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Some Account of an Extraordinary Traveller

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Author Charles Dickens
Genres Cross-genre i
Prose: Leading Article i
Prose: Report i
Prose: Short Fiction i
Prose: Travel-writing i
Subjects Popular Culture; Amusements
Travel; Tourism; Hotels; Resorts; Seaside Resorts—Fiction; Passports;
Details
Index
Other Details
Printed : 20/4/1850
Journal : Household Words
Volume : Volume I
Magazine : No. 4
Office Book Notes
Memodioramas, panoramas
Columns9.25
Payment-
Views : 3295

The germ of this article can be found in a letter of Dickens to Charles Knight of 26 March 1850 (Pilgrim, Vol. VI, p. 73) in which he describes watching a globe-maker at work and revolving in his mind 'some faint idea of describing him as a traveller who was for ever going round the world without stirring out of that small street'. In the event he applied the idea to the current rage for Panoramas and Dioramas, which had been given fresh impetus in 1849 by the great success of Banvard's Panorama of the Mississippi, already publicly praised by Dickens. For a detailed account of the Panorama/Diorama phenomenon, see Chs 10–15 of R. D. Altick's The Shows of London (1978), and R. Hyde, Panoramania! The Art and Entertainment of the 'All-Embracing' View, the catalogue of an exhibition at the Barbican Art Gallery, London (1988–9).


Citing Dickens's essay in his Introduction to the Barbican catalogue, Scott B. Wilcox notes (p. 39): 'The educational value of the panorama, recognised from the outset, had become, by the time of Booley's travels...its fundamental merit. The nouns "panorama" and "diorama" were commonly joined with the adjective "instructive".' Hence the presence of Miss Creeble and her young charges in this piece. As to Mr Booley, the Panorama enables him to become a kind of globe-trotting (instead of England-touring) Mr Pickwick, and his speech to the Social Oysters at the end of the piece recalls Mr Pickwick's comments on his travels to his club before retiring to Dulwich: 'Nearly the whole of my previous life having been devoted to business and the pursuit of wealth, numerous scenes of which I had no previous conception have dawned upon me – I hope to the enlargement of my mind, and the improvement of my understanding' (The Pickwick Papers, Ch. 57). 
      The Panoramas viewed by Mr Booley begin with Banvard's Mississippi one, followed by the same artists' Ohio River one (Altick, op. cit., p. 207) and S. C. Brees's 'Colonial Panorama' of New Zealand at the Linwood Gallery in Leicester Square. Vrees was the principal surveyor and engineer of the New Zealand Company and the Panorama, based on his own drawings but painted by others, was designed to encourage emigration (The Times thought it 'would do more to promote emigration than a thousand speeches and resolutions'). Both Altick and Hyde reproduce a charming handbill advertising Brees's Panorama (Altick, p. 426, Hyde, p. 143): it shows him rubbing noses and exchanging friendly noises with a feathered and painted Maori warrior. Mr Booley continues his 'travels' with attendance at a Panorama of the Queen's August 1849 visit to Ireland (Cork, Waterford, Dublin and Belfast) and another of Australia, before going, as Dickens himself had done on 22 February (see Pilgrim, Vol. VI, p. 42), to Bonomi, Fahey and Warren's Nile Panorama, showing at the Egyptian Hall since July 1849. This was a transparency not a painting and Altick notes (p. 206) that 'two of the most admired scenes were a tableau of the interior of the Abu Simbel temple, seen by torchlight, and a representation of a sandstorm overtaking a caravan in the Libyan desert'. Mr Booley then attends the 'Overland Route to India' Panorama, which had just opened at the Gallery of Illustration (see Altick, p. 207f., and Hyde, p. 143) to universal praise (Punch hailed it as 'a most lovely work of art...radiant with beauty, and sparkling with costly Indian gems'), and finally Burford's Leicester Square double bill on the subject of Ross's Arctic expedition of 1848–9 (Altick, p. 177). 
      Dickens's ironic remarks about a 'Queen and county always eager to distinguish peaceful merit' look forward to Esther Summerson in uncharacteristically satiric vein in Bleak House, Ch. 35: 'I said it was not the custom in England to confer titles on men distinguished by peaceful services, however good and great; unless occasionally, when they consisted of the accumulation of some very large amount of money.' 

Literary allusions

  • 'the magic skein in the story': allusion to one of Grimm's fairy tales, 'The Story of the Three Swans'; 
  • 'like an opium-eater in a mighty dream': Dickens probably had De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821) in mind here; 
  • 'increase of appetite...feeds on': Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 2, Sc. 1.

Michael Slater; © J. M. Dent/Orion Publishing Group, Dickens' Journalism Volume II: 'The Amusements of the People' and Other Papers: Reports, Essays and Reviews, 1834-51 (1996). DJO gratefully acknowledges permission to reproduce this material.

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