Today marks 200 years since the birth of Charles John Huffam Dickens, Victorian novelist and arguably one of the earliest ‘literary celebrities’. Dickens’ works remain popular today for their colourful characters, intricate plots and social commentary, and the anniversary allows me to highlight a couple of items from the BPMA’s collection; namely two hand coloured prints of Dickens coaching scenes.
The prints show scenes from two of Dickens’ novels; David Copperfield and Great Expectations. The artist, Albert Ludovici Jr. (1852-1932), had a particular fondness for the English ‘coaching age’ and these prints are part of a larger series of coaching scenes, probably made in the late 1800’s, featuring episodes from Dickens novels. At least 16 of Ludovici’s Dickens Coaching series were later acquired by R. Tuck and Sons of Bishopsgate, London who produced the prints in the BPMA collection.
In ‘David Copperfield Arrives in London’ the young David can bee seen standing at the back of a mail coach which has stopped in the street outside ‘The Blue Boar/ Posting Establishment’. The coach has a sign at back giving the main stops along the route – in this instance London, Ipswich and Yarmouth. The artist has captured the liveliness of the scene, including some suitably ‘Dickensian’ characters such as a dapper gentleman with an eye patch and an old woman getting off the coach by ladder.
‘The Meeting of Pip & Estella in the Inn Yard’ shows the adult Pip and Estella standing outside ‘The Crosskeys/ Coffee House’. Again, a red and black mail coach form part of the background for the scene.
Although today the term ‘Dickensian’ is often used to reflect the Victorian era in general, many of Dickens’ novels, including the two depicted here, are set somewhat earlier, before the development of the railways led to the end of the mail coach service. Certainly, the romance of the mail coach outlasted the service itself, as reflected in the artist’s comments about the series in his memoirs An Artists’ Life in London and Paris:
I cannot help feeling sorry for the present generation, who have no idea of these good old times, and my only regret is that I did not live in the coaching days, which I have so often tried to depict in my Charles Dickens coaching series of pictures.
Both prints have a copyright notice dated 1903 and their clarity suggests that they may possibly be facsimiles of the originals. The prints are lovely items in themselves, and it is arguable that continued reproductions of the images in the early 20th Century simply reflect the enduring popular appeal of many of Dickens’ well-loved characters.
– Sarah Jenkins, Assistant Cataloguer (Collections)