"A Beadle! A parish beadle, or I'll eat my head." — James Mahoney's introduction to his illustrations for the novel of two significant supporting characters: sharing the scene is the visitor from the north, the greedy parish beadle, Mr. Bumble (who has already appeared in The Frontispiece — The Evidence Destroyed); possibly a member of the mob pursuing Oliver at Clerkenwell in "Stop thief!") is Bumble's antithesis, the kindly Mr. Brownlow (centre); and third figure, right, is Brownlow's abrupt and sarcastic friend with a heart of gold, Mr. Grimwig. In the original narrative-pictorial serial sequence of George Cruikshank, the hypocritical Bumble appears at the hearing of the guardians to determine whether the authorities will apprentice the boy to a disreputable tradesman named Gamfield: Oliver escapes being bound apprentice to the Sweep. The scene is Brownlow's home in Pentonville in Dickens's The Adventures of Oliver Twist, Household Edition, page 57. 1871. Wood engraving by the Dalziels, 9.5 cm high by 13.8 cm wide. In the Mahoney illustrations of him, one receives less information about Bumble's pompous, bullying nature in the Mahoney illustration than in the four Cruikshank steel-engravings in which he appears prominently. In the present picture, Mahoney renders the two wealthy bourgeoisie — Mr. Brownlow and Mr. Grimwig, rather different physical types in the 1867 Diamond Edition, as if they are mirror images, one of the other, like the Cheeryble Brothers, Charles and Ned, the merchant-philanthropists based on David and William Grant of Manchester, whom Dickens met in 1838, and copied for the protagonist's benevolent employers in The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (April 1838-October 1839). 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 it in a print one.]

Passage Illustrated

He was shown into the little back study, where sat Mr. Brownlow and his friend Mr. Grimwig, with decanters and glasses before them. The latter gentleman at once burst into the exclamation:

"A beadle. A parish beadle, or I'll eat my head."

"Pray don't interrupt just now," said Mr. Brownlow. "Take a seat, will you?"

Mr. Bumble sat himself down; quite confounded by the oddity of Mr. Grimwig's manner. Mr. Brownlow moved the lamp, so as to obtain an uninterrupted view of the beadle's countenance; and said, with a little impatience,

"Now, sir, you come in consequence of having seen the advertisement?"

"Yes, sir," said Mr. Bumble.

"And you are a beadle, are you not?" inquired Mr. Grimwig.

"I am a porochial beadle, gentlemen," rejoined Mr. Bumble proudly.

"Of course," observed Mr. Grimwig aside to his friend, "I knew he was. A beadle all over!"

Mr. Brownlow gently shook his head to impose silence on his friend, and resumed:

"Do you know where this poor boy is now?"

"No more than nobody," replied Mr. Bumble.

"Well, what do you know of him?" inquired the old gentleman. "Speak out, my friend, if you have anything to say. What do you know of him?"

"You don't happen to know any good of him, do you?" said Mr. Grimwig, caustically; after an attentive perusal of Mr. Bumble's features.

Mr. Bumble, catching at the inquiry very quickly, shook his head with portentous solemnity.

"You see?" said Mr. Grimwig, looking triumphantly at Mr. Brownlow. [Chapter 17, "Oliver's Destiny Continuing Unpropitious, Brings a Great Man to London to Injure his Reputation," p. 62-63]


The scene of Mahoney's tenth wood-engraving is Mr. Brownlow's study in the back of his house in Pentonville, and the visitor who stands before him and his friend Mr. Grimwig is none other than the villainous hypocrite, the parish beadle Mr. Bumble, whom Dickens had introduced in the opening chapters. The acquisitive beadle has been attracted to Mr. Brownlow's by a newspaper advertisement offering five guineas reward for information about Oliver. Mahoney, showing the beadle's face in profile, gives the reader little to go on, Bumble's chief feature here being his corpulence. Bumble has not made the journey to north London out of any new-found spirit of altruism; rather, Brownlow's promise of a substantial reward for information about Oliver has prompted his visit:

. . . Mr. Bumble sat himself down in the house at which the coach stopped; and took a temperate dinner of steaks, oyster sauce, and porter. Putting a glass of hot gin-and-water on the chimney-piece, he drew his chair to the fire; and, with sundry moral reflections on the too-prevalent sin of discontent and complaining, composed himself to read the paper.

The very first paragraph upon which Mr. Bumble’s eye rested, was the following advertisement.


"Whereas a young boy, named Oliver Twist, absconded, or was enticed, on Thursday evening last, from his home, at Pentonville; and has not since been heard of. The above reward will be paid to any person who will give such information as will lead to the discovery of the said Oliver Twist, or tend to throw any light upon his previous history, in which the advertiser is, for many reasons, warmly interested."

And then followed a full description of Oliver’s dress, person, appearance, and disappearance: with the name and address of Mr. Brownlow at full length.

Mr. Bumble opened his eyes; read the advertisement, slowly and carefully, three several times; and in something more than five minutes was on his way to Pentonville: having actually, in his excitement, left the glass of hot gin-and-water, untasted. [Chapter 17 "Oliver's Destiny Continuing Unpropitious, Brings a Great Man to London to Injure his Reputation," p. 63]

Whereas Cruikshank, in collaboration with Dickens himself, focuses on scenes that depict the return of Oliver to the gang's hideout, Oliver's reception by Fagin and the Boys in Chapter 16 and Master Bates explains a professional technicality in Chapter 18, James Mahoney in the Household Edition focuses instead upon the benevolent characters who are trying to locate Oliver after his mysterious disappearance in Chapter 15.

Although four years earlier Sol Eytinge had presented a portrait of the old friends who are trying to effect Oliver's reclamation in his dual character study entitled Mr. Brownlow and Mr. Grimwig, realising them as they appear while Oliver is on his errand to return the books, Mahoney presents the pair as serious Pickwicks: balding, well-dressed, bespectacled, and enjoying a glass of port after dinner in a comfortable, book-lined study. In contrast to James Mahoney, some forty years later Harry Furniss for Chapter 18 in the Charles Dickens Library Edition reprised the Cruikshank scene of dark comedy The Dodger's Toilet (December 1837), in which the waggish Mr. Bates imitates a thief's being hanged for his companions' amusement — and Oliver's edification. In the Furniss sequence as in the original monthly Cruikshank illustrations, Oliver's fate seems sealed, whereas Mahoney implies that the forces of virtue, as epitomized by Brownlow and Grimwig, may yet triumph.

Although Mahoney's treatment of the incident does not contribute much artistically to the reader's assessment of either of the three characters depicted, the plate — situated in Chapter 16 (when Nancy and Sikes return Oliver to Fagin's custody) but realising a scene six pages later, in Chapter 17 — both contrasts and parallels the malevolent conspiracy of Monks and Fagin, and pits Mr. Brownlow's intelligence and humanity against the exploitative brutality of Sikes, Nancy, and Fagin.

Illustrations from the Serial (1837), the Diamond Edition (1867), and the Charles Dickens Library Edition (1910)

Left: George Cruikshank's Oliver's reception by Fagin and the Boys. Centre: Sol Eytinge, Junior's 1867 wood-engraving Mr. Brownlow and Mr. Grimwig. Right: Harry Furniss's The Dodger's Toilet (1910). [Click on images to enlarge them.]


Bentley, Nicolas, Michael Slater, and Nina Burgis. The Dickens Index. New York and Oxford: Oxford U. P., 1990.

Darley, Felix Octavius Carr. Character Sketches from Dickens. Philadelphia: Porter and Coates, 1888.

Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, 1998.

Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist. Illustrated by George Cruikshank. London: Bradbury and Evans; Chapman and Hall, 1846.

Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist. Works of Charles Dickens. Household Edition. 55 vols. Il. F. O. C. Darley and John Gilbert. New York: Sheldon and Co., 1865.

Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist. Works of Charles Dickens. Diamond Edition. 18 vols. Illustrated by Sol Eytinge, Jr. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867.

Dickens, Charles. The Adventures of Oliver Twist. Works of Charles Dickens. Household Edition. Illustrated by James Mahoney. London: Chapman and Hall, 1871.

Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist. Works of Charles Dickens. Charles Dickens Library Edition. Illustrated by Harry Furniss. London: Educational Book Company, 1910.

Last modified 5 December 2014