The Home of the Chimes
7.5 x 5 cm vignetted
Dickens's The Chimes, The Pears' Centenary Edition, page 18.
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But, high up in the steeple! There the foul blast roars and whistles! High up in the steeple, where it is free to come and go through many an airy arch and loophole, and to twist and twine itself about the giddy stair, and twirl the groaning weathercock, and make the very tower shake and shiver! High up in the steeple, where the belfry is, and iron rails are ragged with rust, and sheets of lead and copper, shrivelled by the changing weather, crackle and heave beneath the unaccustomed tread; and birds stuff shabby nests into corners of old oaken joists and beams; and dust grows old and grey; and speckled spiders, indolent and fat with long security, swing idly to and fro in the vibration of the bells, and never loose their hold upon their thread-spun castles in the air, or climb up sailor-like in quick alarm, or drop upon the ground and ply a score of nimble legs to save one life! High up in the steeple of an old church, far above the light and murmur of the town and far below the flying clouds that shadow it, is the wild and dreary place at night: and high up in the steeple of an old church, dwelt the Chimes I tell of.
They were old Chimes, trust me. Centuries ago, these Bells had been baptized by bishops: so many centuries ago, that the register of their baptism was lost long, long before the memory of man, and no one knew their names. They had had their Godfathers and Godmothers, these Bells (for my own part, by the way, I would rather incur the responsibility of being Godfather to a Bell than a Boy), and had their silver mugs no doubt, besides. But Time had mowed down their sponsors, and Henry the Eighth had melted down their mugs; and they now hung, nameless and mugless, in the church-tower.
["First Quarter," p. 19-20, 1912 edition]
Charles Green, one of the original Household Edition illustrators for Chapman and Hall — his commission was new wood-engravings for The Old Curiosity Shop (1876), had undoubtedly studied the limited program of wood-engravings that Fred Barnard executed in 1878 for The Christmas Books, but probably did not see the pair of illustrations that Edwin Austin Abbey provided in the American Household Edition volume published by Harper and Brothers in 1876. Whereas the 1844 volume contains thirteen wood-engravings, many dropped into the letterpress, Charles Green almost seventy years later had a much more extensive commission, thirty lithographs. And whereas only one of the 1844 plates conveys the ghostly atmosphere of the old church — Clarkson Stanfield's The Old Church, Green shows cartoon-like goblins swirling about the tower in the title-page vignette, then follows up with up with the small-scale Home of the Chimes, and then indulges in a scene of cavorting, semi-nude and hideous male goblins The Goblins of the Bells. The squared top of the bell-tower in the title-page vignette is consistent with the Stanfield and Doyle treatments in the original series, whereas Green shows a spire surmounting the squared tower The Home of the Bells.
Both of the original 1844 plates depicting the church emphasize the Gothic lantern tower of old Saint Dunstan's (probably according to Dickens's hints to Doyle and Stanfield), but reduce considerably the importance of the figures below by subordinating them to the architectural elements in both 1844 engravings. The tower of St. Dunstan's-in-the-West on Fleet Street, long a landmark, disappeared with the demolition of the old church in 1830-32 in order to facilitate the widening of Fleet Street. The rebuilding of the church, accomplished by 1842, included a square tower with an octagonal lantern, resembling those of St. Botolph's in Boston and St. Helen's in York. The form of the lantern might have been immediately inspired by that of St George's Church in Ramsgate, built in 1825. Dickens does not mention the old church's associations with John Donne, William Tyndale, andSir Isaac Walton, but in calling St. Dunstan's simply "The old church" the writer is establishing the chronological setting as pre-1830, even though Will Fern, a radical from Dorset, is clearly a contemporary figure of proletarian rebellion. Appropriately, St. Dunstan's Churchyard was a centre for bookselling and publishing in the nineteenth century. This second view of the old church in Green's series gives it a spire similar to that of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields and other neoclassical designs of Sir Christopher Wren, whereas old St. Dunstan's-in-the-West actually survived the Great Fire of London in 1666, and therefore was distinguished by a square, mediaeval tower.
Illustrations from the first edition (1844), and the American (1876) and British Household Edition (1878)
Left: Clarkson Stanfield's atmospheric rendering of The Old Church. Right: Richard Doyle's miniature ofthe Gothic bell-tower, The Dinner on the Steps. [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Above: E. A. Abbey's 1876 wood-engraving of Trotty's terrifying dream-vision, What Trotty saw in the Belfry. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]
Dickens, Charles. The Chimes. Introduction by Clement Shorter. Illustrated by Charles Green. The Pears' Centenary Edition. London: A & F Pears, [?1912].
Dickens, Charles. The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells That Rang An Old Year Out and a New Year In. Illustrated by John Leech, Richard Doyle, Clarkson Stanfield, and Daniel Maclise. London: Bradbury and Evans, 1844.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Books. Illustrated byFred Barnard. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1878.
_____. Christmas Stories. Illustrated by E. A. Abbey. The Household Edition. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1876.
Last modified 27 March 2015