"He can never be going to dig up that pole!" whispered Venus as they dropped low and kept close. (p. 209) — James Mahoney's thirty-sixth illustration for Charles Dickens's Our Mutual Friend, Household Edition (New York), 1875. Wood engraving by the Dalziels, 9.3 cm high x 13.3 cm wide. The Harper and Brothers woodcut for the third book's sixth chapter, "The Golden Dustman Falls into Worse Company," concerns Venus and Wegg's following Boffin to the Mounds late one evening. They watch him dig up a bottle, then subsequently learn from him that he has just sold the Mounds, and that their removal will commence on the following morning.

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.]

Passage Illustrated

"This is his own Mound," whispered Wegg, as he recovered his wind, "this one."

"Why all three are his own," returned Venus.

"So he thinks; but he's used to call this his own, because it's the one first left to him; the one that was his legacy when it was all he took under the will."

"When he shows his light," said Venus, keeping watch upon his dusky figure all the time, "drop lower and keep closer."

He went on again, and they followed again. Gaining the top of the Mound, he turned on his light — but only partially — and stood it on the ground. A bare lopsided weatherbeaten pole was planted in the ashes there, and had been there many a year. Hard by this pole, his lantern stood: lighting a few feet of the lower part of it and a little of the ashy surface around, and then casting off a purposeless little clear trail of light into the air.

"He can never be going to dig up the pole!" whispered Venus as they dropped low and kept close.

"Perhaps it's holler and full of something," whispered Wegg.

He was going to dig, with whatsoever object, for he tucked up his cuffs and spat on his hands, and then went at it like an old digger as he was. He had no design upon the pole, except that he measured a shovel's length from it before beginning, nor was it his purpose to dig deep. Some dozen or so of expert strokes sufficed. Then, he stopped, looked down into the cavity, bent over it, and took out what appeared to be an ordinary case-bottle: one of those squat, high-shouldered, short-necked glass bottles which the Dutchman is said to keep his Courage in. — Book Three, Chapter 6, "The Golden Dustman Falls into Worse Company," p. 208-209.


Since it was his visual antecedent, Mahoney's 1875 treatment of the textual material is often a response to the original series of illustrations by Marcus Stone, Dickens's original serial and volume illustrator. Although Mahoney sometimes rejects Stone's notions, in The Dutch Bottle, one of three illustrations for the April 1865 or twelfth monthly part in the British serialisation, the Household Edition illustrator reorganised the equivalent Stone illustration, foregrounding the watchers and positioning Boffin well to the rear, so that the viewer takes in the scene from the watchers' perspective, just as the text does. And Mahoney takes the opportunity to depict the apocalyptic wasteland that the /mounds constitute, associating death and decay with wealth. Whereas American illustrator Sol Eytinge, Jr. in the 1867 Diamond Edition sequence chose to depict the relationship between Silas Wegg and Mr. Venus only in terms of the latter's taxidermy shop in Mr. Wegg and Mr. Venus in Consultation, James Mahoney has elected to depict these characters in a highly dramatic moment. Although his style and treatment are not as elegant as the initial photogravure frontispiece by Felix Octavius Carr Darley, Mr. Boffin engages Mr. Wegg in 1866, the Mahoney illustration of the next decade achieves a certain atmosphere of suspicion and anticipation that is a crucial aspect of this novel, weaving together the plot strands of avarice, mistrust, surveillance, and conspiracy.

Wegg, Venus, and Boffin in the original and later editions, 1865-1875

Left: Marcus Stone's April 1865 serial illustration of the nocturnal visit to the Mounds, The Dutch Bottle.​ Centre: Sol Eytinge, Junior's dual character study of the​ taxidermist and the one-legged misanthrope, Mr. Wegg and Mr. Venus in Consultation (1867). Right: F. O. C. Darley's depiction of Wegg as a vendor and Boffin as a peculiar customer, Mr. Boffin engages Mr. Wegg (1866). [Click on images to enlarge them.]


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Last modified 31 December 2015