The Face-maker . . . becomes the Village Idiot by Charles S. Reinhart. 1844-1896. 10.1 cm high by 13.1 cm wide (half-page, horizontally mounted in the middle of 106). [Click on image to enlarge it.]

The wood-engraving illustrates a scene on page 106 in "In The French-Flemish Country," the twenty-fifth chapter in Charles Dickens's The Uncommercial Traveller, this essay having first appeared in All the Year Round on 12 September 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.

Passage Realised

"Messieurs et Mesdames, I present to you at this fair, as a mark of my confidence in the people of this so-renowned town, and as an act of homage to their good sense and fine taste, the Ventriloquist, the Ventriloquist! Further, Messieurs et Mesdames, I present to you the Face-maker, the Physiognomist, the great Changer of Countenances, who transforms the features that Heaven has bestowed upon him into an endless succession of surprising and extraordinary visages, comprehending, Messieurs et Mesdames, all the contortions, energetic and expressive, of which the human face is capable, and all the passions of the human heart, as Love, Jealousy, Revenge, Hatred, Avarice, Despair! Hi hi! Ho ho! Lu lu! Come in!" To this effect, with an occasional smite upon a sonorous kind of tambourine — bestowed with a will, as if it represented the people who won't come in — holds forth a man of lofty and severe demeanor; a man in stately uniform, gloomy with the knowledge he possesses of the inner secrets of the booth. "Come in, come in! Your opportunity presents itself to-night; to-morrow it will be gone for ever. To-morrow morning by the Express Train the railroad will reclaim the Ventriloquist and the Face-maker! Algeria will reclaim the Ventriloquist and the Face-maker! Yes! For the honor of their country they have accepted propositions of a magnitude incredible, to appear in Algeria. See them for the last time before their departure! We go to commence on the instant. Hi hi! Ho ho! Lu lu! Come in! Take the money that now ascends, Madame; but after that, no more, for we commence! Come in!"

Nevertheless, the eyes both of the gloomy Speaker and of Madame receiving sous in a muslin bower, survey the crowd pretty sharply after the ascending money has ascended, to detect any lingering sous at the turning-point. "Come in, come in! Is there any more money, Madame, on the point of ascending? If so, we wait for it. If not, we commence!" The orator looks back over his shoulder to say it, lashing the spectators with the conviction that he beholds through the folds of the drapery into which he is about to plunge, the Ventriloquist and the Face-maker. Several sous burst out of pockets, and ascend. "Come up, then, Messieurs!" exclaims Madame in a shrill voice, and beckoning with a bejewelled finger. "Come up! This presses. Monsieur has commanded that they commence!" Monsieur dives into his Interior, and the last half-dozen of us follow. His Interior is comparatively severe; his Exterior also. A true Temple of Art needs nothing but seats, drapery, a small table with two moderator lamps hanging over it, and an ornamental looking-glass let into the wall. Monsieur in uniform gets behind the table and surveys us with disdain, his forehead becoming diabolically intellectual under the moderators. "Messieurs et Mesdames, I present to you the Ventriloquist. He will commence with the celebrated Experience of the bee in the window. The bee, apparently the veritable bee of Nature, will hover in the window, and about the room. He will be with difficulty caught in the hand of Monsieur the Ventriloquist — he will escape — he will again hover — at length he will be recaptured by Monsieur the Ventriloquist, and will be with difficulty put into a bottle. Achieve then, Monsieur!" Here the proprietor is replaced behind the table by the Ventriloquist, who is thin and sallow, and of a weakly aspect. While the bee is in progress, Monsieur the Proprietor sits apart on a stool, immersed in dark and remote thought. The moment the bee is bottled, he stalks forward, eyes us gloomily as we applaud, and then announces, sternly waving his hand: "The magnificent Experience of the child with the whooping-cough!" The child disposed of, he starts up as before. "The superb and extraordinary Experience of the dialogue between Monsieur Tatambour in his dining-room, and his domestic, Jerome, in the cellar; concluding with the songsters of the grove, and the Concert of domestic Farm- yard animals." All this done, and well done, Monsieur the Ventriloquist withdraws, and Monsieur the Face-maker bursts in, as if his retiring-room were a mile long instead of a yard. A corpulent little man in a large white waistcoat, with a comic countenance, and with a wig in his hand. Irreverent disposition to laugh, instantly checked by the tremendous gravity of the Face- Maker, who intimates in his bow that if we expect that sort of thing we are mistaken. A very little shaving-glass with a leg behind it is handed in, and placed on the table before the Face- Maker. "Messieurs et Mesdames, with no other assistance than this mirror and this wig, I shall have the honor of showing you a thousand characters." As a preparation, the Face-maker with both hands gouges himself, and turns his mouth inside out. He then becomes frightfully grave again, and says to the Proprietor, "I am ready!" Proprietor stalks forth from baleful reverie, and announces "The Young Conscript!" Face-maker claps his wig on, hind side before, looks in the glass, and appears above it as a conscript so very imbecile, and squinting so extremely hard, that I should think the State would never get any good of him. Thunders of applause. Face-Maker dips behind the looking-glass, brings his own hair forward, is himself again, is awfully grave. "A distinguished inhabitant of the Faubourg St. Germain." Face-Maker dips, rises, is supposed to be aged, blear-eyed, toothless, slightly palsied, supernaturally polite, evidently of noble birth. "The oldest member of the Corps of Invalides on the fete-day of his master." Face-maker dips, rises, wears the wig on one side, has become the feeblest military bore in existence, and (it is clear) would lie frightfully about his past achievements, if he were not confined to pantomime. "The Miser!" Face-Maker dips, rises, clutches a bag, and every hair of the wig is on end to express that he lives in continual dread of thieves. "The Genius of France!" Face-Maker dips, rises, wig pushed back and smoothed flat, little cocked-hat (artfully concealed till now) put a-top of it, Face- Maker's white waistcoat much advanced, Face-maker's left hand in bosom of white waistcoat, Face-Maker's right hand behind his back. Thunders. This is the first of three positions of the Genius of France. In the second position, the Face-Maker takes snuff; in the third, rolls up his fight hand, and surveys illimitable armies through that pocket-glass. The Face-maker then, by putting out his tongue, and wearing the wig nohow in particular, becomes the Village Idiot. The most remarkable feature in the whole of his ingenious performance, is, that whatever he does to disguise himself, has the effect of rendering him rather more like himself than he was at first. [Chapter 25, "In The French-Flemish Country," p. 105-106]

Commentary

Aside from the Franglais patter (including appeals to French nationalism) of the master-of-ceremonies that accompanies the illustration, Reinhart's scene of a carnival side-show might be set anywhere in the Western world in the nineteenth-century. However, the wood-engraving with great economy and emphasis on the characters of The Face-Maker and the Ventriloquist (disconsolately watching his partner's act, right rear) realizes an entertaining moment in Dickens's "In The French-Flemish Country," the 12 September 1863 article from All the Year Round, which became the twenty-fifth chapter in both the American and British Household Edition volumes. Dickens does not offer clues as to which town in "Flandre Francaise" the action occurs. As Slater and Drew point out, that the setting suggested is not far from the department of Pas de Calais may imply that the Uncommercial Traveller's peregrinations on the French side of the Channel are a mere "smokescreen for visits with or to [Dickens's young mistress] Ellen Ternan centring on Condette, near Boulogne" (296-297). No wonder, then, that Dickens's persona is a little vague about the towns he visits in his travels in this piece. The presence of a fair and a railway station suggest equally Gravelines, Dunkerque, and Hazebroucke. The contemporary allusion to French military victories in Mexico (in support of the French-installed Emperor Maximilian) points to mid-1863; for example, French forces entered Mexico City unopposed on 7 June 1863. Not so helpful is Dickens's reference to "Californian gold" (122), which merely points to a chronological setting of any year after the initial Gold Rush of 1848, although the Holcomb Valley Gold Rush in the San Bernardino Mountains in May 1860 may be reflected in the allusion.

Reinhart's illustration focuses on the vanities and peculiarities of the fair (as opposed to Edward G. Dalziel's depiction for the same chapter of the scene at the town's railway station after the visit to the fair; Dalziel depicts a far less amusing study of human nature, namely of the young men from the French-Flemish countryside and small towns who are about to be transformed into soldiers in a nearby "famous French Garrison town" (107). As in his illustrations for Hard Times in the same Harper and Brothers volume, here Reinhart delights in depicting odd-looking individuals. These are entertainers who work only with their bodies; they are their own canvasses, so to speak.

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.]

References

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.


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Last modified 10 April 2013