A large grey cat leaped from some neighbouring shelf
Sir John Gilbert
10.2 x 8.2 cm vignetted
Frontispiece to the first volume of Dickens's Bleak House, in the Sheldon & Co. (New York) Household Edition (1861-71).
[Click on illustration to enlarge it.]
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham from his own collection.
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"You see, I have so many things here," he resumed, holding up the lantern, "of so many kinds, and all as the neighbours think (but they know nothing), wasting away and going to rack and ruin, that that's why they have given me and my place a christening. And I have so many old parchmentses and papers in my stock. And I have a liking for rust and must and cobwebs. And all's fish that comes to my net. And I can't abear to part with anything I once lay hold of (or so my neighbors think, but what do they know?) or to alter anything, or to have any sweeping, nor scouring, nor cleaning, nor repairing going on about me. That's the way I've got the ill name of Chancery. I don't mind. I go to see my noble and learned brother pretty well every day, when he sits in the Inn. He don't notice me, but I notice him. There's no great odds betwixt us. We both grub on in a muddle. Hi, Lady Jane!"
A large grey cat leaped from some neighboring shelf on his shoulder and startled us all. "Hi! Show 'em how you scratch. Hi! Tear, my lady!" said her master.
The cat leaped down and ripped at a bundle of rags with her tigerish claws, with a sound that it set my teeth on edge to hear. — Chapter 5, "A Morning Adventure," vol. 1, pp. 82-83.
Commentary: Krook and the Recycling Establishment
Sir John Gilbert provided sporadic relief for the series' principal illustrator, Felix Octavius Carr Darley, typically providing a frontispiece for the third volume in a four-volume set. Here, however, he had to provide the first in the series of four, and the British spellings in the caption — “A large grey cat leaped from some neighbouring shelf on his shoulder andstartled us all” (emphasis added)— suggest that Gilbert was working from a British text (possibly the single volume of 1853, or the Cheap Edition of 1858) rather than a proof of theSheldon and Company volume of 1863 — the American editors have consistently Americanized the spellingswithin the text, but probably could not alter the caption since it was already integratedinto the plate by the New York engraver "R[obert]Hinshelwood" (born in England, but working inAmerica since 1835), whose signature appears at the bottom right of the composition, which it is not unreasonable to assume was mailed from England. (Hinshelwood, although chiefly remembered today as a landscape painter, was both an etcher and engraverwho worked for New York publishing houses such as Harper's, and took commissions for bank note engraving for Continental Bank Note Company, which also employed the talents of Darley, the principal illustratorof the "Household" Edition of Dickens's works in fifty-five volumes, 1861-72.)
The other unusual aspect of the illustration is that it is by far Gilbert'smost effectivecontribution to the series, with Krook, the Prospero-like proprietor of the rag-and-bone shop whose odd manner of dress contraststhe "respectable" upper-middle class fashions of his visitors, and with the chaotic nature of what we might term a "recycling" establishment admirably suggested by the books, boots,and portmanteaus in the foreground. Krook appears just as Dickens describes him, "an old man in spectacles and a hairy cap . . . carrying about" (80) a lantern:
he was short, cadaverous, and withered; with his head sideways between his shoulders, and the breath issuing in visible smoke from his mouth, as if he were on fire within. His throat, chin, and eyebrows were so frosted with white hairs, and so gnarled with veins and puckered skin, that he looked from his breast upward, like some old root in a fall of snow. 
Given the specificity of the author's description of the shop and its owner, Gilbert's task here was alittle easier in that he did not have to provide much visual continuity with any ofthe Darley Bleak House frontispieces; however, like Darleyin A female figure, closely veiled, stands in the middle of the room. . . (the frontispiece for the second volume), he had to take intoaccount the Hablot Knight Browne depictions of the characters such as Krook in the original monthly parts. We, like the young, upper-middle-class visitors, see in the shop a riotous profusion of detail. The elderly lady in the large bonnet is Miss Flite, a slightly demented petitioner to the Court of Chancery; she is what the young petitioners may become, if they don't die or abandon their suits first: Richard Carstone, ward of John Jarndyce, is head and shoulders taller than the three young women. They look utterly alike, so that it is impossible to say which is the fair-tressed Ada Clare, which the sour Caddy Jellyby, and which Esther Summerson, the first-person narrator of this part of the story, even though Ada ought to be "remarkably beautiful" (82).
Illustrations from the Remaining Three Frontispieces for the Novel, 1863
Left: F. O. C. Darley's 1863 photogravure frontispiece for volume 2, representing the scene in which Lady Dedlock is exonerated and her maid implicated in the murder of Tulkinghorn,A female figure, closely veiled, stands in the middle of the room . . . —Ch. 22. Centre:Darley'sfrontispiece for volume 3, For on a low bed opposite the fire, a confusion of dirty patchwork, lean-ribbed ticking . . . —Vol. 1, Ch.10, in which Tulkinghorn finds Nemo dead. Right: Darley's photogravure for the frontispiece of volume 4, Springing a Mine, in which Inspector Detective Bucket charges Hortense with murder. [Click on the images to enlargethem.]
The Original Phizand Other Illustrationsof Krook and His Cat
Left: Hablot Knight Browne's March 1852 engraving of the scene in Krook's depository, The Lord Chancellor Copies from Memory. Centre: Fred Barnard's 1873 wood-engraving of Krook in the doorway of his shop, Title-page Vignette. Right: Harry Furniss's 1910 lithograph of a closeup of a highly eccentric Krook in his shop, Mr. Krook and His Cat. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]
Fred Barnard's 1873 composite woodblock engraving of the scene in Krook's shop in the fifth chapter, The Lord Chancellor relates the death of Tom Jarndyce, when Krook conducts Caddy, Esther, Ada, and Richard to theupper storey of his Rag and Bottle Warehouse. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]
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Last modified 17 November 2015