The Last of the Spirits
14.4 x 9.3 cm framed
Eighth and final illustration for A Christmas Carol in The Christmas Books, Charles Dickens Library Edition (1910), vol. 8, facing page 64.
This india-ink and wash drawing transformed into a lithograph again shows the pervasive influence of John Leech's original series of illustrations for the novella, for Furniss has borrowed even the title. [Commentary continued below.]
[Click on image to enlarge it.]
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
[You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]
The finger pointed from the grave to him, and back again.
"No, Spirit! Oh no, no!"
The finger still was there.
"Spirit!" he cried, tight clutching at its robe, "hear me. I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this, if I am past all hope?"
For the first time the hand appeared to shake.
"Good Spirit," he pursued, as down upon the ground he fell before it: "Your nature intercedes for me, and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life."
The kind hand trembled.
"I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!" [Stave Four, "The Last of the Spirits," p. 70]
The illustration marks the end of Scrooge's dream and the beginning of his social reintegration as he determines to erase the writing from the stone by henceforth leading "an altered life" (70) and engaging with humanity rather than alienating himself from it. The insistent finger of The Spirit of Christmas Yet To Come (simply designated "The Phantom" by the narrator), the finger of Fate, dominates the entire composition from its central position. Furniss's version is more dynamic and impressionistic than Leech's original, as he sharply delineates only the foreground and the figures. Reversing the positions of the two figures, Furniss maintains their postures, but makes the spirit materialise or hover above rather than stand above Scrooge's grave: the skeletal tree has receded in this cinematic closeup.
The elements of the picture, despite Furniss's distinctive and impressionistic touches, will be familiar to most readers: the grave-marker bearing Scrooge's name (left of centre), with a gravestone and the corner of a monument in the foreground, and the London churchyard's area railing in the upper right; and, of course, the anguished Scrooge, kneeling above his own grave (left) and the implacable spirit, shrouded and unknowable, in the right-hand register. Eytinge's "In The Churchyard" is also clearly derivative, but lacks the drama and dynamic energy of Furniss's and the effective detailing of Leech's. The unfinished look of the illustration, with the multiple lines at the bottom of the Spirit's shroud, for example, and the staccato treatment of the background, with the merest suggestion of a denuded tree (upper left) is highly appropriate to the tentative nature of this Spirit's projections of Scrooge's future, for these events may indeed be altered by his actions in the present. The overall effect here is dark and dismal, but the light plays on Scrooge's bald head and grave, highlighting his capacity for making an intellectual and spiritual change in his motivations and behaviours.
Although there is no equivalent illustration in the Household Edition sequences of E. A. Abbey (1876) and Fred Barnard (1878), surprisingly (given his tendency to avoid unpleasant subjects in this picture-book intended for a child audience) Arthur Rackham has provided a wood-engraved headpiece for the fourth stave in which the mute spirit, his shroud agitated by the winds of destiny, compels his mortal companion to read the tombstone (left), on which are inscribed not merely Scrooge's name, but the bare data of his life — the cold facts that Scrooge as an Utilitarian man of business has so valued above the spirit of the words. Rackham and Furniss have both adopted the strategy of turning the dread figure away from the viewer, so that he or she must construct the face under the hood, whereas Leech completely enshrouds the visage of this future spirit, suggesting the deep mourning that one encounters in such Dickens novels as Oliver Twist and Great Expectations.
Related Illustrations from Other Editions
Left: John Leech's "Last of the Spirits" (1843); centre: Sol Eytinge, Jr.'s "In the Churchyard" (1868); right: Arthur Rackham's "Heading to Stave Four" (1915). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Cohen, Jane Rabb. Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio U. P., 1980.
Davis, Paul. The Lives and Times of Ebenezer Scrooge. New Haven: Yale U. P., 1990.
Dickens, Charles. The Christmas Books. Il. Harry Furniss. Charles Dickens Library Edition. 18 vols. London: Educational Book Company, 1910. Vol. 8.
Dickens, Charles. The Christmas Books. Il. Sol Eytinge, Jr. The Diamond Edition. 16 vols. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Books. Il. Fred Barnard. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1878.
Dickens, Charles. A Christmas Carol. Il. Sol Eytinge, Jr. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1868.
Dickens, Charles. A Christmas Carol. Il. John Leech. London: Chapman and Hall, 1843.
Dickens, Charles. A Christmas Carol. Il. Arthur Rackham. London: William Heinemann, 1915.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories. Il. E. A. Abbey. The Household Edition. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1876.
Guiliano, Edward, and Philip Collins, eds. The Annotated Dickens. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1986. Vol. 1.
Hearn, Michael Patrick, ed. The Annotated Christmas Carol. New York: Avenel, 1976.
Last modified 19 June 2013