The Old Curiosity Shop, Part Twenty-one. [For passage illustrated see below.] Date of original serial publication: 26 September 1840. Master Humphrey's Clock, Part 24, 304.by Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz). Wood engraving, 3 3/8 x 4 ½ inches (8.9 x 11.5 cm). — Chapter 37,
Context of the Illustration: The Single Gentleman Interrogates the Puppeteers
The gentleman pointed to a couple of chairs, and intimated by an emphatic nod of his head that he expected them to be seated. Messrs. Codlin and Short, after looking at each other with considerable doubt and indecision, at length sat down — each on the extreme edge of the chair pointed out to him — and held their hats very tight, while the single gentleman filled a couple of glasses from a bottle on the table beside him, and presented them in due form.
"You’re pretty well browned by the sun, both of you," said their entertainer. "Have you been travelling?"
Mr. Short replied in the affirmative with a nod and a smile. Mr. Codlin added a corroborative nod and a short groan, as if he still felt the weight of the Temple on his shoulders.
"To fairs, markets, races, and so forth, I suppose?" pursued the single gentleman.
"Yes, sir," returned Short, "pretty nigh all over the West of England."
"I have talked to men of your craft from North, East, and South," returned their host, in rather a hasty manner; "but I never lighted on any from the West before."
"It’s our reg’lar summer circuit is the West, master," said Short; "that’s where it is. We takes the East of London in the spring and winter, and the West of England in the summer time. Many’s the hard day’s walking in rain and mud, and with never a penny earned, we’ve had down in the West." [Chapter the Thirty-Seventh, 303-4]
Commentary: Informative Interview with the Punch-and-Judy Professors
Sol Eytinge, Jr.'s description of the benevolent pursuer of Little Nell and her grandfather, looking out of his window at Bevis Marks: The Single Gentleman (1867).
The Single Gentleman, whom Dickens never actually identifies by name or occupation, is in fact the younger brother of Nell's grandfather. Towards the end of Volume One the enigmatic figure prosecutes a search for the wayfarers from his London headquarters, his rooms in the lodging house that solicitor Sampson Brass and his sister run at Bevis Marks. In this penultimate illustration for the first volume of Master Humphrey's Clock he tries to glean information about the Trents' current whereabouts from the puppeteers Codlin (the sour misanthrope in the centre) and Short (the rotund, jolly fellow savouring the glass of wine provided him by his astute and well-dressed interrogator, left). Phiz has made sure that the wealthy lodger's furnishings reflect his taste and social status, but does not reveal the meaning of the bound papers in the middle of the floor.
Late in the novel, Dickens reveals that the Single Gentleman, the Brasses' mysterious lodger, is the long-absent bachelor brother estranged from Little Nell’s grandfather, and therefore her great-uncle. The Single Gentleman (whose surname must be "Trent"), playing detective, discovers such figures from the Trents' past as Dick Swiveller, Kit Nubbles, the Punch-and-Judy men, and the itinerant dog impressario, Jerry (seen in the ultimate illustration for the volume). He also establishes connections with both the Marchioness and the Garlands. The Single Gentleman thus becomes instrumental in uncovering what has become of Little Nell and Grandfather Trent, with whom he is reunited in Chapter 72, shortly before his brother's death and the winding-up of the complicated story of the wandeerers.
The Relevant Household Edition Illustration (1872)
Above: Thomas Worth's depiction of the very same interview that gives the amateur detective the clue that he needs: "Here's a sovereign apiece."
Related Resources Including Other Illustrated Editions
- The Old Curiosity Shop Illustrated: A Team Effort by "The Clock Works" (1841)
- Cattermole's Illustrations of The Old Curiosity Shop.
- Frontispieces to the three-volume edition of Dickens's The Old Curiosity Shop, illustrated by Felix Octavius Carr Darley in the James G. Gregory (New York) Household Edition (1861-71)
- The Old Curiosity Shop by Sol Eytinge, Jr., in the Boston Diamond Edition (1867)
- The Old Curiosity Shop by Thomas Worth in the American Household Edition (1874)
- The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Green in the British Household Edition (1876)
- J. Clayton Clarke ("Kyd") (13 lithographs from watercolours)
- Harold Copping (2 plates selected)
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.]
Dickens, Charles. The Old Curiosity Shop in Master Humphrey's Clock. Illustrated by Phiz, George Cattermole, Samuel Williams, and Daniel Maclise. 3 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, 1840.
Created 10 May 2020
Last modified 16 October 2020