by Charles S. Reinhart. 1844-1896. 9.9 cm high by 13.1 cm wide (half-page, horizontally mounted, 95). [Click on image to enlarge it.]
The wood-engraving illustrates a scene on page 96 in "An Old Stage-Coaching House," the twenty-second chapter in Charles Dickens's The Uncommercial Traveller, this essay having first appeared in All the Year Round on 1 August 1863. The American Household Edition, also containing Reinhart's wood-engravings for Hard Times (1854) and Fildes' for The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870), was published by Harper and Brothers in 1876.
[On the Old London Road] I came to the Turnpike, and I found it, in its silent way, eloquent respecting the change that had fallen on the road. The Turnpike-house was all overgrown with ivy; and the Turnpike- keeper, unable to get a living out of the tolls, plied the trade of a cobbler. Not only that, but his wife sold ginger-beer, and, in the very window of espial through which the Toll-takers of old times used with awe to behold the grand London coaches coming on at a gallop, exhibited for sale little barber's-poles of sweetstuff in a sticky lantern.
The political economy of the master of the turnpike thus expressed itself.
"How goes turnpike business, master?" said I to him, as he sat in his little porch, repairing a shoe.
"It don't go at all, master,' said he to me. 'It's stopped."
"That's bad,' said I.
"Bad?" he repeated. And he pointed to one of his sunburnt dusty children who was climbing the turnpike-gate, and said, extending his open right hand in remonstrance with Universal Nature. "Five on 'em!"
"But how to improve Turnpike business?" said I.
"There's a way, master," said he, with the air of one who had thought deeply on the subject.
"I should like to know it."
"Lay a toll on everything as comes through; lay a toll on walkers. Lay another toll on everything as don't come through; lay a toll on them as stops at home."
"Would the last remedy be fair?"
"Fair? Them as stops at home, could come through if they liked; couldn't they?"
"Say they could."
"Toll 'em. If they don't come through, it's THEIR look out. Anyways, — Toll 'em!"
Finding it was as impossible to argue with this financial genius as if he had been Chancellor of the Exchequer, and consequently the right man in the right place, I passed on meekly.
My mind now began to misgive me that the disappointed coach-maker had sent me on a wild-goose errand, and that there was no post- chaise in those parts. But coming within view of certain allotment-gardens by the roadside, I retracted the suspicion, and confessed that I had done him an injustice. For, there I saw, surely, the poorest superannuated post-chaise left on earth.
It was a post-chaise taken off its axletree and wheels, and plumped down on the clayey soil among a ragged growth of vegetables. It was a post-chaise not even set straight upon the ground, but tilted over, as if it had fallen out of a balloon. It was a post-chaise that had been a long time in those decayed circumstances, and against which scarlet beans were trained. It was a post-chaise patched and mended with old tea-trays, or with scraps of iron that looked like them, and boarded up as to the windows, but having A KNOCKER on the off-side door. Whether it was a post-chaise used as tool-house, summer-house, or dwelling-house, I could not discover, for there was nobody at home at the post-chaise when I knocked, but it was certainly used for something, and locked up. In the wonder of this discovery, I walked round and round the post-chaise many times, and sat down by the post-chaise, waiting for further elucidation. None came. At last, I made my way back to the old London road by the further end of the allotment-gardens, and consequently at a point beyond that from which I had diverged. I had to scramble through a hedge and down a steep bank, and I nearly came down a-top of a little spare man who sat breaking stones by the roadside.
He stayed his hammer, and said, regarding me mysteriously through his dark goggles of wire:
"Are you aware, sir, that you've been trespassing?"
"I turned out of the way," said I, in explanation, "to look at that odd post-chaise. Do you happen to know anything about it?"
"I know it was many a year upon the road," said he.
"So I supposed. Do you know to whom it belongs?"
The stone-breaker bent his brows and goggles over his heap of stones, as if he were considering whether he should answer the question or not. Then, raising his barred eyes to my features as before, he said:
"To me." [Chapter 22, "An Old Stage-Coaching House," pp. 94-96]
In his treatment of this selfsame chapter, Edward G. Dalziel in the British Household Edition has depicted instead an old innkeeper Mr. J. Mellows, again with the intention of dramatising the sudden collapse of the transportation system that had flourished from the late seventeenth century right up to the 1840s, when the advent of railways in south-western England destroyed coaching firms and turnpikes alike. Like Dalziel's listless innkeeper Reinhart's querulous turnpike-keeper lacks both customers and a purpose in life.
As early as 1837, in his final editorial for Bentley's Miscellany, Dickens had forecast the eventual extinction of the country's coaching service, which first developed in the early years of the Restoration. On 18 April 1840 in the third number of Master Humphrey's Clock the ebullient Pickwickian coachman, Tony Weller, had blasted the railway for what it was doing to men of his vocation (as cited in Slater and Drew, p. 269). Certainly the coming of the railways to south-western England spelled the doom of any market town not fortunate to be connected to the country's larger cities by twin ribbons of steel. With the decline of regular coach service, the turnpike roads failed to generate sufficient revenues to maintain some 30,000 miles of highway, became uneconomical to operate, and were "disturnpiked" by Parliament in the 1870s as the supervisory trusts became insolvent, rendering some 8,000 tollbooths relics of a bygone era. No wonder the former turnpike-keeper wears such a glum expression!
Reinhart's once-useful functionary has been reduced to the status of stone-breaker, his smoke-glass googles and sledge-hammer the outward and visible signs of his vocational deterioration. Instead of the highroad, the backdrop is weeds and straggling vegetation; the only reminder of civilisation is a church spire in the distance, obscured by unrestrained natural growth. He, like Mellows in Dalziel's illustration, is a once-respectable character (as suggested by his vest, breeches, and top hat) washed up by the tides of technological and social change.
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.]
Bentley, Nicolas, Michael Slater, and Nina Burgis. The Dickens Index. New York and Oxford: Oxford U. P., 1990.
Dickens, Charles. The Uncommercial Traveller, Hard Times, and The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Il. Charles Stanley Reinhart and Luke Fildes. 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.
Scenes and Characters from the Works of Charles Dickens; being eight hundred and sixty-six drawings, by Fred Barnard, Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz); J. Mahoney; Charles Green; A. B. Frost; Gordon Thomson; J. McL. Ralston; H. French; E. G. Dalziel; F. A. Fraser, and Sir Luke Fildes; printed from the original woodblocks engraved for "The Household Edition." New York: Chapman and Hall, 1908. Copy in the Robarts Library, University of Toronto.
Slater, Michael, 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 20 March 2013