My magnificent order at the public-house
Phiz (Hablot K. Browne)
Dickens's David Copperfield, ch. 11, "I Begin Life on My Own Account,and Don't Like It."
Source: Centenary Edition, facing page 192.
Image scan 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.]
Second August 1849 illustration for Charles Dickens's David Copperfield. Steel etching. Source: Centenary Edition (1911), volume one, facing page 192. All forty Phiz plates were etched in duplicate, as was the case with Dombey and Son, the duplicates differing only slightly from the originals. Phiz contributed forty etchings and the "life of every man" wrapper design. Image scan 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 in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. ]
The second illustration for the fourth monthly number, containing chapters 10, 11, and 12, conflates the David of the previous chapters, still wearing his uniform from Salem House, with the David bound over to the firm of Murdstone and Grinby, Blackfriars. David, like young Charles Dickens when his father was imprisoned in the Marshalsea for debt, essentially descends from belonging to a number of families, namely his birth-family at Blunderstone, his adopted family of the Peggottys at Yarmouth, and the surrogate family of school boys at Salem House. In exchange for all of these, he becomes one of the workers in the bottling warehouse, associating with boys outside his class and experience. And yet, as the illustration set in the public house suggests in the costume worn by the protagonist, David remains himself. However, barely able to see over the bar at the gigantic figures of the benign publican and his wife and the enormous barrels above them. David is a diminutive and detached figure in an alien sphere trying very hard to belong. The passage illustrated by Phiz is one which Dickens actually adapted from his own fragmentary autobiography, "My Early Times," and so has an authentic quality in the narrative that is reinforced by the large forms and myriad details surrounding the three figures. The scene occurs after dinner, in a little public-house not far from the Thames:
I remember one hot evening I went into the bar of a public-house, and said to the landlord: "What is your best—your very best—ale a glass?" For it was a special occasion. I don't know what. It may have been my birthday.
"Twopence-halfpenny," says the landlord, "is the price of the Genuine Stunning ale."
"Then," says I, producing the money, "just draw me a glass of the Genuine Stunning, if you please, with a good head to it."
The landlord looked at me in return over the bar, from head to foot, with a strange smile on his face; and instead of drawing the beer, looked round the screen and said something to his wife. She came out from behind it, with her work in her hard, and joined him in surveying me. Here we stand, all three, before me now. The landlord in his shirt-sleeves, leaning against the bar window-frame; his wife looking over the little half-door; and I, in some confusion, looking up at them from outside the partition. They asked me a good marry questions; as, what my name was, how old I was, where I lived, how I was employed, and how I came there. To all of which, that I might not commit nobody, I invented, I am afraid, appropriate answers. They served me with the ale, though I suspect it was not the Genuine Stunning: and the landlord's wife, opening the little half-door of the bar, and bending down, gave me my money back, and gave me a kiss that was half admiring, and half compassionate, but all womanly and good, I am sure.
I know I do not exaggerate, unconsciously and unintentionally, the scantiness of my resources or the difficulties of life. I know that if a shilling were given me by Mr. Quinion at any time, I spent it in a dinner or a tea. I know, that I worked from morning until night, with common men and boys, a shabby child. I know that I lounged about the streets, insufficiently and unsatisfactorily fed. [192-93]
Gareth Cordery in "Drink in David Copperfield" notes similarities between two of George Cruikshank's illustrations both entitled The Gin Shop (1829 and 1836) which (despite the very different underlying intentions of two artists' plates) suggest that Phiz here is responding as much to these earlier, pro-temperance images and that same artist's heavily moralistic "The Drunkard's Children" (1849) as he is to Dickens's 1849 text. As in the passage quoted, in the illustration David confidently orders an adult beverage, much to the amusement of the kindly pair of publicans behind the bar. Since David has probably just come from his menial work at the grimey warehouse, however, his costume in the plate (although not contradicted by the text) is at best improbable, and at worst a distortion intended to make the brazen order in a common drinking establishment seem more respectable. Cordery notes that Phiz has drawn the landlord not in his proletarian shirt-sleeves, as Dickens indicates, but in a middle-class jacket; his wife's tidy hair-do, white linen cap, shawl, and spotless apron reinforce this suggestion of middle-class affluence and respectability. Phiz, in other words, has transferred David from the common drinking establishment near the river to a middle-class emporium, complete with splendid gasolier (not unlike a fixture in the banquet chamber at the Prince Regent's Pavilion at Brighton in about the same period as this portion of the novel, the 1820s) and a Philpot's wine-list (left). Moreover, Phiz has eliminated the bar-window-frame and substituted a hinged portion of counter for the little half-door, so that the physical barrier between the boy and the adults is slight, just as their clothing proclaims them members of the same class. Whereas in the earlier plate "The Friendly Waiter and I" a timid David was being manipulated by an adult, here he self-conmfidently and nonchalantly indulges in a species of deception himself, trying to pass himself off as a member of the middle class rather than a common labouring boy from Murdstone and Grinby's warehouse. In that early plate, David was defined by the large maps and bills behind him as a mere child thrown too soon upon the wide world; here, Phiz presents David is a miniature adult, assertive and at ease in a thoroughly adult establishment, a variation on the infant Bacchus riding a cask and dangling a bunch of grapes in the pub's window, immediately above him.
His mother dead, expelled from Blunderstone Rookery, and away from the Peggotys [sic], David continues his search for surrogate parents,and here the amiable landlord and his good, compassionate wife, rejecting his role as the "little gent," offer themselves as just that, and the public house with the parlor door opening directly into the bar becomes, for a brief moment, a refuge and a home for the orphan boy. [Cordery 63]
Whereas the physically repulsive waiter had cheated David of his dinner and of his pint of ale, here the kindly publicans, thoroughly charmed by the plucky youngster, take a genuine interest him and even return his money to him. David is not served a "stunning" beverage, but only a weaker ale, in a shop that specializes not in the declasse gin, famously the subject of a Hogarthian satire "Gin Lane" (1751), but rather "Old Ale," "Soda Water," "Whiskey," and (in keeping with the image of Bacchus) "Nectar," the empty tankards (lower centre) and wine bottles (upper left) suggesting that only thoroughly respectable beverages are imbibed here under the comforting gazes of this pleasant couple whose good intentions toward the boy as well as their corpulence and middle-class status recall the Micawbers, with whom David boards.
Cohen, Jane Rabb. Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio U. P., 1980.
Cordery, Gareth. "Drink in David Copperfield." Redefining the Modern: Essays on Literature and Society in Honor of Joseph Weisenfarth. William Baker and Ira B. Nadel, eds. Danvers, Mass.: Rosemont, 2004. Pp. 59-74.
Dickens, Charles. David Copperfield, il. Hablot Knight Browne ("Phiz"). The Centenary Edition. London and New York: Chapman & Hall, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1911.
Hammerton, J. A. The Dickens Picture-Book. London: Educational Book Co., 1910.
Steig, Michael. Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana U. P., 1978.
Last modified 22 November 2009