[A few days after the death of Hablot Knight Browne in the Brighton suburb of Hove on the south coast of England, the Illustrated London News published a gossipy but appreciative obituary of the prolific Dickensian illustrator. George Augustus Sala ("G. A. S.," 1828-1895), the author of the obituary, had been one of Dickens's talented young journalists on the staff of Household Words and All the Year Round and has served as editor of Temple Bar since 1863. Despite the fact that Sala himself had a novel illustrated but the inimitable Phiz, he had apparently never actually met him, and some of his information is faulty — for example, Phiz was not involved at all in the illustration of the five Christmas Books of the Hungry Forties — nor did he illustrate the entire run of Dickens's monthly serialisations. Nevertheless, from the perspective of the 1880s, Sala's judgement about the value of Phiz's work is sound in that he correctly identifies Phiz's style as akin to that of George Cruikshank, another of Dickens's early illustrators, and comprehends Phiz's productions generally as humorous caricatures rather than as the realistic and serious realisations that the New Men of the Sixties, beginning with Fred Walker and culminating in the drawing-room sets of George Du Maurier provided as illustrations for British magazines and books in the latter third of the nineteenth century. — Philip V. Allingham, Contributing Editor, The Victorian Web, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Ontario]
"Phiz" is dead. Mr. Hablot Knight Browne, the delightful illustrator of nearly all the novels of Charles Dickens which made their appearance in monthly parts, expired at Hove by Brighton on Saturday last [i. e., 8 July 1882]. The last two Dickensian romances "in the green covers" [the "wrappers" for the monthly instalments of Our Mutual Friend in 1867 and The Mystery of Edwin Drood in 1870] were illustrated, not with etchings by "Phiz," but with wood engravings, for which the drawings were made, not by Mr. Browne, but by Mr. Marcus Stone and Mr. Luke Fildes respectively. To the embellishment of one Mr. Charles Collins lent a hand [in the design of the wrapper for The Mystery of Edwin Drood]. I have not a complete set of the Christmas books with me, and cannot tell with precision whether "Phiz" was associated with Daniel Maclise, Edwin Landseer, and John Leech in the graphic decoration of "The Christmas Carol," "The Chimes," "The Cricket on the Hearth," "The Haunted Man," and the "Battle of Life."
Mem.: Among the illustrations to this last named (the feeblest of all the delightful Christmas books) note John Leech's astonishingly good likeness of that admired comedian, the late Mr. Robert Keeley, as an old servant [in the home of Dr. Jeddler. Keeley and his wife, Mary Anne Keeley, took the roles of "comic man" and "comic woman" Benjamin Britain and Clemency Newcome in the dramatic adaptation of The Battle of Life scripted by Albert Smith and staged at London's Surrey Theatre in 1846-47. Sala is alluding to Leech's "The Parting Breakfast".]
"Phiz," I am given to understand, was not only a most prolific etcher and draughtsman on wood, but a copious worker in aquarelle. He produced, I am told, some two thousand water-colour drawings. In addition to the Dickens' novels he executed all the etchings for the "harry Lorrequer" and "Our Mess" series of Charles Lever's romances, and many of the later fictions from the same prolific pen. I remember, also, his etchings for Mrs. [Frances] Trollope's novel of "Charles Chesterfield;" for a strange book called "The Commissioner; or, De Lunatico Inquirendo;" for "Paved with Gold," a romance of London life planned and commenced by Henry Mayhew, but finished by his brother, Augustus, now deceased; and his drawings on wood for Mr. J. Herbert Rodwell's "Memoirs of an Umbrella." He was also so kind, more than five-and-twenty years ago, as to illustrate a novel of mine called "The Baddington Peerage" (which my friend the late Mr. James Hannay was wont to speak of as "The Paddington Beerage"), originally published in the Illustrated Times. The illustrations contributed by the facile pencil of "Phiz" were as excellent as the book itself was worthless. I have always been of the opinion that it was entitled to rank among the very worst novels that ever were written; and with this judgment I never found a critic to disagree.
It was poor Seymour who pictorially invented Mr. Pickwick; but "Phiz" was the graphic creator of Sam Weller, Old Weller, Mrs. Porter, Ralph Nickleby, Newman Noggs, Little Nell, Mrs. Jarley, Quilp, Codlin and Short, Dick Swiveller, the marchioness, Sally Brass, Mr. Pecksniff, Montagu Tigg, Mrs. Gamp, Betsy Prig, Mr. Micawber, Uriah Heep, Blandois, Little Dorrit, and a host more of the Dickensian dramatis personae. I never saw the late Mr. Hablot Browne; and I don't think I have met half-a-dozen people in the whole course of my life who knew the deceased gentleman, not intimately but even slightly.
He was a great master of the art of etching — not as that art is understood by Mr. Seymour Haden, Mr. Whistler, and Mr. Herkomer — but as it was understood when George Cruikshank and Phiz were illustrating Dickens and Lever and Ainsworth, when Leech was illustrating Albert Smith's "Adventures of Mr. Ledbury" (it was "Phiz" who illustrated Albert's "Pottleton Legacy") and "The Marchioness de Brinvilliers," and when Samuel Lover was illustrating, with exquisitely delicate etchings, his own novel of "Handy Andy." Photography, wood engraving, and the multifarious phototypic "processes" have killed book illustrations by means of etching on steel or copper. I am sorry for it. In these days we are too often called upon to admire as triumphs of the etcher and the pen-and-ink draughtsman's art what are, in reality, mere scratches and smudges.
In mechanical excellence the steel etchings in "Bleak House" may, perhaps, be considered as the masterpiece of Mr. Hablot Browe's great capacity in chalcography. In a less mechanical, but more spirited and dramatic, category I place the etchings in [Lever's] "Tom Burke of Ours." "Phiz" was at his drollest in the plates to "Martin Chuzzlewit." In the early Dickens fictions the artist so outrageously caricatured his characters that many of them have scarcely the appearance of human beings. He executed some really magnificent etchings (technically speaking) for a weird romance begun by Harrison Ainsworth, but never completed, entitled "Revellations of London" [the title of its 1844 serial appearance in Ainsworth's Magazine; in volume form it has the title Auriol: or, The Elixir of Life (1856)]. It was published about 1845. One of the plates — a view of a tumbledown house in the Vauxhall-road — was almost Rembrand-like in its power. Hablot Browne must at that period have been about thirty years of age. [p. 55]
Ainsworth, Harrison. Auriol: or, The Elixir of Life. London: George Hutchinson, 1856.
Sala, George Augustus. The Baddington Peerage: Who won, and who wore it. A story of the best and the worst society. Il. Hablot Knight Browne. London, Charles F. Skeet, 1860.
Sala, George Augustus. "Echoes of the Week." The Illustrated London News. 15 July 1882. Pp. 54-55.
Last modified 10 June 2012