11 x 6.5 cm. vignetted
Dickens's The Battle of Life, The Pears' Centenary Edition, IV, 28.
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Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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Green's picture of the Jeddlers' curmudgeonly servant, Benjamin Britain, does not adequately convey his Dickensian quirkiness, but complements the writer's terse description of the comic man of contemporary melodrama, a role which Dickens expressly wrote for the actor-manager Robert Keeley in the Albert Smith adaptation of this fourth Christmas Book at the Royal Surrey Theatre, London, in December 1846.
"Britain!" cried the Doctor. "Britain! Halloa!"
A small man, with an uncommonly sour and discontented face, emerged from the house, and returned to this call the unceremonious acknowledgment of "Now then!"
"Where's the breakfast table?" said the Doctor.
"In the house," returned Britain.
"Are you going to spread it out here, as you were told last night?" said the Doctor. "Don't you know that there are gentlemen coming? That there's business to be done this morning, before the coach comes by? That this is a very particular occasion?"
"I couldn’t do anything, Doctor Jeddler, till the women had done getting in the apples, could I?" said Britain, his voice rising with his reasoning, so that it was very loud at last.
"Well, have they done now?" returned the Doctor, looking at his watch, and clapping his hands. ["Part the First," 1912 Pears Edition, 28-29]
The British Household Edition and the Pears' Centenary Edition in five volumes of The Christmas Books provide realistic images with modelled figures, but sometimes fail (as here) to match the visual interest and comedic style of the original 1846 small-scale plates. Compare, for example, Dr. Jeddler's dour servant, Benjamin, ordered to lay the breakfast table in Green's almost photographic study and Fred Barnard's interpretation of Clemency and Benjamin installed as the publicans of the local inn, The Nutmeg Grater, Guessed half aloud "milk and water," "monthly warning," "mice and walnuts" — and couldn't approach her meaning with the sole image of the dour butler by John Leech in the original volume, The Parting Breakfast. Ever the comic artist and caricaturist, Leech shows the butler wielding a carving knife and and fork as he studies the lawyers, as if not merely contemplating their request for meat. The only full-length figure in the composition, Britain dominates a scene filled out by his social superiors: the local physician, the attorneys, and the Jeddler sisters. The later treatments of this essentially comic figure fail to do justice to Britain. The photographic realism and finish of the Green's character study merely conveys the comic servant's absolutely correct historical garb and something of his truculence, but fails to communicate any sense of the Jeddlers' male servant as a thoroughly Dickensian "character."
Relevant Illustrations from the 1846 and 1876 Editions
Left: John Leech's description of the breakfast to celebrate Marion's birthday and Alfred's departure, The Parting Breakfast. Right: E. A. Abbey's more realistic and modelled version of the same scene, "Meat?" said Britain, approaching Mr. Snitchey, with the carving knife and fork in his hands, and throwing the question at him like a missile. [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Left: Fred Barnard's 1878 engraving of the scene in which Michael Warden returns to the village, Guessed half aloud "milk and water," "monthly warning," "mice and walnuts" — and couldn't approach her meaning. Right: Harry Furniss's 1910 pen-and-ink study of the comic servants, now the owners of The Nutmeg Grater Inn, Clemency and Britain. [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Dickens, Charles. The Battle of Life: A Love Story. Illustrated by John Leech, Richard Doyle, Daniel Maclise, and Clarkson Stanfield. London: Bradbury and Evans, 1846.
_____. The Battle of Life: A Love Story. Illustrated by John Leech, Richard Doyle, Daniel Maclise, and Clarkson Stanfield. (1846). Rpt. in Charles Dickens's Christmas Books, ed. Michael Slater. Hardmondsworth: Penguin, 1971, rpt. 1978.
_____. The Battle of Life. 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.
Created 12 May 2015