For on a low bed opposite the fire, a confusion of dirty patchwork, lean-ribbed ticking . . .
Felix O. C. Darley
9 x 8.8 cm vignetted
Frontispiece for Dickens's Bleak House, volume 3, in the Sheldon & Co. (NewYork) Household Edition (1863).
[Click on illustration to enlarge it.]
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham from his personal collection.
[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.]
Mr. Krook has eyed his man narrowly. Knows him by sight. Has an indistinct impression of his aristocratic repute.
"Did you wish to see him, sir?"
"It's what I seldom do myself," says Mr. Krook with a grin. "Shall I call him down? But it's a weak chance if he'd come, sir!"
"I'll go up to him, then," says Mr. Tulkinghorn.
"Second floor, sir. Take the candle. Up there!" Mr. Krook, with his cat beside him, stands at the bottom of the staircase, looking after Mr Tulkinghorn. "Hi — hi!" he says, when Mr. Tulkinghorn has nearly disappeared. The lawyer looks down over the hand-rail. The cat expands her wicked mouth, and snarls at him.
"Order, Lady Jane! Behave yourself to visitors, my lady! You know what they say of my lodger?" whispers Krook, going up a step or two.
"What do they say of him?"
"They say he has sold himself to the Enemy; but you and I know better — he don't buy. I'll tell you what, though; my lodger is so black-humored and gloomy, that I believe he'd as soon make that bargain as any other. Don't put him out, sir. That's my advice!"
Mr. Tulkinghorn with a nod goes on his way. He comes to the dark door on the second floor. He knocks, receives no answer, opens it, and accidentally extinguishes his candle in doing so.
The air of the room is almost bad enough to have extinguished it if he had not. It is a small room, nearly black with soot, and grease, and dirt. In the rusty skeleton of a grate, pinched at the middle as if Poverty had gripped it, a red coke fire burns low. In the corner by the chimney, stand a deal table and a broken desk: a wilderness marked with a rain of ink. In another corner, a ragged old portmanteau on one of the two chairs, serves for cabinet or wardrobe; no larger one is needed, for it collapses like the cheeks of a starved man. The floor is bare; except that one old mat, trodden to shreds of rope-yarn, lies perishing upon the hearth. No curtain veils the darkness of the night, but the discolored shutters are drawn together; and through the two gaunt holes pierced in them, famine might be staring in — the Banshee of the man upon the bed.
For, on a low bed opposite the fire, a confusion of dirty patchwork, lean-ribbed ticking, and coarse sacking, the lawyer, hesitating just within the doorway, sees a man. He lies there, dressed in shirt and trousers, with bare feet. He has a yellow look in the spectral darkness of a candle that has guttered down, until the whole length of its wick (still burning) has doubled over, and left a tower of winding-sheet above it. His hair is ragged, mingling with his whiskers and his beard — the latter, ragged too, and grown, like the scum and mist around him, in neglect. Foul and filthy as the room is, foul and filthy as the air, it is not easy to perceive what fumes those are which most oppress the senses in it; but through the general sickliness and faintness, and the odor of stale tobacco, there comes into the lawyer's mouth the bitter, vapid taste of opium.
"Hallo, my friend!" he cries, and strikes his iron candlestick against the door. — Volume One, Chapter 10, "The Law-writer," pp. 199-201.
Compelling the reader to return to the first volume in an analeptic reading, Darley has chosen a lengthy quotation for his caption so that the reader can easily locate the passage and reflect upon the situation realised: “On a low bed opposite the fire, a confusion of dirty patchwork, lean-ribbed ticking, and coarse sacking, the lawyer, hesitating just within the doorway, sees a man.” — I, 96 [caption beneath picture.]
This frontispiece, which propels the reader back to the first volume, is incorrectly labelled since the passage in question occurs not on "Page 96" but rather on page 200. Since these four frontispieces are not consistent with the nature of the volume which each introduces, one can only conclude that the illustrators were working from another text, already printed, rather than the Sheldon and Company volumes, still in press. Again, Darley has chosen a suspenseful moment at the close of a chapter as an investigator enters a room and encounters a mystery. Here the investigator is the lawyer, Tulkinghorn, and the mystery is whether the legal copyist or law-writer "Nemo" (in fact, Captain Hawdon, Lady Dedlock's lover and the father of Esther Summerson) is alive or dead, and whether the papers that Snagsby and Tulkinghorn are seeking are in the copyists's portmanteau. The reader, having already encountered this part of the plot in the text, now reviews it in the illustration, which in its depiction of the investigative attorney follows the description of Tulkinghorn in Chapter 2:
The old gentleman is rusty to look at, but is reputed to have made good thrift out of aristocratic marriage settlements and aristocratic wills, and to be very rich. He is surrounded by a mysterious halo of family confidences, of which he is known to be the silent depository. There are noble mausoleums rooted for centuries in retired glades of parks, among the growing timber and the fern, which perhaps hold fewer noble secrets than walk abroad among men, shut up in the breast of Mr. Tulkinghorn. He is of what is called the old school — a phrase generally meaning any school that seems never to have been young — and wears knee breeches tied with ribbons, and gaiters or stockings. One peculiarity of his black clothes and of his black stockings, be they silk or worsted, is that they never shine. Mute, close, irresponsive to any glancing light, his dress is like himself. — Volume One, Chapter 2, "In Fashion," p. 24-25.
Tulkinghorn's sole appearance in the original Phiz sequence occurs as a complement to his dialogue with Lady Dedlock in Ch. 33, "Interlopers" (Part 11, Jan., 1853), The old man of the name of Tulkinghorn, but Phiz's interpretation of Tulkinghorn is an inoffensive, elderly gentleman in professional garb is not so convincing as Darley's here. In Darley's frontispiece for volume three, the formally attired lawyer is just entering the gloom of the opium addict's room on the second floor above Krook's shop. The leather portmanteau containing the documents for which the lawyer is looking is on the chair in the foreground, although it seems to be much smaller than Dickens's description would lead the reader to expect. As in the text, Tulkinghorn's candle has just gone out as he enters the room tentatively, and the fire burns low in the grate, although the candle in the room is still burning, providing sufficiently light for objects in the room to be apprehended. Avoiding the effect of the shutters, Darley invests the picture with deep shadows to convey a sense of mystery surrounding the identity of the legal copyist who has styled himself "Nobody."
Tulkinghorn in the Original Serial (1853)
Above: Hablot Knight Browne's interpretation of the living repository of aristocratic secrets, The old man of the name of Tulkinghorn. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]
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F. O. C.
Last modified 9 November 2015