"My son, sir, little Wackford. What do you think of him, sir?"
Sir John Gilbert
10.2 x 8.4 cm vignetted
Frontispiece to the third volume of Dickens's The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, in the W. A. Townsend (New York) Household Edition (1861-71).
[Click on illustration to enlarge it.]
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham from his own collection.
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"Why, this is a surprise!" said Ralph [Nickleby], bending his gaze upon the visitor, and half smiling as he scrutinised him attentively; "I should know your face, Mr. Squeers."
"Ah!" replied that worthy, "and you'd have know'd it better, sir, if it hadn't been for all that I've been a-going through. Just lift that little boy off the tall stool in the back-office, and tell him to come in here, will you, my man?" said Squeers, addressing himself to Newman. "Oh, he's lifted his-self off. My son, sir, little Wackford. What do you think of him, sir, for a specimen of the Dotheboys Hall feeding? Ain't he fit to bust out of his clothes, and start the seams, and make the very buttons fly off with his fatness? Here's flesh!" cried Squeers, turning the boy about, and indenting the plumpest parts of his figure with divers pokes and punches, to the great discomposure of his son and heir. "Here's firmness, here's solidness! Why you can hardly get up enough of him between your finger and thumb to pinch him anywheres."
In however good condition Master Squeers might have been, he certainly did not present this remarkable compactness of person, for on his father's closing his finger and thumb in illustration of his remark, he uttered a sharp cry, and rubbed the place in the most natural manner possible.
"Well," remarked Squeers, a little disconcerted, "I had him there; but that's because we breakfasted early this morning, and he hasn't had his lunch yet. Why you couldn't shut a bit of him in a door, when he's had his dinner. Look at them tears, sir," said Squeers, with a triumphant air, as Master Wackford wiped his eyes with the cuff of his jacket, 'there's oiliness!"
"He looks well, indeed," returned Ralph . . . — Vol. 3, Chapter 34, "Wherein Mr. Ralph Nickleby is visited by Persons with whom the Reader has been already made acquainted," pp. 32-33. [Part Eleven: February 1839]
"This illustration reverts to the scenes and characters in the earliest part of the novel. The passage and illustration are significant in cementing the connection between Nicholas's evil uncle and the Yorkshire schoolmaster, Nicholas's former employer. Squeers reveals that Nicholas has abducted Smike.
Sir John Gilbert provided sporadic relief for the series' principal illustrator, Felix Octavius Carr Darley, typically providing a frontispiece for the third volume in a four-volume set. His task here was a little easier in that he did not have to provide visual continuity with any of Darley's previous frontispieces; however, like Darley, he had to take into account the images of the characters established by Hablot Knight Browne in the original serial. Thus, although Ralph Nickleby and Wackford Squeers are more realistically drawn, their images approximately conform to the moulds established by Phiz in The Yorkshire Schoolmaster at The Saracen's Head (Chapter 4, Part 1, April 1838) and class="illustration">Mr. and Mrs. Mantalini in Ralph Nickleby's Office (Chapter 34, Part 11, February 1839). Although Gilbert avoids the extremes of caricature so obvious in the earlier illustrations, his characters lack Phiz's visual humour — and his Squeers is rather more heavy set, even if the counting-house of the moneylender is economically and effectively realised.
Relevant Illustrations from the Original Serial, 1838
Left: F. O. C. Darley's 1861 photogravure representing the scene in which Nicholas comforts the distressed Smike, "Hush!" said Nicholas, laying his hand upon his shoulder . . . (Frontispiece to volume one). Centre: Darley's frontispiece for volume two, The Rehearsal. Right: Darley's photogravure for the frontispiece of volume four, Newman had caught up by the nozzle an old pair of bellows. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]
Later illustrations of Squeers influenced by Phiz
Left: Kyd's 1910 cigarette card representing the schoolmaster in his great-coat, Mr. Squeers. Centre: Kyd's coloured lithograph Mr. Wackford Squeers, as described in Ch. 5. Right: Harold Copping's 1924 coloured lithograph of the one-eyed school-master, Wackford Squeers and the New Pupil.[Click on the images to enlarge them.]
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Created 1 November 2015