Little Dorrit, Household Edition, 1873. Wood-engraving by the Dalziels, 10.6 cm high x 13.6 cm wide. The Chapman and Hall woodcut is identical to that in the New York (Harper and Brothers) edition; however, the American volume has a much longer caption: Mounting to the attic, attended by Mrs. Plornish as interpreter, he found Mr. Baptist with no furniture but his bed on the ground, a table and a chair, carving with the aid of a few simple tools, in the blithest way possible. "Now, old chap," said Mr. Pancks, "Pay up!" — Book 1, chap. xxxiii..(See page 156) — Book I, chap. 25, "Conspirators and Others," p. 145. Sixties' illustrator James Mahoney's twenty-second illustration for Charles Dickens's
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However, the Bleeding Hearts were kind hearts; and when they saw the little fellow cheerily limping about with a good-humoured face,doing no harm, drawing no knives, committing no outrageousimmoralities, living chiefly on farinaceous and milk diet, andplaying with Mrs. Plornish's children of an evening, they began tothink that although he could never hope to be an Englishman, still it would be hard to visit that affliction on his head. They beganto accommodate themselves to his level, calling him "Mr.Baptist,"but treating him like a baby, and laughing immoderately at hislively gestures and his childish English— more, because he didn'tmind it, and laughed too. They spoke to him in very loud voices asif he were stone deaf. They constructed sentences, by way of teaching him the language in its purity, such as were addressed by the savages to Captain Cook, or by Friday to Robinson Crusoe. Mrs. Plornish was particularly ingenious in this art; and attained somuch celebrity for saying "Me ope you leg well soon," that it wasconsidered in the Yard but a very short remove indeed from speakingItalian. Even Mrs. Plornish herself began to think that she had anatural call towards that language. As he became more popular,household objects were brought into requisition for his instructionin a copious vocabulary; and whenever he appeared in the Yardladies would fly out at their doors crying "Mr.Baptist — tea-pot!" "Mr. Baptist— dust-pan!" "Mr.Baptist— flour-dredger!""Mr. Baptist— coffee-biggin!"At the same time exhibiting thosearticles, and penetrating him with a sense of the appallingdifficulties of the Anglo-Saxon tongue.
It was in this stage of his progress, and in about the third weekof his occupation, that Mr. Pancks's fancy became attracted by thelittle man. Mounting to his attic, attended by Mrs. Plornish asinterpreter, he found Mr. Baptist with no furniture but his bed onthe ground, a table, and a chair, carving with the aid of a fewsimple tools, in the blithest way possible.
"Now, old chap," said Mr. Pancks, "pay up!"
He had his money ready, folded in a scrap of paper, and laughingly handed it in; then with a free action, threw out as many fingers of his right handas there were shillings, and made a cut crosswise in the air for an odd sixpence.
"Oh!" said Mr. Pancks, watching him, wonderingly. "That's it, is it? You're a quick customer. It's all right. I didn't expect to receive it, though."
Mrs. Plornish here interposed with great condescension, and explained to Mr. Baptist. "E please. E glad get money."
The little man smiled and nodded. His bright face seemed uncommonly attractive to Mr. Pancks. "How's he getting on in his limb?"he asked Mrs. Plornish. — Book the First, "Poverty," Chapter 25, "Conspirators and Others," p. 157.
Although the novel has been illustrated some four times between 1855 and 1910, none of the other illustrators has focussed on this scene in the sequence of chapters that were originally in Part Seven (June 1856). Rather, Phiz and Furniss have focussed Little Dorrit's telling the wondering Maggy the story of the princess (Book 1, Ch. 24). The text accompanying the Mahoney illustration smacks of Dickens's youthful satire on the English character in The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, but the picture, minimizing the figure of Mrs. Plornish at the door, does not support the narrator's tongue-in-cheek appreciation of English aprejudices towards foreigners and foreign languages. The composition is effectively organized, with the respectably dressed Panks holding his record book, leaning forward to direct the viewer's gaze towards the Italian on his mattress, the right-hand corner of a triangle whose apex is Mrs. Plornish's head in the darkness of the passage. As in seventeenth-century genre paintings, Mahoney captures the movement of light from the grimy, thick-paned window across the room, creating a chiaroscuro of darkness around the head of the smiling Cavaletto and his carving materials. Albeit in a less significant context, the illustration nonetheless serves to introduce the reader to Mr. Pancks, Mr. Casby's agent and rent-collector at Bleeding Heart Yard, and the Plornishes, residents of the yard, and marks the reappearance of "Mr. Baptist" (Caveletto, Rigaud's cellmate in Marseilles in the opening chapter).
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Last modified 3 June 2016