Uncaptioned Headppiece: Secretary Joseph Smiggers presents the club with its charter by Thomas Nast (1873).

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Bibliographical Note

The illustration appears in the American Edition of Charles Dickens's The Posthumous Papers of The Pickwick Club, Chapter I, "The Pickwickians," page 9. Wood-engraving, 4 ⅛ inches high by 5 ⅜ inches wide (10.5 cm high by 13.6 cm wide), framed, half-page; referencing text beginning on the same page. New York: Harper & Bros., Franklin Square, 1873. Ever since the original serial publication in Britain, American readers had been familiar with the characters and situations of Dickens's first novel, as well as the illustrations of Seymour and Phiz, through American piracies of Pickwick Papers such as that published in Philadephia by Carey, Lea, and Blanchard in 1836 and that of T. B. Peterson, also of Philadelphia.

The Relationship between the Chapter's Headpiece and the Text Illustrated

Passage Illustrated: Secretary Joseph Smiggers presents the club with its charter

"May 12, 1827. Joseph Smiggers, Esq., P.V.P.M.P.C. [Perpetual Vice-President — Member Pickwick Club], presiding. The following resolutions unanimously agreed to: —

"That this Association has heard read, with feelings of unmingled satisfaction, and unqualified approval, the paper communicated by Samuel Pickwick, Esq., G.C.M.P.C. [General Chairman — Member Pickwick Club], entitled “Speculations on the Source of the Hampstead Ponds, with some Observations on the Theory of Tittlebats;” and that this Association does hereby return its warmest thanks to the said Samuel Pickwick, Esq., G.C.M.P.C., for the same.

"That while this Association is deeply sensible of the advantages which must accrue to the cause of science, from the production to which they have just adverted — no less than from the unwearied researches of Samuel Pickwick, Esq., G.C.M.P.C., in Hornsey, Highgate, Brixton, and Camberwell — they cannot but entertain a lively sense of the inestimable benefits which must inevitably result from carrying the speculations of that learned man into a wider field, from extending his travels, and, consequently, enlarging his sphere of observation, to the advancement of knowledge, and the diffusion of learning.

"That, with the view just mentioned, this Association has taken into its serious consideration a proposal, emanating from the aforesaid, Samuel Pickwick, Esq., G.C.M.P.C., and three other Pickwickians hereinafter named, for forming a new branch of United Pickwickians, under the title of The Corresponding Society of the Pickwick Club.

"That the said proposal has received the sanction and approval of this Association. [Chapter I, "The Pickwickians," pp. 9-10]

Commentary: Providing a Variation on a Well-known Scene

In choosing this subject for his initial illustration, Nast effectively represents the minor Pickwickian, Joseph Smiggers, whom the original illustrators do not even bother to describe. Nast has the readers view the scene from behind the meeting chair so that he can present simultaneous studies of three key figures: Tracy Tupman, Augustus Snodgrass, and Samuel Pickwick himself. In this formal constituting of the society, Nast treats his subjects in a realistic rather than caricatural mode, reacting as a Sixties illustrator to earlier material that represented the characters in the whimsical manner of such illustrators as George Cruikshank and Robert Seymour.

In a manner typical of his political cartoons as well as his book illustrations, Nast embeds a humorous detail: as the chairman reads the articles of incorporation of the learned society, the candle on the table before him flares up, momentarily threatening to destroy the folio sheet from which Joseph Smiggers, Esq., P.V.P.M.P.C. and "perpetual vice-president," is reading. Stupified by the joint effects of tobacco and punch, the club members fail to apprehend the danger to the charter as they listen to the somewhat stilted presentation. As in the original Seymour illustration, Nast has given Nathaniel Winkle a sporting jacket and a small cigar to distinguish him immediately from the other members, while Nast invests the poetic Augustus Snodgrass (centre) with a visage that is reminiscent of that of the Romantic poet Lord Byron.

Relevant illustrations for Pickwick Papers (1836-1910)

Left: The original Robert Seymour steel-engraving which accompanied the initial monthly number and greatly influenced later illustrators' conceptions of the club members, Mr Pickwick Addresses the Club (April 1836). Centre: The Sol Eytinge, Jr., characterisation of the group, The Pickwick Club (Diamond Edition, 1867). Right: Harry Furniss's Meeting of the Pickwick Club (1910).[Click on images to enlarge them.]

Related Material


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. The Pickwick Papers. Illustrated by F. O. C. Darley. Volumes 1 and 2 [originally four volumes in the 1861 Household Edition]. The Riverside Edition. New York and Cambridge, Mass.: Hurd and Houghton, and Riverside, 1872.

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

Last modified 9 August 2019