Mr. Micawber delivers some valedictory remarks

Mr. Micawber delivers some valedictory remarks by Phiz (Hablot K. Browne). April 1850. Steel etching. Illustration for chapter 36, "Enthusiasm," in Charles Dickens's David Copperfield. Source: Centenary Edition (1911), volume two. 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.]

Commentary

For the second illustration in the twelfth monthly number, which appeared in April 1850 and comprises chapters 35 through 37, Phiz prepares the reader for Micawber's joining the firm of Wickfield and Heep in Canterbury. This connection ultimately prove instrumental in restoring Aunt Betsey's fortune, unmasking Heep, and — ultimately — the Micawbers' emigrating to Australia later in the novel. From Micawber's posture and the empty wine glasses and tumblers, we may judge that that Phiz has realized the moment presented in the following:

"My dear Copperfield," said Mr. Micawber, rising with one of his thumbs in each of his waistcoat pockets, "the companion of youth: if I may be allowed the expression — and my esteemed friend Traddles: if I may be permitted to call him so — will allow me, on the part of Mrs. Micawber, myself, and our offspring, to thank them in the warmest and most uncompromising terms for their good wishes. It may be expected that on the eve of a migration which will consign us to a perfectly new existence," Mr. Micawber spoke as if they were going five hundred thousand miles, "I should offer a few valedictory remarks to two such friends as I see before me. . . . . ." [vol. 2, 119]

The scene is in the sitting-room of Micawbers' temporary residence near the top of Gray's Inn Road as, under the pseudonym "Mortimer," they hide from their creditors. In preparation for their stage-coach journey on Monday, the Micawbers have packed up their meager belongings (evident in the clutter of a trunk and bags in the left-hand register of the plate). As in the text, the twins have been installed in a turn-up bedstead (left), and Micawber has prepared his signature beverage, a hot lemon punch, in a wash-hand-stand jug (there are, in fact, two of these receptacles on the table). The boy seated at the table, centre, is the twelve- or thirteen-year-old Master Micawber; his sister, looking like a miniature version of her mother in terms of her beribboned hair and physiognomy, is seated beside Mrs. Micawber, across from her brother. The focal points of the picture are the beaming Micawber, the only figure standing, and David Copperfield, centre, immediately above the larger of the two jugs. We may presume that the host had heated the alcohol, probably rum (which Micawber used to make his contribution top the "cookery" in chapter 28), in the pewter mug (down centre), and mixed it with the other ingredients in the bowl beside it. "Charles Dickens's Own Punch" in The Charles Dickens Cookbook uses the peel and the fruit of three lemons, a double handful of lump sugar, a pint of rum, and a large wine glass of brandy, set on fire in a silver spoon for three to four minutes, and added to a quart of boiling water.

The only detail in the illustration not actually described or implied in the text is Phiz's comic touch of having Traddles' empty glass fall off the table, the "bumper" already having been consumed. Uncharacteristic of this Phiz interior is the absence of paintings that support an interpretation of the scene, but then these are after all rooms rented for a short time rather than a long-term residence — and the Micawbers by now have already pawned or sold most belongings of any value, including, presumably, paintings.

Frederic G. Kitton, having inspected the original sketches that constitute the illustrator's working drawings in pencil with india-ink wash (in 1899 these were the property of the Duchess of St. Albans), notes that in the original study for this etching "certain faint lines are observable near the principal figure, indicating that he was originally delineated in a different attitude" (105). Phiz may have originally have conceived of Micawber as proposing the toast "in due form" (119), but chose to match his posture to his making his "valedictory remarks" in the succeeding paragraph. As in Phiz's previous images of the genial Micawber, "We are disturbed in our cookery" and "Somebody turns up" (illustrations for the tenth and sixth monthly parts respectively), the genial indigent has the familiar bald pate and alcoholic nose, but now seems more substantial a figure as he sports the sort of ostentatious, floral "D'Orsay" waistcoat favoured by young adult David Copperfield and young novelist Charles Dickens, who emulated the French aristocrat, "The Prince of Dandies," Count Alfred D'Orsay (1801-1852), whom Dickens met in 1840 (Davis 117).

References

Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts-on-File and Checkmark, 1999.

Dickens, Charles. The Personal History of David Copperfield, il. Hablot Knight Browne ("Phiz"). The Centenary Edition. 2 vols. London & New York: Chapman & Hall, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1911.

Hammerton, J. A., ed. The Dickens Picture-Book: A Record of the Dickens Illustrations. London: Educational Book, 1910.

Kitton, Frederic G. Dickens and His Illustrators. 1899. Rpt. Honolulu, Hawaii: University Press of the Pacific, 2004.

Marshall, Brenda. The Charles Dickens Cookbook. Toronto: Personal Library, 1980.

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


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