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 in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. ]by Phiz (Hablot K. Browne). May 1850. Steel etching. Illustration for chapter 38, "A Little Cold Water," in Charles Dickens's
For the first illustration in the thirteenth monthly number, which was issued in May 1850 and comprises chapters 38 through 40, Phiz develops the relationship between the steady, hard-working young attorney and newspaper writer Tommy Traddles and the would-be parliamentary and legal short-hand reporter David Copperfield, whose determination to master the hieroglyphics of short-hand seems closely based on Dickens's own in the early 1830s. According to J. A. Hammerton (1910), the moment that Phiz has realized is the following:
My aunt and Mr. Dick represented the Government or the Opposition (as the case might be), and Traddles, with the assistance of Enfield's Speaker or a volume of parliamentary orations, thundered astonishing invectives against them. [vol. 2, 133]
The picture, like six others in Phiz's narrative-pictorial sequence for the serial, is organized around four characters in an interior setting. Once again, the scene occurs in David's sitting-room in his apartments on Buckingham Street, which has already been the backdrop for "We are disturbed in our cookery", "My Aunt astonishes me", and "Mr. Wickfield and his partner wait upon my Aunt". However, in this view of David's sitting room we see neither the window facing the river, nor the door leading to the stairs; however, visual continuity is provided by the mirror (centre) and Aunt Betsey's birdcages (right). The hassock, upon which her cat is perched in the earlier plate, is now front and centre, with a top hat upon it to suggest another member of Traddles' parliamentary audience. The other hat and cane likely are those carried by David in "My Aunt astonishes me" , so that the hat in the centre likely belongs to Traddles. Stacked by David's side are volumes of parliamentary reports and Hansard; the large volume on the floor near the hassock is not Enfield's Speaker, the text mentioned by Dickens, but J. H. Barrow's The Mirror of Parliament, a rival to Hansard's accounts of speeches in the Commons published from 1828 to 1843. The slender volume that Traddles is holding in his left hand as he gesticulates with his right is likely "a volume of parliamentary orations" from which his is declaiming in an oratorical manner that combines the styles of eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century parliamentarians Pitt, Fox, Sheridan, Canning, Castlereagh, and Sidmouth. The open newspaper on the floor to the left of centre (The Times?) may imply Traddles' attempt to integrate contemporary debates by politicians as reported in that London daily into his oratorical performance.
In the moment realized, short-hand writer David seems to be keeping pace with Traddles "pretty well" (134) "with [his] note-book on [his] knee, fagging after him" (133); Phiz depicts him plausibly enough with a candle shedding light on a small pad of note-paper in his left hand, one pencil in his right, and an additional (sharpened) pencil at the ready in his mouth. Although he and Traddles seem to be enjoying themselves, Aunt Betsey as a facsimile of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Mr. Dick as a country member are not, if one may judge by their glum expressions. A typical Phizzian touch is the inclusion of the classical busts to either side of the mirror suggest the parliamentary division of Tory and Whig, the captions beneath each denoting that the left-hand, large-nosed figure is the eloquent Greek orator Demosthenes and the right-hand,large-nosed figure is the brilliant Roman speaker and lawyer Cicero, to whose prowess Phiz implies that earnest Tommy Traddles aspires.
The scene may be based in part on Dickens's recollections about how he attempted to jot down parliamentary-style mock debates enacted by his parents, Aunt Betsey and Mr. Dick in this illustration standing in for Elizabeth and John Dickens. Although he had been warned, like David, that learning short hand could take as long as three years, Dickens mastered the system in as many months, recording cases in the courts such as Doctors' Commons and the reform-based debates in the House of Commons. Utilizing the short-hand self-help text Brachygraphy, or an Easy and Compendious System of Shorthand, through the same perseverance as David's here Dickens became highly proficient at the Gurney method, the same system learnt by his father and his uncle: "a few years later he was generally credited with being the best shorthand reporter in Parliament" (Ackroyd 124). As his parents moved house regularly, like the Micawbers, to evade their creditors, Dickens sometimes rented rooms closer to where he worked as a shorthand writer, including the rooms in York House,
Buckingham Street and later in Cecil Street, no doubt because of the fact that these addresses were more convenient for his work in the House of Commons as much as for the absence of space in whatever temporary encampment the Dickens family had established. [Ackroyd 146]
Ackroyd, Peter. Dickens: A Biography. London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1990.
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.
Steig, Michael. Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington & London: Indiana U. P., 1978.
Last modified 10 January 2010