The Death-bed by Charles Green (p. 127). 1912. 8 x 10.8 cm, exclusive of frame. Dickens's The Chimes, Pears Centenary Edition, in which the plates often have captions that are different from the titles in the "List of Illustrations" (p. 15-16). Specifically, The Death-bed has a lengthy caption that is quite different from its title in the "List of Illustrations"; the textual quotation that serves as the caption for this illustration of the young parish physician, Meg, and Mrs. Chickenstalker at Richard's death-bed in the back-attic) is "It was over. And this was she, her father's pride and joy! This haggard, wretched woman, weeping by the bed" ("Fourth Quarter," p. 127 — the passage realised is over the page. There is no equivalent illustration in the 1844 first edition of the novella.

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Passage Illustrated

He was interrupted by a cry — a sound of lamentation — from the upper story of the house. The gentleman moved hurriedly to the door.

"My friend," he said, looking back, "you needn't discuss whether he shall be removed or not. He has spared you that trouble, I believe."

Saying so, he ran up-stairs, followed by Mrs. Tugby; while Mr. Tugby panted and grumbled after them at leisure: being rendered more than commonly short-winded by the weight of the till, in which there had been an inconvenient quantity of copper. Trotty, with the child beside him, floated up the staircase like mere air.

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"Follow her! Follow her! Follow her!' He heard the ghostly voices in the Bells repeat their words as he ascended. 'Learn it, from the creature dearest to your heart!"

It was over. It was over. And this was she, her father's pride and joy! This haggard, wretched woman, weeping by the bed, if it deserved that name, and pressing to her breast, and hanging down her head upon, an infant. Who can tell how spare, how sickly, and how poor an infant! Who can tell how dear!

"Thank God!" cried Trotty, holding up his folded hands. "O, God be thanked! She loves her child!"

The gentleman, not otherwise hard-hearted or indifferent to such scenes, than that he saw them every day, and knew that they were figures of no moment in the Filer sums — mere scratches in the working of these calculations — laid his hand upon the heart that beat no more, and listened for the breath, and said, "His pain is over. It's better as it is!" Mrs. Tugby tried to comfort her with kindness. Mr. Tugby tried philosophy.

         ["Fourth Quarter," p. 127-128, 1912 edition]

Commentary

The physician with the casual attitude of Dick Swiveller from The Old Curiosity Shop (1841) in the previous illustration seems genuinely concerned about his patient's welfare here. Mrs. Tugby is as much concerned with Meg's well-being, and Meg turns her gaze from her dieing husband to her infant. The Meg drawn by Charles Green does not match the author's description of a "haggard, wretched woman," but in other respects the scene is effectively organized — and even recalls in the mourning women and the bearded man on his death-bed such Renaissance scenes as Giotto di Bondone's Lamentation of Christ, situated in the Cappella degli Scrovegni or Arena Chapel in Padua, Italy.

Had Richard, not even middle-aged in Green's illustration, known the consolation of home and family, had he as young man married Meg rather than, following the advice of the Malthusian statistician, Alderman Cute's associate, Filer, he would have had reason to work industriously and live optimistically, knowing Meg would be waiting for him at the end of each day's labour. Thus, Dickens uses an emotional appeal rather than a rationale argument to refute the contention of Malthus and the Benthamites that the only hope for humanity against the cataclysmic rise in population that was inevitable was delayed procreation amongst the masses — otherwise, humanity would increase exponentially, its sources of sustenance only arithmetically (the thesis of the Reverend Thomas Malthus's Essay on the Principle of Population, 1798), the second edition of which (1803) posited the solution of "moral restraint":

Perhaps the masses of people, who bore the brunt of the hunger that was built into Creation, could be educated or coerced to limit their own numbers and thus dispense the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse from the necessity of the doing the job for them. [Altick, 121]

Here, Dickens reveals that the Malthusian solution of delaying marriage among the working poor is hardly calculated to produce happy, fulfilling lives among the masses, whom the radical novelists represents in the particular with decent, morally upright young proletarians as Meg and Richard, to whose characters the compassionate Mrs. Tugby attests in this scene. Green sees her as far more than a caricature: a thoughtful, caring member of the middle class who believes in the right of the working class to lead happy, productive lives.

Relevant Illustrations from the first edition (1844)

Left: John Leech's's study of​ Mrs. Chickenstalker, dancing with Trotty at Meg's wedding, The New Year's Dance. Right: Richard Doyle's scene of social realism (Meg's attempted suicide) and fantasy, as the ghostly Trotty watches, powerless to intervene, Margret and her Child. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

References

Altick, Richard D. "IV. The Utilitarian Spirit." Victorian People and Ideas: A Companion for the Modern Reader of Victorian Literature. London and New York: W. W. Norton, 1973.

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. 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. (1844). Rpt. in Charles Dickens's Christmas Books, ed. Michael Slater. Hardmondsworth: Penguin, 1971, rpt. 1978. Pp. 137-252.

Dickens, Charles. Christmas Books​. Illustrated by​Fred Barnard. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1878.

Dickens, Charles. 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.

Solberg, Sarah A. "'Text Dropped into the Woodcuts': Dickens' Christmas Books." Dickens Studies Annual 8 (1980): 103-118.

Thomas, Deborah A. Dickens and The Short Story. Philadelphia: U. Pennsylvania Press, 1982.

Welsh, Alexander. "Time and the City in The Chimes." Dickensian 73, 1 (January 1977): 8-17.


Last modified 14 April 2015