The Song of the Kettle by Luigi Rossi (17). 1912. 5.9 x 11.1 cm, partially framed. Dickens's The Cricket on the Hearth. A Fairy Tale of Home. (A and F Pears edition). The plates have titles in the "List of Illustrations" that do not correspond to the captions beneath the illustrations themselves. Here, for example, editor Clement Shorter has added a quotation to augment the short title: "This song of the Kettle's as a song of invitation and welcome to somebody out of doors" (foot of 17, repeating a passage above the lithograph).

Passage Illustrated

That this song of the kettle’s was a song of invitation and welcome to somebody out of doors: to somebody at that moment coming on, towards the snug small home and the crisp fire: there is no doubt whatever. Mrs. Peerybingle knew it, perfectly, as she sat musing before the hearth. It’s a dark night, sang the kettle, and the rotten leaves are lying by the way; and, above, all is mist and darkness, and, below, all is mire and clay; and there’s only one relief in all the sad and murky air; and I don’t know that it is one, for it’s nothing but a glare; of deep and angry crimson, where the sun and wind together; set a brand upon the clouds for being guilty of such weather; and the widest open country is a long dull streak of black; and there’s hoar-frost on the finger-post, and thaw upon the track; and the ice it isn’t water, and the water isn’t free; and you couldn’t say that anything is what it ought to be; but he’s coming, coming, coming! —

And here, if you like, the Cricket DID chime in! with a Chirrup, Chirrup, Chirrup of such magnitude, by way of chorus; with a voice so astoundingly disproportionate to its size, as compared with the kettle; (size! you couldn’t see it!) that if it had then and there burst itself like an overcharged gun, if it had fallen a victim on the spot, and chirruped its little body into fifty pieces, it would have seemed a natural and inevitable consequence, for which it had expressly laboured. ["Chirp the First," 17-18]


Emulating the realistic style of some previous illustrators of The Cricket on the Hearth like Fred Barnard (1878) and Charles Green (1892-95), Rossi’s John Perrybingle's homecoming avoids the realm of fantasy, such as we see below in the work of Daniel Maclise and John Leech — and in his own other illustrations of the fairy. Rossi juxtaposes the two scales — really two worlds — of the young woman and the cricket, using a technique or format that became quite popular in the latter part of the nineteenth century: the overlapping of two images in which one covers part of the other. Often, as in this illustration, the dominant image take the form of a horizontal or vertical rectangle and the smaller one a circle or curved shape.

While the kettle vigorously steams above the hot coals, discharging a cloud outside of the picture frame (directing readers upward, to the text complemented), Dot, hands clasped, stares into the flames. Rossi, who augments the text's music of the cricket, startlingly superimposes an image of an actual rather than a "fairy" cricket. In this way he prepares the reader for the musical accompaniment of the domestic insect whose presence beneath the humble roof apparently betokens good fortune. Rossi identifies and draws three key elements in the scene (the singing kettle, the waiting wife, and the musical insect), but he omits the arrival of the carrier himself, which had been the chief element in previous "welcome home" illustrations. Barnard’s 1878 title-page vignette (see right) simultaneously offers both a real insect and a presiding fairy. And John Leech, in the original 1845 edition had offered two illustrations of the kettle's cheerful singing — showing the human actors (Tilly, Dot, Baby, and Boxer) oblivious to the supernatural dimension (the fairies rising in the steam of the kettle) in John's Arrival (see below) (17) and a bald-pated John beside his wife in front of the domestic hearth and its singing kettle in John and Dot (see below) (31). However, very early in the text Rossi focuses on a quasi-realistic representation of the duet of kettle and cricket that the previous illustrators had not attempted. The cricket, after all, is a titular character.

Relevant Illustrations from the 1845​ and Household editions

Three illustrations of the John's homecoming from the 1845 edition. Left: Maclise's Frontispiece. Centre: Maclise's Title. Centre: Leech's John and Dot." Right: Leech's John's Arrival, which merely anticipates the carrier's return by showing Dot's dinner preparations, and realizes the story's supernatural dimension.

Left: Leech's followup to the carrier's return, John and Dot, showing a realistic rather than "fairy"kettle in operation. Right: Barnard's 1878 wood-engraving of John's comfortable parlour: John Peerybingle's Fireside, without any suggestion of the supernatural dimension.

Illustrations for the Other Volumes of the Pears' Centenary Christmas Books of Charles Dickens (1912)

Each contains about thirty illustrations from original drawings by Charles Green, R. I. — Clement Shorter [1912]

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. The Cricket on the Hearth. A Fairy Tale of Home. Illustrated by John Leech, Daniel Maclise, Richard Doyle, Clarkson Stanfield, and Edwin Landseer. Engraved by George Dalziel, Edward Dalziel, T. Williams, J. Thompson, R. Graves, and Joseph Swain. London: Bradbury and Evans, 1846 [December 1845].

_____. The Cricket on the Hearth. Illustrated by L. Rossi. London: A & F Pears, 1912.

Created 28 March 2001

Last modified 23 May 2020