Tackleton The Toy Merchant by Luigi Rossi (38). 1912. 7.5 cm high x 8.5 cm wide, vignetted, exclusive of caption. Dickens's The Cricket on the Hearth. A Fairy Tale of Home, A and F Pears, in which all 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: "Tackleton the Toy-merchant was a man whose vocation had been quite misunderstood by his Parents and Guardians" on page 38.

Passage Illustrated: Introducing the Exploitative Employer

Tackleton the Toy-merchant, pretty generally known as Gruff and Tackleton — for that was the firm, though Gruff had been bought out long ago; only leaving his name, and as some said his nature, according to its Dictionary meaning, in the business — Tackleton the Toy-merchant, was a man whose vocation had been quite misunderstood by his Parents and Guardians. If they had made him a Money Lender, or a sharp Attorney, or a Sheriff’s Officer, or a Broker, he might have sown his discontented oats in his youth, and, after having had the full run of himself in ill-natured transactions, might have turned out amiable, at last, for the sake of a little freshness and novelty. But, cramped and chafing in the peaceable pursuit of toy-making, he was a domestic Ogre, who had been living on children all his life, and was their implacable enemy. He despised all toys; wouldn’t have bought one for the world; delighted, in his malice, to insinuate grim expressions into the faces of brown-paper farmers who drove pigs to market, bellmen who advertised lost lawyers’ consciences, movable old ladies who darned stockings or carved pies; and other like samples of his stock in trade. In appalling masks; hideous, hairy, red-eyed Jacks in Boxes; Vampire Kites; demoniacal Tumblers who wouldn’t lie down, and were perpetually flying forward, to stare infants out of countenance; his soul perfectly revelled. They were his only relief, and safety-valve. He was great in such inventions. Anything suggestive of a Pony-nightmare was delicious to him. He had even lost money (and he took to that toy very kindly) by getting up Goblin slides for magic-lanterns, whereon the Powers of Darkness were depicted as a sort of supernatural shell-fish, with human faces. In intensifying the portraiture of Giants, he had sunk quite a little capital; and, though no painter himself, he could indicate, for the instruction of his artists, with a piece of chalk, a certain furtive leer for the countenances of those monsters, which was safe to destroy the peace of mind of any young gentleman between the ages of six and eleven, for the whole Christmas or Midsummer Vacation.

What he was in toys, he was (as most men are) in other things. ["Chirp the First," Pears Centenary Edition, 38-39]

Commentary: Tackleton The Misanthrope

Although Dickens has introduced this second troubling figure who is exactly what he is supposed to, an exploitative employer and an enemy to the spirit of romance, Rossi has introduced him buttoned up in his great-coat, as if he is a repetition of the Stranger from the previous frame. But there is no pretence about the misanthropic toymaker. Surrounded by the delightful products of his employees' ingenuity, the puppets and the dolls' house, Tackleton scowls at the reader. Rossi has him stuff his hands in his coat-pockets, as if to signify that he is self-contained emotionally and socially: an oyster in an overcoat. Rossi has included a horrendous Jack-in-the-Box to underscore Tackleton's antisocial, curmudgeonly personality.

Rossi casts Tackleton's face into shadow, as he looks down his nose at the reader. The original volume's artists gave little for Rossi to work with, since John Leech and his colleagues have not shown the toymaker either by himself or in company with his talented employees, Bertha and Caleb Plummer. The image of Tackleton in The Dance (see below), his only appearance in the 1845 text, is at best a caricature, and inadequate as the basis for a psychological portrait. The patch on his breeches in Leech's version of the dancing employer (right) is hardly consistent with his being the village's wealthiest citizen. Barnard's scowling figure in Caleb, Bertha, and Tackleton (see below), however, bears a striking resemblance to Rossi's figure.

Relevant illustrations from the 1845 and Later Editions

Left: Leech's lively rendition of the culminating celebration of May and Edward's wedding, The Dance (1845). Right: Barnard's study of the oblivious Bertha and the hypercritical employer, making an inspection of the workroom: Caleb, Bertha, and Tackleton (1878).

Abbey's vigorous drawing involves John pushing the sardonic toymaker backwards, overturning a table as Dot watches in great apprehension, in "Listen to me" he said. "And take care that you hear me right" (1876).

Above: Harry Furniss's rather stagey conclusion to the story, Tackleton's Wedding Day (1910).

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.

Last modified 4 April 2020