The Lazy Tour of Two Lazy Apprentices: a minor work by Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens

Lazy Tour of Two Idle ApprenticesI sometimes have a problem with endnotes in books, as I have mentioned elsewhere. If I’m reading a book and there are footnotes, I am drawn to look at them, even though they interrupt the flow of the story and sometimes they don’t add anything to the enjoyment or understanding of the story.

At present I’m reading The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices by Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens published by Hesperus Press. I really like this publisher’s books, they’re a cut above the average paperback. Sewn binding, high quality paper, sturdy card covers with a folded-over flap; interesting and (usually) relatively unknown works by well-known authors, for example the Brontës, Jane Austen, and Charles Dickens.

Over Christmas I read a book the editor of which had stated that if a word was in a standard dictionary he assumed that anyone unsure of the meaning would be capable of looking it up in a dictionary. Would that all editors were so wise.

Many years ago when I was struggling to find something in English to read in Hamburg, I managed to buy a selection of Sherlock Holmes short stories. It was annotated for those who were learning English as a foreign language; looking at the notes in this Idle Apprentices so reminds of that, they appear to be written for those with no knowledge of British culture and history.

Note 2 explains the story of Dick Whittington.

Sticking plaster: ‘a material designed to cover and close light wounds, made of linen or other fabric spread with an adhesive substance’.

Madeira: ‘a fortified sweet wine from the island of Madeira, part of an archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean directly west of Morocco but belonging to Portugal’.

Real Property: ‘as opposed to personal property in common law, real property refers to land or immovable property (real estate)’.

‘Fetlock’ is glossed, but not ‘curry-comb’ (I was surprised by a number of things which lacked notes).

Some of the notes are here because ‘Collins and Dickens comically exaggerate northern dialects and regionalisms, portraying them as nearly incomprehensible to a run of the mill Englishman.’ Therefore, ‘Gang awa’, Jock, and bring him’ = ‘Go away, Jock, and bring him’. And ‘We mun aa’ gang toogither!’ = ‘We must all go together’.

I’ve been very selective, of course, as some of the notes are useful, but I do get irritated. Presumably editors have to justify their existence.

Other than irritating endnotes, as I said, Hesperus Press books are generally excellent. As far as the text goes, Two Idle Apprentices is not great literature, but it’s moderately amusing in parts, the editors helpfully noting where one author hands over to the other. Originally published in Household Words in five instalments, it is, in the main, a description of the two idle apprentices’ travels (but interspersed with two ghost stories), based on Collins’ and Dickens’ travels.

Bearing in mind that in these travels Dickens was following Ellen Ternan, his young mistress (which is alluded to in the final chapter: ‘O little lilac gloves! And O winning little bonnet, making in conjunction with her golden hair quite a Glory in the sunlight round the pretty head’), and that on his return to London, Dickens ordered his servants to build a wall separating the conjugal bedroom into two separate rooms, the fourth chapter, which is all the work of Dickens, becomes rather disturbing. Part of this chapter is the story of a man who hates his wife, or rather ‘she was not worth hating; he felt nothing but contempt for her. But, she had long been in the way…’. He forced her to make over her possessions to him, and then ‘he took her by the arm, and looked her, yet more closely and steadily, in the face. “Now, die! I have done with you.”’ Later, after repeatedly being exhorted to die, she says “O, forgive me! I will do anything. O sir, pray tell me I may live!” “Die!” “Are you so resolved? Is there no hope for me?” “Die!” And so on, and in short time she does.

Some places get more description than others. ‘Thus, Thomas and Francis got to Leeds; of which enterprising and important commercial centre it may be observed with delicacy, that you must either like it very much or not at all. Next day…they took train to Doncaster.’

My favourite passage from the book? ‘A sanitary scrubbing is in progress on the spot where Mr Palmer’s braces were put on.’

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