"Philip's Favourite Son in a Bad Way" by Charles Green. 1912. 7.5 x 9 cm, vignetted. Dickens's The Haunted Man and The Ghost's Bargain. A Fancy for Christmas Time, Pears Centenary Edition, in which the plates often have captions that are different from the short titles given in the "List of Illustrations" (p. 15-16). For example, the series editor, Clement Shorter, has used a direct quotation that illustrates the dire nature of dissolute gambler George Swidger's medical condition, "The Chemist, whiter than the dying man, appeared before him. Obedient to the motion of his hand, he sat upon the bed" (p. 111, quoted from the page opposite). As a set piece, the death-bed scene had been a standard since the Middle Ages, when a dying saint or the dead Christ would be the subject of group lamentation; moreover, in the Dickens canon, ever since the short story "The Dying Clown" in the third chapter of The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club (1836-37), such scenes were the writer's method of evoking in the reader a sentimental response, whether the tender feeling were entirely merited or not. Thus, this scene has visual and textual antecedents, including Robert Seymour's The Dying Clown in Pickwick (1836) and, in The Christmas Books, the death of the back attic in The Chimes and that even more pathetic demise of Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol, that undoubtedly affected Green's handling and choice of composition for the final illustration in "The Gift Diffused."

The Passage Illustrated

"My time is very short, my breath is shorter," said the sick man, supporting himself on one arm, and with the other groping in the air, "and I remember there is something on my mind concerning the man who was here just now, Father and William — wait! — is there really anything in black, out there?"

"Yes, yes, it is real," said his aged father.

"Is it a man?"

"What I say myself, George," interposed his brother, bending kindly over him. "It's Mr. Redlaw."

"I thought I had dreamed of him. Ask him to come here."

The Chemist, whiter than the dying man, appeared before him. Obedient to the motion of his hand, he sat upon the bed.

It has been so ripped up, to-night, sir," said the sick man, laying his hand upon his heart, with a look in which the mute, imploring agony of his condition was concentrated, “by the sight of my poor old father, and the thought of all the trouble I have been the cause of, and all the wrong and sorrow lying at my door, that —"

Was it the extremity to which he had come, or was it the dawning of another change, that made him stop?

"— that what I can do right, with my mind running on so much, so fast, I'll try to do. There was another man here. Did you see him?"

Redlaw could not reply by any word; for when he saw that fatal sign he knew so well now, of the wandering hand upon the forehead, his voice died at his lips. But he made some indication of assent. ["Chapter Two: The Gift Diffused," Pears Centenary Edition, p. 110-111]

Commentary

Although the seventies illustrators of the British and American Household Editions of The Christmas Books, Fred Barnard and E. A. Abbey, offered fresh ideas and realised situations that their predecessors had not, Charles Green for the 1912 Pears Centenary Edition of The Haunted Man is still responding here directly to the text than to the 1848 illustrations by the team of illustrators led by John Leech. Indeed, there is no visual antecedent in the various nineteenth-century editions of The Haunted Man, so that Green's conception is at once his own and derivative since he had many a death-bed illustration from Dickens's works to draw upon, including his own of Richard ("The Back Attic") in The Chimes.

Whereas Redlaw in the text is both shocked and surprised that the street boy has led him to the dying George Swidger in an East End slum, Redlaw in the illustration is both dignified and sympathetic as he looks into the face of the dying wastrel — a man of about his own age, and therefore a memento mori. Redlaw sits on the bed as bidden, as George Swidger lays his hand upon his heart as he begins to utter his final words, which betray the baleful influence of the Chemist's doppelganger. Old Philip, George's father, stoops near George's head, presumably to hear more clearly his son's final utterance, while the college's butler, William Swidger, watches from behind (upper left). Nevertheless, the principal figures are the gambler and the chemist: horizontal George in his white night-shirt, covered by white sheets and coverlet, contrasting the black-clad, vertical Redlaw, positioned to observe closely the evil effect of the loss of memory and sentiment in the now unrepentant "reckless, ruffianly, and callous" gambler, and in his aged father, who, influenced by Redlaw's Phantom, too, disowns George as "no son of mine" (112). Thus, the tranquil death-bed scene as realised by Green explodes into vituperation and recrimination moments later in the text.

Relevant 19th c. Illustrations from Various Dickens Works

Robert Seymour's vividly realised description of the dying moments of the alcoholic circus entertainer in The Dying Clown; centre, George Cattermole's celebrated illustration of the beatific heroine of The Old Curiosity Shop, "At Rest (Nell dead)" (30 January 1841); right, John Mclenan's sombre treatment of the death of Magwitch in Great Expectations, The placid look at the white ceiling came back, and passed away, and his head dropped quietly on his breast. (27 July 1861). [Click on images to enlarge them.]

Above: Hablot Knight Brown's parodic treatment of the standard death-bed scene in David Copperfield, I find Mr. Barkis "going out with the tide" (February 1850). [Click on image to enlarge it.]

Above: Charles Green's realisation of the pathetic death of Richard in Trotty's apocalyptic vision in The Chimes, The Death Bed (1912). [Click on image to enlarge it.]

References

Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, 1998.

Dickens, Charles. The Haunted Man; or, The Ghost's Bargain. Illustrated by John Leech, Frank Stone, John Tenniel, and Clarkson Stanfield. London: Bradbury and Evans, 1848.

___. The Haunted Man. Illustrated by John Leech, Frank Stone, John Tenniel, and Clarkson Stanfield. (1848). Rpt. in Charles Dickens's Christmas Books, ed. Michael Slater. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971, rpt. 1978. Vol. 2, p. 235-362, 365-366.

___. The Haunted Man and The Ghost's Bargain. A Fancy for Christmas Time. Illustrated by Charles Green, R. I. London: A & F Pears, 1912.

___. Christmas Books. Illustrated by Sol Eytinge, Jr. The Diamond Edition. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867.

___. Christmas Books, illustrated by Fred Barnard. Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1878.

___. Christmas Books, illustrated by A. A. Dixon. London & Glasgow: Collins' Clear-Type Press, 1906.

___. Christmas Books. Illustrated by Harry Furniss. The Charles Dickens Library Edition. London: Educational Book, 1910.

___. Christmas Stories. Illustrated by E. A. Abbey. The Household Edition. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1876.

___. The Haunted Man. Christmas Stories. Illustrated by Felix Octavius Carr Darley. The Household Edition. New York: James G. Gregory, 1861. Vol. 2, 155-300.


Last modified 4 September 2015