Mr. Swiveller's Libation by Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz). Wood engraving, 3 ¾ x 4 ½ inches. — Chapter 38, The Old Curiosity Shop. Date of original serial publication of Part 22: 3 October 1840 in Master Humphrey's Clock, Part 25, headpiece for Volume 2, 1. Detail: Male Costume, early nineteenth-century.

Context of the Illustration: Dick Swiveller and The Pot Boy

After pondering deeply and with a face of exceeding wisdom for some time, Mr. Swiveller drank some more of the beer, and summoning a small boy who had been  watching his proceedings, poured forth the few remaining drops as a libation on the  gravel, and bade him carry the empty vessel to the bar with his compliments, and above all things to lead a sober and temperate life, and abstain from all intoxicating and exciting liquors. Having given him this piece of moral advice for his trouble (which as he wisely observed, was far better than half-pence) the Perpetual Grand Master of the Glorious Apollos thrust his hands into his pockets and sauntered away: still pondering as he went. [Chapter the Thirty-eighth, Vol. 2: 7]


Although the potboy at the tavern where Dick has treated Kit to a drink resembles Kit, he is merely an incidental character. The chance meeting outside the notary's office where his friend Chuckster works as Witherden's head clerk affords the basis for the coincidental meeting of the Trents' former shop-boy and Fred Trent's close associate, Dick Swiveller. Phiz uses the subsequent scene in the public house to study the character of the flawed secondary protagonist, who, despite his joviality and witty remarks that smatter of literary quotations, is something of an alcoholic.

The illustrator makes the backdrop for the portrait all the more convincing by employing such public-house realia as the barrel containing four wine-bottles (centre), the four pewter tankards attached to the pot-boy in a fur hat, the thoroughly up-to-date lighting technology of the chandelier with its flame-guards (upper right), the bar at the left, four embedded posters, and Dick's fashionable Regency clothing.

Commentary: A Highly Specific Initial-Letter Vignette for Volume Two

Left: Phiz's initial-letter vignette of Kit and Whisker at the Garlands' cottage: Initial Letter K" (3 October 1840).

Of the dozen initial-letter vignettes that introduced the monthly parts of Master Humphrey's Clock throughout 1840, very few have the textual relevance of this vignette which introduces the second volume. Instead of elaborating on a theme that is only vaguely connected with the instalment, this vignette describes Kit Nubbles as a trainer working with the Garlands' skittish pony, Whisker. The scene has far more than general applicability to the text, and demonstrates graphically how Kit has become indispensable to the Garlands: without him, their chaise would be limited in its operations as the temperamental pony would continue to dictate the pace at which they could proceed in their outings. "Horse-whisperer" Kit seems able to entice the wilful pony into his harnas, and subdue him "to the useful and the good" (to borrow a phrase from Tennyson's "Ulysses").

Related Resources Including Other Illustrated Editions

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 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. II.

Last modified 18 October 2020