Time and His Wife
12.4 x 8.7 cm framed
Facing page 246 in the Illustrated Library Edition
In the fourth and final Pinwell illustration for the Illustrated Library Edition of The Uncommercial Traveller, the artist offers a dual character study that in a few minor respects is at variance with Dickens's description of the couple and the churchyard, but significantly enhances the reader's sympathy for the elderly couple tending the ancient burial-ground. Pinwell has eliminated the cupids, those rather obvious symbols of romantic devotion, from the headstone in the foreground, and has provided a generalized urban street scene as the backdrop. [Commentary continued below.]
[Click on image to enlarge it.]
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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Sometimes, the commanding windows are all blank, and show no more sign of life than the graves below not so much, for em tell of what once upon a time was life undoubtedly. Such was the surrounding of one City churchyard that I saw last summer, on a Volunteering Saturday evening towards eight of the clock, when with astonishment I beheld an old old man and an old old woman in it, making hay. Yes, of all occupations in this world, making hay! It was a very confined patch of churchyard lying between Gracechurch-street and the Tower, capable of yielding, say an apronful of hay. By what means the old old man and woman had got into it, with an almost toothless hay-making rake, I could not fathom. No open window was within view; no window at all was within view, sufficiently near the ground to have enabled their old legs to descend from it; the rusty churchyardgate was locked, the mouldy church was locked. Gravely among the graves, they made hay, all alone by themselves. They looked like Time and his wife. There was but the one rake between them, and they both had hold of it in a pastorally-loving manner, and there was hay on the old woman's black bonnet, as if the old man had recently been playful. The old man was quite an obsolete old man, in knee-breeches and coarse grey stockings, and the old woman wore mittens like unto his stockings in texture and in colour. They took no heed of me as I looked on, unable to account for them. The old woman was much too bright for a pew-opener, the old man much too meek for a beadle. On an old tombstone in the foreground between me and them, were two cherubim; but for those celestial embellishments being represented as having no possible use for knee-breeches, stockings, or mittens, I should have compared them with the hay-makers, and sought a likeness. I coughed and awoke the echoes, but the hay-makers never looked at me. They used the rake with a measured action, drawing the scanty crop towards them; and so I was fain to leave them under three yards and a half of darkening sky, gravely making hay among the graves, all alone by themselves. Perhaps they were Spectres, and I wanted a Medium. [103-104]
The piece which the detailed and delicately drawn wood-engraving complements, "City of the Absent," first appeared in All the Year Round on 18 July 1863, perhaps like "City of London Churches" recording the exploratory excursions into metropolitan churches that the novelist periodically made with his oldest son, Charles Dickens, Junior, in the period from early 1848 through the autumn of 1851, when the Dickens family was living at Devonshire Terrace.
Whereas C. S. Reinhart in his 1876 composition "Time and His Wife has furnished the American Household Edition reader with a somewhat more solid couple in a larger-scale wood-engraving in which the two figures are balanced and facing forward, Pinwewll presents the old man with his back turned toward the viewer to make the figures more dynamic. Since Pinwell's Time and His Wife precedes the illustration of the same name by C. S. Reinhart for the American Household Edition, it is plausible that the American artist was influenced by Pinwell's composition, the choice of subject being dictated for the British illustration by the dramatic depopulation of the City of London which began in the early 1840s.
The full-page illustration of "Time and His Wife" as the frontispiece for the Harper and Brothers Household Edition volume, illustrated by Charles Stanley Reinhart, anticipates a churchyard scene in "The City of the Absent," listed in this volume as number 21, but in the standard Oxford Illustrated Dickens volume as number 23. The urban setting is established by the rows of buildings, but these are not consistent with Dickens's description of the London backdrop, although the wrought-iron fence is a markedly realistic detail. The lamp in the background of Reinhart's engraving, left, suggests it is early evening, but the grave markers and wrought-iron railing, as well as the clothing worn by the elderly couple, are consistent with the text. However, the pair seem to be raking far more hay in a much m,ore overgrown churchyard than in Dickens's essay or Pinwell's 1868 illustration.
In contrast to their relative isolation in the Household Edition frontispiece, Time and his wife participate in haying as if they were one person, for Pinwell's old man keeps one hand on the rake with the old woman's, as the other gentle touches her chin — the detail that Pinwell has injected that brings the scene to life. In the heat, Pinwell's Time is a genuinely noble labourer who has rolled up his sleeves, doffed his hat (which resides on the tombstone, centre front), and has removed his jacket. Although we cannot see his expression and must therefore construct it for ourselves, Time's wife seems to be enjoying the activity, even as her husband is enjoying her company. Pinwell characterises the aged couple not only by their intimate juxtaposition but also by their lean and muscular arms. Neither character is wearing the mittens that Dickens mentions, and Pinwell creates a further sympathy for the couple that Reinhart fails to achieve by exposing their arms and making their visages less mask like.
In the original version of this scene, as compared with the Household Edition copy, George Pinwell has juxtaposed the moving couple so that they stand much closer together, in the left register, and has added a pair of leafless trees, which are perhaps more symbolic than realistic. However, whereas the overall effect of Reinhart's somewhat "staged" and typically "outward" (non-psychological) Victorian composition is that we have two conventional, even stereotypical old people engaged in menial and even apparently pointless "volunteer" labour, the dominant impression conveyed by Pinwell's version of precisely the same scene is different in that Pinwell has afforded us a glimpse into an intimate, fleeting but intensely personal moment between two interesting, somewhat enigmatic individuals still in love after many years. Thus, Pinwell compels the reader to ponder what has led to this tender relationship and construct their back story; they are more genuinely emotional than the pasteboard urban peasants of Reinhart's frontispiece.
Household Edition Illustrations Associated with the Same Essay
Left: C. S. Reinhart's American Household Edition illustration "Time and His Wife" for "The City of the Absent"; right: E. G. Dalziel's British Household Edition illustration "Blinking old men who are let out of workhouses by the hour, have a tendency to sit on bits of coping stone in these churchyards" for "The City of the Absent" (18 July 1863). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
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Dickens, Charles. The Uncommercial Traveller. Il. Marcus Stone [W. M., and George Pinwell]. Illustrated Library Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1868, rpt., 1893.
Dickens, Charles. Hard Times and The Uncommercial Traveller. Il. Charles Stanley Reinhart. The Household Edition. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1876.
Dickens, Charles. The Uncommercial Traveller. Il. Edward Dalziel. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1877.
Dickens, Charles. The Uncommercial Traveller. Il. G. J. Pinwell and W. M. The Centenary Edition. London: Chapman and Hall; New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1911.
Schlicke, Paul, ed. "The Uncommercial Traveller." The Oxford Companion to Dickens. Oxford and New York: Oxford U. P., 1999. Pp. 100-101.
Slater, Michaell, and John Drew, eds. Dickens' Journalism: 'The Uncommercial Traveller' and Other Papers 1859-70. The Dent Uniform Edition of Dickens' Journalism, vol. 4. London: J. M. Dent, 2000.
Last modified 28 August 2013