'Meat?' said Britain, approaching Mr. Snitchey, with the carving 
knife and fork in his hands, and throwing the question at him like a missile.

"'Meat?' said Britain, approaching Mr. Snitchey, with the carving knife and fork in his hands, and throwing the question at him like a missile." by E. A. Abbey. 10 x 13.4 cm framed. From the Household Edition (1876) of Dickens's Christmas Stories, p. 115. Dickens's The Battle of Life: A Love Story was first published for Christmas 1846. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

Two years later for the British Household Edition, Fred Barnard, equally guided by the tenets realism, extended the text in a more legitimate manner than had Richard Doyle at the beginning of The Battle of Life in the original 1846 edition, accurately depicting the society of the village, and perhaps even describing a moment when the resident intellectual, Dr. Jeddler, was a much younger man and first saw an artifact from the battle unearthed, in "The ploughshare still turned up from time to time some rusty bits of metal. . .". Moreover, Barnard's illustration defines the social range of the action and legitimately reifies the characters' failed or incomplete interrogation of the past, of the futile attempts to solve its puzzles, that characterises Dickens's attempt in this Christmas Book to emulate Oliver Goldsmith's novel The Vicar of Wakefield.

However, E. A. Abbey in selecting scenes for the novella in Christmas Stories appears to have selected one of the original scenes, John Leech's "The Parting Breakfast" in "Part the First," the fifth illustration, for reinterpretation. Although Leech had provided no caption for his al fresco breakfast, the moment illustrated appears to be precisely that which Abbey's illustration realizes:

Passage Illustrated:

Perhaps to change the subject, Dr. Jeddler made a hasty move towards the breakfast, and they all sat down at table. Grace presided; but so discreetly stationed herself, as to cut off her sister and Alfred from the rest of the company. Snitchey and Craggs sat at opposite corners, with the blue bag between them for safety; the Doctor took his usual position, opposite to Grace. Clemency hovered galvanically about the table, as waitress; and the melancholy Britain, at another and a smaller board, acted as Grand Carver of a round of beef and a ham.

"Meat?" said Britain, approaching Mr. Snitchey, with the carving knife and fork in his hands, and throwing the question at him like a missile.

Certainly," returned the lawyer.

"Do you want any?" to Craggs.

"Lean and well done," replied that gentleman.

Having executed these orders, and moderately supplied the Doctor (he seemed to know that nobody else wanted anything to eat), he lingered as near the Firm as he decently could, watching with an austere eye their disposition of the viands, and but once relaxing the severe expression of his face. This was on the occasion of Mr. Craggs, whose teeth were not of the best, partially choking, when he cried out with great animation, "I thought he was gone!"

"Now, Alfred,' said the Doctor, "for a word or two of business, while we are yet at breakfast." [115]

The subject of this ensuing conversation is significant in terms of the novella's plot, namely that Alfred Heathfield, heretofore Dr. Jeddler's ward, is about to leave for medical studies for three years abroad, with the promise of Marion Jeddler's hand in marriage when he returns. However, Abbey's treatment of the scene is more realistic and theatrical, and less cartoon-like; moreover, Abbey has omitted entirely the stagecoach that is approaching the village and will shortly carry Alfred away to the greater world. In Leech's small-scale wood engraving, a coach drawn by a team of horses is rattling across a plain (above), while below the crotchety serving man, Benjamin Britain (lower right) , offers to carve roast beef for the attorneys at his end of the table; Dr. Jeddler and his daughters are at the left side of the frame. In total, Leech has included eight characters, Alfred (largely obscured by the doctor) and Clemency Newcome rounding out the party at a rather crowded table. In contrast, Abbey has positioned the youthful and manly figure of Alfred in the foreground (right), with Snitchey (identified by the blue bad) and Benjamin Britain to the left. Marion, Grace, and their father are in the background, with Clemency again standing behind them; somehow, Abbey has lost track of Craggs, Snitchey's legal partner. Abbey's composition, however, has the merit of solid, three-dimensional figures in varied poses set against the background of Dr. Jeddler's orchard, established vividly in the 1846 edition with Daniel Maclise's "Frontispiece", the ladder and the tree from that original illustration appearing again in Abbey's illustration. Thus, with only four illustrations to complement the text, Abbey has effectively conflated two of the thirteen 1846 illustrations. As Henry James noted in his assessment of E. A. Abbey's work in Picture and Text (1893), the late nineteenth-century illustrator seems perfectly comfortable delineating the costumes of the previous century: however, although he has realised the male characters' shoes, stockings, breeches, jackets, and wigs with loving detail and conviction, he has treated the three female characters much more generally, focusing on their faces rather than their fashions.

Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. Formatting, color correction, and linking by George P. Landow. [You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]


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

Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories. Il. E. A. Abbey. The Household Edition. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1876.

Dickens, Charles. The Battle of Life: A Love Story. Il. John Leech, Richard Doyle, Daniel Maclise, and Clarkson Stanfield. London: Bradbury and Evans, 1846.

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Last modified 19 December 2012