Phiz (Hablot K. Browne)
Etching on steel
Dickens's David Copperfield, chapter 40, "The Wanderer."
Source: Centenary Edition, volume two, facing page 178.
Image scan, caption, and commentary below by Philip V. Allingham.
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In "The Wanderer," the second illustration for the thirteenth monthly number (chapters 38, 39, and 40), Phiz reverts to the plot involving Little Em'ly's abduction by Steerforth, keeping readers in suspense about the outcome of both David's courting the recently orphaned Dora Spenlow, and Heep's growing influence over Mr. Wickfield as he intimates that he intends marry Agnes. The melodramatic moment realized in the second illustration for May 1850, according to J. A. Hammerton (1910), is this as Dan'l Peggotty recounts to David his determined pursuit of the couple overseas:
It was Martha at the door. I saw her haggard, listening face distinctly. My dread was lest he [Mr. Peggotty] should turn his head, and see her too. [vol. 2, 179]
The second illustration for May 1850 contains a smaller number of those visual symbols such as portraits, biblical scenes, and landscapes that habitually serve as Phiz's commentaries on the characters and their circumstances in the narrative-pictorial sequence for David Copperfield, but it successfully communicates the air of suspense created by Martha's attempting to overhear Mr. Peggotty's reading to David the letters from Em'ly on the Continent. As the text explains before the reader arrives at this illustration, the scene takes place in one of the public-rooms adjacent to the stable yard of the Golden Cross, the coaching inn where David by sheer Dickensian coincidence encountered Steerforth after leaving school in Canterbury on his way to visit the Peggottys in Yarmouth (November 1849, the seventh monthly number).
Now chance once again brings David together with another esteemed figure from his past. On his way home from Doctors' Commons one snowy evening, David catches sight of Martha Endell before meeting an outwardly changed Dan'l Peggotty in Saint Martin's Lane. David judges from his weather-beaten visage and long, greying hair that Mr. Peggotty has pursued his niece and her dissolute paramour "through all varieties of weather" (177); although thus changed and as yet unsuccessful in catching up with the couple, the uncle has maintained his positive outlook and "stedfastness of purpose" (178). To maintain a focus appropriate to Peggotty's position in the text, Phiz has situated the traveller in centre of the vertical illustration, in a pool of light amidst the shadowy furnishings of the public-room late in the evening, with Martha up right and David left of centre. Mr. Peggotty is not, as we might reasonably expect, tanned, and he seems much thinner than in the last scene in "Mr. Peggotty and Mrs. Steerforth" in the eleventh (March) number. The wanderer's bag, staff, and hat, which Dickens mentioned in chapter 40, are consistent with those in that previous illustration and so provide visual continuity. The bag, however, is much bigger and seems darker, while their owner, despite the similarity in his trousers and shoes, wears a middle-class coat. His hair has grown longer and is now white, and he no longer wears a beard. Indeed, despite his continuing "stedfastness of purpose" the wanderer seems almost another man, whereas David is still the same young gentleman of middle stature, his middle-class respectability proclaimed by his hat, hanging on a peg beside him.
To remain consistent with Dickens's description, Phiz has depicted the wanderer with his back to the partially opened door after a server has brought his hot ale. Dan'l Peggotty briefly recounts how his pursuit of Em'ly and Steerforth has taken him to what Dickens probably intends to be a description of the coast of southern France and northern Italy, "where the sea got to be dark blue, . . . a- shining in the sun" (178), the locale being described by Mr. Peggotty as "where the flowers is always a blowing, and the country bright" (178). Dickens himself had become familiar with that same region in 1844-45 when he took his family on an extended sabbatical to Genoa.
The precise moment captured in the etching is suggested by the door's blowing open to admit the snowy breeze as Martha curiously peers in, apparently attempting to overhear Mr. Peggotty's account of his fruitless search on the Mediterranean coast and in the Swiss mountains. Although Phiz has made her bonnet look a little wind-blown, he has failed to make her face "haggard" (179). Phiz illuminates her face by a gas lantern in the stable yard that Dickens does not mention. Dan'l Peggotty has not yet broken down under the force of emotion and covered his face. Thus, Phiz's Peggotty seems more stoic and composed than the text's.
Since this coaching inn is not in the general vicinity of the docks, the poster advertising "steamers for all parts of the world" with the profile of a paddle-wheeler of the type introduced in the 1820s (screw-propeller-driven vessels not coming in general use for either cross-channel and trans-Atlantic shipping until 1870), like the map of the hemispheres in the background, above Mr. Peggotty's head, seems intended to comment on the extent to which the devoted uncle is prepared to prosecute his search. Although he has met David in the early evening, the clock's being set at ten minutes to eleven implies that hours have transpired in conversation. The empty chair to the right implies both his absent niece and Martha's silent presence, not detected by Dan'l Peggotty, but noted by his interlocutor.
Additional information about the plate
Second May 1850 illustration. Source: Centenary Edition (1911), volume two, facing page 178. 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.
Cohen, Jane Rabb. Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio U. P., 1980.
Dickens, Charles. David Copperfield, il. Hablot Knight Browne ("Phiz"). The Centenary Edition. 2 vols. London and New York: Chapman & Hall, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1911.
Steig, Michael. Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana U. P., 1978.
Last modified 9 January 2010