A Tall Lean Boy

Today the air was cold and the light dull.

This morning Jackie and I each reached a corner of the bench while weeding the Shady Path. There is just the middle stretch to be completed. A yellow tree peony and a plethora of Welsh poppies can be seen in the surrounding beds.

The clematis Montana weaves about the lilac on the Back Drive.

When literary blogger josbees recommended that I reread chapter 2 of Nicholas Nickleby I had imagined that I would not read the whole book again, but would work my way through scanning Charles Keeping’s illustrations for my readers. In fact I was wrong. As the characters came flooding back to me after more than half a century, this Dickens novel is now one of the few I am happy to read again.

The frontispiece illustration is to ‘A tall lean boy, with a lantern in his hand, issued forth.’

‘Motioning them all out of the room, Mr Nickleby sunk exhausted on his pillow’ demonstrates Mr Keeping’s penchant for sandwiching a section of text into his drawing.

‘The clerk presented himself in Mr Nickleby’s room’ contains the artist’s skill at portraiture. The proximity of the houses seen through the window demonstrates the congested nature of the environment.

‘ ‘Mrs Nickleby,’ said the girl, throwing open the door, ‘here’s Mr Nickleby’ ‘ demonstrates Keeping’s adherence to the text. The young lady has hastily attempted to clean her dirty face with an even dirtier apron.

‘ ‘I have been thinking, Mr Squeers, of placing my two boys at your school’ ‘

‘A minute’s bustle, a banging of the coach doors, a swaying of the vehicle to one side’ exemplifies the artist’s mastery of receding perspective by bursting the foreground range of portraits out of the frame.

Early this evening a friend of Jake, who I photographed Sunset Dancing last December, called to collect a print I had made for him. Jake now lives in The Netherlands, and earns a living skydiving.

Later, we dined on roast chicken thighs and roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, sage and onion stuffing, carrots, cauliflower, and green beans, with meaty gravy. Jackie drank Hoegaarden and I drank more of the Recital.


  1. I really enjoyed those sketches this morning, {{{Derrick}}} … and your prose always enchant me. The flowers are gorgeous. I had not heard of “The clematis Montana” before – and I love the way it “weaves about the lilac on the Back Drive.” Gorgeous! I can smell those lilacs from here!!

  2. I wish I could settle down to a good book. There was a time when a book would never be out of my hand, but these days I cannot focus, there’s always something else popping into my head to break my concentration.

      1. You would imagine that the older we become the less we would have to think about – or perhaps it’s the opposite and we have too much accumulated information. Thanks, Mike

  3. It must be more than half a century since I last read ‘Nicholas Nickleby” – how time passes! Having been almost ‘starved’ of fiction during most of the lockdown last year, I am enjoying a feast of it this year. The clematis in your garden looks particularly lovely.

  4. Your Clematis Montana and Lilac are perfect partners!
    What a recommendation, for Nicholas Nickleby – I’m sure it’s the illustrations, bursting with character, as well as the text that means you are so happy to re read the whole book… The drawings are so alive!

  5. Yes, your last scan in this post, of Charles Keeping’s busy illustration is superb Derrick … thank you for today’s interesting scans and explanations …

    1. Thanks very much, Mike. It is easier than some of his others. As soon as I saw the frontispiece of this one I knew who it was – even after about 60 years – and my memory of what I read is not that good 🙂

  6. Charles Keeping’s illustrations are as good as ever in ‘Nicholas Nickleby’. Our clematis ‘Montana’ is looking very sorry for itself this year. I believe it must have been badly damaged by all the ice, snow and frost this past winter. Yours looks wonderful amongst the lilac blossom.

  7. Love the name “Shady Path,” and I’m intrigued by the variety in your diet. I’ve never seen a menu repeated twice unless you are enjoying leftovers from the night ahead.

    1. The Culinary Queen aims for variety. In fact it is I who have persuaded her that ‘lefties’ are fine. The Shady Path is so named because when we first arrived in the jungle that was the garden virtually no sunlight got to it. Thanks very much, Judy

  8. I remember reading that story in school. We had a teacher who adored Mr. Dickens so we read a lot of his stories/books. Of course, Mr. Keeping’s illustrations are divine!
    The clematis Montana and the lilac make a gorgeous pair!
    YAY, Jake! Wow…earning a living skydiving! I’d love to learn more about this!
    You and Jackie are doing a fine fine fine job of weeding! It’s looking grand!
    We had roasted chicken and veggies for our dinner. 🙂
    (((HUGS))) and Happy Weekend! 🙂

  9. The pebble-topped Shady Path gleams of the industry put in by the determined connoisseurs of gardening. Charles Keeping’s illustrations are amazingly rich in depth and capturing emotions. I wish his drawings were made mandatory for all versions of Charles Dickens’ novels.

  10. That lilac is a lovely color, Derrick and Jackie. Our lilac is well past its peak now, and we are in the season of the irises.

    I am still enjoying the illustrations by Charles Keeping. He was a keen observer of humanity.

  11. I love the picture at the start of the book! And your garden looks a lot tidier than mine 🙂 Hope you continue to enjoy the book, the bit with The United Metropolitan Improved Hot Muffin and Crumpet Baking and Punctual Delivery Company in chapter 2 is absolute genius, in my opinion.

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