Automaton Police Officer and the Real Offenders by George Cruikshank for Charles Dickens's "Full Report of the Second Meeting of the Mudfog Association — From the model exhibited before Section B of the Mudfog Association" in Bentley's Miscellany, September 1838, 9.5 cm high by 15.8 cm wide, vignetted. The image precedes the first page of the accompanying article, beginning on page 209, which replaced the eighteenth instalment of Oliver Twist. Dickens indulges his periodical reader in a whimsical piece of science fiction in which robotic police officers would be objects of bullying and assault by "the young noblemen of England" who are nothing but surly juvenile delinquents bent on vandalism and anti-social conduct. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

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 in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]

Passage Illustrated

"Section B. — Display of Models and Mechanical Science.
Lasrge room, boot-jack and countenance.
President — Mr. Mallett. Vice-Presidents—Messrs. Leaver and Scroo.

But as even these advantages [of providing objects that drunken aristocratic youth might damage at little cost] would be incomplete unless there were some means provided of enabling the nobility and gentry to display their prowess when they sallied forth after dinner, and as some inconvenience might be experienced in the event of their being reduced to the necessity of pummelling each other, the inventor had turned his attention to the construction of an entirely new police force, composed exclusively of automaton figures, which, with the assistance of the ingenious Signor Gagliardi, of Windmill-street, in the Haymarket, he had succeeded in making with such nicety, that a policeman, cab-driver, or old woman, made upon the principle of the models exhibited, would walk about until knocked down like any real man; nay, more, if set upon and beaten by six or eight noblemen or gentlemen, after it was down, the figure would utter divers groans, mingled with entreaties for mercy, thus rendering the illusion complete, and the enjoyment perfect. But the invention did not stop even here; for station-houses would be built, containing good beds for noblemen and gentlemen during the night, and in the morning they would repair to a commodious police office, where a pantomimic investigation would take place before the automaton magistrates, — quite equal to life, — who would fine them in so many counters, with which they would be previously provided for the purpose. This office would be furnished with an inclined plane, for the convenience of any nobleman or gentleman who might wish to bring in his horse as a witness; and the prisoners would be at perfect liberty, as they were now, to interrupt the complainants as much as they pleased, and to make any remarks that they thought proper. The charge for these amusements would amount to very little more than they already cost, and the inventor submitted that the public would be much benefited and comforted by the proposed arrangement.

'Professor Nogo wished to be informed what amount of automaton police force it was proposed to raise in the first instance.

'Mr. Coppernose replied, that it was proposed to begin with seven divisions of police of a score each, lettered from A to G inclusive. It was proposed that not more than half this number should be placed on active duty, and that the remainder should be kept on shelves in the police office ready to be called out at a moment’s notice.

'The President, awarding the utmost merit to the ingenious gentleman who had originated the idea, doubted whether the automaton police would quite answer the purpose. He feared that noblemen and gentlemen would perhaps require the excitement of thrashing living subjects.

'Mr. Coppernose submitted, that as the usual odds in such cases were ten noblemen or gentlemen to one policeman or cab-driver, it could make very little difference in point of excitement whether the policeman or cab-driver were a man or a block. The great advantage would be, that a policeman’s limbs might be all knocked off, and yet he would be in a condition to do duty next day. He might even give his evidence next morning with his head in his hand, and give it equally well.

'Professor Muff. — Will you allow me to ask you, sir, of what materials it is intended that the magistrates' heads shall be composed?

'Mr. Coppernose. — The magistrates will have wooden heads of course, and they will be made of the toughest and thickest materials that can possibly be obtained.

'Professor Muff. — I am quite satisfied. This is a great invention. — The Oxford Illustrated Dickens, p. 660-661.


Once established as a novelist, Charles Dickens seems to have forgotten the youthful joie d'esprit of the satirical Mudfog Papers since they were not published as a collection during his lifetime. Dickens's third essay in the series, "Full Report of the Second Meeting of the Mudfog Association," satirizes a dissolute young aristocracy as well as the "Projector"-like schemes of academics and amateur scientists of the type found (in his opinion) in The British Association for the Advancement of Science (founded in York in 1831) — thus, the "Full Report of the Second Meeting" (October 1837) and the "Full Report of the Second Meeting" (September 1838) may be regarded as an extension of twenty-six-year-old Dickens's satirical portrait of the members of a similar "amateur" society in The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, yet another [not-so-learned] society dedicated to the advancement of arcane knowledge in a ridiculously Swiftian manner. Here, Dickens parodies also the form and language of the kind of parliamentary reports he read as a reporter covering debates in the House of Commons.

Dickens in the autumn of 1837 began bargaining with Richard Bentley to have the penny-pinching publisher accept Oliver Twist as one of the two novels which he had contracted to write, independent of his monthly contributions as editor to Bentley's Miscellany. The circumstances surrounding the publication of the "Full Report of the First Meeting of the Mudfog Association" show that, even as a young writer, Dickens knew how to practice brinkmanship with a publisher as he withheld an instalment of Oliver to force Richard Bentley to adopt his position. The second "report" came almost a year after he had completed Pickwick (November 1837), but precisely when he desperately needed free time to work exclusively on Oliver prior to its appearance as a triple-decker (three-volume novel) in November 1838.

Bentley having still not come to terms, Dickens then suspended Oliver, substituting instead in the October number a paper titled 'Full Report of the First Meeting of the Mudfog Association for the Advancement of Everything' and disingenuously claiming on the wrapper of the October number that the length of this 'report' prevented the insertion of an Oliver instalment. This 'First Report' mocks the proneness to self-congratulation of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (founded in 1831) and the pompous vacuity of press reports of its proceedings. The paper was a kind of outgrowth of Pickwick which had started out as a lampoon on the Association with Mr. Pickwick's paper, 'Speculations on the Source of the Hampstead Ponds, with Some Observations on the Theory of Tittlebats'. — Michael Slater, p. 105.

During late July and all of August [1838] Dickens was clearing the decks for a concentrated final assault on Oliver. Having made Bentley agree to the suspension of this work for the September number so he could concentrate on writing the dénouement of the story 'straight through', as it were, he supplied his statutory sixteen pages (with two pages extra) by means of another facetious piece on the British Association, then holding its annual conference in Newcastle. Internal evidence shows that he was still working on his 'Full Report of the Second Meeting of the Mudfog Association for the Advancement of Everything' as late as 22 August. — Michael Slater, p. 122.

Michael Slater's research is significant in that it shows that Dickens had not written these pseudo-scientific "papers" earlier, when he was at work on the last of Sketches by Boz, but that they are response to contemporary events; nevertheless, one should regard these "reports" as filler that freed Dickens up to write his novels, the second in the series also giving him leverage in his negotiations with Richard Bentley.

Even a horse in the accompanying Cruikshank illustration ridicules as impotent the police court magistrates, the recording clerk, and the dismantled minions of the law. Rarely did Cruikshank use this orientation for his copper-plates, preferring an arrangement that enabled the reader to respond to the image without having to turn the page ninety degrees, so that one must conclude that the illustrator felt that his subject required a broad horizontal field in order to contrast the seven clockwork functionaries to the left and the dormant divisions in their cubbyholes (above) with the highly animated street characters at the bar (right), including a carriage driver, whip in hand, who thumbs his nose at the dismayed magistrates. The contrasting groups are visually connected by a woman who has apparently passed out on the floor, centre bottom. The artist has given the wooden-headed magistrates long, beaked noses to underscore their stupidity as well as their lack of humanity (perhaps recalling the "block-headed" Magistrate Fang who exhibits severe bias and wilful ignorance of fact in presiding over Oliver's case in Chapter 11), and has four constables disassembled to suggest that the rowdy prisoners in their drunken fury have already attacked four of the "score" in the squad. The reader must assume that the bins continue from "C" to "G" off the right margin, and that another eight levels exist above the top frame. The illustration's "prisoners" at the dock are hardly young aristocrats and gentlemen so that, since one must assume that the picture was first submitted to Dickens for approval, the narrator is being ironic in his description of the malefactors at the police station as "six or eight noblemen or gentlemen."


Ackroyd, Peter. Dickens: A Biography. London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1990.

Bentley, Nicholas, Michael Slater, and Nina Burgis. The Dickens: Index. Oxfiord: Oxford U. P., 1990.

Dickens, Charles. "Full Report of the Second Meeting of the Mudfog Association." Bentley's Miscellany, No. 21. London: Richard Bentley, September 1838.

Dickens, Charles. "The Mudfog and Other Sketches." Sketches by Boz Illustrative of Every-day Life and Every-Day People. Ed. Thea Holme. The Oxford Illustrated Dickens. Oxford: Oxford U. P., 1957; rpt., 1987.

Schlicke, Paul. "The Mudfog Papers." The Oxford Reader's Companion to Dickens. Oxford: Oxford U. P., 1999. P. 386.

Slater, Michael. Charles Dickens: A Life Defined by Writing. New Haven and London: Yale U. P., 2009.

Last modified 23 March 2017