"Come here, Toddles and Poddles" (p. 81) — says Betty Higden to her charges as John Rokesmith and Henrietta Boffin pay a call to see her grandson, Johnny, the orphan whom the Boffins are arranging to adopt through the good offices of the Reverend Frank Milvey. James Mahoney's fifteenth illustration for Dickens's Our Mutual Friend, Household Edition, 1875. Wood engraving by the Dalziels, 10.5 cm high x 13.5 cm wide. The woodcut for Book One, Chapter Sixteen, "Minders and Re-minders," depicts the interior of aged widow Betty Higden's cottage at Brentford. Although Betty is illiterate, she is a good-hearted and even noble peasant woman whom the Reverend Frank Milvey has discovered is the guardian of an orphan infant, Johnny. Mrs. Boffin, accompanied by her secretary, John Rokesmith, "the Wilfers' Mutual Friend," visits the unromanticized cottage of a proud but poor widow who has outlived all of her children. Caring for her infant grandchild, Johnny, the sole survivor of her line, Betty makes ends meet by knitting and looking after other people's children, in this case the toddlers whom she has nicknamed Toddles and Poddles. Also evident in the Mahoney illustration is the well-motivated but decidedly odd illegitimate adolescent whom she has rescued from the workhouse, Sloppy (left rear), very much as Dickens describes him: "a very long boy, with a very little head, and an open moth of disproportionate capacity" (85). Sloppy, enthusiastic worker of Betty's laundry mangle, becomes significant in the story when Boffin hires him to observe and report on the clandestine activities of Silas Wegg and Mr. Venus at the Harmon Mounds (IV: 3). Sloppy and the other children appear prominently in Sol Eytinge, Jr.'s Diamond Edition wood-engraving Mrs. Higden, Sloppy, and the Innocents (1867), in which the American illustrator has added to Marcus Stone's original conception of the cottager's family by realising the quirky Dickens child-character not seen in Marcus Stone's Mrs. Boffin discovers an Orphan, the September 1864 illustration showing Mrs. Boffin in her characteristic feathered hat and her professionally-attired secretary, John Rokesmith, discovering the toddler Johnny on the doorstep of Betty Higden's cottage, whom the middle-class visitors will shortly rescue from a tumble into the gutter after he has managed to surmount the board in the doorway intended to prevent such an escape.

Passage Realised

The visitors glanced at the long boy, who seemed to indicate by a broader stare of his mouth and eyes that in him Sloppy stood confessed.

For I ain't, you must know," said Betty, "much of a hand at reading writing-hand, though I can read my Bible and most print. And I do love a newspaper. You mightn't think it, but Sloppy is a beautiful reader of a newspaper. He do the Police in different voices."

The visitors again considered it a point of politeness to look at Sloppy, who, looking at them, suddenly threw back his head, extended his mouth to its utmost width, and laughed loud and long. At this the two innocents, with their brains in that apparent danger, laughed, and Mrs. Higden laughed, and the orphan laughed, and then the visitors laughed. Which was more cheerful than intelligible.

Then Sloppy seeming to be seized with an industrious mania or fury, turned to at the mangle, and impelled it at the heads of the innocents with such a creaking and rumbling, that Mrs. Higden stopped him.

"The gentlefolks can't hear themselves speak, Sloppy. Bide a bit, bide a bit!"

"Is that the dear child in your lap?" said Mrs. Boffin.

"Yes, ma'am, this is Johnny."

"Johnny, too!" cried Mrs. Boffin, turning to the Secretary; "already Johnny! Only one of the two names left to give him! He's a pretty boy."

With his chin tucked down in his shy childish manner, he was looking furtively at Mrs. Boffin out of his blue eyes, and reaching his fat dimpled hand up to the lips of the old woman, who was kissing it by times.

"Yes, ma'am, he's a pretty boy, he's a dear darling boy, he's the child of my own last left daughter's daughter. But she's gone the way of all the rest."

"Those are not his brother and sister?" said Mrs. Boffin. "Oh, dear no, ma'am. Those are Minders."

"Minders?" the Secretary repeated.

"Left to he Minded, sir. I keep a Minding-School. I can take only three, on account of the Mangle. But I love children, and Four-pence a week is Four-pence. Come here, Toddles and Poddles."

Toddles was the pet-name of the boy; Poddles of the girl. At their little unsteady pace, they came across the floor, hand-in-hand, as if they were traversing an extremely difficult road intersected by brooks, and, when they had had their heads patted by Mrs. Betty Higden, made lunges at the orphan, dramatically representing an attempt to bear him, crowing, into captivity and slavery. All the three children enjoyed this to a delightful extent, and the sympathetic Sloppy again laughed long and loud. When it was discreet to stop the play, Betty Higden said, "Go to your seats Toddles and Poddles," and they returned hand-in-hand across country, seeming to find the brooks rather swollen by late rains. — Book One, Chapter 16, p. 86.

Scanned image 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.]


Perhaps the detail that, more than any other in the illustration, characterizes Betty's spartan existence is the splintered wooden flooring of her cottage, which in the text is specifically of "brick" (85). Mahoney adds a rattle lying discarded on the floor, but shows "a window of diamond panes" (85), although, perhaps to underscore the simplicity of her existence, the illustrator has not included such details as "a flounce hanging below the chimney-piece, and strings nailed from bottom to top outside the window on which scarlet-beans were to grow in the coming season" (85), a detail perhaps intended to recall the children's story "Jack and the Beanstalk." All of these elements occur in Marcus Stone's Our Johnny (Book Two, Chapter 9). Moreover, Mahoney gives us little sense of Betty's "bright dark eye" (85) and fierce resolution to remain free of the work house and live independently. Mahoney's Sloppy observes Betty's reception of the visitors whom Betty calls "gentlefolks" (presumably, the mangle's handle is just outside the left-hand frame). The "Minders" in pinafores are evidently somewhat younger than Johnny, whom the old woman holds close to her as she watches her charges and listens to Mrs. Boffin. What Mahoney misses entirely is the sense of fun that Betty and the children possess, and the infectious laughter of Sloppy as he works the mangle. Although he misses many of the salient details captured by Stone in Our Johnny, Mahoney captures Betty's genuine interest in the children.

Pertinent Illustrations in the original and Diamond Editions, 1864-1867

Left: Marcus Stone's July 1864 illustration of Mr. and Mrs. Boffin on a carriage-ride to consult the Rev. Frank Milvey regarding their project to adopt an orphan, The Boffin Progress. Centre: Marcus Stone's September 1864 illustration of Mrs. Boffin and her new secretary visiting Betty Higden's cottage,​ Mrs. Boffin discovers an Orphan. Right: Sol Eytinge, Junior's characterisation of the aged grandmother and her children, Mrs. Higden, Sloppy, and the Innocents (1867). [Click on images to enlarge them.]

Above: Marcus Stone's December 1864 serial illustration of Betty in her dark cottage, tending to her parentless grandchild, Our Johnny. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]


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Last modified 5 December 2015