The Emigrants [The huddled masses from Europe on deck catch their first sight of America]
Engraver: E. Dalziel
8 cm wide by 12.3 cm high
From "The Passage Out," Chapter 2 in Dickens's American Notes for General Circulation in the Illustrated Library Edition
See below for passage illustrated and commentary.
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 person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. ]
I was dressing about half-past nine next day, when the noise above hurried me on deck. When I had left it overnight, it was dark, foggy, and damp, and there were bleak hills all round us. Now, we were gliding down a smooth, broad stream, at the rate of eleven miles an hour: our colours flying gaily; our crew rigged out in their smartest clothes; our officers in uniform again; the sun shining as on a brilliant April day in England; the land stretched out on either side, streaked with light patches of snow; white wooden houses; people at their doors; telegraphs working; flags hoisted; wharfs appearing; ships; quays crowded with people; distant noises; shouts; men and boys running down steep places towards the pier: all more bright and gay and fresh to our unused eyes than words can paint them. We came to a wharf, paved with uplifted faces; got alongside, and were made fast, after some shouting and straining of cables; darted, a score of us along the gangway, almost as soon as it was thrust out to meet us, and before it had reached the ship — and leaped upon the firm glad earth again! [Chapter 2, "The Passage Out," page 24]
The picture that sets the keynote for the volume does not accurately reflect any particular passage in American Notes for General Circulation, the 1842 travelogue that graphs his (and his wife, Catherine's) experiences in the eastern United States and Canada. Sailing from Liverpool on January 3rd of that year, the twenty-nine-year-old celebrity author briefly visited Halifax after the three-week transAtlanticcrossing before landing in Boston to start his reading tour, which ended on 7 June 1842. Stone's illustration, perhaps the result of impressions derived from conversations with the author himself, does not reflect authorial intention directly, for Dickens had been dead some three years when this volume of the new Illustrated Library Edition volume, with fresh 1870s-style wood-engravings by Marcus Stone, appeared.
Like As he was drawn away, his wife released him, and stood looking after him with her hands touching one another in the attitude of prayer by 1870s illustrator Fred Barnard for the Household Edition of A Tale of Two Cities (volume 8, 1874), the frontispiece graphs the varying emotional responses of a number of people to a common event — in this case, the sighting of the New World off the bow of the immigrant vessel. The 1200-ton steam-packet Britannia with its decidedly upper-middle-class passengers and amenities was hardly an "immigrant vessel," but the Atlantic passage had been a rough one, and it was with considerable relief that the passengers and crew made their first port. A similar range of responses to a traumatic experience is evident in Marcus Stone's own A Child's History of England illustration The Intercession of Queen Philippa for the Citizens of Calais.
On the horizon (left) in Stone's frontispiece,one sees several sailing vessels, their sails furled, riding at anchor. The hats and clothing of the passengers suggest that they represent both the middle and working classes of the Old World — their is even a military man (right margin), possibly an oblique allusion to the Earl of Musgrave, with whom the author struck up a shipboard friendship, arranging to visit him at the British garrison in Montreal and participate in the regiment's amateur theatricals. While most of the passengers wave their hands, doff their hats, and cheer at the prospect of landing, one bareheaded passenger (foreground) seems to be mourning the life he has left behind and introspectively reacting to the daunting prospects of the unfamiliar world that he shortly will enter; he hangs onto his bundle of possessions, and does not stand up to view the harbour into which the vessel is now gliding. Two women (right), perhaps sisters or a mother and daughter, if one may judge by their facial similarities, cling together, also apprehensive about life in the New World, in contrast to the open-mouthed wonder of the man (left of centre), who waves his hat as he steadily regards the oncoming shore.
To judge from the jackets worn by the male passengers and the fact that the women have neither shawls nor heavy coats, one might expect this to be a late spring or summer scene, in contraction of the text's pointing towards January 21 in Halifax (Chapter 2) or 22 in Boston. Thus, Stone's illustration is about the idea of leaving the Old World for the New, about the daunting nature of the uncertain future, and the promise of a better life away from the social and public health problems besetting Europe's working classes. There is no hint here of those on deck being privileged passengers from First Class among whom the Dickenses travelled. On that particular day implied by the illustration, the reform-minded Nova Scotia's Speaker of the House of Assembly, Joseph Howe (1804-73), a Liberal and future Premier and Lieutenant-Governor, hosted the notable British author, showing him the Crown colony's legislature and capital.
Cohen, Jane Rabb. Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus: Ohio State U. P., 1980.
Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, 1998.
Dickens, Charles. American Notes for General Circulation and Pictures from Italy in Works. Illustrated Library Edition. London: Chapman and Hall: 1874.
Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities. Illustrated by Fred Barnard. The Household Edition. London: Chapman & Hall, 1874.
Last modified 21 January 2015