Mr. Pickwick Under the Ice: "A large mass of ice disappeared; the water bubbled up over it; Mr. Pickwick’s hat, gloves, and handkerchief were floating on the surface; and this was all of Mr. Pickwick that anybody could see. — Pickwick, 421, by Harry Furniss (1910).

Bibliographical Note

The illustration appears in the Charles Dickens Library Edition, Volume Two: Charles Dickens's The Posthumous Papers of The Pickwick Club, Chapter XXX, "How the Pickwickians made and Cultivated the Acquaintance of a Couple of Nice Young Men Belonging to One of the Liberal Professions; How They Disported Themselves on the Ice; and How Their Visit Came to a Conclusion." Lithograph of a pen-and-ink drawing, 3 ½ inches high by 5 ½ inches wide (9 cm high by 13.7 cm wide), vignetted, full-page, horizontal plate vertically mounted; referencing text on 421. London: Educational Book Company, 1873. This is the first complete, uniform edition of the Works of Charles Dickens illustrated entirely by one artist, since the Diamond Edition of 1867 significantly predates Dickens's demise.

Scanned image, colour correction, sizing, caption, and commentary 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.]

Context of the Illustration: "A large mass of ice disappeared . . ."

Dismay and anguish were depicted on every countenance; the males turned pale, and the females fainted; Mr. Snodgrass and Mr. Winkle grasped each other by the hand, and gazed at the spot where their leader had gone down, with frenzied eagerness; while Mr. Tupman, by way of rendering the promptest assistance, and at the same time conveying to any persons who might be within hearing, the clearest possible notion of the catastrophe, ran off across the country at his utmost speed, screaming "Fire!" with all his might.

It was at this moment, when old Wardle and Sam Weller were approaching the hole with cautious steps, and Mr. Benjamin Allen was holding a hurried consultation with Mr. Bob Sawyer on the advisability of bleeding the company generally, as an improving little bit of professional practice — it was at this very moment, that a face, head, and shoulders, emerged from beneath the water, and disclosed the features and spectacles of Mr. Pickwick. [Chapter XXX, "How the Pickwickians made and Cultivated the Acquaintance of a Couple of Nice Young Men Belonging to One of the Liberal Professions; How They Disported Themselves on the Ice; and How Their Visit Came to a conclusion," 421-22]

Commentary: A Moment of Crisis on the Ice

Furniss uses the illustration to establish readers' expectations about the scene in the text four pages later. Consequently, he depicts not the delicate ballet of gentle ice-sliding which Phiz describes in the original serial for January 1837 (and repeated in both volumes of the Household Edition volumes), but the later, chilling scene in which everything about Pickwick has disappeared except his broad-brimmed hat and gloves. Sam and Wardle, who seem apprehensive about Pickwick's fate, carefully approach the hole, desperately trying to keep their balance as they come to the missing Pickwick's aid. In the background, the young women hug each other in utter trepidation, the fat boy looks on fatuously, and Tupman runs off left, yelling "Fire!" The whole, then, presents Pickwick's falling through the ice as the stuff of melodrama rather than situation comedy.

Although a number of Dickens's illustrators have realised various moments in the "Pickwick on Ice" sequence, Furniss has focussed not on the amiable Pickwick's gentle gliding, but on the subsequent collapsing of the ice and the old gentleman's being in very real danger of drowning under the ice or succumbing to hypothermia. As if capturing the scene on stage in a freeze-frame, Furniss provides the cast of characters suspended in action, with his focus on the reaction of the faithful Sam Weller, easily distinguished by his valet uniform. Undoubtedly Nast's treatment of precisely the same moment in the American Household Edition is more Baroque, but Furniss depends for his creation of suspense not on the violent force of the collapse, but rather on the apprehensive faces and postures of Pickwick's would-be rescuers in the staged tableau vivant.

Other artists who illustrated this work, 1836-1910

Relevant Illustrations from Other Programmes by Nast and Phiz (1836, 1873, and 1874)

Left: In the 1874 Household Edition of the novel Phiz has modelled his illustration on his own February 1837 engraving: Mr. Pickwick . . . . went slowly and gravely down the slide, with his feet about a yard and a quarter apart, amidst the gratified shouts of all the spectators. Right: Phiz's original interpretation first appeared in monthly part 11: is a realistic study Mr. Pickwick Slides. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

Phiz had devoted just one scene in the 1836-37 series of illustrations to Mr. Pickwick's sliding on ice at Dingley Dell — apparently without the benefit of skates. Thomas Nast, who as an American may have found ice-skating more inspiring and more common, provides no less than three illustrations of the "Pickwick on ice" theme in the Harper & Bros. Household Edition (1873).

Two of Thomas Nast's illustrations of Pickwick's ice-skating adventures: Frontispiece: Went slowly and gravely down the slide, with his feet about a yard and a quarter apart and A large mass of ice disappeared (1873).


Dickens, Charles. Pickwick Papers. Illustrated by Robert Seymour and Hablot Knight Browne. London: Chapman & Hall, 1836-37.

_____. Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. Illustrated by Thomas Nast. The Household Edition. 16 vols. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1873. Vol. 4.

_____. Pickwick Papers. Illustrated by Hablot Knight Browne ('Phiz'). The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1874.

_____. Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. Illustrated by Harry Furniss. The Charles Dickens Library Edition. 18 vols. London: Educational Book, 1910. Vol. 2.

Created 28 December 2019

Last modified 5 February 2020