Slavery by Thomas Nast, in Charles Dickens's Pictures from Italy and American Notes (1877), Chapter XVII, "Slavery," 374. Wood-engraving, 4 ¼ by 5 ¼ inches (10.5 cm high by 13.3 cm wide), framed.

Passage Complemented: The Appended Chapter Documenting The Evils of Slavery

It has been sometimes urged that, in the unavailing efforts which have been made to advance the cause of Human Freedom in the republic of America (strange cause for history to treat of!), sufficient regard has not been had to the existence of the first class of persons; and it has been contended that they are hardly used, in being confounded with the second. This is, no doubt, the case; noble instances of pecuniary and personal sacrifice have already had their growth among them; and it is much to be regretted that the gulf between them and the advocates of emancipation should have been widened and deepened by any means: the rather, as there are, beyond dispute, among these slave-owners, many kind masters who are tender in the exercise of their unnatural power. Still, it is to be feared that this injustice is inseparable from the state of things with which humanity and truth are called upon to deal. Slavery is not a whit the more endurable because some hearts are to be found which can partially resist its hardening influences; nor can the indignant tide of honest wrath stand still, because in its onward course it overwhelms a few who are comparatively innocent, among a host of guilty. [Chapter XVII, "Slavery," 373]


Nast describes the issue that precipitated the Civil War in symbolic terms of the legislative pen skewers the snake, embodiment of the evils of slavery in ante bellum America. Embedded in the American flag Nast has placed the ironic words of the national anthem "The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave," and thereby juxtaposes these noble if somewhat jingoistic sentiments with pre-Civil War posters which advertise rewards for the apprehension of runaway slaves: "Cash for Negroes." Nast obviously feels that history was on the side of the Northern Abolitionists, the side with which Dickens identified himself during that initial reading tour. The outcome of the American cataclysm in Nast's eyes vindicated Dickens's position on slavery; moreover, as a popular artist deeply involved in publishing, Nast throughout his series ignores Dickens's contentious position on American copyright, the other issue that disrupted his initial reading tour.

The editorial rather than literal illustration (and indeed the entire work as presented in the Household Edition volume published by Harper and Brothers in New York) therefore straddles two distinct eras: the period of 1842, when Americans were still hotly debating the issue of slavery, and the era after 1865, the period of "Reconstruction," in which the nation had to come to grips with the implications of The Emancipation Proclamation. The hand ofthe writer may, therefore, be that of Dickens, adding this documentary appendix, or it may be that of "The Great Emancipator," Abraham Lincoln, a figure venerated throughout Great Britain as well as throughout the northern United States.

Related Material

Satirical Cartoons from Punch about the Civil War

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.] Click on the image to enlarge it.


Dickens, Charles. Chapter XVII, "Slavery." American Notes, Sketches by Boz, and Pictures from Italy. Illustrated by A. B. Frost and Thomas Nast. The Household Edition. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1877. 373-79.

Dickens, Charles. Chapter XVII, "Slavery." American Notes and Pictures from Italy. Illustrated by A. B. Frost and Gordon Thomson. London: Chapman and Hall, 1880. 413-28.

Created 21 May 2019

Last modified 12 June 2020