13.9 x 9.2 cm vignetted
Dickens's Christmas Stories, Vol. 16 of Charles Dickens Library Edition, facing page 256.
In dealing with this Collinsian tale of mystery and indirection that is only incidentally punctuated by inset narratives, Harry Furniss has chosen one of the most picturesque and engaging moments in 1860 Christmas number's Dickens-composed frame. Neither the American Household Edition nor the Illustrated Library Edition contains any picture to accompany this seafaring mystery. [Commentary continued below.]
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"A mighty sing'lar and pretty place it is, as ever I saw in all the days of my life!"
Captain Jorgan had not been through the village, but had come down to the pier by a winding side-road, to have a preliminary look at it from the level of his own natural element. He had seen many things and places, and had stowed them all away in a shrewd intellect and a vigorous memory. He was an American born, was Captain Jorgan, — a New-Englander, — but he was a citizen of the world, and a combination of most of the best qualities of most of its best countries.
For Captain Jorgan to sit anywhere in his long-skirted blue coat and blue trousers, without holding converse with everybody within speaking distance, was a sheer impossibility. So the captain fell to talking with the fishermen, and to asking them knowing questions about the fishery, and the tides, and the currents, and the race of water off that point yonder, and what you kept in your eye, and got into a line with what else when you ran into the little harbour; and other nautical profundities. Among the men who exchanged ideas with the captain was a young fellow, who exactly hit his fancy, — a young fisherman of two or three and twenty, in the rough sea-dress of his craft, with a brown face, dark curling hair, and bright, modest eyes under his Sou'wester hat, and with a frank, but simple and retiring manner, which the captain found uncommonly taking. [Chapter 1, "The Village," pages 260-261]
Perhaps neither edition contains an illustration because so little of the novella can be attributed exclusively to Dickens; however, Edward Dalziel provided a static dual study of Captain Jorgan and Alfred Raybrock for the 1868 Illustrated Library Edition, a choice of subject that may have influenced Furniss.
Oddly enough, the editor of the 1910 edition, J. A. Hammerton, has positioned the Furniss illustration for A Message from the Sea several pages before the story begins, so that the reader encounters the pen-and-ink drawing not merely proleptically, but entirely out of context, towards the conclusion of The Haunted House, which was the Christmas story for 1859, Dickens's first for his new journal All the Year Round, reprinted in anthologised texts "In Three Chapters," although in fact in its periodical appearance it had some eight parts, only three of which were by Dickens himself.
Likewise, although The Message from the Sea in 1860 included a series of short stories by Harriet Parr, Wilkie Collins, Wilkie's brother, Charles Collins, Henry Chorley, and Amelia B. Edwards, under the heading "The Club-Night," the third chapter, the Charles Dickens Library Edition omits these entirely, retaining only Collins's "The Money" (chapter 2, at least partly written by Dickens), "The Seafaring Man" (chapter 4), and the concluding fifth chapter, "The Restitution." Both Deborah A. Thomas and Lilian Nayder note the scholarly dispute about how much Dickens and Collins wrote, with Harry Stone arguing that even "The Village" is probably not entirely by Dickens, and that Dickens's hand may be detected in "The Seafaring Man." No matter, for in the 1910 edition, Furniss has chosen to realise an obviously Dickensian moment featuring the young fisherman, Alfred Raybrock, and his fiancée, Kitty, and the loquacious Salem sea captain Jonas Jorgan against the backdrop of the quaint North Devon fishing village of Steepways, in a region through which Collins and Dickens themselves travelled to soak up local colour for the story.
According to Bentley et al. in The Dickens Index, the central figure in the composition and the dominating voice of the novella, Jonas Jorgan, who delivers the message from the sea (that is, in a bottle) to the young fisherman Alfred Raybrock, is based on Dickens's friend "Captain Elisha Ely Morgan (d. 1864) of the American merchant service, a man known and loved by many in the world of art and letters" (136), including painter J. M. W. Turner. The real-life Yankee seafarer, born in Connecticut, made his fortune in whaling; Dickens told Hannah Brown that his Jonas Jorgan was "exactly like the man." He is also the ideal Collinsian amateur sleuth who with good humour and indirection gets to the bottom of the mystery of the missing money — and of the brother, Hugh, lost at sea. His "Chuzzlewitticisms" and Yankee expressions render him irresistibly engaging, especially in contrast the rather pallid Alfred.
As the illustrator probably felt it would be difficult to include a number of admiring fishermen on the stone pier, he uses one old salt to represent this nautical fraternity (centre). Furniss has disposed the principal figures — the captain, Alfred, and Milly — as Dickens suggests, with the sun-browned Yankee sailor, dressed in the manner of a nineteenth-century capitalist, in a blue business suit, on a large stone in the wall of the pier (right) — wearing conventional shoes rather the Wellington boots that Dickens mentions; the handsome, young fisherman in the sou'wester and coiling rope facing him; and, looking over the wall, a rather plain Devonshire lass in a large hat. In this one respect Furniss's illustration fails to meet the reader's expectations:
There was a very pretty girl looking over the wall, from a little platform of cottage, vine, and fuchsia; and she certainly did not look as if the presence of this young fisherman in the landscape made it any the less sunny and hopeful for her. 
All of these details of character, juxtaposition, and setting were probably suggested to Furniss directly through the text. Although as there are no comparable illustrations in either the Illustrated Library or the American Household Editions, the illustrator of the Chapman and Hall Household Edition volume, Edward Dalziel, presents a rather dour and stolid Captain Jorgan of a non-knee-slapping disposition and a sober young Alfred Raybrock in a much larger sou'wester in "Might you be married now?" asked the Captain, when he had had some talk with this new acquaintance. etc. p. 88, not nearly so lively a rendition of roughly the same narrative moment that Furniss has chosen, but utterly lacking the other characters and the sense of place evident in the 1910 illustration, except for the few ships in the English Channel behind the pair. Furniss clarifies that the business of these sailors lies in the fishery through the inclusion of the nets (down left).
Bentley, Nicolas, Michael Slater, and Nina Burgis. The Dickens Index. Oxford and New York: Oxford U. P., 1988.
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.
Nayder, Lillian. Unequal Partners: Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, & Victorian Authorship. Ithaca and London: Cornell U. P., 2003.
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 9 September 2013