Mr. Spottletoe stands up to Mr. Pecksniff by Harry Furniss. 1910. 9.4 x 14.5 cm. Dickens's The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit, volume 7, The Charles Dickens Library Edition, facing page 64. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

Passage Illustrated

First, there was Mr. Spottletoe, who was so bald and had such big whiskers, that he seemed to have stopped his hair, by the sudden application of some powerful remedy, in the very act of falling off his head, and to have fastened it irrevocably on his face. Then there was Mrs Spottletoe, who being much too slim for her years, and of a poetical constitution, was accustomed to inform her more intimate friends that the said whiskers were "the lodestar of her existence;" and who could now, by reason of her strong affection for her uncle Chuzzlewit, and the shock it gave her to be suspected of testamentary designs upon him, do nothing but cry — except moan. — Chapter Four, "From Which It Will Appear That If Union Be Strength, and Family Affection Be Pleasant To Contemplate, the Chuzzlewits Were the Strongest and Most Agreeable Family in the World," p. 57

Such was the pleasant little family circle now assembled in Mr. Pecksniff's best parlour, agreeably prepared to fall foul of Mr. Pecksniff or anybody else who might venture to say anything whatever upon any subject.

"This," said Mr. Pecksniff, rising and looking round upon them with folded hands, "does me good. It does my daughters good. We thank you for assembling here. We are grateful to you with our whole hearts. It is a blessed distinction that you have conferred upon us, and believe me" — it is impossible to conceive how he smiled here — "we shall not easily forget it."

"I am sorry to interrupt you, Pecksniff," remarked Mr. Spottletoe, with his whiskers in a very portentous state; "but you are assuming too much to yourself, sir. Who do you imagine has it in contemplation to confer a distinction upon you, Sir?

A general murmur echoed this inquiry, and applauded it.

"If you are about to pursue the course with which you have begun, Sir," pursued Mr. Spottletoe in a great heat, and giving a violent rap on the table with his knuckles, "the sooner you desist, and this assembly separates, the better. I am no stranger, Sir, to your preposterous desire to be regarded as the head of this family, but I can tell you, Sir —?"

Oh yes, indeed! He tell. He! What? He was the head, was he? From the strong-minded woman downwards everybody fell, that instant, upon Mr. Spottletoe, who after vainly attempting to be heard in silence was fain to sit down again, folding his arms and shaking his head most wrathfully, and giving Mrs Spottletoe to understand in dumb show, that that scoundrel Pecksniff might go on for the present, but he would cut in presently, and annihilate him. — Chapter Four, "From Which It Will Appear That If Union Be Strength, and Family Affection Be Pleasant To Contemplate, the Chuzzlewits Were the Strongest and Most Agreeable Family in the World," p. 58-59.

Commentary

In Mr. Spottletoe stands up to Mr. Pecksniff, the passage that Furniss had in mind was highly specific:

"If you are about to pursue the course with which you have begun, Sir," pursued Mr. Spottletoe in a great heat, and giving a violent rap on the table with his knuckles, "the sooner you desist, and this assembly separates, the better." — Martin Chuzzlewit, p. 58.

Any discussion of the novel's character comedy must include the work of Dickens's original illustrator, Hablot Knight Browne, who from his visualisations for The Pickwick Papers onward remained the writer's initial interpreter and gifted co-presenter. Later illustrators, including Fred Barnard in the Household Edition continued to employ the pictorial conventions established by the original illustrations, but re-interpreted them in a more realistic manner, often, however, stripping his illustrations of the embedded symbols and texts that constitute Phiz's editorial commentary upon his material. Harry Furniss, the great impressionist, with his encyclopedic knowledge of Dickens and the visual traditions provided by Phiz, George Cruikshank and the other original illustrator was particularly well-suited to offer updated reinterpretations of many of the most famous scenes from Dickens, including the Phiz illustration for the fourth chapter, Pleasant Little Family Party at Mr. Pecksniff's (February 1843).

Phiz's steel engraving, a brilliant study of Pecksniff's facing down a parlour full of avaricious Chuzzlewit relatives, was not easily equalled, but, using the realistic medium and larger scale of the composite wood-engraving, Harry Furniss utilised the visual conventions of the original Phiz illustrations (Spottletoe as the Angry Man of Victorian comedy and Pecksniff's lantern-jawed face and peculiar hairstyle) which continued into the Household Edition illustrations of Fred Barnard. However, gives the reader a sharper sense of the other relatives who have descended upon the Wiltshire village in pursuit of Old Martin Chuzzlewit's fortune. Phiz's best piece of dramatic invention is capturing Spottletoe's shaking his fist in the angelic face of Pecksniff; far more significant, however, are the emblematic embellishments already noted in for Pecksniff, particularly head, crowned by spiky hair and haloed by the circular coronation piece. If the illustration has a weak point, other than its crowded effect, it is that it depicts characters who are not so much individuals pursuing particular motives as what Guerard has termed "thematic données" (239), the scavengers who as in Ben Jonson's Volpone have gathered to rend asunder the carcass once the chief beast expires.

As opposed to the Phiz tableau featuring Pecksniff as the calm centre of the eye of the domestic storm, Furniss has infused the scene with the vigour of a stage scene in progress, with Spottletoe caught in the midst striding forward to strike Pecksniff as his younger daughter tries to gain his attention about the impending assault. Through providing many of the relatives with similar facial features Furniss suggests their common motivation, and the feathers in the ladies' hats imply a vulture-like attention to the main chance. The figures that stand out as individuals are Spottletoe (left of centre), Pecksniff (right of centre) and Montague Tigg (right rear). A clever piece of visual commentary on the text is Pecksniff's throne-like dining-chair.

Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]

Relevant Serial Edition (1843), Diamond Edition (1867), and Household Editions (1863, 1873) Illustrations

Left: Hablot Knight Browne's Pleasant little family party at Mr. Pecksniff's (February 1843). Right: Sol Eytinge, Jr.'s Mr. Pecksniff and his Daughters (1867). [Click on images to enlarge them.]

Later Editions. Left: Fred Barnard's Mr. Pecksniff is introduced to a relative by Mr. Tigg (1872). Right: J. Clayton Clarke's (Kyd's) cigarette card image of the celebrated humbug, Mr. Pecksniff (1910). [Click on images to enlarge them.]

Left: John Gilbert's photogravure frontispiece for volume three in the 1863 Household Edition,​representing the hypocritical architect attempting to court Mary Graham in young Martin's absence, Mr. Pecksniff's Courtship. Right:​Darley's frontispiece for volume one, And was straightway led downstairs, alluding to Pecksniff's being blown about at the opening of the book and suddenly encountering Montague Tigg. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

References

Bentley, Nicolas, Michael Slater, and Nina Burgis. The Dickens Index. New York and Oxford: Oxford U. P., 1990.

Dickens, Charles. The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit. Il. Hablot Knight Browne. London: Chapman and Hall, 1844.

Dickens, Charles. Martin Chuzzlewit. Works of Charles Dickens. Household Edition. 55 vols. Il. F. O. C. Darley and John Gilbert. New York: Sheldon and Co., 1863. Vols. 1 to 4.

Dickens, Charles. The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit. Il. Sol Eytinge, Junior. The Diamond Edition. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867.

Dickens, Charles. The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit. Illustrated by Fred Barnard. The Household Edition. 22 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, 1872. Vol. 2.

Dickens, Charles. Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit. Il. Harry Furniss. The Charles Dickens Library Edition. 18 vols. London: Educational Book, 1910. Vol. 7.

Guerard, Albert J. "Martin Chuzzlewit: The Novel as Comic Entertainment." The Triumph of the Novel: Dickens, Dostoevsky, Faulkner. Chicago & London: U. Chicago P., 1976. Pp. 235-260.

Steig, Michael. Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington and London: Indiana U. P., 1978.

_____. "Martin Chuzzlewit's Progress by Dickens and Phiz." Dickens Studies Annual 2 (1972): 119-149.


Last modified 28 December 2015