Toby Veck, otherwise “Trotty”
15 x 6.2 cm vignetted
Dickens's The Chimes, The Pears' Centenary Edition, page 23.
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when gutters brawled and waterspouts were full and noisy; when the wet from the projecting stones and ledges of the church fell drip, drip, drip, on Toby, making the wisp of straw on which he stood mere mud in no time; those were the days that tried him. Then, indeed, you might see Toby looking anxiously out from his shelter in an angle of the church wall such a meagre shelter that in summer time it never cast a shadow thicker than a goodsized walking stick upon the sunny pavement with a disconsolate and lengthened face. But coming out, a minute afterwards, to warm himself by exercise, and trotting up and down some dozen times, he would brighten even then, and go back more brightly to his niche.
They called him Trotty from his pace, which meant speed if it didn't make it. He could have walked faster perhaps; most likely; but rob him of his trot, and Toby would have taken to his bed and died. It bespattered him with mud in dirty weather; it cost him a world of trouble; he could have walked with infinitely greater ease; but that was one reason for his clinging to it so tenaciously. A weak, small, spare old man, he was a very Hercules, this Toby, in his good intentions. He loved to earn his money. He delighted to believe Toby was very poor, and couldn't well afford to part with a delight that he was worth his salt. With a shilling or an eighteenpenny message or small parcel in hand, his courage always high, rose higher. As he trotted on, he would call out to fast Postmen ahead of him, to get out of the way; devoutly believing that in the natural course of things he must inevitably overtake and run them down; and he had perfect faith not often tested in his being able to carry anything that man could lift.
["First Quarter," p. 22-23, 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.
A central figure of all narrative-pictorial sequences is Trotty or Toby Veck, Meg's father and the touchstone who connects all the other characters in the novella. Although he is neither a miser nor a misanthrope like Ebenezer Scrooge in the first Christmas Book, A Christmas Carol, Trotty has adopted the misguided notion that the labouring poor are "born bad," a phrase that he has picked up from reading conservative newspapers. The epiphany he experiences as a result of his dream-vision is that the poor are as worthy of a place in this world as their social superiors, and that these affluent and powerful beings may actually possess less sympathy and less fundamental decency than the proletariat. In the original scarlet-and-gold volume the team of artists, led by John Leech, show characterisations of the humble ticket porter that are more or less consistent with Dickens's description, if not with Leecxh's original, cartoon-like conception. The comparable illustration to Green's fourth is Leech's Trotty Veck, although the little, elderly man wearing a ticket-porter's apron appears in a total of nine of the 1844 book's thirteen wood-engravings. He is, however, a serious and even sombre figure much of the time, and the Green illustrations of him would seem more fitting for a character out of Hardy or Gissing.
In Green's series of thirty lithographs, Trotty appears eleven times — he is notably absent from the scenes of the dream-vision since he is the observer rather than actor in these scenes. Since this volume has a single illustrator, all eleven images of Trotty Veck are consistent with each other as well as with Dickens's description of the character. Furthermore, whereas Leech in particular draws Trotty as a caricature, with oversized head, later illustrators such as E. A. Abbey and Fred Barnard have taken a more realistic approach to the character, although the three-dimensional realism of Green's is almost photographic. Compare this 1912 image of Trotty Veck with that of Abbey in "What's the matter? What's the matter?" said the gentleman for whom the door was opened, and that of Barnard in The Poor Man's Friend. The earlier illustrators convey the character's genial nature and indefatigible humour, whereas Green makes him seem more staid and less whimsical.
Illustrations from the first edition (1844), and the American (1876) and British Household Edition (1878)
Left: John Leech's portrait of the trotting ticket-porter, Trotty Veck. Right: John Leech's rendition of Trotty, awakened from his dream and the delusion that the poor are "born bad," now dancing at his daughter's wedding, in The New Year's Dance. [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Above: Fred Barnard's 1878wood-engraving of Trotty and Meg on the steps of the Old Church, "'No,' said Toby after another sniff. 'It's — It's mellower than Polonies.'" [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 30 March 2015