That immortal gentleman over the wall by Thomas Nast (1873)

Bibliographical Note

The illustration appears in the American Edition of Charles Dickens's The Posthumous Papers of The Pickwick Club, Chapter XVI, "Too Full of Adventure to be Briefly Described," p. 100. Wood-engraving, 4 1⁄8 inches high by 5 ½ inches wide (10.5 cm high by 13.6 cm wide), vignetted, half-page; referencing text on the previous page; descriptive headline: "The Man Behind the Door" (p. 101). New York: Harper & Bros., Franklin Square, 1873.

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 for the Illustration: Pickwick enters the precincts of the girls' school

There was a bright moon, but it was behind the clouds. It was a fine dry night, but it was most uncommonly dark. Paths, hedges, fields, houses, and trees, were enveloped in one deep shade. The atmosphere was hot and sultry, the summer lightning quivered faintly on the verge of the horizon, and was the only sight that varied the dull gloom in which everything was wrapped — sound there was none, except the distant barking of some restless house-dog.

"They found the house, read the brass plate, walked round the wall, and stopped at that portion of it which divided them from the bottom of the garden.

"You will return to the inn, Sam, when you have assisted me over," said Mr. Pickwick.

"Wery well, Sir."

"And you will sit up, till I return."

"Cert’nly, Sir."

"Take hold of my leg; and, when I say 'Over,' raise me gently."

"All right, sir."

"Having settled these preliminaries, Mr. Pickwick grasped the top of the wall, and gave the word ‘Over,’ which was literally obeyed. Whether his body partook in some degree of the elasticity of his mind, or whether Mr. Weller’s notions of a gentle push were of a somewhat rougher description than Mr. Pickwick’s, the immediate effect of his assistance was to jerk that immortal gentleman completely over the wall on to the bed beneath, where, after crushing three gooseberry-bushes and a rose-tree, he finally alighted at full length.

"You ha'n't hurt yourself, I hope, Sir?" said Sam, in a loud whisper, as soon as he had recovered from the surprise consequent upon the mysterious disappearance of his master.

"I have not hurt myself, Sam, certainly," replied Mr. Pickwick, from the other side of the wall, "but I rather think that you have hurt me." [Chapter XVI, "Too Full of Adventure to be Briefly Described," page 99]

Commentary: Over the Wall and into the Seminary

1title1 At The Angel in Bury St. Edmunds, Sam Weller learns from the duplicitous Job Trotter, Alfred Jingle's servant, that the conniving actor is about to execute a scheme to run away with a young heiress from Miss Tompkin's School nearby. The good-hearted, meddling Pickwick determines to prevent the elopement by entering the school's precincts and informing the head mistress that Jingle is about to abscond with one of her charges. However, when, after Pickwick as awkwardly surmounted the garden wall, the women discover the well-intentioned interloper in the courtyard, none of the teachers has any knowledge of "Mr. Charles Fitz-Marshall" (Jingle's latest alias) or his nefarious scheme. At this point, Sam Weller and Pickwick realise that Jingle has used Job Trotter to trick them and make his escape once again. Nast's version of this scene emphasizes physical humour at the expense of detail

Although the parallel composite woodblock engraving in the Phiz-illustrated British Household Edition lacks the details of the 1836 engraving, Phiz in 1874 added the devices of a garden roller and a potted plant to comment upon Pickwick's physical and emotional discomfiture. Rejecting entirely the Phizzian precedents, and certainly disregarding the 1836 original, the American illustrator shows instead Mr. Pickwick (or, at least, one of his feet) hovering in mid-air above the wall of the boarding school. With Sam's less-than-satisfactory assistance in That immortal gentleman completely over the wall, Nast creates a pregnant moment that sets up Pickwick's discovery in the ladies' seminary. Thus, Nast prepares readers for the text's embarrassing scene, but elects not to try to compete with Phiz's 1836 depiction of Pickwick's culminating embarrassment. He fails to exploit any of the risqué possibilities, and opts instead for simple physical humour with neither teachers nor their charges evident. To suggest the night-time setting, Nast has employed intense cross-hatching to suggest the nocturnal setting, but leaves his figures well lit.

Another approach: Phiz's depiction of Pickwick, hiding behind the door, scene in the British Household Edition (1874)

Phiz's approach to this episode in the novel is completely consistent with his original plate: The door was just going to be closed in consequence, when an inquisitive boarder, who had been peeping between the hinges, set up a fearful screaming, p. 89.

Other artists who illustrated this work, 1836-1910

Related Material


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

Dickens, Charles. The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. Illustrated by Sol Eytinge, Jr. Engraved by A. V. S. Anthony. The Diamond Edition. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867.

Dickens, Charles. The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. The Household Edition. Illustrated by Thomas Nast. New York: Harper and Brothers 1873.

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

Last modified 20 November 2019