Mr. Venus produced the document, holding on by his usual corner. Mr. Wegg, holding on by the opposite corner, sat down on the seat so lately vacated by Mr. Boffin, and looked it over. (p. 246 in the New York Edition) — James Mahoney's forty-second illustration for Charles Dickens's Our Mutual Friend, Household Edition (London and New York), 1875. Wood-engraving by the Dalziels, 9.3 cm high x 13.4 cm wide. The Chapman and Hall woodcut for seventeenth chapter, "Mr. Wegg prepares a grindstone for Mr. Boffin's Nose," in the third book, "A Long Lane," has the much longer caption given above, whereas the New York edition, published by Harper and Brothers that same year in New York, has a title matching that of the chapter itself: "Mr. Wegg prepares a grindstone for Mr. Boffin's Nose" (244). Otherwise, the wood-engraving depicting the plotters' re-examining the Harmon will (even as Boffin, the subject of their plot, is hiding behind an alligator) is identical. For further differences, including the London and New York volumes having entirely different frontispieces, see The differences between the British and American printings of Mahoney's illustrations for Dickens's Our Mutual Friend.

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

"Do you wish to see it?" asked Venus.

"If you please, partner," said Wegg, rubbing his hands. "I wish to see it jintly with yourself. Or, in similar words to some that was set to music some time back:

'I wish you to see it with your eyes, And I will pledge with mine.'

Turning his back and turning a key, Mr. Venus produced the document, holding on by his usual corner. Mr Wegg, holding on by the opposite corner, sat down on the seat so lately vacated by Mr. Boffin, and looked it over. "All right, sir," he slowly and unwillingly admitted, in his reluctance to loose his hold, "all right!" And greedily watched his partner as he turned his back again, and turned his key again.

"There's nothing new, I suppose?' said Venus, resuming his low chair behind the counter.

"Yes there is, sir," replied Wegg; "there was something new this morning. That foxey old grasper and griper —"

"Mr. Boffin?" inquired Venus, with a glance towards the alligator's yard or two of smile.

"Mister be blowed!" cried Wegg, yielding to his honest indignation. "Boffin. Dusty Boffin. That foxey old grunter and grinder, sir, turns into the yard this morning, to meddle with our property, a menial tool of his own, a young man by the name of Sloppy. Ecod, when I say to him, 'What do you want here, young man? This is a private yard,' he pulls out a paper from Boffin's other blackguard, the one I was passed over for. 'This is to authorize Sloppy to overlook the carting and to watch the work.' That's pretty strong, I think, Mr.​Venus?"

"Remember he doesn't know yet of our claim on the property," suggested Venus. — Book Three, Chapter 17, "Mr. Wegg prepares a grindstone for Mr. Boffin's Nose," p. 246.


The original Stone illustration of this incident drew the ire of contemporary critics:

The illustrations, moreover, are inferior to some in the last few parts, and are even worse than what we objected to in the earlier instalments of the work. Mr. Stone's achievements this month are discreditable to the art of the present day, and are certainly nothing like so good as the woodcuts of the penny periodicals. ["Short Notices. Our Mutual Friend [No. 14." London Review, 3 June 1865, p. 595, rpt. in Grass, p. 210]

Thus, Mahoney may have been aware of some deficiencies in the original illustration depicting the plotters in the taxidermist's shop in Clerkenwell. For example, there is nothing very sinister in Wegg's expression, and the partners are not holding onto the will jointly, a juxtaposition in the Mahoney illustration which immediately conveys their mutual distrust. (Because the illustrator had such a specific passage in mind and conveyed his intention through the way that the mistrustful "partners" grip the document, the Chapman and Hall caption undoubtedly reflects Mahoney's intention far better than the short title in the Harper & Bros. version, which merely reiterates the chapter title.) Although Mahoney shows the taxidermist's workbench and tools (right), he does not bother to delineate the contents of the shop as he has​done in "You're casting your eye round the shop, Mr. Wegg. Let me show You a light" (Book One, Chapter 7), although even this representation does not offer the fanciful detailing of the Marcus Stone and Sol Eytinge illustrations. Mahoney here is interested in the postures and intentions of the conspirators, although in the figure ​and facial expression of Venus he​does not suggest that Venus has betrayed Wegg to Boffin, who must be hiding somewhere behind them​in the darkness, his hiding place not so obvious as in the Stone original.

Wegg and Venus in the original and later editions, 1865-1910

Left: Sol Eytinge, Junior's study in contrasts, the somewhat dreamy taxidermist and his piratical partner, in Venus's shop, Mr. Wegg and Mr. Venus in Consultation (1867). Centre: F. O. Darley's depiction of Wegg as the keeper of a street stall, Mr. Boffin engages Mr. Wegg. Right: Clayton J. Clarke's depiction of Wegg in Player's Cigarette Card No. 32 as carrying the key elements of his street stall, Silas Wegg.[Click on images to enlarge them.]

Above: Marcus Stone's second June 1865 serial illustration of the plotters' meeting in Mr. Venus curiously stocked taxidermy shop, Mr. Wegg prepares a grindstone for Mr. Boffin's Nose. (Part 14). [Click on the image to enlarge it.]


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Last modified 3 January 2016