"Bob Cratchit on the Slide" by Charles Green (p. 27). 1912. 8.6 x 15.8 cm, vignetted. Dickens's A Christmas Carol, Pears Centenary Edition, in which the plates often have captions that are different from the titles in the "List of Illustrations" (p. 15-16). Specifically, Bob Cratchit on the Slide has a lengthy caption that is quite different from its title in the "List of Illustrations"; the textual quotation that serves as the caption for this illustration of the gregarious Bob joining four boys on the slide is "'The clerk, with the long ends of his white comforter dangling below his waist (for he boasted no great-coat), went down a slide on Cornhill, at the end of a lane of boys" ("Stave One, Marley's Ghost," p. 27) — the passage realised is immediately above the illustration, so that one reads through the text and picture to the same passage. There is no equivalent illustration in the 1843 first edition of the novella, or in the British Household Edition, but E. A. Abbey in the American Household Edition has realised precisely the same scene, although with more exuberance.

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 person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]

Passage Illustrated

"A poor excuse for picking a man's pocket every twenty-fifth of December!" said Scrooge, buttoning his great-coat to the chin. "But I suppose you must have the whole day. Be here all the earlier next morning."

The clerk promised that he would; and Scrooge walked out with a growl. The office was closed in a twinkling, and the clerk, with the long ends of his white comforter dangling below his waist (for he boasted no great-coat), went down a slide on Cornhill, at the end of a lane of boys, twenty times, in honour of its being Christmas Eve, and then ran home to Camden Town as hard as he could pelt, to play at blindman's-buff.

         ["Stave One," p. 26, 1912 edition]

Commentary

Cornhill. The location of Scrooge's office is not specified, but it was obviously in the City of London, the main thoroughfare of which is Cornhill, running into Cheapside to the west and Leadenhall Street to the east. [Guiliano and Collins, 840]

According to Tony Lynch in Dickens's England, the only two specific locales forming the backdrop for the action of A Christmas Carol are the neighbourhood of Camden Town, the suburb in which the Cratchits (like John Dickens's family before them) live, on Bayham Street, and Cornhill, where Bob (in spirit something of a child himself) goes sliding with the street boys on the icy pavement as he makes his way home after closing the office, which one presumes is nearby. Here in E. A. Abbey's 1876 illustration we see Bob Cratchit in his muffler and checkered trousers (changed to more business-like black in the Green illustration), without a great-coat and with his hands in his pockets to keep them warm, confidently sliding on the city street. The passage that Abbey and Green have chosen to illustrate Bob's youthful, carefree spirit is this:

The office was closed in a twinkling, and the clerk, with the long ends of his white comforter dangling below his waist (for he boasted no great-coat), went down a slide on Cornhill, at the end of a lane of boys, twenty times, in honor of its being Christmas-eve, and then ran home to Camden Town as hard as he could pelt, to play at blindman's-buff. [Stave One, Marley's Ghost," 1912 edition, p. 26; 1876 edition, p. 15]

Dickens, maintaining on Scrooge's alienation in the midst of festive preparations afoot in the broader community, does not describe in any detail the area of London that Bob passes through on his way home, so that each illustrator must supply out of his own imagination the circumstances of Bob's child-like romp. In Abbey, lighted shop-windows at dusk, passers-by, eight street boys engaged in sliding, a single street-light (centre), and a church tower in the background, probably either Sir Christopher Wren's St. Michael's or the church of St. Peter upon Cornhill, both in the area originally occupied by the Roman forum of old Londinium. On the other hand, Charles Green offers no such contextual elements to fill the void behind the four boys and sliding Bob.

As a construct rather than a purely realistic realisation, despite the generalized street scene, Abbey's third Christmas Carol illustration is highly effective in demonstrating Bob's thorough integration with London society versus his employer's utter alienation. Green, too, recognized the importance of the scene in establishing Bob as Scrooge's binary opposite, even though he had probably never seen the Abbey illustration. Whereas Ebenezer Scrooge rejects the notion of playing any sort of social role when he denies the petitions of nephew Fred and the charity collectors in the opening stave, Bob exuberantly in Abbey (and somewhat less so in Green) throws himself into the life of the streets, rejecting staid adult self-consciousness for the liberation of socializing sport or play. Given the size of the Cratchit family, Bob's occupation as clerk in a counting house, and where the Cratchits live, it would seem reasonable to conclude that Dickens modelled Bob, seen in Abbey's and Green's illustration of the underpaid clerk playing with the boys in the street and enjoying youthful recreation, on his own father in the 1820s, before the shades of the Marshalsea debtors' prison supervened, bringing John Dickens's participation in his children's games and sports such as those which Dickens describes in this passage to an abrupt conclusion.

In terms of the early editions of A Christmas Carol, including those by John Leech, Sol Eytinge, Jr. (1868), and Fred Barnard (1878), there is no comparable scene involving Bob Cratchit, like "Mr. Pickwick Slides", cavorting on the ice at Dingley Dell (chapter 30; February 1837). However, E. A. Abbey includes exactly the same scene in the American Household Edition (1876), emphasizing Bob's child-like love of recreation and his sociability, in contrast to his employer's "oyster-like" nature.

Illustrations from the American Household Edition (1876) and the Charles Dickens Library Edition (1910)

Left: E. A. Abbey's scene of joining the street boys in sliding on an icey street, not far from Scrooge's office, Went down a slide on Cornhill twenty times, in honor of its being Christmas-eve.. Right: Harry Furniss's study of a variety of scenes involving Scrooge and Bob Cratchit on Christmas Eve, including sliders in the fog, upper right, in Scrooge objects to Christmas. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

References

Dickens, Charles. Christmas Books. Illustrated by Fred Barnard. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1878.

_____. Christmas Books, illustrated by Fred Barnard. Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1878.

_____. Christmas Books, illustrated by A. A. Dixon. London & Glasgow: Collins' Clear-Type Press, 1906.

_____. Christmas Books. Illustrated by Harry Furniss. The Charles Dickens Library Edition. London: Educational Book, 1910.

_____. A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. Illustrated by John Leech. London: Chapman and Hall, 1843.

_____. A Christmas Carol in Prose: Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. Illustrated by Sol Eytinge, Jr. Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1868.

_____. A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being A Ghost Story of Christmas. Illustrated by John Leech. (1843). Rpt. in Charles Dickens's Christmas Books, ed. Michael Slater. Hardmondsworth: Penguin, 1971, rpt. 1978.

_____. A Christmas Carol. Illustrated by Charles Green, R. I. London: A & F Pears, 1912.

_____. A Christmas Carol. Illustrated by Arthur Rackham. London: William Heinemann, 1915.

_____. Christmas Stories. Illustrated by E. A. Abbey. The Household Edition. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1876.

Guiliano, Edward, and Philip Collins, eds. A Christmas Carol. The Annotated Dickens. Vol. 1. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1986.

Lynch, Tony. Dickens's England: An A-Z Tour of the Real and Imagined Locations. A Traveller's Companion. London: Batsford, 2012.


Last modified 6 May 2015