[Thanks to the three contributors for sharing their discussion and conclusions with readers of the Victorian WebGPL].

Philip V. Allingham to David Parker, Professor Emeritus, Kingston University, London [19 October 2005, 4:24 P. M.]

Thanks so much for some most entertaining and enlightening conversation at the recent [tenth annual] Dickens symposium [held in Springfield, Massachusetts, October 14-16, 2005]. In particular, I felt your points about the McLenan and Stone illustrations for Great Expectations were pertinent to my presentation. I am concerned, however, about the issue of Phiz and lithography, since different authorities use different (and not always mutually exclusive) terminology about the illustrations that Phiz produced for the monthly numbers of A Tale of Two Cities.

Phiz ( Hablot Knight Browne), artist British, 1815 — 1882 A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (London: Chapman and Hall, 1859), 1859 book with 16 wood engravings 22.8 x 15.1 x 2.6 cm (object) Gift of Osgood Hooker 1959. 124.33.1-16. [From the San Francisco Fine Arts Museums' website]

As you can see from the above, there is a great deal of (mis?)information on the internet and in print about the precise process that Phiz used in producing the plates for A Tale of Two Cities. J. A. Hammerton in The Dickens Picture-Book (1904) speaks of "etchings," Elizabeth Cazer in her 1990 Dickensian article about "plates"; Sarah Solberg in "A Note on Phiz's Dark Plates" (Dickensian 76) mentions that he used "lithography" for his work on Bleak House, and the highly reliable Michael Steig in Dickens and Phiz (1978) specifically mentions 16 "etchings" (p. 311 and 322) and an engraved wrapper for the 1859 novel. Even Phiz's son, Edgar Browne, in Phiz and Dickens (1913), vaguely talks about "illustrations." Albert Johannsen in Phiz: Illustrations from the Novels of Charles Dickens (1956) is more specific: "until the conclusion of A Tale of Two Cities in December, 1859 . . . he made some 724 drawings for him [Dickens], of which 567 were etched and 157 engraved on wood" (xi). This writer distinguishes between the two types of illustration by using the term "steels" for "etchings," and mentions that Phiz did single rather than double etchings for each plate in Bleak House, Little Dorrit, and A Tale of Two Cities (page v). To my eye, Phiz's plates for Charles Lever's Barrington (1863) are the same in style and process as those for A Tale of Two Cities, so is one to assume that Phiz worked exclusively in lithography from the production of the plates for Bleak House beginning in early March 1852? — Philip V. Allingham, Lakehead University.

David Parker's reply [20 October 2005, 10:20 A. M.]

[Using only the resources of his own library, David Parker explains matters thus.]

With respect to answering your question about Phiz's use of lithography or etchings, I first consulted Ruth Glancy's Annotated Bibliography of A Tale of Two Cities (Garland, 1993). She lists and summarises those who, up to that time, had commented upon the illustrations. Her entry for Jane Rabb Cohen's book (p. 8) speaks of her criticising "inanimate, superficial illustrations, all of them oblong, reproduced by poor lithography." Glancy's entry for Robert Patten's Charles Dickens and His Publishers (p. 10) speaks of his views on "Browne's carelessness and the lithographers' and printers' lack of skill."

If you compare, say, one of the Little Dorrit dark plates —"The Room with the Portrait," for instance — with the nearest equivalent in A Tale of Two Cities — "The Shoemaker," shall we say? —you can see how much more linear and crisp the Little Dorrit plate is. "The Room with the Portrait" is visibly made up of lines, some ruled mechanically, and much harder edged. "The Shoemaker" is soft and smudgy. Lithography is capable of yielding special effects of its own, but I don't think Phiz had grasped what was called for from him to achieve that, and I don't think he was capable of instructing lithographers as was etchers. [David Parker]

Once again, many thanks for correcting what I believe to be a widespread misconception. I understand that the lithographic technique available to Phiz made it impossible for him to adapt it to "dark" plates — hence, their absence from A Tale of Two Cities. [Philip Allingham]

From Valerie Lester, author of Phiz, The Man Who Drew Dickens (2004), to Philip Allingham

I can answer your question about illustrations for TTC. They were etchings in the first instance. Later on, the publisher took to reproducing the illustrations for the novels by the lithographic process, something that was a source of great irritation to Phiz. He wrote angrily to Dickens about this. See p. 154 of my book.

All Phiz's illustrations for Dickens's novels were etchings except those for Master Humphrey's Clock containing The Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge; these were wood engravings. "Sunday Under Three Heads" also includes wood engravings. ("Val Lester to Philip Allingham," 22 October 2005, 10:05 A. M.)

David Parker's Response to Valerie Lester's E-mail:

Sent:Saturday, 22 October 2005, 11:11 A. M.

Subject:Re: The Victorian Web's Entries on Phiz; lithography in TTC

The plot thickens. This isn't something I'd stake my reputation upon. I mentioned the matter to you simply because I "knew" the TTC plates were etchings. That's to say, it had been my understanding for so long that I'd forgotten where I'd picked up the information. Valerie Lester's narrative, however, doesn't quite satisfy me. However they might have been reproduced later, you can see that most of the illustrations in most of the books, up to and including LD, were originally etched. You can see the lines the stencil or the mechanical ruler made on the wax. The TTC plates quite simply look different. There are lines, of course. How else can you do half-tones in black and white? But everything seems looser and more relaxed than you characteristically find in a good etching.

I think the time has come to use the Dickens List. I shall do that. [David Parker]

Valerie Lester's Response to These Previous E-mails

Sent: Saturday, 22 October 2005 5:58 P. M.

Subject: The Victorian Web's Entries on Phiz; lithography in TTC

Having spent the last eight years examining Phiz's illustrations with the aid of a loupe, I am absolutely convinced that the images in TTC are etchings, in spite of David Parker's comment about the possibility of their being executed by a different technique. I do, however, agree that some of the images are not as strong as those in previous novels — Phiz was fed up, which may explain the want of energy.


"The illustrations for the original edition in Monthly Parts, 1859, by H. K. Browne ('Phiz'), with the exception of the last. All but the first and last etchings on steel."

This is fascinating. What does he mean by "the last"? Does he refer to [the illustration] "After the Sentence"? Or to the title page? Both this image are unquestionably by Phiz, so was there an extra illustration by someone else dished up in the monthly parts? (I haven't myself examined TTC in parts.) In Waugh's next sentence, I take him to mean that the first and last etchings were on copper plates rather than steel.

Waugh had no doubt that the technique in TTC was etching, and neither have I.

The following passage from my book (p. 154) may help to throw light on the lithography issue:

The publisher had taken to reproducing Phiz's images by lithography (in which designs are copied onto stone with a greasy material and printed impressions taken from them), a method which did not require Phiz's intervention; however, the mechanically ruled, close lines of the dark plates blotched so badly when transferred to stone that lithography was clearly unsuitable. Phiz was naturally upset about a method of reproduction for which he was not responsible, and expressed his anger in the following undated letter to Dickens, in which the first page is missing:

. . any want of care in the etching — but to the care in the printing. I am told that from 15 to 25,000 are monthly printed from lithgraphic transfers — some of these impressions, when the etching is light and sketchy, will pass muster with the unititiated — but, the more elaborate the etching — the more villainous the transfer — bearing about the same relative resemblance to the plate impressions as the coarse illegible type of the cheap pirated edition of a popr. work does the well-printed page of the real Simon —I believe you are quite unconscious of the great difference in the impressions — and of the manifest injury they are daily doing me, or you would in justice to me, and in fairness to the public endeavour to do away with the necessity for this wretched printing by supplying me with hints (at least) of the subjects a clear month in advance —Otherwise there must be complaints to the last chapter — and this monthly stoning (which may be very fine sport to Messrs. B. & E. [i. e., printers Bradbury and Evans]) will be the death of

Yours sincerely
Hablot K. Browne.
Charles Dickens, Esqre.

I shall endeavour to procure some impressions to give you ocular demonstration of what I mean."

This letter can be found in the Mabel Bradbury collection at the Punch Library and Archive in London. [Valerie Lester]

David Parker's Valerie Lester's Previous's E-mail

Sent: Sunday, 23 October 2005, 5:51 A. M.

Subject: "The First and Last"; lithography, etchings, and woodcuts in TTC

Valerie's case begins to look insuperable. It rather seems as if generations of Dickens scholars, me among them, have taken an imposition forced upon Phiz as a choice he made.

I have at least an hypothesis to explain the distinction made for "the first and the last." The first illustration Phiz would have provided would have been the design for the monthly wrapper. Since that includes letterpress, the print method for the design would had to have been a relief rather than an intaglio one. You couldn't print by relief and intaglio methods on the same page. Etching couldn't be used. The wrapper design, like those for other novels in parts, would have been created using wood engraving. The last illustration Phiz provided is likely to have been the vignette for the title page provided with the last monthly part, to be used in binding up the set. The same conditions would have applied. The title page features letterpress. The vignette would had to have been a wood engraving.

Valerie should be persuaded to put her explanation on the Dickens List, since the matter's been raised there. To say no more, she deserves applause for clearing up a deep-rooted error. When she does that, I can send in my explanation of "the first and last." [David Parker]


To summarize, then: the entry in the San Francisco Fine Arts Museums' website is at least partly corect, since the title-page vignette and the wrapper would indeed have been printed from woodblocks. The remaining illustrations would originally (i. e., in the monthly parts) have been produced from etchings on "steels," but most editions of the novel would have lithographs instead. [Philip Allingham]


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___."The Role of Illustrations."The Dickens Magazine Series 3, Issue 4: A Tale of Two Cities (summer 2005): 8-10. ISSN 1476-1335.

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___. "Phiz"(Hablot Knight Browne): A Memoir. 1882. New York: Haskell House, 1974.

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Related Materials

Victorian Web Overview Victorian Book Illustration Phiz (Hablot K. Browne) Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities

Last modified 23 October 2005