Come and remember with me!
13.7 x 9 cm vignetted
Dickens's Christmas Stories, Vol. 16 of Charles Dickens Library Edition, facing page 12.
Although most of Dickens's seasonal offerings in the weekly journals Household Words (1851-58) and All the Year Round (1859-1867), appeared in substantial "Extra Christmas" numbers, "The Child's Story" was the second of two contributions by Dickens to a group of "relative" stories in one of the less substantial numbers, that for 1852. [Commentary continued below.]
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He called and called, but there was no reply, and when he passed out of the wood, and saw the peaceful sun going down upon a wide purple prospect, he came to an old man sitting on a fallen tree. So, he said to the old man, "What do you do here?" And the old man said with a calm smile, "I am always remembering. Come and remember with me!"
So the traveller sat down by the side of that old man, face to face with the serene sunset; and all his friends came softly back and stood around him. The beautiful child, the handsome boy, the young man in love, the father, mother, and children: every one of them was there, and he had lost nothing. So, he loved them all, and was kind and forbearing with them all, and was always pleased to watch them all, and they all honoured and loved him. And I think the traveller must be yourself, dear Grandfather, because this what you do to us, and what we do to you. ["The Child's Story," p. 15]
Although more characteristic of his Christmas publication strategies in that the eight other selections in A Round of Stories by the Christmas Fire are by Dickens's staff writers, W. M. Thomas, Elizabeth Gaskell, Edmund Oliver, the Rev. James White, the Rev. E. S. Dixon, Harriet Martineau, Samuel Sidney, and Eliza Griffiths, "The Child's Story" is a sketch, reverie, or allegory rather than, strictly speaking, a short story in the modern sense, and lacking conventional plot and conflict is not a natural choice for narrative-pictorial accompaniment.
By this point in his career as a writer of fiction and a journalist, Dickens, the "Conductor" of Household Words, had hit upon the labour-saving strategem of creating a frame which other staff writers such as Gaskell, who in this case contributed "The Old Nurse's Story," and Martineau ("The Deaf Playmate's Story") would help him fill. Trying to find a suitably dramatic scene for realisation, Furniss chose to depict the most memorable scene in the reverie, when the protagonist (the "Traveller" through life) sits down beside his alter-ego, the "old man" he has become and encounters all of the people whom he has known and loved in life. However, we encounter the illustration proleptically, some pages in advance of the passage realised, so that we have to guess at the identity of the old man. Furniss's caption makes it clear that the characters whom the traveller has already met, the playing boy and learning boy (that is, the traveller as a child and as an adolescent) will appear later in the reverie.
The narrator's directly addressing his "grandfather" directly in the last line makes explicit the connection between the character of the "old man" and the auditors of the oral tale, as well as the relationship between that narrator and the familial audience. The picture, however, does not reinforce these connections, even though it stipulates a chronological setting (sunset), a physical setting (the woods, represented by conifers to the left0, and a cast of characters, many of whom appear to be children, the salient adults being the husband and wife (centre) and the philosophical aged observer of the scene (foreground). Furniss's placement of the illustration may, in fact, imply more of a "conscious narrative design" (Thomas, 4) than the tale ultimately reveals. The allegorical nature of the piece is implicit in the crowd assembled in the clearing and the comfortable expression on the face of the old man, but may mislead the reader about there being a "plot" in the conventional sense. The illustration is, however, an effective complement to the tale's conclusion and effectively underscores its essential sentimentality, focussing on the bonds between the various generations in the extended Victorian family, which is one of the subjects Dickens consistently presents in the Christmas Books of the 1840s. Significantly, those social realists E. A. Abbey and E. G. Dalziel, illustrators of the Household Edition in America and England did not elect to include a scene from this essentially non-dramatic piece in their limited number of illustrations.
Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, 1998.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories. Il. Harry Furniss. Charles Dickens Library Edition. 18 vols. London: Educational Book Company, 1910. Vol. 16.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories. Il. Edward Dalziel, Harry French, F. A. Fraser, James Mahoney, Townley Green, and Charles Green. The Oxford Illustrated Dickens. Oxford, New York, and Toronto: Oxford U.P., 1956, rpt. 1989.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories. Il. E. A. Abbey. The Household Edition. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1876.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories from "Household Words" and "All the Year Round". Il. E. G. Dalziel. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1877. Rpt., 1892.
Schlicke, Paul, ed. "Christmas Stories." The Oxford Companion to Dickens. Oxford and New York: Oxford U. P., 1999. Pp. 100-101.
Thomas, Deborah A. Dickens and The Short Story. Philadelphia: U. Pennsylvania Press, 1982.
Last modified 22 August 2013