"​. . . an obtrusive interest in the Baby" (1905), a half-page illustration for "Chirp the First," 7.9​ cm by 8.7 cm, vignetted (114).

Passage Illustrated: The Secondary Characters

Right: John Leech's original caricatural portrait of the Tilly Slowboy, including both the nursing chair (1845).

Not at all disputing this position, John went out to see that the boy with the lantern, which had been dancing to and fro before the door and window, like a Will of the Wisp, took due care of the horse; who was fatter than you would quite believe, if I gave you his measure, and so old that his birthday was lost in the mists of antiquity. Boxer, feeling that his attentions were due to the family in general, and must be impartially distributed, dashed in and out with bewildering inconstancy; now, describing a circle of short barks round the horse, where he was being rubbed down at the stable-door; now feigning to make savage rushes at his mistress, and facetiously bringing himself to sudden stops; now, eliciting a shriek from Tilly Slowboy, in the low nursing-chair near the fire, by the unexpected application of his moist nose to her countenance; now, exhibiting an obtrusive interest in the baby; now, going round and round upon the hearth, and lying down as if he had established himself for the night; now, getting up again, and taking that nothing of a fag-end of a tail of his, out into the weather, as if he had just remembered an appointment, and was off, at a round trot, to keep it. ["Chirp the First," 114-15]


Right: Fred Barnard's sympathetic tudy of the Peerybingles' adolescent nurse: Tilly Slowboy, in the Household Edition (1878).

Brock realizes in realistic rather caricatural mode of the chief of the ​ supporting characters in the domestic melodrama, the comic woman, Tilly Slowboy, and the protective family dog, Boxer, at the opening of The Cricket on the Hearth: A Fairy Tale of Hearth and Home. Brock would also have seen the work of the principal Household Edition illustrator, Fred Barnard, in Chapman and Hall's anthology, The Christmas Books (1878). However, Barnard has generally adopted a far more impressionist style, particularly evident here in his handling of the Peerybingles' adolescent nurse. Barnard offers far more supporting detail than Brock, using the fireplace to create a frame for the portrait. The 1878 domestic idyll emphasizes such homely realia as a hand-carved stool, the fireplace bellows, the noble side-table, and the hand-made rocking-chair in which Tilly leans back, smiling adoringly at the sleeping infant.

Above: American artist Abbey's introduction of the Peerybingles' gangly nurse as a full member of the family: "Ain't he beautiful, John?" (1876).

Brock may never have seen the American version of the Household Edition, but he would certainly have been aware of the 1845 Bradbury and Evans first edition, which seems to have been his chief source. The Cricket on the Hearth single-volume edition was​ illustrated by a team of contemporary artists: the Punch cartoonist and caricaturist John​ Leech,​the marine painter​ Clarkson Stanfield, and the academically trained artists Richard Doyle, and Edwin Landseer, R. A. In the Household Edition Brock would have found a useful model in Barnard's character study John Peerybingle's Fireside. Although Brock may not have been able to study it, E. A. Abbey's illustration of Tilly and the baby, Tilly Slowboy and the 'Precious Darling' (1878), is useful as a vehicle for comparison since it reveals how Brock's style prevents him from infusing the figure of Tilly with the whimsical charm of previous illustrators' studies of the foundling, although the dog, Boxer, is far more convincing than Abbey's.

Right: John Leech's original caricatural portrait of the Peerybingles: John's Arrival (1845), including both Dot and the domestic fairies who guard the sacred hearth.

In contrast to Brock's more serious and artistic interpretation of his subject, Barnard's realistic three-quarter-page woodcut assimilates all of the information Dickens provides about nurse Tilly, as well as her images in the 1845 edition, and something of the tone of Dickens's descriptive passages. The gawky adolescent here is as Dickens describes her: full of "gaping admiration," "in her earliest teens," and possessing "a spare and straight shape" (80-81) — a devoted and well-meaning "natural" in the tradition of the Comic Woman of Victorian melodrama. Although Leech focusses on the carrier's comfortable parlour, his seven contributions to the sequence of fourteen illustrations include three instances in which the comic nurse is present; indeed, in Tilly Slowboy (89), he focuses on the girl's awkwardness in handling the infant — but he fails to distinguish her as an individual or study her psychology.

Brock's sketch possesses both impressionistic energy and a believable naturalism that the original, somewhat cartoonish versions of Tilly (1845, 1876, and 1878) lack. Brock captures the nurse as she has turned in the midst of an action, as she tries to prevent the well-meaning dog from interfering with her nursing of the infant in the so-called "nursing chair."

Right: Furniss's portrait of quirky nurse, the foundling Tilly Slowboy, in the Charles Dickens​Library Edition (1910).

Brock has borrowed the large cradle and the footstool from earlier editions, but has made the family dog his own by making Boxer a member of a domestic breed, extending his height. As he leans in, Tilly leans away on a diagonal, propelling the reader forward to the end of the passage realised on the next page. Extending the text, Brock has the nurse remonstrating with the curious Boxer, whose frantic energy has been temporarily terminated by his concern for the baby, whom he has not seen all day as he has been accompanying John Peerybingle on his round of deliveries. The dog, therefore, transcends the traditional boundaries of workplace and home, as does his master, the middle-aged carrier, himself.

Illustrations for The Cricket on the Hearth (1845-1915)

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.]


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

_______. Christmas Books, illustrated by Sol Eytinge, Jr. The Diamond Edition. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867.

_______. 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 and The Cricket on the Hearth, illustrated by C. E. [Charles Edmund] Brock. London: J. M. Dent, 1905; New York: Dutton, rpt., 1963.

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

_______. The Cricket on the Hearth: A Fairy Tale of Home. Illustrated by John Leech, Daniel Maclise, Richard Doyle, Clarkson Stanfield, and Edwin Landseer. London: Bradbury and Evans, 1845.

Created 22 October 2015

Last modified 30 July 2020