The Drunkard's Death
Felix O. C. Darley
8.9 x 7.7 cm vignetted
Dickens's Sketches by Boz, Household Edition, vol. 2 frontispiece.
Image from personal Dickens collection of Philip V. Allingham.
Frontispiece for Sketches by Boz, volume 2, in the Household Edition (NY: Sheldon & Co., 1864).
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
[You may use these images 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.]
Such a man as this once stood by the bedside of his dying wife, while his children knelt around, and mingled loud bursts of grief with their innocent prayers. The room was scantily and meanly furnished; and it needed but a glance at the pale form from which the light of life was fast passing away, to know that grief, and want, and anxious care, had been busy at the heart for many a weary year. An elderly woman, with her face bathed in tears, was supporting the head of the dying woman — her daughter — on her arm. But it was not towards her that the was face turned; it was not her hand that the cold and trembling fingers clasped; they pressed the husband's arm; the eyes so soon to be closed in death rested on his face, and the man shook beneath their gaze. His dress was slovenly and disordered, his face inflamed, his eyes bloodshot and heavy. He had been summoned from some wild debauch [at a local public house] to the bed of sorrow and death.
A shaded lamp by the bed-side cast a dim light on the figures around, and left the remainder of the room in thick, deep shadow. The silence of night prevailed without the house, and the stillness of death was in the chamber. A watch hung over the mantel-shelf; its low ticking was the only sound that broke the profound quiet, but it was a solemn one, for well they knew, who heard it, that before it had recorded the passing of another hour, it would beat the knell of a departed spirit. — "Tales," Chapter 12, "The Drunkard's Death," p. 317-318.
Although the story's title leads the reader to expect that the story will begin the death of the drunkard, in fact it begins with the death of his wife in her own bed, surrounded by her children, her husband, and her own mother. Only at the conclusion of the story and of the entire second volume of Sketches by Boz does the drunkard die — not of cirrhosis of the liver, but of drowning in the Thames, the fate of many a prostitute:
A week afterwards the body was washed ashore, some miles down the river, a swollen and disfigured mass. Unrecognised and unpitied, it was borne to the grave; and there it has long since mouldered away! — page 331.
The story, the final piece in the second series of Sketches written in 1837, is a deft amalgamation of the criminal underworld of The Adventures of Oliver Twist (1837-39) and two pathetic interpolated tales from The Pickwick Papers (1836) focussing on the disastrous effects of alcohol abuse, "The Stroller's Tale" (an inset narrative in the third chapter) and "The Convict's Return" (told in Chapter 6). The protagonist's drowning anticipates the death of the malicious dwarf Fred Quilp at the conclusion of The Old Curiosity Shop (1841). The scene is a hovel in central London, the Warden family being residents of several small attic rooms in a building off Fleet Street, not far from the Thames. The drunkard is William Warden, the young children in the picture being Henry and Mary. The older sons have contrasting fortunes: John has escaped the vice and crime of the English metropolis by emigrating to America, but twenty-two-year-old William, Jr., has become a murderer and a thief whom his father has betrayed to the police. The cancer eating away at the fabric of the family is alcohol abuse, which afflicts the drunkard both psychologically and physically.
Charles Dickens's career as a writer of fiction began when, in 1833, aged just twenty-one, as a short-hand reporter turned political journalist he wrote a series of 'sketches' or observations on society, under the pen name of Boz (the nickname of his brother Augustus), for The Monthly Magazine. In 1835, the young publisher John Macrone suggested to Dickens that he publish his observations of London life and chareacters stories in book form, offering £100 for the copyright. As Dickens's annual income at the time was only £382 a year, Dickens enthusiastically took up the challenge, revising a number of the previously published pieces and adding five new ones especially for the 1836 volume: "A Visit to Newgate," "The Black Veil," "The Great Winglebury Duel," "Our Next-Door Neighbours," and the culminating story combing reportage, narration, and description, "The Drunkard's Death," the subject of Darley's frontispiece for the second volume. The fifty-six sketches were divided into four sections: fifty-six sketches — divided into "Our Parish" (seven), "Scenes" (twenty-five), "Characters" (twelve), and "Tales" (twelve). The observational material in the first three sections in Sketches by Boz Illustrative of Every-day Life and Every-day People consists of non-narrative pen-portraits, but the final section, entitled "Tales" includes what a modern reader would recognize as short stories. Dickens's original illustrator for many of the London sketches, George Cruikshank, was not commissioned to provide an illustration for "The Drunkard's Death" by John Macrone; in the two-volume, 1836 edition Cruikshank supplied sixteen illustrations, a frontispiece, and seven full-page plates for each volume. In 1837, Macrone issued a second series in a single volume, with ten further Cruikshank etchings; a second edition of this volume contained two additional Cruikshank copper-engravings, The Last Cab-Driver and May-day in the Evening. The re-issued work, brought out in monthly parts by Dickens's new publishers, Chapman and Hall, from November 1837 through June 1839 does not have Cruikshank's The Free-and-Easy, but does have thirteen entirely new illustrations, as well as a pink wrapper designed by the same artist.
Darley would likely have seen the first cheap edition, published by Chapman and Hall in 1850, with a new Cruikshank frontispiece, as well as the Hablot Knight Browne designs for the 1858 Library Edition, a fresh publication that indicates that interest in the London Sketches was still strong twenty years after they were first circulated in various periodicals such as Bell's Life in London. Only in the Fred Barnard illustrations for the British Household Edition volume (1876) was the story illustrated, the plates matching the gritty nature of the material: He raised his manacled hands in a threatening attitude, fixed his eyes on his shrinking Parent and slowly left the room; Looks that he had long forgotten were fixed upon him once more; voices long since hushed in death sounded in his ear like the music of village bells; and The body was washed ashore, some miles down river, a swollen disfigured mass. How conventionally sentimental does Darley's deathbed scene of Mrs. Warden, surrounded by her grieving family, seem when compared to the social realism of New Man of the Sixties Fred Barnard, who focuses on the conflicts of the protagonist rather than the plight of the young children left to fend for themselves without the benefit of a mother.The three composite wood-engravings with their dark shadows and strong lines match the journalistic and dramatic nature of the last piece in Sketches by Boz, and reflect Barnard's burning passion for social realism and deep concern with the plight of London's underclass.
Dated by Bentley et al. to 1837, "The Drunkard's Death" (the twelfth and final "Tale") was one of three pieces in Sketches by Boz, in the second series that had not previously appeared in various London periodicals:
Specially written for publication in SB, Second Series (1837). Melodramatic account of the degeneration and eventual suicide of an incorrigible drunkard, involving the ruin and betrayal of his whole family. — The Dickens Index, p. 81.
The Macrone two-volume set of February 1836 generally seems to have served Sheldon and Company, New York, as its model in 1864, but the firm undoubtedly consulted the 1850 Cheap Edition to determine the order of the pieces in "Tales."
Fred Barnard's illustrations for "The Drunkard's Death" in The Household Edition (1876)
Left: Fred Barnard's second illustration for the grim short story, depicting the final days of the alcoholic, Warden, as he takes shelter for the night in a doorway, presumably near his old haunts in the vicinity of Fleet Street, Looks that he had long forgotten were fixed upon him once more; voices long since hushed in death sounded in his ear like the music of village bells. (1876). Right: Barnard's depiction of the alcoholic's body, washed upon on the mudflats of Thames, Uncaptioned Tailpiece to the Household Edition. — "Tales," Ch. 12. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]
Above: The initial Barnard illustration, depicting the apprehension of the fugitive murderer, the drunkard's rebellious son, in He raised his manacled hands in a threatening attitude, fixed his eyes on his shrieking parent, and slowly left the room. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]
Bentley, Nicolas, Michael Slater, and Nina Burgis. The Dickens Index. New York and Oxford: Oxford U. P., 1990.
Cohen, Jane Rabb. "George Cruikshank." Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus: Ohio State U. P., 1980. Pp. 15-38.
Darley, Felix Octavius Carr. Character Sketches from Dickens. Philadelphia: Porter and Coates, 1888.
Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, 1998.
Dickens, Charles. "The Drunkard's Death," Chapter 12 in "Tales," Sketches by Boz. Illustrated by George Cruikshank. London: Chapman and Hall, 1839; rpt., 1890. Pp. 368-76.
Dickens, Charles. "The Drunkard's Death," Chapter 12 in "Tales," Christmas Books and Sketches by Boz, Illustrative of Every-day Life and Every-day People. Illustrated by Sol Eytinge, Jr. The Diamond Edition. Boston: James R. Osgood, 1875 [rpt. of 1867 Ticknor and Fields edition]. Pp. 494-500.
Dickens, Charles. "The Drunkard's Death," Chapter 12 in "Tales," Sketches by Boz. Illustrated by Fred Barnard. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1876. Pp. 233-40.
Dickens, Charles. Sketches by Boz Illustrative of Every-day Life and Every-day People. Works of Charles Dickens. Household Edition. 55 vols. Illustrated by F. O. C. Darley and John Gilbert. New York: Sheldon and Co., 1864. 2 vols.
Dickens, Charles. Sketches by Boz Illustrative of Every-day Life and Every-day People. Works of Charles Dickens. Diamond Edition. 14 vols. Illustrated by Sol Eytinge, Jr. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867.
Dickens, Charles. Sketches by Boz Illustrative of Every-day Life and Every-day People. The Oxford Illustrated Dickens. 21 vols. Illustrated by George Cruikshank and Phiz. Oxford and New York: Oxford U. P., 1987.
Dickens, Charles. The Letters of Charles Dickens. Ed. Graham Storey and Kathleen Tillotson. The Pilgrim Edition. Oxford: Clarendon, 1965. Vol. 1 (1820-1839).
Hammerton, J. A. "Chapter 9: Sketches by Boz." The Dickens Picture-Book. The Charles Dickens Library Edition. London: Educational Book, 1910. Vol. 1, pp. 55-83.
"Sketches by Boz Illustrative of Every-day Life and Every-day People — Thirty-four Illustrations by Fred Barnard." Scenes and Characters from the Works of Charles Dickens, Being Eight Hundred and Sixty-six Drawings by Fred Barnard, Gordon Thomson, Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz), J. McL. Ralston, J. Mahoney, H. French, Charles Green,, E. G. Dalziel, A. B. Frost, F. A. Fraser, and Sir Luke Fildes. London: Chapman and Hall, 1907.
F. O. C.
Last modified 3 June 2017