dark plate to Dickens's second essay, "The Streets — Night," in the "Scenes" of Sketches by Boz in the absence of a visual model afforded by series illustrator George Cruikshank, who had offered a rather staid and tranquil image, The Streets, Morning for the previous essay. Barnard attacks his subject with Baroque vigour, focussing on a "Sairey Gamp" figure (right) whose "gamp" (umbrella) the wind has blown inside-out. The effect anticipates the miniature street-dramas of Harold Pinter such as The Black and White and The Last to Go, and the observations of Dickens's own "Uncommercial Traveller" in the 1860s.(wood-engraving). 1876. 10.7 cm high x 13.8 cm wide, framed. — Fred Barnard's animated response in the form of a
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The streets in the vicinity of the Marsh-gate and Victoria Theatre present an appearance of dirt and discomfort on such a night, which the groups who lounge about them in no degree tend to diminish. Even the little block-tin temple sacred to baked potatoes, surmounted by a splendid design in variegated lamps, looks less gay than usual, and as to the kidney-pie stand, its glory has quite departed. The candle in the transparent lamp, manufactured of oil-paper, embellished with "characters," has been blown out fifty times, so the kidney-pie merchant, tired with running backwards and forwards to the next wine-vaults, to get a light, has given up the idea of illumination in despair, and the only signs of his "whereabout," are the bright sparks, of which a long irregular train is whirled down the street every time he opens his portable oven to hand a hot kidney-pie to a customer.
Flat-fish, oyster, and fruit vendors linger hopelessly in the kennel, in vain endeavouring to attract customers; and the ragged boys who usually disport themselves about the streets, stand crouched in little knots in some projecting doorway, or under the canvas blind of a cheesemonger’s, where great flaring gas-lights, unshaded by any glass, display huge piles of blight red and pale yellow cheeses, mingled with little fivepenny dabs of dingy bacon, various tubs of weekly Dorset, and cloudy rolls of "best fresh."
Here they amuse themselves with theatrical converse, arising out of their last half-price visit to the Victoria gallery, admire the terrific combat, which is nightly encored, and expatiate on the inimitable manner in which Bill Thompson can "come the double monkey," or go through the mysterious involutions of a sailor’s hornpipe.
It is nearly eleven o'clock, and the cold thin rain which has been drizzling so long, is beginning to pour down in good earnest; the baked-potato man has departed — the kidney-pie man has just walked away with his warehouse on his arm — the cheesemonger has drawn in his blind, and the boys have dispersed. The constant clicking of pattens on the slippy and uneven pavement, and the rustling of umbrellas, as the wind blows against the shop-windows, bear testimony to the inclemency of the night; and the policeman, with his oilskin cape buttoned closely round him, seems as he holds his hat on his head, and turns round to avoid the gust of wind and rain which drives against him at the street-corner, to be very far from congratulating himself on the prospect before him.
The little chandler's shop with the cracked bell behind the door, whose melancholy tinkling has been regulated by the demand for quarterns of sugar and half-ounces of coffee, is shutting up. The crowds which have been passing to and fro during the whole day, are rapidly dwindling away; and the noise of shouting and quarrelling which issues from the public-houses, is almost the only sound that breaks the melancholy stillness of the night. — "Scenes," Chapter 2, "The Streets — Night," p. 26.
This second essay in the "Scenes" section was originally published without illustration in Bell's Life in London on 17 January 1836 as "Scenes and Characters No. 17, The Streets at Night," the last of the sketches which Dickens published under the nom de plume "Tibbs" rather than "Boz," the pseudonym that he employed for his Sketches in the Evening Chronicle, his monthly Pickwick Papers, and the early numbers of Oliver Twist in Bentley's Miscellany.
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Last modified 21 April 2017