Mr. Venus surrounded by the Trophies of his Art

Mr. Venus surrounded by the Trophies of his Art by Marcus Stone. Wood engraving by Dalziel. 9.3 cm high x 15.5 cm wide. Illustration for Our Mutual Friend, Chapter Seven, "Mr. Wegg looks after himself," Authentic edition, facing p. 68. Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham [This image may be used without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose.] Passage illustrated:

At this moment the greasy door is violently pushed inward, and a boy follows it, who says, after having let it slam:

'Come for the stuffed canary.'

'It's three and ninepence,' returns Venus; 'have you got the money?'

The boy produces four shillings. Mr. Venus, always in exceedingly low spirits, and making whimpering sounds, peers about for the stuffed canary . . . .

'There!' he whimpers.'There's animation! On a twig, making up his mind to hop! Take care of him; he's a lovely specimen. — And three is four.' [69-70]

In Dickens and His Illustrators (1899), Frederic G. Kitton notes that the illustrator proposed Willis's shop on the north side of St. Andrew's Street in St. Giles's near Seven Dials as the model for a shop in an unsual line of trade which Dickens had been seeking:

On the evening of the day when Mr. Stone first called upon Willis, and observed the strange environment resulting from the man's occupation, he was invited by Dickens to go with him to the play, and between the acts the novelist enquired if he knew of any peculiar avocation, as he wished to make it a feature of his new story, — "it must be something very striking and unusual," he explained. The artist immediately recalled Willis as he appeared when "surrounded by the trophies of his art," and informed Dickens that he could introduce him to the very thing. Delighted with the suggestion, the novelist appointed "two o'clock sharp" on the following day, for a visit to Willis It happened that the man was absent when they called, but Dickens, with his unusually keen power of observation, was enabled during a very brief space to take mental notes of every detail that presented itself, and his readers were soon enjoying his vivid portrayal of that picturesque representative of a curious profession, Mr. Venus. The novelist was so elated by the discovery that he could not refrain from confiding the secret to [his business agent, confidant, and future biographer John] Forster: " While I was considering what it should be," he wrote, "Marcus, who has done an excellent cover, came to tell me of an extraordinary trade he had found out, through one of his painting requirements. I immediately went with him to St. Giles's to look at the place, and found — what you will see."

Mr. Stone visited Willis's shop two or three times for the purpose of sketching, in order that he might effectively introduce the more salient features into his drawing. The illustration gives an approximate representation of that dingy interior, with its "bones warious; bottled preparations warious; dogs, ducks, glass eyes, warious;" but, in delineating the proprietor, the artist did not attempt to give a true presentment of Willis, whom, by the way, Dickens never saw, and who never suspected that it was his own establishment which figures in the story. [199-200]

Consequently, credit must be given Stone as the originator of the idea of the character of the taxidermist, Mr. Venus, even though his specific lineaments came directly from Dickens's imagination and need to provide a melancholy, unsuitable suitor for the daughter of the unsavoury waterman Rogue Riderhood.

References

Dickens, Charles. Our Mutual Friend. Illustrated by Marcus Stone. Volume 14 of the Authentic Edition. London: Chapman and Hall; New York: Charles Scribners' Sons, 1901.

Kitton, Frederic G. Dickens and His Illustrators Cruikshank, Seymour, Buss, "Phiz," Cattermole, Leech, Doyle, Stanfield, Maclise, Tenniel, Frank Stone, Landseer, Palmer, Topham, Marcus Stone, and Luke Fildes. Rpt. of the 1899 edition. Honolulu: University Press of the Pacific, 2004.


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Last modified 15 November 2010