Arrivals at The Holly Tree
14 x 9 cm vignetted
Dickens's Christmas Stories, Vol. 16 of Charles Dickens Library Edition, facing page 80.
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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Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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Sir, Boots was at this identical Holly-Tree Inn (having left it several times to better himself, but always come back through one thing or another), when, one summer afternoon, the coach drives up, and out of the coach gets them two children. The Guard says to our Governor, "I don't quite make out these little passengers, but the young gentleman's words was, that they was to be brought here." The young gentleman gets out; hands his lady out; gives the Guard something for himself; says to our Governor, "We're to stop here to-night, please. Sitting-room and two bedrooms will be required. Chops and cherry-pudding for two!" and tucks her in her little sky-blue mantle, under his arm, and walks into the house much bolder than Brass. [Chapter 2, "The Boots," pages 78-79]
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 first and second illustrations for the short story), and concluded with "The Bill," the seventh and final part in which the middle-class Londoner who is the original narrator learns of his error and returns home to be married instead of emigrating to America.
Furniss's handling of this moment of the narrative-within-the-narrative is much more impressionistic and dynamic — especially in terms of the coaching scene that forms the backdrop — than that of Harry French forty years earlier in the garden scene at Shooter's Hill. 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 realisation of the arrival at the Holly Tree in Yorkshire is thoroughly comedic, with the well-dressed children handling The business of arranging accommodation with aplomb as the landlord ("Governor") rubs his hands in glee at the prospect of a substantial bill for the diminutive but obviously affluent travellers.
Whereas French's gardener Cobbs (identified as such by the watering can) is both amused and fascinated with Harry's audacity, Furniss's boots (the observer outside the frame of the picture) seems completely impressed with Master Harry's audacity in carrying out his plans for the elopement to Gretna Green. The scene has now shifted to 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). However, all that we see in Furniss's drawing of the inn is the porch and the yard (complete with a pigeon roost) in the background, lightly sketched in so as to keep the eye well forward on the travellers and the landlord.
Furniss's characterisation of the landlord (dressed in the manner of the Regency, in contrast to Norah's and Harry's contemporary fashions) proves somewhat inaccurate as the reader, already having encountered this scene in the text before reaching the illustration, knows that the jolly-faced, benign Governor, far from acceding to Master Harry's plans, leaves immediately after the arrival to "quiet their friends' minds" (79) and report the missing pair to the authorities in an effort to find their relatives. The charm of the illustration lies in Furniss's description as a miniature, fashionably dressed adult confidently negotiating with the landlord, recalling the less confident of David Copperfield when he was dealing with the friendly waiter on the road to London, a moment amusingly realised by Hablot Knight Browne in The friendly waiter and I (June 1849). For readers in 1910 an added charm of the plate, based on a pen-and-ink study, would have been the interplay of guard, driver, and ostler as they work to effect the change of horses at the old coaching inn, now very much a thing of the past in the railway era.
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 2 September 2013