The likeness of Dickens two years before his death is melancholy and care-worn, yet intense in its inner gaze and self-assorption; unlike other initial plates in the Our Young Folks series, it amounts to a psychological study. The other pictures tend to depict the honoured author full-length, either self-consciously posing (as with Hughes in Vol. I, No. 1, and Reid in Vol. III, No. 1), writing at home (as with Stowe in Vol. II, No. 1) or at work (as with Hayes in Vol. V, No. 1). Only the last of the series, the head-and-shoulders study of Louis Agassiz (Vol. VI, No. 1), is comparable to the study of Dickens in pose, although one would probably characterize the professor as merely thoughtful. Here we have the Dickens that Edgar Johnson's biography gives us, a portrait emphasizing the qualities of "feverish depression and growing disillusionment of the writer in dissolution" (Kappel and Patten 3). Abstracted and brooding, the image of the author that introduces the first episode of A Holiday Romance seems better suited as a frontispiece to Bleak House. It is the introduction of Hamlet with Yorrick's skull into the curtain-raising of a pantomime. Unsigned, it is not likely the work of John Gilbert, who was commissioned to do the four full-page plates, each a scene from one of the novella's four parts (furthermore, Gilbert always signed his work with his characteristic "J" through a "G"). Its head resembling very much that in R. W. Buss's "Dickens's Dream" (c. 1870), it is probably the work of Sol Eytinge, noted for his black-and-white sketches designed to illustrate Child-pictures from Dickens (1867) and A Christmas Carol (1869). Born in 1833, Eytinge through Fields met Dickens at the outset of the second American tour, and subsequently accompanied Fields in the spring of 1869 to Gad's Hill to discuss the illustrations for forthcoming volumes of the Diamond Edition.
Last modified 8 December 2002