Stopping the Dover Mail
14.4 x 9.4 cm framed
Third illustration for A Tale of Two Cities in A Tale of Two Cities, American Notes, Pictures from Italy, Charles Dickens Library Edition (1910), vol. 13, facing p. 8.
The opening book, "Recalled to Life," begins with Dickens's satirical commentary on the abuses of power in pre-Revolutionary France (Chapter One, "The Period"), which is heavily dependent upon Thomas Carlyle's French Revolution. It then moves to a highly dramatic confrontation between a lone rider and the driver of the Dover mail-coach as it approaches Shooter's Hill, a prime spot for highway robbery. [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.]
"Is that the Dover mail?"
"Why do you want to know?"
"I want a passenger, if it is."
"Mr. Jarvis Lorry."
Our booked passenger showed in a moment that it was his name. The guard, the coachman, and the two other passengers eyed him distrustfully.
"Keep where you are," the guard called to the voice in the mist, "because, if I should make a mistake, it could never be set right in your lifetime. Gentleman of the name of Lorry answer straight."
"What is the matter?" asked the passenger, then, with mildly quavering speech. "Who wants me? Is it Jerry?"
("I don't like Jerry's voice, if it is Jerry," growled the guard to himself. "He's hoarser than suits me, is Jerry.")
"Yes, Mr. Lorry."
"What is the matter?"
"A despatch sent after you from over yonder. T. and Co."
"I know this messenger, guard," said Mr. Lorry, getting down into the road — assisted from behind more swiftly than politely by the other two passengers, who immediately scrambled into the coach, shut the door, and pulled up the window. "He may come close; there's nothing wrong."
"I hope there ain't, but I can't make so 'Nation sure of that," said the guard, in gruff soliloquy. "Hallo you!"
"Well! And hallo you!" said Jerry, more hoarsely than before.
"Come on at a footpace! d'ye mind me? And if you've got holsters to that saddle o' yourn, don't let me see your hand go nigh 'em. For I'm a devil at a quick mistake, and when I make one it takes the form of Lead. So now let's look at you."
The figures of a horse and rider came slowly through the eddying mist, and came to the side of the mail, where the passenger stood. The rider stooped, and, casting up his eyes at the guard, handed the passenger a small folded paper. The rider's horse was blown, and both horse and rider were covered with mud, from the hoofs of the horse to the hat of the man. [Book One, Chapter Two, "The Mail," p. 8]
Relevant Illustrations from earlier editions, 1859, 1867, 1874, and 1905.
Left: John McLennan's periodical illustration of Jerry Cruncher stopping the mailcoach, "The figures of a horse and rider slowly came through this eddying mist"; Centre: Phiz's "The Mail". Right: Sol Eytinge, Junior's dual character study, "Jerry Cruncher and Wife" (1868).
Left: Fred Barnard's "She curtsied to him . . ." (1874). Right: A. A. Dixon's opening illustration, again set at The Royal George Hotel, Dover: ("Pray control your agitation") (1905). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Despite the suspicions of the guard and driver, the messenger is a legitimate — if rough-voiced and non-too-reputable in appearance — representative of Tellson's Bank, Temple Bar, London. The enigmatic message he bears, as in Phiz's celebrated steel engraving The Mail (June 1859), contains but three words: "Recalled to Life."
Although the original 1859 full-page engraving, a "dark" plate by Hablot Knight Browne (reminiscent of his work for Bleak House some six years earlier) intended to convey the intensity and menacing nature of the darkness on the lonely highroad, is certainly atmospheric — illuminated as it is by a single coach lamp (centre), immediately above the head of the muffled passenger — the horses, the carriage, and the four figures stand out distinctly, despite the darkness of the hour (established by the text as precisely 11:10 P. M.) and the deserted nature of the meeting place. Furniss, then, replaces specific detail with an impression of apprehension. However, the choice of subject is highly informative in that Furniss invites the reader of 1910 to compare his painterly interpretation of the chapter to that of Dickens's first great visual interpreter, rather than the chief Household Edition illustrator or A. A. Dixon.
Even though A Tale of Two Cities initially appeared in weekly instalments in Dickens's weekly journal All the Year Round without the benefit of illustration, Furniss nevertheless had two sets of competent illustrations available as references, even if he had not seen the work of American illustrators Sol Eytinge, Junior and John McLenan dating from the 1860s: the sixteen steel engravings in the monthly parts illustrated by Hablot Knight Browne and the twenty-five 1874 wood-engravings by Fred Barnard for the Household Edition. And issued just five years earlier than Furniss's edition, the Collins Pocket Edition offered Furniss a limited number of realistic lithographs as reference points, there being an illustration that represents Mr. Lorry's meeting Miss Manette at The Royal George Hotel, Dover (a somewhat less effective version of Fred Barnard's initial illustration, in fact, for Chapter Four, "The Preparation"). Another influence at work in Furniss's illustration for Chapter Two would undoubtedly be the equivalent, opening scene in Sir John Martin-Harvey's stage adaptation at the Lyceum, The Only Way (which debutéd on 16 February 1899, ran until 25 March 1899 with 168 performances, and was revived some ten times in London up to 1909).
In dramatic fashion, Furniss introduces two of the story's chief supporting characters, Tellson's confidential head clerk, Jarvis Lorry, and "The Honest Tradesman," the "resurrection man" Jerry Cruncher. More subtly than McLenan, Furniss emphasizes the guard's blunderbuss, trained on the nocturnal rider who might well be a highwayman, given the lateness of the hour and the geographical location of Shooter's Hill, the highest point on the London to Dover road, isolated in the eighteenth century, though not far from the Borough of Greenwich. Apprehending that this scene sets the keynote of watchful vigilance and impending danger (constituents that run throughout the narrative), Furniss seems determined to convey an impression rather than introduce characters. The coach has virtually disappeared in the fog, the guard a mere silhouette with his firearm trained on the horseman, whose gesture expresses his puzzlement over the meaning of the message which Lorry reads by the light of the coach lamp, diffused by the fog to provide extreme chiaroscuro appropriate to the high drama and sense of mystery with which Dickens embues the scene textually.
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Last modified 31 October 2013