J. Clayton Clarke ("Kyd")
Watercolour reproduced on John Player cigarette card no. 32
Character from Dickens's Nicholas Nickleby
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham
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In Kyd's sequence of fifty cards, fully 13 or over 25% concern a single novel, The Pickwick Papers, attesting to the enduring popularity of the picaresque comic novel and also suggesting that the later, darker novels such as Our Mutual Friend (two characters: Silas Wegg and Rogue Riderhood) and The Mystery of Edwin Drood (no characters depicted) offered little for the caricaturist, the only late characters in the series being the singularly unpleasant and physically odd Silas Wegg and the rough waterman Rogue Riderhood from Our Mutual Friend, and Turveydrop, Jo, Bucket, and Chadband from Bleak House. The popular taste was clearly still towards the earlier farce and character comedy of Dickens.
Although Kyd's representations of the two characters from Our Mutual Friend are largely based on the original serial illustrations by Marcus Stone, the modelling of the figures is suggestive of those of the Dickens illustrator James Mahoney for the Household Edition volume 9 (1875). The anomaly, of course, is that Kyd should elect to depict minor figures from the first Dickens novel such as the Dingley Dell cricketers Dumkins and Luffey and the minor antagonist Major Bagstock in Dombey and Son, but should omit s ignificant characters from such later, still-much-read novels as A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations — characters, moreover, who had appeared in his books such as Pumblechook and Magwitch from Great Expectations who had appeared in the chromolithographs of Character Sketches of Charles Dickens as Pourtrayed by Kyd (24 illustrations, 1889) and Some Well Known Characters from the Works of Charles Dickens (1892), the former published by Raphael Tuck, London, and the latter by Hildesheimer and Faulkner, London. Five of the fifty cards or 10% of the series come from the cast of The Adventures of Oliver Twist; or, The Parish Boy's Progress (1837-39): Oliver himself, asking for more; Fagin with his toasting fork, from the scene in which he prepares dinner for his crew; Sikes holding a beer-mug, and the Artful Dodger in an oversized adult topcoat and crushed top-hat, as he appeared at his trial. Surprisingly, some of the other significant characters, including Nancy and Rose Maylie, are not among the first set of fifty characters, in which Kyd exhibits a strong male bias, as he realizes only seven female characters: only the beloved Nell, the abrasive Sally Brass, and the quirky Marchioness from The Old Curiosity Shop, Sairey Gamp from Martin Chuzzlewit, Aunt Betsey Trotwood from David Copperfield, the burly Mrs. McStinger from Dombey and Son, and the awkward Fanny Squeers from Nicholas Nickleby appear in the essentially comic cavalcade.
The Dickens reader at the fin de siecle must have been surprised to find missing from Kyd's character sketches such significant figures in Our Mutual Friend as the depraved, obsessive school-master, Bradley Headstone; Lizzie Hexam and her father, the Thames waterman Gaffer; the story's chief love interest, Bella Wilfer; the doll's dressmaker, the sharp-tongued Jenny Wren; the deceptive socialite (secretly a money-lender) Fascination Fledgby; his put-upon employee, Riah; and the Golden Dustman, Noddy Boffin. Since these late Dickens characters had plenty to offer the illustrator, one must assume that Kyd fashioned his short list for the cigarette card series according to the popular taste, even though his books contain images of the Analytical Chemist (the Veneerings' butler) and Fascination Fledgby. However, he does include from his books the image of the spiteful Wegg, the one-legged street vendor whom Boffin hires to read to him:
Over against a London house, a corner house not far from Cavendish Square, a man with a wooden leg had sat for some years, with his remaining foot in a basket in cold weather, picking up a living on this wise: — Every morning at eight o'clock, he stumped to the corner, carrying a chair, a clothes-horse, a pair of trestles, a board, a basket, and an umbrella, all strapped together. Separating these, the board and trestles became a counter, the basket supplied the few small lots of fruit and sweets that he offered for sale upon it and became a foot-warmer, the unfolded clothes-horse displayed a choice collection of halfpenny ballads and became a screen, and the stool planted within it became his post for the rest of the day. All weathers saw the man at the post. This is to be accepted in a double sense, for he contrived a back to his wooden stool, by placing it against the lamp-post. When the weather was wet, he put up his umbrella over his stock in trade, not over himself; when the weather was dry, he furled that faded article, tied it round with a piece of yarn, and laid it cross-wise under the trestles: where it looked like an unwholesomely-forced lettuce that had lost in colour and crispness what it had gained in size. [Book One, Chapter 5, "Boffin's Bower"]
The model for Kyd's interpretation is Marcus Stone's original serial image, the May 1865 instalment's The Evil Genius of the House of Boffin (Book 3, "A Long Lane," Chapter 7, "The Friendly Move Takes up a Strong Position"). However, Kyd has also utilized Mahoney's illustrations of the serio-comic figure, typically "Dickensian" in his peculiar obsession with his lost leg. In "Here you are again," repeated Mr. Wegg, musing. "And what are you now?" (Book One, "The Cup and the Lip," Chapter 5) and "You're casting your eye round the shop, Mr. Wegg. Let me show you a light" (Book One, Chapter 8), set in the shop of the taxidermeist, Mr. Venus, Kyd found useful images, but elected to give his Wegg a far more surly, suspicious facial expression, and greater animation than the Mahoney figure in such illustrations as Mr. Wegg preparing a grindstone for Mr. Boffin's nose..
Created 17 January 2015