The Bird of Prey brought down

The Bird of Prey brought down by Marcus Stone. Wood engraving by Dalziel. 9.5 cm high x 15 cm wide. Initial illustration for the fifth monthly number of Our Mutual Friend, Chapter Fourteen, "The Bird of Prey Brought Down," Authentic edition, facing p. 150. [This part of the novel originally appeared in periodical form in September 1864.] Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham[You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. ]

In the September 1864 monthly number, Marcus Stone realizes the moment at which Lightwood, Wrayburn, the Inspector, and Riderhood solve the mystery of Gaffer Hexam's empty boat, which Dickens has posed for the reader at the conclusion of Chapter 13, the closing "curtain" of the fourth monthly instalment. Whereas in "The Bird of Prey Brought Down," the backdrop of which is unrelenting rain and a chill wind, Dickens paints vivid word-pictures of the Thames and its shores, in the illustration of the same name Stone creates an impression of driving rain: the backdrop is thoroughly obscured, and only the muddy foreground, the corpse, and the four searchers stand out distinctly. From the text, the figure bending over the corpse would be the Inspector, who has just pulled the body from the water; to the left, readily identified by his fur cap, is waterman Rogue Riderhood; to the right, standing, are the respectably attired attorneys Lightwood and Wrayburn. According to the text, the scene occurs at some water stairs, where the Inspector has pulled in the rope only to discover the lifeless body of the Thames scavenger — "The Bird of Prey" — Gaffer Hexam:

Soon, the form of the bird of prey, dead some hours, lay stretched upon the shore, with a new blast storming at it and clotting the wet hair with hailstones. . . . .

'Now see,' said Mr. Inspector, after mature deliberation: kneeling on one knee beside the body, when they had stood looking down on the drowned man, as he had many a time looked down on many another man: 'the way of it was this. Of course you gentlemen hardly failed to observe that he was towing by the neck and arms.' [150]

In fact, Stone has represented neither Gaffer Hexam's distinctive tow-rope nor the stairs; the two boats, Gaffer Hexam's and Rogue Riderhood's, are but indistinctly shown. The piling (left) is entirely Stone's invention. Disparaging the earlier style of Victorian illustration and praising the realist style of the New Men of the Sixties, J. A. Hammerton in the early twentieth century vastly approved of Marcus Stone's impressionistic illustrations such as this, feeling that they represented

an enormous advance in their artistic quality and the disappearance of the old hearty humour of Phiz and Cruikshank. Mr. Stone's illustrations might have been drawn yesterday, for a story by Mr.H. G. Wells or Mrs. Humphry Ward, they are so essentially modern in conception and execution. The niggling, feeble lines of the earlier artists had given place to fine vigorous drawing, instinct with actuality and life-likeness, and as works of art Mr. Marcus Stone's illustrations are on an altogether higher plane than even the best efforts of Phiz. [19]

References

Dickens, Charles. Our Mutual Friend. Illustrated by Marcus Stone. Volume 14 of the Authentic Edition. London: Chapman and Hall; New York: Charles Scribners' Sons, 1901.

Hammerton, J. A. The Dickens Picture-Book: A Record of the Dickens Illustrators. The Charles Dickens Library. London: Educational Book, 1910.


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Last modified 20 December 2010