Our Mutual Friend, Household Edition, 1875. Wood engraving by the Dalziels, 9.4 cm high x 13.4 cm wide.(p. 81) — this slightly longer caption appears in the Chapman and Hall edition of the novel. James Mahoney's fourteenth illustration for Dickens's
The woodcut for Book One, Chapter Fifteen, "Two New Servants," depicts the Boffins showing their new secretary, John Rokesmith, "the Wilfers' Mutual Friend," about the old house, pointing out where John Harmon and his sister experimented with writing on the plaster in a stairwell. Rokesmith soon puts their affairs in order and advances their search for an adoptable child. The Boffins, having inherited the estate of their old master after the untimely death of the legitimate heir, John Harmon, are eager to explore the world, experience literature, and perform philanthropic acts. Here, Noddy (Nicodemus) and his equally good-hearted wife, Henrietta ("a stout lady of rubicund and cheerful aspect"), reveal their adoption scheme; shortly they are to learn John Rokesmith's true identity, and will conspire with John Harmon to reform Bella Wilfer.
"The room was kept like this, Rokesmith," said Mr. Boffin, "against the son's return. In short, everything in the house was kept exactly as it came to us, for him to see and approve. Even now, nothing is changed but our own room below-stairs that you have just left. When the son came home for the last time in his life, and for the last time in his life saw his father, it was most likely in this room that they met."
As the Secretary looked all round it, his eyes rested on a side door in a corner.
"Another staircase," said Mr. Boffin, unlocking the door, "leading down into the yard. We'll go down this way, as you may like to see the yard, and it's all in the road. When the son was a little child, it was up and down these stairs that he mostly came and went to his father. He was very timid of his father. I've seen him sit on these stairs, in his shy way, poor child, many a time. Mr. and Mrs. Boffin have comforted him, sitting with his little book on these stairs, often."
"Ah! And his poor sister too," said Mrs Boffin. "And here's the sunny place on the white wall where they one day measured one another. Their own little hands wrote up their names here, only with a pencil; but the names are here still, and the poor dears gone for ever."
"We must take care of the names, old lady," said Mr. Boffin. "We must take care of the names. They shan't be rubbed out in our time, nor yet, if we can help it, in the time after us. Poor little children!"
"Ah, poor little children!" said Mrs. Boffin.
They had opened the door at the bottom of the staircase giving on the yard, and they stood in the sunlight, looking at the scrawl of the two unsteady childish hands two or three steps up the staircase. There was something in this simple memento of a blighted childhood, and in the tenderness of Mrs. Boffin, that touched the Secretary.
Mr. Boffin then showed his new man of business the Mounds, and his own particular Mound which had been left him as his legacy under the will before he acquired the whole estate. — Book One, Chapter 15, p. 80, facing the illustration.
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL.]
The "two servants" mentioned in the chapter title are Silas Wegg, Boffin's reader and interpreter of classical literature, and now caretaker of the Harmon property, and John Rokesmith, who has just become the Boffins' personal secretary — a necessity now that the semi-literate Boffins are wealthy. Although they insist that they do not intend to sell the old Harmon mansion which they have unexpectedly inherited, the Boffins are not entirely at their ease in their master's home, which Mrs. Boffin feels is haunted by the ghosts of the children. They are thinking about selling the garbage "mounds," and plan to live elsewhere. Having agreed upon Rokesmith's offer to serve as their manager, Mr. Boffin gives the young man a tour of the house, and describes how the Harmon children brought the old place was brought to life with their playing and laughter. As Boffin shows Rokesmith about the buildings and grounds, he ruminates on how the deceased master's furnishings still reflect his grasping, miserly personality. After viewing the room to be kept up "against the son's return" (80), they take the staircase down to the yard, the passageway so familiar to John Harmon when a boy. "And here's the sunny place on the white wall where they one day measured one another. Their own little hands wrote up their names here with only a pencil; but the names are here still, and the poor dears gone forever" (80). This, then, is the whitewashed plaster wall which Mrs. Boffin is examining in the illustration as her husband narrates this bit of history. The illustrator has turned the secretary's face away from the reader, who must supply for himself or herself the expression on the young man's face. Beyond the stout door on the right is a wagon in the yard: "There was something in this simple memento of a blighted childhood, and in the tenderness of Mrs. Boffin, that touched the Secretary." The Boffins here are much as they appeared in Marcus Stone's July 1864 serial illustration The Boffin Progress, and the professional young man who now attends them in the Mahoney illustration is clearly based on the John Rokesmith in Stone's Mrs. Boffin discovers an Orphan (realising a scene later in serial Part Five).
Pertinent Illustrations in the original and Diamond Editions, 1864-1867
Left: Marcus Stone's July 1864 illustration of Mr. and Mrs. Boffin on a carriage-ride to consult the Rev. Frank Milvey regarding their project to adopt an orphan, The Boffin Progress. Centre: Marcus Stone's September 1864 illustration of Mrs. Boffin and her new secretary visiting Betty Higden's cottage,Mrs. Boffin discovers an Orphan. Right: Sol Eytinge, Junior's characterisation of the middle-aged couple, Mr. and Mrs. Boffin (1867). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
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Last modified 4 December 2015