Uproarious Hospitality by Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz). Wood engraving, 3 ¼ x 4 ½ inches (8.4 cm by 11.8 cm). — Chapter 51, The Old Curiosity Shop. Date of original serial publication of Part 29: 21 November 1840 in Master Humphrey's Clock, Headpiece for Part 32, Vol. 2: 82.

Context of the Illustration: Quilp's Tea-time in the Wilderness

At last, he travelled back to the Wilderness, which was within rifle-shot  of his bachelor retreat, and ordered tea in the wooden summer-house that afternoon for  three persons; an invitation to Miss Sally Brass and her brother to partake of that  entertainment at that place, having been the object both of his journey and his note.

It was not precisely the kind of weather in which people usually take tea in  summer-houses, far less in summer-houses in an advanced state of decay, and overlooking  the slimy banks of a great river at low water. Nevertheless, it was in this choice retreat that Mr. Quilp ordered a cold collation to be prepared, and it was beneath its cracked and leaky roof that he, in due course of time, received Mr. Sampson and his sister Sally.

"You’re fond of the beauties of nature," said Quilp with a grin. "Is this charming, Brass? Is it unusual, unsophisticated, primitive?"

"It’s delightful indeed, sir," replied the lawyer.

"Cool?" said Quilp.

"N-not particularly so, I think, sir," rejoined Brass, with his teeth chattering in his head.

"Perhaps a little damp and ague-ish?" said Quilp. [Chapter the Fifty-first, 81]

Quilp and the Brasses Plot against Kit Nubbles

Quilp has called his legal team from their headquarters in Bevis Marks to enlist their aid in his plot to punish Kit, the Trents' former servant, for his having defended their interests against Quilp's. Quite possibly, Quilp sees in Kit an honest youth who would foil his plot to marry little Nell by applying leverage on her grandfather. Quilp's malicious disposition drives his plan to have Sally and Sampson Brass trump up some sort of charge against Kit, and get him out of the way — preferably well out of the way, transported to the penal colony in Australia. Quilp here uses the dilapidated summer-house overlooking the Thames for his entertainment of the Brasses on a chilly, rainy fall afternoon. The dismal locale has the added advantage of enabling Quilp to pay Brass back for his happily consuming Qulip's Jamaican rum when he thought the dwarf has drowned in that very vicinity. For Quilp no slight must go unpunished, and Kit's virtue merely functions as a whetstone to the dwarf's relentless malice.

In Phiz's illustration, Tom Scott, Quilp's wharf-boy and general factotum, sits under a tattered umbrella outside the Wilderness (left). Snug, despite the wind, rain, and leaks, Quilp is thoroughly enjoying the discomfiture of his guests from the vantage point on top of the empty beer-barrel. In the midst of wind and damp weather, jolly Quilp holds a steaming cup of rum-and-sugar in his hand, continuing the visual associations of smoke, fire, and steam with Quilp's fiery, demonic disposition. Phiz defines "cold collation" for the reader by showing a tiny teapot, several saucers with matching teacups, and a small piece of cake, immediately under Quilp's foot. The lowering sky and ill-fitting boards of "The Wilderness" complete the scene of Sampson Brass's misery as intense rain pelts diagonally across the entire plate.

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.

Last modified 11 November 2020