie Collins, who provided the second story, "The Ostler." [Commentary continued below.]
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How did Boots happen to know all this? Why, through being under-gardener. Of course he couldn't be under-gardener, and he always about, in the summer-time, near the windows on the lawn, a-mowing, and sweeping, and weeding, and pruning, and this and that, without getting acquainted with the ways of the family. Even supposing Master Harry hadn't come to him one morning early, and said, "Cobbs, how should you spell Norah, if you was asked?" and then began cutting it in print all over the fence.
He couldn't say that he had taken particular notice of children before that; but really it was pretty to see them two mites a-going about the place together, deep in love. And the courage of the boy! Bless your soul, he'd have throwed off his little hat, and tucked up his little sleeves, and gone in at a lion, he would, if they had happened to meet one, and she had been frightened of him. One day he stops, along with her, where Boots was hoeing weeds in the gravel, and says, speaking up, "Cobbs," he says, "I like you." "Do you, sir? I'm proud to hear it." "Yes, I do, Cobbs. Why do I like you, do you think, Cobbs?" "Don't know, Master Harry, I am sure." "Because Norah likes you, Cobbs." "Indeed, sir? That's very gratifying." "Gratifying, Cobbs? It's better than millions of the brightest diamonds to be liked by Norah." "Certainly, sir." "Would you like another situation, Cobbs?" "Well, sir, I shouldn't object if it was a good 'un." "Then, Cobbs," says he, "you shall be our Head Gardener when we are married." And he tucks her, in her little sky-blue mantle, under his arm, and walks away. [Chapter 2, "The Boots," page 76]
Relevant Household Edition and Illustrated Library Edition Illustrations
Left : E. A. Abbey's "There's Love Lane". Right: Harry French's The Holly Tree [Click on images to enlarge them.]
For this sixth seasonal offering, however, there were also three lesser contributors: William Howitt ("The Landlord"), Adelaide Anne Procter ("The Barmaid"), and Harriet Parr (aka "Holme Lee" — "The Poor Pensioner"). Dickens introduced The Holly-Tree Inn with "The Guest," developed the romantic plot of the runaway children in "The Boots" (the subject of Furniss's initial illustration), and concluded with "The Bill," the seventh and final part.
Furniss's handling of this moment of the narrative-within-the-narrative is much more impressionistic and dynamic — especially in terms of the garden backdrop — than that of Harry French forty years earlier. Whereas French realises the scene between the precocious Master Harry Walmers, Jr., and Cobbs, then the under-gardener to Harry's father in a Sixties manner, with modelling and realistic detail, Furniss's version is charged with energy, despite its paucity of detail, and includes both Norah and the Victorian mansion of the wealthy Walmers family.
Whereas French's gardener Cobbs (identified as such by the watering can) is both amused and fascinated with Harry's audacity, Furniss's gardener (identified by his leggings and hoe) seems utterly confounded as the young couple stroll blithely off right, already married in imagination and perhaps even plotting their elopement to Gretna Green. The building in the background is not the Yorkshire coaching inn from which the novella takes its name (in Dickens's mind based on The George and New Inn, Gretna Bridge, where the novelist stayed in 1838 while investigating the notorious Yorkshire schools for Nicholas Nickleby — April 1838 through October 1839 — which he epitomised in Squeers' Dotheboys Hall).Rather, this scene occurs earlier than the elopement.
One receives but a scant impression of the building behind Cobbs, the under-gardener at the Walmers' estate at Shooter's Hill in the French illustration, but Furniss provides a panoramic view of the south of England mansion, through the garden of which Norah and Harry are strolling animatedly — perhaps already planning their elopement when Harry visits his grandmother. In contrast to French and Furniss, E. A. Abbey in the Household Edition instead elected to realise a scene at the inn, after Norah and Harry have arrived, which is some months after Cobbs has left the estate of Mr. Harry Walmers, Senior, to become the boots at the Holly-Tree Inn, Yorkshire. Abbey shows a Cobbs transformed from under-gardener to the hostelry's general factotum (the "boots"), a role made famous by the celebrated comic figure of Sam Weller in Dickens's first novel, The Pickwick Papers. Abbey even gives Cobbs the same striped silk waistcoat worn by the ebullient Cockey in Hablot Knight Browne's illustrations, notably The First Appearance of Sam Weller (July 1836), whereas Furniss and French give us a more proletarian and agrarian Cobbs, not yet the teller of the tale-within-the-tale in The Holly-Tree.
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. 2 vols.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories from "Household Words" and "All The Year Round". Il. Fred Walker, F. A. Fraser, Harry French, E. G. Dalziel, J. Mahony [sic], Townley Green, and Charles Green. Centenary Edition. 36 vols. London: Chapman & Hall; New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1911.
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.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories from "Household Words" and "All the Year Round". Il. E. G. Dalziel. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1877. Rpt., 1892.
Schlicke, Paul, ed. "Christmas Stories." The Oxford Companion to Dickens. Oxford and New York: Oxford U. P., 1999. Pp. 100-101.
Thomas, Deborah A. Dickens and The Short Story. Philadelphia: U. Pennsylvania Press, 1982.
Last modified 1 September 2013